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Robyn Schulkowsky
Hastening Westward

Robyn Schulkowsky drums, gong, plate bell, crotales, cymbals, bronze bells
Nils Petter Molvær trumpet
 
Pier And Ocean 1-3
Hastening Westward 1-7

Recorded January 1995
ECM New Series 1564

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American percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky has been resolute in her decision, made long ago, to let her instruments, "the instruments I chose or built or found", posit her musical direction. Not simply to "let sounds be sounds", as John Cage, a crucial influence, once formulated it, implying a passivity out of keeping with Robyn's animated character and critical mind ("I'm not a neutral person", she cautions), but to accept the consequences of the work and the responsibilities it entails. Schulkowsky's history has taken in too many diverse activities to permit a concise summary. That history has included: a period as percussionist with the New Mexico Symphony and the Santa Fe Orchestra; intense studies with Christoph Caskell in Cologne; premieres, in the early 80s, with Karlheinz Stockhausen, Mauricio Kagel and Walter Zimmermann; a still-talked-about percussion festival in Munich, where Robyn brought together 20 drummers from seven countries to celebrate Charles Ives's utopian visions; important collaborations with John Cage, Morton Feldman, Iannis Xenakis, Christian Wolff, Heinz Holliger, Robert Wilson; extensive touring in Europe, the USA, Japan, Korea and throughout the former Soviet Union... Currently, Robyn Schulkowsky based in Berlin, where in recent months she has been preparing the music for Edith Clever's production of Medea at the Schaubühne. Hastening Westward, the seven-part work that comprises three-quarters of the present recording is an imaginative "extension" of a 1991 composition for percussion ensemble entitled Hastening westward at sundown to obtain a better view of Venus (in fact very little of the ensemble piece remains). The work was named after a line from Samuel Beckett's last book of prose, Stirrings Still - "a kind of bible for me", Schulkowsky says. A New Series album with the percussionist had been in discussion for a decade, producer Manfred Eicher first approaching Robyn after the release of her debut album Black Light in 1985. Five years later she partnered Kim Kashkashian in ECM recordings of Linda Bouchard's Pourtinade and Paul Chihara's Redwood and a new round of possibilities arose. Should Schulkowsky's long-awaited New Series disc be a solo album, an ensemble recording, a record of compositions or improvisations? (In the end it was to fall somewhere between all of these options). "If there was a plan," Robyn says, "it was to remain as open as possible to whatever might happen next." Meanwhile, Eicher had Nils-Petter Molvær (whom Schulkowsky had never met) on stand-by. On paper, the Norwegian trumpeter (born in Sula on Norway's wild Northwest coast), might seem an odd partner for the percussionist. His new music "credentials" are scant, although he once worked under Vinko Globokar's direction. He is primarily an improviser best known for his work with jazz ensembles (Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen's band Masqualero, Jon Balke's Oslo 13, as well as the groups of George Russell, Gary Peacock and Elvin Jones). Quote: "I'm interested in working with the natural sound of the horn and with getting more and more space into my playing. That seems the most important thing for me." Schulkowsky began the session by recording overdubbed percussion solos (Part III of Pier And Ocean and Parts II and V of Hastening Westward). Then Molvær was brought into the project, responding freely to Schulkowsky's drumming. The percussionist drew upon pre-set material - phrases and rhythms from the aforementioned ensemble piece - but also engaged in improvised exchanges with the trumpeter. Hastening Westward is a fascinating document, almost impossible to categorize, easy to enjoy. The physicality of Schulkowsky's drumming is vividly conveyed by the production, and it is intriguing to hear these two players, of vastly different backgrounds and experience, making music together as if the process was inevitable.