Jakob Ullmann

Mix Tape #29 : Best Albums of 2013

Posted on by 5:4 in Best of the Year, Mix Tapes | 2 Comments

A very HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all!

i want to say a big thank you to everyone who’s followed 5:4 in the last year, & especially to those of you who’ve posted comments & tweets in response. There are lots of exciting things planned for 2014, so watch this space.

In the meantime, continuing the 5:4 annual tradition, here’s the new mix tape, celebrating the music in my Best Albums of the Year list. A little something from each album, seamlessly stitched together & lasting a little under 3 hours. Enjoy!—& if you do enjoy what you hear, links to purchase the music can be found on the previous two days’ articles.

Here’s the tracklisting in full:

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Best Albums of 2013 (Part 2)

Posted on by 5:4 in Best of the Year | 5 Comments

Bringing 2013 to an end, here’s the final part of the best albums of the year. Go on, give your ears a treat, they deserve it. Read more

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5:4 at HCMF 2013 – n s m b l

Posted on by 5:4 in Concerts, HCMF | 6 Comments

All good noise reduction filters have an option to invert their output, effectively delivering only the removed audio information, mainly hiss & microscopic blurps, along with thin slivers of the primary audio material, little more than the most anaemic of glimpses, hinting at what lies on the other side. These kind of residua bear a strong resemblance to the music of Jakob Ullmann, whose Son Imaginaire III received its world première in St Paul’s Hall last night. The concert wasn’t just a highlight of my HCMF 2013, it was a highlight of my entire concert-going life. However, my enthusiasm for Ullmann’s work (previously manifested here & here) clearly continues to put me in a minority. The pre-concert talk, which i had fully expected to see packed to the point of standing room only, found half of the seats empty, & the concert itself, although better attended, had many seats to spare. Even in Huddersfield, it seems, audiences still have a thing or two to learn.

Having said that, perhaps even Ullmann would consider disinterest a step in the right direction from the outright hostility that has dogged his work in the past. Son Imaginaire III is a case in point; last night’s performance was the third attempt to give the piece a successful première, the previous two being mocked & laughed to the point of being abandoned. The bone of contention in Ullmann’s work is its challenging modus operandi, utilising extremely quiet sounds as the basis for large-scale forms. In some ways, this can be heard as a continuation (or elaboration) of the paradigm shift initiated by John Cage in 4’33”. In that piece, no sound was capable of being extraneous; in Ullmann’s music, any quiet peripheral sounds can be inferred as part of the deliberate musical act taking place: a chair squeak, a muffled cough, a phone vibration, a gust of wind against the windows, they all become plausible components of Ullmann’s loose-weave texture. They, too, are incapable of being extraneous.

But i don’t want to push that connection too far; there is, after all, a world of difference between silence & near silence. The title is instructive—suggesting both “imagined sound” & “his imagination”—as it describes very literally the effect of listening in such a rarefied context as this. The strain of having to listen out for exceptionally quiet sounds makes it all too easy for the imagination to overclock itself, so to speak, to the point where, in such a liminal state, it’s possible to imagine things that aren’t there. It reminds me of the film Paranormal Activity, where lengthy scenes take place in which, essentially, nothing happens, but there are omnipresent omens suggesting that, at some point soon, something very odd indeed will take place. Our eyes scour the frame—the door, the bed, the floor, the corridor, the sleeping couple—fuelled by a heightened mix of excitement & expectation; & here, too, one can all too easily imagine things that are not there. Did the blanket move? Is that a shadow? Did something rustle? Transpose that to the concert hall: Did the cello play a harmonic? Is that the sound of wind through the instrument? Was that a twang on the piano? Often, they’re questions impossible to answer; Ullmann’s music is so perfectly poised at the cusp of sensibility that the space becomes positively electrified with sonic potentialities, real & imagined.

It’s a considerable challenge as much for the performers as the audience; French group n s m b l (10 points if you can say that out loud) handled it with admirable coolness, & can now bask in the renown of being the first ensemble in almost a quarter of a century to have been able to bring this remarkable piece to fruition. Those of you who weren’t there, you have no idea what you missed.

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Minimal & dangerously liminal: Jakob Ullmann – fremde zeit addendum 4

Posted on by 5:4 in New releases | 2 Comments

Despite the fact that writing about amazing music is such an unalloyed pleasure, there are times—many more times than i would care to admit—when the music skitters away, becoming elusive when confronted by one’s attempts to speak of it. Perhaps there’s no dishonour in being confounded by glory, but the frustration has never been more acute than when trying to write about the music of Jakob Ullmann. Including the outstanding fremde zeit addendum 3CD boxset of his music near the top of my 2012 Best Albums list wasn’t just an act of fitting celebration but also of defeat; the bland paragraph i wrote to accompany its entry came after umpteen doomed attempts at something more substantial earlier in the year. So when the Edition RZ label recently sent me their latest release of his music, fremde zeit addendum 4, it seemed only fitting to try again.

For anyone unacquainted with Ullmann’s music, there are equivalent points of entry to be found in any of the releases Edition RZ has put out over the last few years, A Catalogue of Sounds, voice, books and FIRE 3, the aforementioned boxset as well as this new CD. It’s worth mentioning that Edition RZ—one of the most forward-looking of labels in any case—has been essentially a lone advocate where Ullmann is concerned; considering how many of his works remain unperformed & recorded, other labels would be wise, finally, to catch on. For there is something truly extraordinary going on in Jakob Ullmann’s music, music that positions itself in a place that is both minimal & dangerously liminal. Read more

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Mix Tape #25 : Best Albums of 2012

Posted on by 5:4 in Best of the Year, Mix Tapes | 7 Comments


Today marks 5:4‘s fifth anniversary, & so i’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who regularly read, share & respond to the articles & music explored here. Since 2008, the blog has grown from being an occasional hobby (reading the earliest articles, that fact is rather painfully obvious) to something that now receives significantly more time & attention. i very much hope that 5:4 can grow & become even more interesting & useful in the next five years; all comments, criticisms, suggestions & other feedback is always very warmly encouraged.

But to return to the present, & to continue our annual tradition, here is a new mix tape featuring one track from each of the forty entries on my Best Albums of the Year list. The mix includes more extreme dynamic variety than in previous years, so while i’ve done a little to mitigate that, be warned that at times the music veers between extremely soft & very loud indeed. As ever, if you like what you hear in the mix, please support the artists & buy the music; links are included on the last two days’ posts.

i’ve remarked in the past on the provisional nature of all ‘Best of’ lists, & so to keep things current, i’ve updated the summaries of the Best Albums/EPs of the Years, to reflect further listening than had been possible at the time; the revised lists can be found under The Lists on the main menu.

The mix tape lasts a little under 3½ hours; here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2012 (Part 2)

Posted on by 5:4 in Best of the Year, New releases | 2 Comments

The lists reduce the vastness into controllable sizes, into the size of things that can fit into our mind, where they can expand again to the size of everything. The list is the way of fitting everything in one place at one time, so that we can take it with us, so that we can fit it all inside a microchip, a chip we can then fit inside our soul. … The list is a code for everything we are, the list is a diagram, sometimes extremely slight and incomplete, sometimes unbelievably deep and complete, of eternity.
(Paul Morley, Words and Music)

Here we go, then, with the absolute pinnacle of this year’s albums, every one of them essential listening. Read more

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