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Reviewed by:
  • Berlin Bülbül by David Rothenberg and Korhan Erel
  • Seth Rozanoff
David Rothenberg and Korhan Erel: Berlin Bülbül
Compact disc, 2015, Gruenrekorder, Gruen 159, available from Gruenrekorder, Darmst¨adter Str. 29, 63456 Hanau/M., Germany; telephone: +49 176-313-555-22;

Berlin Bülbül is a set of twelve tracks demonstrating a robust musical interaction between David Rothenberg (clarinet, bass clarinet, electronic effects) and Korhan Erel (iPad and controllers). The duo effectively mixes environmental source material into their dialogue, such as nightingales recorded in various Berlin parks. Bülbül means nightingale in Turkish. Rothenberg engages with the bird source material as if it were another musician. As he puts it, with regard to the duo’s goals: “we try to make interspecies, intercultural music that neither of us could make on our own.” He refers to the process of encountering the nightingales, and how their sounds influenced the electronics and clarinet duet back in the studio. Rothenberg describes their compositional approach as one that involves “careful listening, editing, and omission,” where the studio preparation and processing of the clarinet and nightingale source sounds are vital components of the overall collaboration. With regards to the inclusion of electronics, Erel demonstrates a personal approach to the management of his resources. He has clearly practiced the technology he uses, revealing a nonidiomatic technique. His sound design choices never result in overly noisy and uninteresting music. Rather, these choices emerge from a sense of patience that largely determines the creation and augmentation of material.

It is worth noting the technology that both players use in performance. In the case of the clarinet, Spektral Delay by Native Instruments is applied, as well as The Mouth (vocoder). Rothenberg uses just enough of these [End Page 86] effects, so as not to overwhelm the pure, unprocessed clarinet sound. Erel uses a computer instrument he designed called the Omnibus. This instrument consists of smaller sub-instruments in Ableton Live that he plays using various controllers. He describes his method of arranging found sounds and designing instruments with Ableton Live’s Simpler instrument: “I trigger/loop a small snippet of the sample. This can be a single trigger or a series of triggers using an arpeggiator, whose speed and gate time I regulate. I also control the sample’s pitch and sometimes also apply filtering, as well as reverb, phaser, etc. Some instruments employ Live’s physical modeling synths.” Throughout all of the tracks we can discern that these techniques used in performance are built around the musical possibilities afforded by the source materials.

As we look at both players’ technology choices, the digital tools they use are meant to enhance and augment the musical dialogue formed between performers. The musical relationships resulting from this dialogue further demonstrate “in the moment” decision making, not just offline, creative decisions.

In the opening track, The Night the War Ends, we are introduced to a duet between the nightingale and clarinet. We hear a polyphony of birdsong, created by Erel’s electronics and Rothenberg’s performance, which mimics and comments on the nightingale’s utterances.

Upon reflection we might say that the duo, or rather the electronics-nightingale-clarinet trio, has created its own musical system, the result of improvisation and a varied and nuanced collaboration. The balance of electronic and instrumental sources is a result of responsive listening. The performance ecosystem present in the opening track seems to be applied to the rest of the tracks.

Track 2, A Long Note’s Invisible Beam, can be heard as related to track 1, since Erel’s performance mimics the birdsong as before. Perhaps it represents a collection of the “outtakes” from track 1, or edits that didn’t make the cut. Unearthly Untaught Strain, the third track, maintains a playful, intimate focus on the timbre of the clarinet, supported by subtle uses of digital delay.

At the beginning of the fourth track, Treptower Monument, we hear what might be termed “carefree” melodies. There is an obvious antiphonal call and response between the clarinet and the birdsong. The electronics are so well integrated that it is easy to forget that the birdsong was...


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pp. 86-88
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