originally released by Another Timbre, 2015.
Bill Meyer, Dusted:
Anne Guthrie (French horn, electronics, field recordings) and Billy Gomberg (electric bass, electronics, field recordings) are Fraufraulein. A married couple as well as an electroacoustic duo, they may find safety in numbers. At any rate, their collaboration confounds the rules of addition so that more seems like less. Even when they’re the only ones making sounds on Extinguishment, they seem to be small parts of something larger.
The balance between played and found sounds on Guthrie’s recent solo LP, Codiaeum Variegatum, leaves no doubt that you are hearing something composed. She uses field recordings quite literally as a field, a surface upon which she deploys raw and manipulated brass and strings. Gomberg’s recent solo records, on the other hand, are deeply satisfying examples of drone music. You can hear elements of both on Extinguishment. Guthrie once more uses her French horn in painterly fashion, veering from thick smear to fine line within a single stroke. And while this music does not drone, it does convey drone’s sense of spatial and temporal expansiveness, so that even when the listener’s perception of sounds stops, one feels like they are continuing somewhere beyond the limit of hearing. On “Whalebone in a Treeless Landscape,” the French horn and bass are situated behind indeterminate rustling, sharing space with wind sounds and distant PA announcements. The players are often on the periphery, like minor found objects in a vast collage.
This experience persists and up-ends one perception of relationships, so that even when one of them moves into the foreground, they no longer seem so important. A long sliver of feedback may be the first thing you hear on “My Left Hand, Your Right Hand,” and Guthrie’s vocalized French horn gets some time at the front of the mix. But the earlier shifts of perspective draw attention to their impermanence, which is confirmed by their disappearance into a vastness of distant voices, nearby steps, hard-to-attribute chiming sonorities, and Robbie Lee’s long tones on a reed instrument. Both the played instruments and the field recordings become means to perceive that vastness, and the arrangement of sounds a way to assert human existence within it.
Brian Olewnick, Just Outside:
My first thought on experiencing this release, not having heard anything from Fraufraulein (Billy Gomberg, bass guitar electronics, recordings; Anne Guthrie, french horn, electronics, recordings) since 2009's "Donna Hayward's Secret Diary" is how different it sounds from the work each has issued individually since then, at least to the extent I've heard. Though you can pick up aspects of both, it seems less like a halfway meeting point than a triangulation that results in something rather different, though perhaps weighted a bit toward Guthrie. I get the sense they're really pushing to get out of their comfort zones and, by extension, to place themselves in a kind of "danger" where the outcome is less something fully formed than an exciting way-station. Whatever--and I could obviously be entirely wrong--it's a an excellent recording, one that I found a little opaque at first but which really opened up on each successive listen.
There's something about the structure of the three pieces--they feel very organic and unfolding, no clear framing but there's some underlying sensation of tensile strength; I can't figure it out, but I like it. Guthrie's horn, played straight, with overtones or sung into, is more overtly prominent than Gomberg's bass, though it's possible that any number of sounds are attributable to it, I suppose. But I hear more the horn wandering through various aural environments, often with the feeling of being outside, of looking around corners or hillsides. "convention of moss" begins with a very low bass hum, quickly engaging several strata of crackle, high feedback tones twining and numerous sounds evocative of a large space; really tons going on but always arranged in a non-cloying way, always flowing. Distant crowds, muted horn, clanging metal, that crowd congealing into an instructor and respondents, the latter singing a hymn in the sonic haze with final comments by a quietly growling Guthrie. "whalebone in a treeless landscape" starts, appropriately enough, in a far ore spare area, constricted horn floating above a desert of echoey bass notes and single, metallic clicks. The feeling is different from the first track, looser in a way, more springy and stretched out, bearing a palette full of submerged motorized sounds (dulled outboards?) amidst bell tones, far off children's cries, barely heard, a lot more, something like a denser scene from Ferrari. Guthrie's horn soon sounds long, low, forlorn calls through a more vacant landscape; hard not to imagine some large, pining creature, an elephant/Malfatti hybrid. But the core of the piece is still subtly moving, rotating, taking in other vistas; a really fascinating construction, a fantastic piece.
Robbie Lee contributes to the final piece, "my left hand, your right hand", though I'm uncertain in what capacity, maybe the voice (though I'd guess that's Guthrie) which sings a kind of simple lullaby/chant in high register in the middle distance, over a searing sine-like tone and occasional soft bass pluck; eerie and lovely. Actually, the voice seems to morph into the horn and then something that sounds bass clarinetish is heard; it's disorienting a little, though it sounded so innocent at first, like a benign dream slipping into malignancy, colors swirling and blending, darkening. In a way, I think it's the most daring track here if not the most "successful", but that's fine, a good thing really. The footing is unsure but the push is there.
Exciting work, great to hear.
Paul Kilbey, Music & Literature:
Extinguishment, a recent Another Timbre release by the Brooklyn-based duo Fraufraulein, uses quite different musical means to create a similar sort of effect. Three hypnotic pieces of between 11 and 16 minutes combine improvisations on bass guitar (Billy Gomberg) and French horn (Anne Guthrie) with electronics, recordings from their live shows, and field recordings. These are blended with great subtlety—it’s barely ever clear where one element ends and another begins—and they add up to something gently mesmerizing, a soft wash of sound often reminiscent of what you might hear walking idly about in a quiet town. Two-thirds of the way into the first track, “convention of moss,” some sort of choral folk-music concert gradually comes into focus and then fades away amid the sound of heavy rain. Soft bleeps and the murmur of a crowd of people vaguely suggest a shopping center—to me, anyway. It is a tapestry, within which one element is the listener, eagerly finding imagined patterns, overinterpreting, even.
Lucas Schleicher, Brainwashed:
Two of the three songs that comprise Fraufraulein's Extinguishment start with a single foundational sound. On “Whalebone in a Treeless Landscape,” it is Anne Guthrie’s French horn that initiates the performance. Dripping water and the ring of a large, resonant metallophone follow immediately after. “My Left Hand, Your Right Hand” commences with a solitary, almost piercing electronic pitch, like an emergency broadcast signal stuck on a single wavering tone. After a few seconds, it is joined by an echoey snap, a distant singing voice, and the booming of a bass drum or a floor tom. They are both deceptively simple beginnings, richer in content and potential than their starkness implies. Billy Gomberg and Anne Guthrie treat them like seeds from which to grow and prune their compositions. They blend field recordings, of rain and a patriotic Norwegian parade for example, with scrapyard detritus, pair foghorn drones with the bristly friction of surface noise, and balance the eerie ambience of humming wires against a distorted monastic chant, all while maintaining a delicate connection with those first embryonic moments. The way they achieve that consonance and balance—between the acoustic and electronic instruments and in the structures of the songs themselves—defines the album.
Extinguishment’s macrocosmic inclination is set down during the course of its opening piece, “Convention of Moss.” Like the songs that follow, it is cobbled together from a combination of prerecorded audio and live instrumentation. Differentiating between live and prerecorded can be tricky, however. In concert, Anne and Billy play French horn and bass guitar respectively and use various digital methods to record and manipulate their own sounds on the fly. Thus, the white noise generated by blowing through a detached valve becomes a loop-able and transformable sample.
Watching it happen in real time makes following the aural lineage of different passages easier, but on record there can be no such discernment. Without a visual aid, the entire album, from the perspective of the listener at home, sounds as if it could be a series of prerecorded tapes arranged with a computer. On the other hand, it is possible that much of what seems digitally achieved is actually the product of an extended technique utilized inside the studio, like drawing corrugated wire across the bell of the French horn. There is simply no way to tell. Confusion like this renders the music’s canvas more absorbent, and new and unexpected elements enter the fray with the same ease and acceptance as a loud guitar solo entering a rock ‘n’ roll song. That is a feature in a lot of improvised electronic music, but Gomberg and Guthrie handle it gracefully and add something of their own to the equation, namely the derivation of structure and development from tone color and melody.
As wide open as Extinguishment is with respect to material, purpose and control still subsists in the duo’s dedication to form and spaciousness. After establishing a core sound or a core melody, Anne and Billy toy with it, adding harmonious elements to emphasize some of its features and introducing discord for the sake of contrast and equilibrium. Reshaping, repurposing, and reimagining those musical events is the secret logic behind each song, something that is made perfectly clear on “My Left Hand, Your Right Hand.” The title hints at the way in which Gomberg and Guthrie mirror each other and the contents of their field recordings. The song’s opening high tone is first blended into, then replaced by a droning vocal melody. Next comes a French horn and voice duet, a high resonant whistle, and eventually an undulating pitch that could be either synthetic or acoustic. Each figure mimics the last one, maintaining some semblance of identity with what has passed while at the same time pushing the performance forward. At times, the field recordings seem to be in tune with the instruments and the electronics too, resonating at the same frequency or within the same key even when they are quiet or empty (think of the harmonic resonance of Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room).
All of this gives the music a tangible three dimensional quality. Anne Guthrie and Billy Gomberg connect the world outside to the world of music in a way that must by now be familiar, but they do an exceptional job of it, utilizing their tools and techniques to magnify apparently simple musical elements (and non-musical ones, too, if that distinction still holds) to the size of universes.
Ed Howard, Reddy Brown Objects:
Anne Guthrie and Billy Gomberg have been playing together as Fraufraulein for years now, and have recorded a number of albums, but this is my first encounter with the duo. Guthrie is a French horn player, Gomberg plays bass guitar, and both musicians also work with field recordings and electronics. According to an informative interview, Extinguishment is based on improvised performances, collaging together studio sessions with live recordings from a 2014 tour and other materials. The result is a rewarding album that deals in some interesting, at times surprising ways with sounds and textures that are somewhat familiar from the last decade-plus of improvised music.
Extinguishment is at its strongest when the duo overturn expectations, inserting sounds and ideas that complicate the music’s underlying textures, disrupting the momentum of their own pieces in surprising ways. This happens most prominently and dramatically on the first of the three tracks here, “Convention of Moss.” For the first seven minutes of the piece, the duo builds a rather steady sonic world: electronic crackle, piercing feedback tones, recordings of murmured speech and movement buried in the background, the occasional recognizable tone from Guthrie’s horn. Gradually, some more prominent recorded speech enters the mix, and then the speech segues into choral singing and music, ebbing and receding, with the sample at its loudest nearly blotting out the underlying sustained horn sounds and electronic hiss.
This fragment was apparently recorded by Guthrie at a Hungarian festival in New York, and its presence here – without ornamentation, simply juxtaposed with the other materials – substantially changes the flow of the music. The duo’s careful creation of an insular soundscape is disrupted, invaded by a foreign musical conception, taking what had been maybe a little overly familiar – but enjoyably dense and detailed – electroacoustic improv and shaking it apart. In the last couple of minutes of the piece, after the Hungarian recording fades away, the music splinters, collapsing into quiet, discrete events, very different from the carpet-like electronic layers of the rest of the track. There’s a collision of musical worlds and also a collision of approaches, with the composed-ness of the field recording insertion interacting with the underlying improvisations. The improvising musicians seem to be reacting to an event that – if I’m hearing/interpreting this correctly – was not actually part of the original performance, but layered in later. The insertion of the recording is in one sense a simple additive gesture, but it greatly complicates and deepens the music, creating some fruitful tensions.
The remainder of the album doesn’t have anything quite so bracingly overt, but the afterimage of this first track’s climax lingers over the rest of the disc’s length. Moreover, the two other pieces here are similarly enriched by the subtle interactions between the various materials and approaches present in the duo’s music. The second track, “Whalebone In a Treeless Landscape,” opens with more recognizable horn playing from Guthrie, as she plays low, mournful tones against a minimal backdrop of bass rumble, the occasional plucked or scraped string from Gomberg, and small clattering noises. Soon, the music settles into bassy, droney territory, with Guthrie’s horn vanishing and later re-emerging, more subtly, as fluttery pulsations within the electronic buzz or foghorn-like blurts above it.
The piece maintains a steady, hushed, slightly eerie aura – a dim high-frequency tone hovers just at the edge of hearing in the background throughout much of the piece – even while the musicians gradually change elements in and out. The overall atmosphere is constant but the building blocks are cycling throughout, from the French horn and electronics of the opening minutes, slowly introducing field recordings, then shifting the palette more towards fuzzy electronic textures, with the horn and the blurry place recordings reappearing. Throughout, the volume level remains low and the different elements simply contribute to the sense of a time-suspended stasis, gray and melancholy. The effect is subtle, easy to miss, but striking when discovered: like looking at a seemingly blank wall from afar only to discover, upon closer inspection, all the complexity of the wall’s pock marks, paint trickles, and textural gradations.
The final track (“My Left Hand, Your Right Hand”) again opens in a mournful mood, as a desolate melody is juxtaposed against flickering, high-pitched electronic tones. The source of the melody is a little ambiguous, at least to me; swathed in distortion, it at times seems to be coming from the French horn, but at other times it sounds, hauntingly, like Guthrie is actually singing. After a few minutes, the mood changes as Guthrie begins playing the simple, sing-song melody more forcefully through her horn, presumably with some kind of processing or extension of the instrument itself, since her playing sounds buzzy and echoey, as though resonating from a great distance. As the electronics similarly swell and beef up to match her playing – which now sounds more angry than it does sad – the duo switches things up again. Field recordings (another public space filled with blurred voices) are introduced into the mix and the distorted horn gives way to a few whispery, breathy interjections that blend into the recordings.
The resulting second half of the piece is quite dynamic and intense. Once again, the duo displays a subtle ability to create shifts and fissures within the music, as various layers of sound accumulate and weave together, their sources mysterious: hints of voices, electronic drones, traffic noises, thumps and clatter, subtle melodic undercurrents that lap against the edges of the more abrasive elements. The various layers are perfectly balanced and incredibly dense, creating the impression that different sounds and sources are interacting without ever quite resolving where the various sounds belong in the piece’s structure. Apparently, somewhere in there is a live recording that features flautist Robbie Lee playing with the duo, but it’s difficult to identify any concrete elements like that within the sedimentary layers of the music.
The density of such moments is what makes Extinguishment work so well. Guthrie and Gomberg are, to a degree, working with a palette that’s become familiar from countless other musicians working similar territory over the last 15 years, but the ways in which they play with structure and layering prevent their music from ever being predictable or stale. This is subtle, often deliberately unassuming music. The duo does not come towards the listener on this album, instead simply presenting a trio of insular, self-contained worlds that only reveal most of their (considerable) pleasures to listeners willing to step forward into the music and hear what’s there.
Idie-Isaiah David, Yeezus Walk With Me:
Fraufraulein is the duo of Billy Gomberg and Anne Guthrie, who have each released records through Students of Decay and also record/perform as a trio with Richard Kamerman as Delicate Sen (it’s also worth noting that Guthrie and Kamerman collaborated on the 2013 album Sinter for Erstwhile Records). All of their work is the kind you need to listen to in a quiet room, and this album explores tiny sounds from bass guitar (Gomberg), French horn (Guthrie), various other objects and percussion, far-way field recordings, and vocals that recall the soft style of Keiji Haino. Some moments on the album are more sparse but others are droning and filled with the kind of electronic noises that make your hair stand on end.