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TONUS : TEXTURE POINT
cd

1. Texture I
2. Texture II
3. Point A
4. Texture III

Dirk Serries : acoustic guitar
Benedict Taylor : viola
Martina Verhoeven : piano

Performed, recorded, mixed and mastered at the Sunny Side Inc. Studio, Anderlecht
(Belgium) on December 9th 2017.  Sleeve notes : Guy Peters.  Layout : Rutger Zuydervelt

“Tonus as a trio consists of Serries and Verhoeven along with Benedict Taylor on viola and they recorded four pieces last year. The minimalism continues here, but there seems to be more  notes than on the previous release. Especially Taylor uses his bow to play longer movements here and there is, so it seems to me, less room for complete silence. The music is sparse without being empty if you get my drift. I might be entirely wrong of course but it seems to me that Taylor with his bow and longer notes engages Serries and Verhoeven to add more notes as well. I can imagine that many people would hardly hear the difference between the two releases of the duo and the trio, save of course for the addition of a third instrument, but I certainly think these are world’s apart. This is music that is as easily called modern classical, playing a more or less open ended score, and it is something that requires one’s full attention, before it unfolds some of it’s beauty. None of this is nervous or hectic playing some people associate improvised music (not me), and this is another fine meditative work.” Vital Weekly – The Netherlands

“Tonus as an ensemble grew out of my Jazzcase residency in 2017,” wrote Serries in an email. “I brought together a sextet to work around a slow piano motif by Martina Verhoeven. The literal translation of Tonus is muscle strength, but in this context defines a musical system that places equal importance on the space between notes. Both definitions apply here as the music is an exercise in discipline and anticipation while controlling the clarity, sustain and effect of each single note played.”

The work is sparse and dramatic. Frequent, sometimes extended periods of quiet (if not outright silence) enhance the impact of each performance. What we get, in fact, is a series of precise, short performances that make up each lengthy piece. (The seven new works sport runtimes between 9:06 and 57:59.)

That is not to suggest that each is a series of solos. There is real interplay at work here. But by slowing it all down, Tonus luxuriates over every single idea.

Intermediate Obscurities I-IV is a double-live album recorded at Jazzcase in Belgium and Hundred Years Gallery in London. The first performance features Verhoeven on piano, Serries on acoustic guitar, Colin Webster on alto saxophone, Nils Vermeulen on double bass, George Hadow on drums and Jan Daelman on flute. The second has Otto Willberg on double bass, Tom Ward on bass clarinet, Benedict Taylor on viola, Cath Roberts on baritone saxophone, Webster on alto saxophone and Serries on acoustic guitar.

Benedict Taylor performs viola with Verhoeven and Serries on Texture Point. Cagean Morphology features Verhoeven and Serries as a duo.” Badd Press – Canada

“Wanneer we op zoek gaan naar iets dat de vroegste noise (en latere ambient) van vidnaObmana verbindt met de gitaarexperimenten van Fear Falls Burning of Microphonics en de huidige passie voor improvisatie (YODOK III), komen we uit bij de atmosferische invalshoek en de onstuitbare drang naar volmaakt minimalisme.  Met zijn jongste incarnatie, TONUS, lijkt Dirk Serries deze passie tot het uiterste te drijven.  Wie zich aan luide kakofonische toestanden verwacht, wanneer men een improviserend freejazzsextet probeert voor te stellen, komt op de dubbele live-cd ‘Intermediate Obscurities I+IV’ zwaar bedrogen uit.  Eerder het omgekeerde is waar : elke instrument waaiert zacht uit in een drones en galm, en de sfeer is dermate sereen dat je de indruk krijgt dat de zes muzikanten bijna angst hebben om eens welk geluid te produceren.  Saxofoon, bas, akoestische gitaar of klarinet, het speelt geen rol: elke klankje draagt subtiel bij tot een kortstondig dronescape, en dat geen van de deelnemers bang is van stiltemomenten, had intussen je zelf al geraden.  Zeer geschikt in een rituele context (denk : tempelmuziek), en wat ons betreft ook aangenaam tijdens het lezen.  Op ‘Texture Point’ wordt het deelnemersveld gehalveerd, en de stilte verdubbeld.  Het is vooral de dreigende pianoaanslag van Martina Verhoeven die ons bij de les houdt, terwijl Serries (gitaren) en de altviool van Benedict Taylor (London Improvisers Orchestra) eerder zacht schrapen dan slaan.  In tegenstelling tot het sextet, levert dit trio moeilijke muziek voor moeilijke mensen af, die weinig andere nevenactiviteit verdraagt.  Luisteren in opperste concentratie, tot een pianoklank je een meter hoog doet opveren, is hier de boodschap.  Tot slot blijft voor ‘Cagean Morphology’ enkel het koppel Serries-Verhoeven over op respectievelijk akoestische gitaar en piano.  We zouden kunnen schrijven dat het tweetal de instrumenten gebruikt om met elkaar in dialoog te gaan, maar dan moeten we vaststellen dat ze elkaar vierendertig minuten lang bitter weinig te vertellen hebben.  En wat er te horen valt, is bijzonder kort en soms van een zachtheid die met de gehoorgrens flirt.  Eerder lijkt dit op een psychologisch spel met de luisteraar : komt er nog klank of niet ?
Hoewel er vanuit andere bronnen vertrokken wordt, denken we onder andere aan het werk van Bernhard Günter.  Natuurlijk zijn we evenmin blind voor de verwijzing naar John Cage, maar als we het principe van 4’33” toepassen, wordt de compositie van Verhoeven en Serries tijdens onze sessies vervolledigd met de bosmaaier en de elektrische hegschaar van de buren.  Industrieel geschoold of niet: we kiezen dus voor gesloten ogen en een koptelefoon.  Eerlijk gezegd hadden we nog op een vierde cd gerekend, waarop Serries in zijn eentje stilte produceert om het concept te vervolmaken (bijvoorbeeld door het onaangeroerd laten van een piano) maar naar het schijnt is dit al eerder voorgedaan in een live setting (de componist is ontschiet ons even).  Deze cd’s zijn gelimiteerd op driehonderd exemplaren en huizen in een passend sober hoesontwerp van Rutger Zuydervelt.”  Gonzo Circus – Belgium

54:42, Texture Point

Miejsce i czas: Sunny Side Inc. Studio, Anderlecht, 9 grudnia 2017. Muzycy: Dirk Serries – gitara akustyczna, Benedict Taylor – altówka, Martina Verhoeven – fortepian.

Texture I. Akord piana, szmer strun na gryfie altówki, akord gitary. Sekwencja działań jest przejrzysta i stała w trakcie całej, czteroczęściowej ekspozycji. Wracamy do punktu wyjścia Tonusowej przygody, czyli motywu wprost z klawiatury fortepianu. Piękna sonorystyka Taylora na tle punktów kierunkowych, generowanych metodą ultra minimalistyczną przez jego partnerów. W stosunku do nagrań koncertowych, tu w studiu, dźwięk piana osiada jakby głębiej w przestrzeni spektaklu, altówka szuka brudnych, wysokich, nieco szorstkich fonii, nie stroniąc od pizzicato, a gitara zdaje się pracować na niższych strunach. Na finał pierwszej części błyskotliwy pasaż Taylora, przykład sonorystyki, która znajduje swój blask w posmaku industrialu. Serries przeplata akordy – raz pojedyncze, innym razem bardziej rozbudowane.

Texture II. Piano o stopień niżej, ale jeszcze delikatniej. Altówka płaska, znów pełna sonore. Gitara szuka dźwięku pomiędzy strunami, jakby pozbawiona była stroju. Narracja zdaje się być nieco bardziej zwarta, muzycy czują swoje oddechy na plecach, choć sama formuła improwizacji pozostaje bez zmian. Pianistka from time to time gra nawet 2-3 akordy w jednej sekwencji. Taylor pozwala sobie na prawdziwie czyste dźwięki. Każdy jego antrakt pachnie akustycznym wyniesieniem.

Point A. Intro jest udziałem altówki, szum niczym kołowanie samolotu. Akord piana – tym razem bardziej basowy. Gitara bez zmian, gra głównie ciszą. Odrobina preparacji na strunach piana, za to altówka wręcz pogwizduje! Drży i niesie złe wieści! Pudło rezonansowe największego z instrumentów daje o sobie znać. Pasaże Taylora zdają się być nieco dłuższe niż poprzednim razem. Instrument Serriesa zrobił się zaś tak suchy, że aż trzeszczy. Ujmuje nas nad wyraz gęsta narracja, jak na formułę minimal improve, konstytuującą do tej pory działania Tonusa. Altówka ma ochotę pohałasować, piano wybrzmiewa tylko matowymi młoteczkami, gitara trzyma pion – bodaj najpiękniejszy moment tego dysku, może nawet całego czteropłytowego zestawu Tonusa.

Texture III. Na wejściu aż dwa akordy piana. Altówka startuje z poziomu ciszy. Gitara tuż obok. Narracja zdaje się być bardziej rozmyta, z dużą przestrzenią ciszy pomiędzy dźwiękami. Ta opowieść potrwa 20 minut, muzycy mają zatem naprawdę dużo czasu. Struny altówki śpiewają, a jej mała ekspozycja wręcz tryska urodą. Dużo echa, sporo pogłosu. Mikrobiologia dźwięków. Martina i Dirk, konsekwentni do upadłego, Benedict momentami nieco na przekór, szuka intrygi, jest czujny i wymagający. W 10 minucie stawia kolejny stempel doskonałości. Raz za razem wystawia frazy bliskie akustycznego geniuszu. Akompaniament piana i gitary znacząco podkreśla całe zjawisko. Na ostatniej prostej Taylor skrobie struny, gra suchy ambient. Piękne!” Spontaneous Music Tribune – Poland

“Ok, the label name is unfortunate. The three items above are the first I’ve heard from this imprint and, as it happens, the music has little to do with jazz, though I take it from looking through the label’s catalog that prior releases do.

Tonus seems to be a project of guitarist Dirk Serries, the personnel varying from album to album, in these cases from duo to trio to two sets of sextets. ‘Intermediate Obscurities I + IV’ is a two-disc release, performed by those sextets. On ‘I’, listed as being “based on a leitmotif by Martina Verhoeven’, the ensemble has a superficial jazz-like aspect: Jan Daelman, flute; George Hadow, drums; Serries, acoustic guitar; Verhoeven, piano; Nils Vermeulen, double bass; Colin Webster, alto saxophone. If I were searching for any quasi jazz-related music to compare with this 58-minute work, recorded live, maybe I’d go with some of the sparer Roscoe Mitchell. Carefully composed, softly played longish lines overlap in ever-changing patterns, the tones ranging from clear to harmonics-laden (especially the arco bass, sometimes the alto). The flute and alto tend toward the higher registers, never harsh, the percussion arhythmic and sparsely colorful, the piano and guitar injecting slightly acidic chords as needed. The basic character and approach is maintained throughout but the interior details are constantly shifting. It only moves internally, but that movement and the choices made are engrossing. ‘IV’, a graphic score by Serries, utilizes an ensemble with Cath Roberts, baritone saxophone; Serries, Acoustic guitar; Benedict Taylor, viola; Tom Ward, bass clarinet; Webster, alto saxophone; and Otto Willberg, double bass. There are certain similarities with the previous work: a single piece, here about 45-minutes long, remaining in more or less the same territory for its duration, the instruments playing longish, overlapping tones. But, perhaps via the instrumentation, it’s pitched lower, darker and, to no small degree, more sumptuously. When the baritone, alto (played low) and bass clarinet combine in complex harmonies, the effect is quite luxurious. There are also occasions where the intensity level surges, though not for long. Some listeners might consider the two pieces overly akin. I don’t have that problem at all and hear them as related, but entirely distinct and very absorbing entities.

‘Texture Point’ presents four tracks, performed by Serries (acoustic guitar), Verhoeven  (piano) and Taylor (viola). There’s no indication of compositional credit given here, so I’m guessing the pieces are improvised (Guy Peters, in his liner notes–he also wrote them for the other two releases–is a little defensive here, as though writing for listeners unused to this atmosphere), though the three “textural” pieces are indeed that while the single pointillistic one lives up to its title. ‘Texture I’ offsets deep notes from the piano, lending the music a darkly romantic, even gothic aura, with mid-range, rich plucks from the guitar, both sliding alongside rougher scratching, bowing and rubbing from the viola. ‘Textures  II’ is more vibrant, the piano crystalline, though the viola is more somber, with low, wailing laments. The pointedness of “Point A” resides in the piano and, especially, the guitar–the viola casting skittering harmonics that swirl around the two more stationary sound emitters, the music growing harsher as it progresses. Finally, ‘Texture III’, returns to the rich bleakness, both the guitar and piano plucking dry tones against sustained, darkly questioning, isolated piano tones. A very impressive recording.

The third release, ‘Cagean  Morphology’, is a duo with Serries and Verhoeven, a single 34-minute piece. Again improvised, this is easily the sparest of the three offerings, the single, ringing tones of the instruments allowed to hang and decay, leaving much silence. One picks up the likely influence of the Wandelweiser school here. As with the previous works, the music remains consistently within one “space” throughout and, again, manages to offer patterns, exceedingly slow as they are, that subtly vary, more than maintaining the listener’s interest. Toward the end, the piano hits several high, brilliant notes while the guitar answers with more hesitant, wavering ones–very lovely.

All three recordings carry a fine quality of perseverance, of sustaining an idea over a long time, closely investigating aspects encountered, a favorite approach of mine. Highly recommended.” Just Outside – USA

“Enkele weken terug schreef ik al over Cagean Morphology van Tonus, het nieuwe project van Dirk Serries. Naast die CD komt ook Texture Point uit. Daar is het duo van Serries en Martina Verhoeven aangevuld met op viool Benedict Taylor.

Ook op dit album volgen de muzikanten een minimaal schema binnen de 4 verschillende werken. Het geluid, door de toevoeging van de viool heeft wel een rijker geluid dan op Cagean Morphology. Maar zelfs nu blijft er heel veel ruimte voor stilte. Er is veel ruimte binnen de muziek voor eigen invulling, of het op je in laten werken van het voorgaande. Maar anders dan op Cagean Morphology is er nu binnen die stilte vaak opeens hele zacht viool geluid te horen.

Ook afwijkend is de scherpe dissonante geluiden die uit de viool komen. Daarmee schuurt deze release iets meer waardoor een andere soort spanning wordt opgebouwd.

De muziek is minder Cageaan’s dan voorloper, maar doet me denken aan de stapel CD’s die ik heb liggen van het Britse Another Timbre label waar het ook zeker niet had misstaan, en dat kan alleen maar worden gezien als aanrader om hier dieper in te duiken. Wederom een pracht cd.” De Subjectivisten – The Netherlands

“Belgium label A New Wave of Jazz has released a steady discography of albums, all sharing an in-house visual design that favors minimal aesthetics. This visual identity, incidentally, is the work of Rutger Zuydervelt, the experimental sound artist who records as Machinefabriek. This dedication to minimalism extends to the sounds on these releases, each exploring a less is more approach to improvised jazz.

Label director Dirk Serries is present on all recordings, and this month sees the release of a trio of Tonus albums. Tonus is described as “the next chapter in his ongoing investigation into the relation between sound and time”, which is certainly evident on these three new works. Space, slowness and an exercise in restraint are common threads in each. Tonus is a collaborative project which involves Serries, his wife Martina Verhoeven and a revolving cast of musicians, and this set of albums documents both live and studio settings.

Intermediate Obscurities I + IV contains the largest group of artists with Serries, and also the most material, clocking in with two long-form pieces just shy of an hour each. “I” sees a total of six members utilizing a range of instruments, but never feels crowded. A single piano key or hit of a drum will dot the piece as will a strum of guitar, but these are connected by longer drones and flutes. This piece was constructed as part of a residency in Belgium and has a “live in the studio” feel. “IV” on the other hand is an actual live recording from a performance in London which is looser and a little more jagged, adding tension and unpredictability. Improvisation is often referred to as a language, where the members are forming a narrative in the moment, and this first statement in the Tonus series is doing just that. Group communion, group communication.

With Texture Point, the group is reduced to three, and the reduction of sounds is taken even further. Serries is joined by Benedict Taylor on viola and again Martina Verhoeven on piano. Verhoeven’s piano notes on this recording are much darker and lower than “I + IV”. The spaces between all points on this studio recording become longer and longer, the reductionist aesthetic more pronounced. At times the viola is scraped into alien textures that add dissonance to otherwise clean guitar plucks and keys. Toward the second half of the third track, “Point A”, the sounds forge together and rise up to form a rare moment of denseness, before retreating into even lengthier shadows of silence. The last five minutes of the final track, “Texture III”, are filled with room tones and almost-silence that serve as the perfect way to end this CD.

The final installment is a single 34 minute piece spread across the disc entitled Cagean Morphology. Clearly named after John Cage, this piece sees only Verhoeven as Serries’ collaborator, again on piano, him on acoustic guitar. Of the three albums, this takes the philosophy of minimalism to its most extreme. No doubt informed by Cage’s maxims on the notion of silence, prolonged stretches of nothingness rest between single notes, creating a deep, quiet music that requires active listening. Listening to this, I’m reminded of Taku Sugimoto, whose ultra-minimal guitar playing could often test the patience of his audience. His work in Tokyo’s experimental “onkyo” scene has a rival in this new Belgian strategy. Dirk Serries and his Tonus collective appear to be seeking out new scenarios of improvisation based on silence, minimalism and collaboration that signals an exciting future in this area.” Toneshift – USA

“As the name of his New Wave Of Jazz CD label suggests, Belgian guitarist Dirk Serries has, in recent years, concentrated on creating gnarly free-jazz and improv with willing co-conspirators such as UK saxophonist Colin Webster. With his new TONUS project, however, he moves perhaps a little closer to the ambient works he’s also known for. Working with pianist Martina Verhoeven and a team of guest performers across a handful of discs, TONUS concentrates on creating minimalist acoustic music that is slow, sparse and spacious – almost to the point of distraction. Cagean Morphology is a 34-mnute piece for acoustic guitar and piano that contains more silence than sound: single, isolated notes separated by yawning chasms of anticipation. Texture Point widens the aesthetic, but only just – expanding to a trio with British viola player Benedict Taylor whose spectral scrapes and ghostly harmonics provide a fragile bed for Verhoeven’s Feldmanesque clusters and Serries’ diffident plucks. Intermediate Obscurities I+IV features two discs, each with a live performance by a different sextet. ‘I’, documents an AngloBelgium ensemble negotiating the challenge of creating a coherent, hour-long group statement while leaving enough room to make sure that no individual gesture ever overlaps with another, while drummer George Hadow provides a ritualistic backdrop of gently swelling toms and sighing brushes. On ‘IV’, Serries and an all-British cast of collaborators, including Sloth Racket’s Cath Roberts on baritone sax, navigate his graphic score, generating crystalline drones and maudlin moans. Serious music for serious times” Jazzwise – UK

“****. Texture Point offers another version of the acoustic, chamber duo Serries on the acoustic guitar and Verhoeven on the piano with British viola player-improviser Benedict Taylor, recorded at at the Sunny Side Studio on December 2017. It offers three extended “Texture”s and one extended “Point”, all abstracting in a trio format the simple piano motif. Again, in a highly disciplined approach that focuses on great attention and control of every single note, its clarity and lingering sustainable effect in time and space.The addition of Taylor adds delicate dimensions of tension, reserved drama and darkness to the crystalline interplay of Serries and Verhoeven. Taylor’s extended bowing techniques, including imaginative multiphonics and scratching of the viola strings, often blur the clarity and transparency of the simple, by now familiar, piano motif of Verhoeven, Taylor sounds as introducing a subversive spirit that asks to uncover a hidden layer behind the simple, naked suchness of the repetitive motif, even insisting on doing so the tensed “Point A”.  The contrast between the restraint of Serries and Verhoeven restraint and the more open, provocative approach of Taylor deepens the methodical, ritualistic atmosphere of this meeting. Unlike Cagean Morphology, Texture Point suggests some transformation of the stark piano motif and in the trio interplay, climaxing in the best realized “Texture III”, a piece that feels like an improvisation that matured beautifully to an arresting composition.” The Free Jazz Collective – USA

“When Dirk Serries announced that his excellent 2018 set Epitaph would be his final release of vintage ambient material, one part of me expected he’d follow the two-CD set with an even more intense brand of high-decibel free jazz than the kind he’d earlier issued on his New Wave Of Jazz label. How surprising, then, to be presented with a triptych of releases that’s even quieter than Epitaph, three exercises in extreme minimalism that strip music to its skeletal core. Each is credited to Tonus (literally, “muscle strength”), a name that serves as an umbrella term for Serries on acoustic guitar, his wife Martine Verhoeven on piano, and an ever-malleable cast of others. That the Belgian guitarist is credited with acoustic on all three rather than his standard electric is obviously an immediate sign that the project’s unlike any other with which he’s been involved.

The seed for Tonus was planted during a 2017 residency when Serries convened a sextet to create material using a piano motif by Verhoeven as a starting point. Performances by that ensemble are featured on Intermediate Obscurities I + IV, a double-CD set performed by two iterations of the group, one that appeared at the Jazzcase residency in Belgium and the other at Hundred Years Gallery in London. The second release, Texture Point, pares the ensemble to a trio with Serries and Verhoeven joined by British violist Benedict Taylor, while the third, Cagean Morphology, features the married couple only.

An in-studio piece recorded in March 2018 and described on the inner sleeve as an “exercise in minimalist composing in real time,” the duo set’s a single-track, thirty-four minute performance comprised of the tiniest of brushstrokes. If one were to add up precisely how much time is dedicated to pregnant pauses and silence, in all likelihood there would more of that than instrument sounds. Typically, a single note by one, often an emphatic splash of colour, is answered by the same from the other, which engenders a further response, and so on, the couple’s dialogue executed with an almost unnerving degree of patience and discipline. Tension pervades this spacious meditation as the resonance of one note fades away before the equally resonant pluck of the next follows. Think of it as an introspective, minimalistic exercise in time-suspension and deep listening.

Without betraying the minimalism principle, Tonus’s world naturally expands with Taylor added to Texture Point, which presents four settings as opposed to one only. Just as Serries and Verhoeven favour single-note plucks, Taylor eschews conventional statements for gentle plucks and guttural scrapes, his bow for the latter dragged across the strings to produce raw expressions (one might, in isolated moments, be forgiven for thinking of Tony Conrad in his early Theatre of Eternal Music period or John Cale during his tenure with The Velvet Underground). The balance between instrument sounds and silence tips in the former’s favour, with the three largely filling the space while still leaving enough room for notes to bleed into silence. Though the general character of the fifty-three-minute recording is still meditative, there’s a greater amount of activity than on the duo set, which makes for a more animated result, even if the trio’s methodical interplay is often of the lurching and stop-start variety.

Arguably the release with the broadest potential appeal is Intermediate Obscurities I + IV, which presents different sextet configurations on two discs, the first a single-track, fifty-eight-minute live performance recorded in Belgium in November 2017 (following a three-day residency) and the second also live, this one forty-five minutes and captured in London on January 14th, 2018. On disc one, Serries and Verhoeven are joined by Jan Daelman (flute), George Hadow (drums), Nils Vermeulen (double bass), and Colin Webster (alto saxophone), an all-acoustic outfit that could execute an uptempo brand of free jazz if it were so inclined. But in keeping with the spirit of the Tonus concept, the musicians opt for methodical, lurching flow and single-note statements untethered from regulated tempo. Moments of silence are naturally in shorter supply on this release, with the expressions now tending to overlap and assemble into multilayered formation. Distinct contrasts in timbres also allows for clear separation between the instruments, which makes for a rich, stimulating sound field. Hadow restrainedly punctuates the flow with percussive accents, while the others colour this generally peaceful landscape with painterly gestures and sustained tones, from the rasp of Webster’s sax and groan of Vermeulen’s double bass to the murmur of Daelman’s flute. Dissonance sometimes creeps into the performance when pitches combine, but the material is largely placid in character, the execution ultra-disciplined and the outfit more chamber ensemble than jazz group.

The London performance brings with it significant changes in instrumentation, with Verhoeven sitting out and the ensemble split between strings and woodwinds: Serries (acoustic guitar), Benedict Taylor (viola), and Otto Wilberg (double bass) the former, and Cath Roberts (baritone sax), Tom Ward (bass clarinet), and Colin Webster (alto sax) the latter. Though the meditative, ponderous approach of the other Tonus performances remains in place, this ensemble takes on a dramatically different sound when the deep low-end generated by Ward and Roberts is heard alongside the sustained tones of Taylor and Wilberg. Contrasts of pitch and dynamics are boldly evident in the performance, and consequently this thickly textured drone very quickly pulls the listener into its absorptive world.” Textura – Canada