RT 9344 (2012)
Ensemble X : Metaimproviser
C. L. Hubsch
When I was asked to propose a large improvising group for the opening concert of the 2008 Little Bangs improvisation symposium in Basel, I suggested putting together an entirely new group. So far, my experiences with bigger groups had always left me somewhat dissatisfied; namely because the bigger the group was, the more similar the music was to that of any other big group, where the music is, more often than not, dominated by the louder instruments and by the initiatives to break away.
The will to shape, within a large group, tends to lead to a rather unclear music with medium density and pretty regular changes initiated by the most impatient musician. The longer a sound colour or duration lasts, the stronger the wish to contrast or modify it; as soon as one plays a counter colour or changes the duration, others tend to either join in or make a move of their own, frequently overriding previous decisions. The risk of aimlessly wandering music therefore grows with the size of a group.
So, I hoped to avoid these obstacles by selecting musicians I had played with before and with whose experience within larger groups I was familiar; I chose them for their interest in rather delicate, noise-oriented musicality, and their ability to listen to the smallest details (even in seemingly chaotic contexts), to both initiate and go along with any musical development.
The musicians of the Ensemble X are part of the Swiss, French and German scenes, even a bit of New York’s. More importantly its musicians have gained their big ensemble experience in groups such as Ensemble 2INCQ, NRW Improvisors Pool, ensemble]h[iatus, Fineworks, Multiple Joy[ce] Orchestra, Bull’s Eye Ensemble, Ensemble H, Markus Eichenberger`s Domino, etc.
As for the name of this group, its X stands for the Xth big ensemble, while symbolizing an ensemble of nameless musicians, of non-soloists who dissolve into a big group the personal voice they developed over the years.
After our first meeting as a group in December 2008, I was impressed by how well and how respectfully the musicians worked together. There seemed to be no need to put forth any personal claim, so we could immediately start working on our collective music. Response to the smallest sounds, orchestrated colours, symbiotic complement of the musicians' personal and instrumental characters, and music evolving from within: that´s how I would characterize the ideals we try to incorporate in Ensemble X. When each instrument is a key on the metainstrumental keyboard that is Ensemble X, each musician is a part of the metaimprovisor’s brain.
I see each of these musicians as an "active centre in a network of inexhaustible relationships" (Umberto Eco) where it is totally satisfying to only be the trigger of a movement or, better still, a part of a movement, where the ability to exercise full freedom to develop the music is interweaved with full trust to give oneself up in the ensemble music. And this may be how Ensemble X distinguishes itself from a typical jazz orchestra: You don't need to play a solo in this group; the group being the soloist, you are an integral part of its solo.
I am thankful for all the input, the sharing and the work these musicians have given to Ensemble X.
Bryon Hayes - Exclaim !
The X in tuba player Carl Ludwig Hübsch's 19-piece meta-improvising ensemble acts as a placeholder, speaking to the anonymous nature of the individual performers as their personalities are shed in favour of the needs of the larger group. By handpicking members of the Swiss, French, German and American improvising scenes, Hübsch was able to assemble a group of musicians dedicated to his vision of creating a delicate, noise-oriented sound and whose personal and instrumental characters worked in symbiosis with the music as it evolved. Each of the four pieces featured on this album showcase the ensemble's "groupthink," or meta-improvisatory, nature in its own way. Distant thunderclouds interrupt the serenity of "X113," while the bedrock of "X8" and "X111" expands and contracts, fracturing in the process. "X112" is a sleeping giant of a piece, hesitant to change direction. When searching for treasure amongst European improv releases, X certainly marks the spot.
Joe Higham - FreeJazz
It's not often that you get one of these on the Free Jazz blog! Real improvised music with people listening, no egos, no soloists, just like in the old days! My first statements might seem a little ridiculous, but they're not meant to be. I notice that today we seem to - luckily - be developing an improvised music scene made up of groups that have lead identities, and nothing wrong with that. Gustafsson, Brötzmann, Vandermark, Halvorson, Wooley, Laubrock etc, names that lead and could be called soloists if needs be. However, some forms of improvised music work on the idea of cooperative improvisation, ensemble work. Groups such as London Improvisers Orchestra and ICP are rare to see out on the road, probably due to logistics? Well, NFS Ensemble X is another of these large groups consisting of 19 musicians put together and led by Carl Ludwig Hübsch, a name (sorry to say) I'm not familiar with.
If you bought or heard - back in 2011 - the Futon Quartet after reading Stef's reaction to the album, then this album may also speak to you. It is music which is very, very detailed, and extremely delicate in texture, in fact with so many musicians it's like wondering how so many elephants can tiptoe around without breaking anything! Each improvisation (4 in all) is a delicate canvas of sound and colour, not unlike a minimalist or abstract painting, maybe resembling such modern canvases as Pollock, Rothko or a Tobey. Splurges of sound, seemingly endless blurred blocks of sound colour blend together giving the pieces great depth.The pieces are titled X113, X8, X112 and X111 which also gives them a sense of abstract impressionism, leaving the listener to hear what they wish within these massive structures. There are no soloists sticking out of the music, giving an impression of a blanket of sound. The dynamics in each of the pieces can change unexpectedly, swelling up from time to time like a storm brooding which passes over you leaving a calm but mysterious unresolved mist of sound. The music's wild open landscapes conjure up strange images, full of half seen or imagined images.
The key to this music, and what makes (or brakes) it is that 'Ensemble X' really listens to each other, which is essential to this type of music, and maybe something rather lacking in our present-day society? Each player must hear what the other is saying before making a contribution, absolutely sure what is needed, a truly egalitarian approach.
Highly recommended for all who like details in music, and for those who enjoy chamber ensembles, a rare thing in the present financial climate unfortunately.
Lawrence Joseph - Today's Sounds
Listeners can be forgiven for thinking the “X” refers to Xenakis, since the overall sound field is sometimes reminiscent of electro-acoustic works such as Polytope de Cluny and at other times recalls the composer’s microtonal orchestral pieces. A further clue, which may be deliberate or just coincidental, is the large X on the back cover, a virtual copy of the artwork from the Mode series of Xenakis releases. However, according to band leader Carl Ludwig Hübsch, the “X” in the group’s name should be interpreted algebraically, representing an unknown quantity and hinting at anonymity.
Indeed, the international crew of Swiss, French, German and American natives includes names that will be unfamiliar to many, although some may recognize clarinettist Xavier Charles and trumpeter Nate Wooley. Further, an almost complete avoidance of overt soloing means no individual player stands out at any time, so the “X” for anonymity fits in that regard as well.
In any case, this certainly ain’t your typical 19-member big band. The customary saxes, brass, clarinets, strings, piano, bass and percussion are present, but they’re augmented by the electronics of Uli Böttcher, Christoph Schiller’s spinet and unspecified “objects” sonified by Olivier Toulemonde. The wide orchestral palette is used to great effect, with constantly shifting timbral colours.
Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
Ensemble X is a large 19 piece ensemble led by Carl Ludwig Hubsch with musicians drawn from various scenes in Switzerland, France, Germany and the US. I don't recognize the names of many of the musicians here except for a few like Uli Bottcher, Markus Eichenberger and Philip Zoubek and this is only from years of searching for obscure players. In order to avoid the trap of too many musicians playing at the same time or the music becoming too dense too often, Hubsch chose musicians who have been working with lower case (ie: quiet) explorations. I've listened a few times since getting a promo last month and am quite impressed. It is difficult to tell that there are so many musicians involved as the sounds are often sparse yet extremely focused. Instrumentation includes strings, clarinets, brass, piano, spinet, recorder, electronics and objects. It does sound as if someone is directing the improvisations as a variety of shapes and patterns emerge and submerge. Layers of drones, plucked, bowed and tapped sounds are closely woven together in a shifting tapestry that evolves as it unfolds. There are no obvious soloists vying for attention here as this is more about listening closely and developing combinations of intricate explorations. It feels like the sounds themselves have a way of creating a new environment that evokes a series of scenes and/or stories. Sometimes alien, sometimes familiar.