LYRICISM AS AN INSTRUMENT: AMERICAN POETRY MEETS EUROPEAN FREE IMPROVISATION — THE SPOKEN WORD ENCOUNTERS TACTILE MUSIC
Release date: January 3rd, 2021
Eliot Cardinaux: pianos, voice, poetry
Jonas Engel: alto saxophone, clarinet, modified pTrumpet
Etienne Nillesen: extended snare drum
Asger Thomsen: double bass, objects
those knifecords —
a knot in the blood
overblown with margins
“Cardinaux delivers his somehow cryptic text […] with a sense of urgency […] His voice anchors the abstract yet highly expressive and often chaotic transformations in his poetic images to the dense and intense sonic events provided by the players. These sonic events contrast his quiet delivery with their playful, dramatic building of tension and release. Engel, Nillesen and Thomsen [are] busy supplying a restless and noisy percussive layer to the voice of Cardinaux and later to his brief musings on the piano.” -Eyal Hareuveni
The international ensemble Our Hearts as Thieves now offer up their sophomore record, what the wildflower witnessed, a double CD and download comprised of two long-form live sets & two short studio tracks recorded at Loft, in Cologne, in January, 2020. The music develops alongside Cardinaux’s poignant verses based on the work of Osip Mandelstam, Paul Celan, & Adonis, from his collection Around the Faded Sun. His distinctive voice seamlessly interweaves with the filigreed music. The band uses ambient-acoustic approaches, embracing extended techniques and prepared sounds on their instruments while giving space to Eliot’s voice & piano, which serve as a narrative anchor. The music is abstract, dynamic, and expressive, filled with complex textures blending in and out of one another, often making it hard to distinguish who’s playing what. The album releases January 3rd, 2021, a year to the day from when it was recorded.
Engineering: Stefan Deistler
Mixing & production: Eliot Cardinaux
Mastering: Jim Hemingway
Artwork: Jeffrey Lipsky
Design: Katya Popova
Recorded January 3rd, 2020
at Loft, Cologne, Germany
“Knifecords” & “A Present History of Air”
recorded live before an audience
Poet & theorist Cathy Park Hong, in her essay “Against Witness,” writes, in the context of the work of Doris Salcedo, that “installation art is an immersive somatic experience, engaging all our perceptual planes — the spatial, the aural — and not just the optical.” Poetry, if I may say, lies within the same realm to me, in that my poetry is installed, more often than not, as the one and only “formal” component, within the framework of a shared practice of improvisation, rather than existing solely on the page. The experience, I hope, is immersive in a similar sense.
The poetry on this recording is based in great part on the work of two poets, one of whose phrases scatter the titles of Doris Salcedo’s works, & whom Cathy Park Hong writes about, rightly, in the same essay.
The first, aforementioned, is Paul Celan, a poet who survived both his parents and the holocaust in which both of their lives were taken, who wrote in German; not only in the language his mother spoke to him as a child, but also in the language of her & his father’s killers.
The second is Osip Mandelstam, a Russian poet who lived & died under Stalin — whose work survived in great part — astonishingly, as the poems alone number roughly 400 — in he & his wife’s long-term memory, due to the fact that any written manuscript of the work was subject to confiscation by authorities, & therefore endangered both Mandelstam & his wife by its very presence.
There is a third poet, however, whose poems have left an indelible mark on this music: the Syrian poet Adonis, whose exile & virtual invention of modern Arabic poetry have still not been fully recognized throughout the Western world. His influence on my poetry is clear, mostly in our second set (“A Present History of Air”).
I recently brought the poems I’ve mentioned — which are collected alongside others under the title Around the Faded Sun (Bodily Press, 2020) — into the midst of this recorded improvisation, which you are reading about now — with a group of musicians I am lucky to be a part of, going by the name Our Hearts as Thieves.
Jonas, Asger, Etienne, & I met for a day of recording & a concert in January of 2020, shortly before the Coronavirus took hold. It was only the second time we had met as a full ensemble. The result was captured on recording by Stefan Deistler, & I was able to render & produce an album out of the raw material. I hope it brings out, in relative detail, a semblance of the energy of these 70+ minutes of music.
With the exception of the two shorter tracks, which were the only things kept out of several hours of music recorded privately during the day, this album was recorded live, uninterrupted, in two sets, in front of a small & attentive audience at Loft in Cologne.
Bringing any of my poetry into the midst of improvisation has always been, to me — & in this case, I personally feel, quite happily, if you can say that nowadays — a genuine, experimental risk. Any reward I have taken from the experience, as I always hope will be the case, is due to the skill & dedication of the musicians on the gig.
Eliot Cardinaux is a pianist and poet living in Northampton, Massachusetts. Having studied jazz piano at The Manhattan School of Music, as well as contemporary improvisation at the New England Conservatory, he has lived in many places and absorbed a variety of influences. He is the founder of The Bodily Press through which he has released the works of other poets, visual artists, & musicians (Sean Ali, Asger Thomsen, & others), as well as several of his own collections and CDs, including, most recently, the poetry chapbook Becoming Stranger, and a jazz quartet album under his own name, titled A Living Past, featuring Asger Thomsen, Jonas Engel, & Simon Forchhammer. He is also the editor of the online journal Partitions, published through the press. His first album as a leader, American Thicket, was released in 2016 on Loyal Label, and features Mat Maneri, Thomas Morgan, and Flin van Hemmen. He has since been involved in projects such as Magpie (Six Feet on Solid Ground, Bodily Press, 2018, with Asger Thomsen & Jeppe Høi Justesen), Odysseus Alone (Insula Jazz, 2017, with Thomas Morgan & Kresten Osgood), a trio with Will McEvoy & Max Goldman (take me by the hand of darkness, BP, 2019), and his own solo project, Sweet Beyond Witness (BP, 2018). His poetry has been published in Caliban Online, Trestle Ties, Big Big Wednesday, Hollow, Bloodroot Literary Journal, White Heat, and Dispatches from the Poetry Wars. Cardinaux is currently pursuing an MFA in Poetry at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst where he was recently awarded the Deborah Slosberg Memorial Prize for poetry, judged by Fanny Howe. He tours when he can, in the Northeast U.S. and Europe.
Jonas Engel is a German saxophonist, composer and voice of the young creative music scene in Cologne and Copenhagen where he studied with Frank Gratkowski, Jürgen Friedrich, Niels Klein, Torben Snekkestad, Søren Kjærgaard, and Jacob Anderskov. He is a multiple-award-winner with his bands „Just Another Foundry“ and „OWN YOUR BONES“ (Young German Jazz Award, European Tremplin Jazz Award, Maastricht Jazz Award, Dörken Stiftung). He is constantly researching all kinds of technique extensions to produce sound and silence. Jonas was part of the German National Jazz Orchestra (BuJazzO) led by Jiggs Whigham and Niels Klein. He is the leader and composer of the band “OWN YOUR BONES” (Klaeng Records), a quartet which exploits the entirety of sound for two saxophones and rhythm section. Concert tours have led him through Europe, South and North America, the Near East, China and South-East Asia.
Asger Thomsen is a bass player and composer living in Copenhagen, Denmark. He works primarily in the field of contemporary improvised music. With a physical, detail-oriented approach and a rich palette of sounds, often strengthened by the use of unconventional extended techniques, he aims for contrast and dynamic forward motion in his music. Thomsen has established himself as a versatile improviser on the Copenhagen scene, and tours internationally. He can be heard in many different contexts spanning from rock to free/experimental jazz and the avant-garde. He leads or co-leads projects such as Autolysis, The Moms, Perfect Volume, Our Hearts as Thieves, and a solo project of his own.
Etienne Nillesen is a performer and composer from The Netherlands currently based in Cologne, Germany. With an instrumental and physical approach, he explores and pushes the limits of the natural acoustics of the snare drum using conventional as well as extended techniques and preparations. His work involves elements of conceptual and spontaneous composition, structured improvisation, performance, and sound poetry. Alongside his own work, Etienne is a performer of contemporary music and works with composition, movement, and snare drum in a number of interdisciplinary projects. His interest in various forms of exploratory music have allowed him the opportunity to work regularly with artists such as Rudi Mahall, Claudio Puntin, Sofia Jernberg, Audrey Chen, Eve Risser, Philip Zoubek, Sebastian Gramss, Michael Thieke, Pascal Niggenkemper, Theo Bleckmann, Ernst Reijseger, Shelley Hirsch, Wolter Wierbos, Wilbert DeJoode, Carl Ludwig Hubsch, Michael Vorfeld, Eivind Aarset, Tom Arthurs, Robert Landfermann, Natalie Sandtorv, Bram Stadhouders, Robert van Heumen, Brad Henkel, Simon Nabatov, Sebastian Duboc, Frank Gratkowsky, Simin Tander, Elisabeth Fügemann, Nicola Hein, Matthias Muche, and many others. Besides being active as a musician he is a professor at the ArtEZ institute of the Arts in Arnhem, The Netherlands.