WHO#02 - The Swifter
A1: End of Capstan Bars
A2: Neap Tide
B2: Wave Guidance Allows Three
Drums & percussion: Andrea Belfi.
Piano: Simon James Phillips.
Recorded by Mattef Kuhlmey at the Grunewaldkirche, Berlin, September 2011. Mixed by The Swifter. Cut by Jason Goz at Transition Mastering Studios, London, August 2012. Photography – Chris Bigg.
Introducing The Swifter – a new trio featuring Andrea Belfi (drums and percussion), BJNilsen (electronics) and Simon James Phillips (piano).
Their debut album documents the first encounter of the three musicians. Recorded live in the Grunewald Church, Berlin, careful attention was given to capturing the unique resonant acoustic offered by the airy, stone building, exhibiting the broad palate of aesthetic qualities the group are able to create. Subtly evolving sound worlds that evoke, at times, the loneliness within a ship’s hold; a relentlessly driven wall of harmonically rich sound or a sonic fog that lifts to reveal a delicate instrumental discourse.
Nilsen sources material from the soundboard of the giant Bösendorfer Imperial concert grand played by Phillips. This setup facilitates a oneness of sound that Nilsen subtly manipulates to either augment or contrast against the unique sonic world of Phillips’ playing – which is carefully punctuated or driven by Belfi’s distinctive style.
The album’s cover features double-exposure photography shot by Chris Bigg (David Sylvian/4AD). Available as a limited edition vinyl LP and as FLAC download on The Wormhole, a byproduct of The Tapeworm.
The Liminal (UK):
… This astounding album seems, at times, the biography of the building it was recorded in – the Grunewald Church in Berlin. Acoustic bliss for an orchestral trio such as The Swifter, the space seems stony, resonant, and ethereal, and forms the basis of their interaction with each other and their instruments. Their attention to the atmospherics allows for a discourse that belies their own orchestral story – they’re nestled in the belly of this beast, and they’re producing their harmonies and rhythms accordingly.
Beyond this architectural reading of the album is a nautical element. ‘Swifter’ refers to a line that runs around the ends of the capstan bars on a ship that prevent their falling out of the sockets, and the names of the four pieces which make up the album conjure up a similar aesthetic. The opening gamut, fittingly titled ‘The End of the Capstan Bars’ begins quietly, almost invites its listeners to arrive in the space that it is opening up. But again, they’re inside the vessel; they’re swaying with its pulse, the rhythm that brings the trio together to perform this near perfect debut. They’re running their lines around this space, showing us its circumference, its nooks and crannies. They refuse to take up the space, but invite us to be inside it, for a soothing 46 minutes and 21 seconds. …
The Swifter was later named as one of The Liminal's Albums of the Year 2012.
The Wormhole introduce The Swifter - a new trio featuring Andrea Belfi (drums and percussion), BJNilsen (electronics) and Simon James Phillips (piano) - on three tantalisingly spacious live recordings made in the Grunewald Church, Berlin. The players operate in discrete discourse with the building’s unique resonant architecture, using its airy aesthetic qualities and stone construction to deftly accentuate the harmonically rich tones and textures of their delicate gestures. Phillips plays a Bösendorfer Imperial concert grand, which is subsequently processed by Nilsen and punctuated by Belfi’s fluid, distinctive style in a feedback system of measured, tempered sonorities. Their first piece ‘End of Capstan Bars’ starts out creaking and keeling, evoking “the loneliness within a ship's hold” but evolves into a gorgeous and minimal wash of spiritual jazz tones and tranquil bliss also recalling Edward Larry Gordon’s ‘Celestial Vibrations’; ‘Neap Tide’ is quieter, space afforded to the fluttering keys and pensile electronics; ‘Swallow’ the seductive centrepiece, evolves rippling drum patterns and plangent harmonics that diffuse like incense; with ‘Wave Guidance Allows Three’ Belfi locks onto an urgent, metronomic rhythm while Phillips’ keys and Nilsen’s electronics accumulate a stirring mass of energy, dissipating when Belfi flickers into impossibly dextrous double time.
Aquarius Records (US):
UK tape label the Tapeworm launches their new, non-tape imprint, called The Wormhole, with two new releases, the double 7” vinyl debut of drcarlsonalbion aka Dylan Carlson from Earth, reviewed elsewhere on this week’s list, and the oddly named outfit The Swifter, a trio of piano, electronics and drums and percussion, featuring long time aQ fave BJ Nilsen manning the electronics. This record documents the group’s first encounter, which took place in an old German church, and found the trio taking full advantage of the space’s incredible acoustics, for a fantastic bit of dreamlike minimalism, beginning life as a creaking ship’s hull, channeling Nurse With Wound’s fantastic Salt Marie Celeste, but quickly letting the piano move to the fore, the sound transforming into something much more Necks like, the flurries of swirling notes reminding us of Lubomyr Melnyk, the drums a subtle background shuffle, the electronics alternately adding texture, or manipulating the sounds of the other players, but on the opening track, the sound is quite organic, minimal motorik free jazz drift, that gradually splinters into something much more rhythmic and abstract, and electronic sounding, but due to the instrumentation and the space, even the electronics sound organic.
The rest of the record explores similar territory, the piano adding most of the melodic color, while the drums and electronics supply the texture, dreamy and washed out one second, spare and skeletal the next, with some really fantastic moments throughout, the looped piano fragment and martial snare on “Neap Tide”, or the No Neck Blues Band like soft cacophony on “Swallow”, the record finishing off with the fantastic “Wave Guidance Allows Three”, which again on the surface has a Necks like feel, but the low end piano is looped and layered and processed, creating huge dense blackened billows, churning and strangely atonal, while the drums supply a simple subtle driving rhythm underneath, before dissipating into a gorgeous glistening bliss out coda.
Vital Weekly (NL):
The Wormhole, is a ‘byproduct of The Tapeworm', and releases ‘round' things, hence a LP here. The Swifter is a trio of the for me unknown Simon James Phillips on piano, BJNilsen on electronics and Andrea Belfi on drums and percussion. This was recorded in 2011 in a church in Berlin and I have no idea of The Swifter is an one-off or intended as an ongoing concern. The liner notes are very cryptic here, but the key is provided: ‘What is this record? Space. Not sure. But space is one thing for sure'. Like I am pleased with the current wave of spacious Australian ‘jazz' music (Spartak, Gilded, 3Millions and Pollen Trio), this too shares that terrain. It's not really jazz of course by any sort of jazz standard, but especially what Phillips and Belfi are doing on their instruments is a bit jazz like, and spacious - above all spacious. BJNilsen provides the odd element here, something which takes it even further away from the jazz, and adds a more sinister backdrop to the music. Belfi keeps rolling his mallets over the skins and the piano plays repeated chords, but, hey, this is a church, so it sounds also a bit remote, a bit far away - more spacious movements going on here. This is the kind of music without a term. Its improvised for sure, its not really jazz, its quite ambient, but then also heavily acoustic. Maybe it is one of those things where you realize you don't need terms all the time to say something about the music. This is an excellent record, and let's hope The Swifter is indeed not an one-off project.
This is the eponymous debut album from Andrea Belfi (percussion), BJ Nilsen (electronics), and Simon James Phillips (piano). Recorded live in a Berlin church. the album comes across as an isolating, but effective combination of these three different artists, coming together to produce something that sounds like none of them in particular, but a whole that has its own singular sound.
The trio used the resonant space of the venue to excellent effect throughout The Swifter, with each piece bathed in a distinct, though natural reverb. “End of Capstan Bars” leads off the album with a hollow, environmental clattering that has a distinct character that even the most advanced of digital reverbs could nary hope to accomplish. Because it does have such a natural quality, even when it is used heavily throughout the performance, it does not come across as cliché dark ambience.
The electronic creaking and popping textures of “End of Capstan Bars” are paired with more organic piano and brushed percussion, coming together as distinctly different take on minimalist jazz fusion. “Neap Tide” has a repetitive piano and distant percussive sounds that are less musical and more environmental, having a sparse, yet beautiful arrangement.
“Swallow” is less about subtlety and instead focuses more on shambling and muffled percussion from Belfi, while Nilsen's electronic mangling comes out sounding like popping pop corn. Amidst a hollow, low frequency drone, piano and unconventional rhythms balance each other out in a strange, tense equilibrium, resulting in a surprisingly delicate sound before increasing in intensity in its latter moments.
“Wave Guidance Allows Three” is where the understated sensibility gets tossed by the wayside, with a grandiose, massive piano sound dominating, accentuated by percussion and what sounds like a simple rhythmic synth sequence. While the boisterous piano leads, it is soon deposed by the percussion taking the lead, locking everything into a vaguely krautrock groove while the piano piles up into a lush background texture.
This debut is intrinsically tied to its setting and performance, which may or may not be an important factor in future recordings. The isolationist, rhythmic quality to the sound is inviting, even though it is an obtuse approach to music.
Andrea Belfi alla batteria, BJ Nilsen all'elettronica e Simon James Phillips al pianoforte. Un trio delle meraviglie capace di parlare una lingua tra jazz e ambient più onirica che cosmica: la batteria di Belfi è il ponte tra l'elettroacustica di BJ Nilsen e il pianismo estremamente lirico di Phillips. Il suono dei piatti carezzati e percossi alla maniera di Paul Motian è il collante tra universi apparentemente distanti: nulla sembra fuori posto nelle liquide architetture sonore improvvisate da The Swifter.
Il disco è stato registrato all'interno della Chiesa Grunewald, a Berlino, nel settembre del 2011, facendo grande attenzione ai riverberi acustici dell'ambiente. A trarne giovamento è stata soprattutto la batteria di Belfi che nel mix finale sembra potersi muovere liquidamente nello spazio come nelle migliori produzioni dell'ECM. A enfatizzare l'eco e le riflessioni del suono gioca un ruolo fondamentale anche l'elettronica di Nilsen, che per l'ocasione ha manipolato i suoni del Bösendorfer suonato da Phillips al fine di sottolinearne i dettagli. Il risultato non è distante dalle atmosfere che si respiravano sugli incredibili dischi dei Necks (il cui pianista, Chris Abrahams, ha collaborato proprio con Phillips nel progetto Pedal, pochi anni fa).
L'idea di “spazio” fa scorrere con gran naturalezza le quattro lunghe improvvisazioni contenute sul disco. Ogni particolare della realizzazione di “The Swifter” è stato curato con grande attenzione: dalla scelta dei microfoni utilizzati durante la registrazione a quella per la foto di copertina per la quale è stato ingaggiato Chris Bigg, famoso per i suoi lavori sui dischi di David Sylvian e su molti dei capolavori della 4AD.
The Swifter è il progetto frutto dell’incontro fra tre dei protagonisti dell’ultimo decennio di musica ambientale: il pianista Simon James Phillips, il batterista Andrea Belfi (allievo “virtuale” di Brandlmayr) e il sovrano indiscusso del dark-ambient organico BJ Nilsen. Non inganni però la suddetta definizione: il riferimento è infatti a quella branca dell’ambient music elettro-acustica capace di evolversi sino a prendere le forme più svariate e a distanziarsi da quel canone “tradizionale” che da Brian Eno porta a Tim Hecker. L’omonimo debutto dei tre su Wormhole è un viaggio negli strati di un ambient imparentata strutturalmente con il minimalismo, espresso in un continuum sonoro costantemente in movimento, che nei tredici minuti di End Of Capstan Bars si dilata congiungendo ciclicamente nuove forme: prima il silenzio della natura, poi i flussi melodici dell’atmosfera e infine i droni di sinistri pseudo-archi a distanziarsi da ambedue. Negli altri tre brani la lente d’ingrandimento si posa rispettivamente su field recordings e ambienti da gelo svedese (Neap Tide), destrutturazioni ritmiche (Swallow) e onirismo strumentale guidato dal pianoforte (Wave Guidance Allows Three). Mai nessuno dei tre si era avvicinato tanto alla formula storica di Eno e successori: The Swifter congiunge quest’ultima alle sue incarnazioni più moderne, risultando UNO DEI DISCHI AMBIENT PIÙ FRESCHI DEGLI ULTIMI ANNI.
Good Friends With Bad Habits (Germany):
Ähnlich wie bei Gilded und Ackroyd spielt auch bei The Swifter das Klavier eine zentrale Rolle. Ganz so formstreng wie jene ist das Trio auf seinem selbstbetitelten Debütalbum jedoch nicht unterwegs, ganz im Gegenteil. Kein Wunder angesichts der Akteure: Der schwedische Elektroniker BJ Nilsen steht seit jeher eher für freie Formen ein (das kann auch mal schiefgehen), Perkussionist Andrea Belfi transformiert schon mal ganze Häuser in Musikinstrumente und Simon James Philips, dessen Piano auf The Swifter eine so zentrale Rolle spielt, hat seinen klassischen Background schon lange gegen die Identität eines Improvisationskünstlers eingetauscht. Ungewohnt ist höchstens, wie verhalten sie dann doch klingen. Hauchzart, kurz vor der absoluten Stille bewegen sich die vier verjammten Tracks. Keine Verlegenheit, sondern musikalischer Feinsinn: The Swifter geben sich bedächtig und erweisen sich als perfekt fluktuierendes Kollektiv, in dem Egomanie genauso wenig Platz eingeräumt wird wie unmotiviertem Krach. Leise und sanft lässt Nilsen die Elektronik knistern, mit viel Gefühl akzentuiert Belfi die krautigen Rhythmen. Und über allem windet sich Philips‘ Klavierspiel in nie enden wollenden (sollten sie auch nicht!) Kaskaden der Schönheit. Drei Ausnahmemusiker in vollendeter Symbiose, verträumt, entrückt und doch mit dem Blick aufs große Ganze. Wie ein verschwommener Tagtraum. Ein wunderbares Album, bezaubernd von der ersten Sekunde bis zur letzten.
Recorded at the Grunewald Church in Berlin in September 2011, The Swifter's self-titled debut album pools the improvisatory talents of electro-acoustic percussionist Andrea Belfi, sound artist B J Nilsen, and experimental composer-pianist Simon James Phillips. Though each brings a highly personalized background in music production to The Swifter, it's Belfi's involvement in a project called Between Neck & Stomach, in which he turned a house into a musical instrument by using sound vibrations to shake items such as pots, plates, and cupboards (a CD of the same name was issued on Häpna in 2006), that provides a helpful segueway to the trio release. The connection? On The Swifter, the musicians also eschew conventional role-playing for a multi-layered approach to sound-generation that's predominantly textural in design.
The extended opening piece “End of Capstan Bars” begins with ambient sounds of object clatter and muffled noises of indeterminate origin that gradually assume a more musical formation, as if the three collaborators are feeling their way along, collectively shaping the material in the moment. Dense piano-generated clusters appear in tandem with percussive rumble and cymbal shadings, with Nilsen's presence more subliminal in the early going but becoming more pronounced as the piece unfolds. On the second side, Phillips's dense clusters nicely dovetail with Nilsen's electronics to generate a dronescape during the opening part of “Swallow” before Belfi splits it apart with a series of drum and cymbal punctuations. It's during the recording's second half that the material takes a more aggressive turn, with the rolling piano patterns, electronic cloud mass, and now-insistent drumming building into an ever-intensifying whole.
The Swifter exudes a rather Touch-like quality in the patient and explorative mindset the three participants bring to the project and in the restrained manner by which the material develops. No jarring detonations occur but instead carefully considered interplay, with each musician acting more as sound colourist than conventional soloist; Phillips, for example, uses the piano less for voicing themes than as a percussive device. There are times, however, when that reticent approach results in what seems like a missed opportunity, such as when Phillips initiates “Neap Tide” with a chiming pattern of Reich-styled repetitions that the others only tentatively respond to with subtle expressions rather than exploiting the dynamic potential offered by the pianist's playing.
Tiny Mix Tapes (US):
[…] The Swifter combine their desire to record in an open, public space with the nautical aspects of their namesake. They aurally transform the alter into the hull of a ship, which bulges and splits as the group grace their makeshift platform. The transpiring set plays on these themes through track titles in addition to the coarse reverberation that clings to Phillips’ trembling keys and Belfi’s sporadic percussion, a delicate vessel at the mercy of a cascading body of water, chopping and slipping in tempo and rhythm. The ambiance embodies tumultuous quality, which exposes one of the central reasons for choosing this space: The Swifter utilize the loss of acoustic control that was wonderfully harnessed by A Winged Victory For The Sullen and use it here to bridge switches in pace that are so curiously explored on, for example, the second half of “Neap Tide,” which folds tidy and repetitive high notes into slowly encroaching percussion before breaking off into an imposing drone. Where these projects diverge somewhat is in their apparent mood; an air of uncertainty bisects the seemingly improvised jams this inconspicuous trio conjure as Nilsen feeds Phillips’ beautiful renditions through his wily circuitry.
Such subtle moments are also alluded to in the seafaring references that trickle across The Swifter’s tracklist. The interplay amid the stone-wall acoustics of Grunewald and the unyoked compositions that spill out over its decks create the most forsaken, precarious sensations — the sound of a bow creaking on “Swallow” or the rapid engulf of piano and percussion patchwork on “Wave Guidance Allows Three.” This is a project that remains loyal to its underlying themes while leaning heavily on the interference, or even the guidance, of environmental surroundings. The four resulting tracks bolster the groups’ decision to record at Grunewald while emphasizing their intent on using the building as a vehicle as opposed to exploring the possibility of lacing their songs with a message that veers anywhere outside of sonic temperament. In this case, it makes for an absorbing, resplendent listen that pulls on the unique talents of each musician, despite the isolated and forceful pieces they present here. A manically inspired protest album this is not, but through utilizing the capacity of their venue, The Swifter have cultivated a celestially enchanting debut.
Chain D.L.K. (US):
The Wormhole, the newborn imprint by cassette label The Tapeworm, definitively weighs anchor by means of this seafaring debut release of an impressive trio made up of Italian drummer, electroacoustic musician and composer Andrea Belfi, Australian Berlin-resident pianist Simon James Phillips and Swedish sound-artist Benny Jonas Nilsen. The sound genesis by The Swifter approximately works so: Phillips strokes on Imperial, the largest flagship by the notorious Austrian piano manufacturer Boesendorfer, get into Nilsen's machines, both of them seem to interact in real-time, while Belfi's drumming and electroacoustic nick-nacks sometimes play the role of a joining link, sometimes emphasizes the "dialogue" between the other "interlocutors", but there's a fourth member of the line-up which plays a very important role: the setting they've chosen for the recording, Berlin's Grunewald Church, whose impressive reverberation already attracted similar musicians like Nils Frahm, who recorded "The Bells", and Dustin O'Halloran. The fact that listener's imagination could be brought on a sailing boat struggling against unpredictable moods of the sea or got confused with the sea-mist, the breathtaking feeling of infinite space or the relief for the sight of a forthcoming haven has not been influenced by the fact the release has many references to nautical words, but it arises from the sonic hints this trio manages to render: the ingenious attention to details, the gentle metronic brushes on hats, the sophisticated play of echoes and delays and even the electroacoustic additives which realistically simulates the creaking of the deck or the noise of the cordage a sailor knows are so vivid that you could easily lapse into a daydreaming and enchanted state. Available on limited edition vinyl lp or FLAC download, I cannot but recommended such a charming listening experience!
Wanneer cassettelabel The Tapeworm zich op andere formaten stort, neemt de naam origineel genoeg de vorm aan van The Bookworm (u raadt het al) en Wormhole; de laatste voor releases met een gat in het midden, cd's dus, maar liefst vinyl. Het label introduceert The Swifter: een nieuwbakken trio van Andrea Belfi (drums en percussie), BJNilsen (elektronica) en Simon James Phillips (piano). In de Berlijnse Grunewald-kerk werden de drie live opgenomen.
De tonen die Phillips aan de grote Bösendorfer-piano weet te ontlokken, worden door Nilsen onder handen genomen en allesbehalve gemaltraiteerd. Alsof het hele kerkgebouw de klankkast vormt voor de snaren, speelt de akoestiek een niet te onderschatten partij mee in een symfonie waarin delicate percussie, galmende bekkens en zo nu en dan ritmische drums een hoofdrol opeisen. Zij zorgen op geïmproviseerde leest geschoeid ervoor dat de ambientachtige, wiegende texturen nergens wegzakken in muzakmoerassen.
Waar The Swifter thematische raakvlakken heeft met nautische aangelegenheden waant de luisteraar zich al snel onwillekeurig in de buik van een groot koopvaardijzeilschip uit vroegere tijden. Golven klotsen zachtmoedig naar vervaarlijk wild, stormen lijken door de kieren te gieren en met donderend geraas klettert een stortbui neer. Op een ander moment treedt een kalme windarme luwte in en echoot de ruimte vooral een en al vredigheid en rust.
Het kwartet nummers houdt koers midden tussen organisch en elektronisch; tussen licht en duisternis, en kent een zekere zweem van een schildering in grijstinten. Als een reis door mistbanken op zee doemen onvermoed twinkelend minimalisme en straffe snareroffels op, om even gezwind weer plaats te maken voor ratelende kettingen en gecontroleerde fluisterfeedback. Dit debuut doet verlangen naar nieuwe behouden vaart voor deze zeelieden en gelukkig (b)lijkt het drietal in The Wormhole een veilige haven gevonden te hebben.