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The advent of Polwechsel in the mid- to late '90s helped coalesce a part of the Viennese experimental music scene (and to some extent the European one too) around an esthetic of a post-minimalist search for the inner details of sound. What would be called "microsound" or "lowercase-sound" for the next few years was first explored and exposed by this quartet. Its influence and impact has been important, even though the group only took part in a growing sensibility to look into silence and quietness to find the next step avant-garde music, especially the live kind, should take. Polwechsel was founded in 1993 by Werner Dafeldecker (then an avant-garde jazz bassist) and Michael Moser (a concert cellist). The name comes from an AC/DC converter the two musicians stumbled upon in a thrift shop (the device is pictured on the cover of the group's first two albums). Burkhard Stangl, a Viennese jazz guitarist, and the Italian free improv trombonist Radu Malfatti completed the first lineup. The group adopted a format of structured improvisation, blending compositional structures that explored recent ideas in contemporary classical music and the openness and sound exploration of free improv, especially the kind pioneered by John Stevens and his Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Right from the start, Polwechsel found a distinctive sound in the hums and buzzes of electric guitars, new textures from the string instruments, and Malfatti's near-silent valve and mouth playing. The music aims to create textural sonic landscapes requiring the listener's undivided attention. The group released its first CD (eponymous) on the label Random Acoustics in 1995. It went unnoticed in the music press. But when Polwechsel appeared at the LMC Festival in London, in 1996, things began to move. When Malfatti bailed out in 1997, Londoner John Butcher (saxophone) was called in. This new lineup recorded Polwechsel 2 in January 1998. This session and their previous effort came out the next year on hat[now]art to great critical acclaim from avant-garde music critics. Suddenly Polwechsel embodied a new sound and, playing select concerts in Europe, Canada, and the U.S., became the ambassador of the bubbling Austria-German scene, also represented by ensembles like Efzeg, Dachte Musik, and King Übü Orchestrü. A third CD came out in 2001 on Dafeldecker's label Durian.
© François Couture /TiVo
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