Sebastian Lexer - piano+
Christoph Schiller - spinet

1. luftwurzeln 42:25

MRCD84, matchless recordings, 2012


Daniel Spicer, The Wire, December 2012

On the face of it, this is a long improvisation by two pianists – but you'd be hard pushed to tell. Lexer's piano+ is an electroacoustic system that uses self-developed software to manipulate the piano's resonant properties; while Schiller plays the spinet – a smaller cousin of the harpsichord, customised to accentuate the instrument's percussive potential (Schiller's mosaic of plinks, knocks and twangs actually foreground the overlooked physicality of the piano: Cecil Taylor's "88 tuned drums"). Throughout this 42 minute piece, Schiller and Lexer create shifting tableaux of vividly imagined scenarios: rubbing the humming rim of a wineglass the size of the Large Hadron Collider; roughly manhandling the teeth of a giant copper comb; playing a wobbly, church hall upright piano underwater; and chasing off noisy road workers with nothing but the sound of polystyrene friction. A most Borgesian endeavour if ever there was one.


Michael Rosenstein, Point of Departure, Dec 2012 (

If you are keeping a careful eye on new approaches to improvisation coming out of Europe, you’ve probably come across Sebastian Lexer and Christoph Schiller. Lexer, a mainstay in Eddie Prévost’s Workshop, has been charting out the interactions of acoustic piano and real-time electronics processing with his piano+, working with musicians like Seymour Wright, John Tilbury, Steve Noble, and Grundik Kasyansky. (If you haven’t yet done so, make sure to check out his solo recording on Matchless and a stellar duo recording with Wright on Another Timbre.) Schiller has been exploring the transformation of the spinet through the use of preparations and an approach influenced by inside piano techniques, working with improvisers like violinist Harald Kimmig, tuba player Carl Ludwig Hübsch, trumpet player Birgit Ulher, and as part of a killer trio with Michel Doneda, and accordionist Jonas Kocher (who also have a strong release on Another Timbre.) What the two pianists share is a fascination with the mechanical/acoustic properties of their instruments along with an astute understanding of the possibilities for timbral extensions. This recording captures the two in performance at the 2011 As Alike As Trees Festival in London. The 42-minute improvisation begins with rustling, scraped, and bowed gestures which gradually build in overlapping layers. Plinks of strings, the delicate clatter of objects, and quavering resonances amass, and it is only at about the four-minute mark that any notion of either keyboard instruments are revealed. Both Lexer and Schiller are willing to pick an area of density and color and sit on it for a while, letting the sounds blend and resonate against each other. The two balance volume and velocity of sounds, mounting arcs of tension which then drop out to reveal pools of resonance and decay; sections of bristling, pointillistic detail; crescendos of muscular, hammered intensity; and sections of dark, echoing, thundering rumbles. Lexer’s electronic treatments subtly shade the sound of his piano, stretching decay or abrading the harmonic overtones, contrasting effectively with Schiller’s more brittle, metallic voicings. Rather than settle in to predictable arcs, the two continually push the development with dynamic twists and turns. This is music shaped through deep listening and a startling empathy as the two weave together the collective sound.


Nic Jones, All About Jazz, Nov 2012 (

Something that the two duos already discussed [Violinist Aleks Kolkowski and vocalist Ute Wasserman's Squall Line (Psi, 2011), singer Kay Grant and clarinetist Alex Ward's Fast Talk (Emanem, 2012)] have in common is a tangible link with the human: it could hardly be any other way, given the presence of voices. Lexer and Schiller offer no such touchstone, and furthermore the negation of the known is integral to their music. The lineup of piano+ (the plus symbol is essential, suggestive as it is of a keyboard augmented) and spinet is hardly rife with precedents. Over the course of just under 43 minutes the sound —and the singular applies despite the joint input—flows in denial of any evolutionary idea. In so doing it can, by turns, merge with the ambient sounds of everyday life as easily as it can raise the question of just how that piano was augmented and, indeed, how some of the sounds were made. Given this pervasive quality, it comes as a surprise when obvious keyboard sounds do appear—as they do in the 19th minute of the album's only piece, but by that point it's obvious that this is a duo which habitually thinks in long-form.


Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear, October 2012 (

Old and new. This new CD on Matchless by Sebastian Lexer and Christoph Schiller keeps bringing these opposite ends of a spectrum to mind. If Schiller has taken an old instrument, a spinet, and approached it in new ways, then so has Lexer, whose Piano+ digital enhancements of a standard grand piano are as exciting a new development to that instrument as I have seen in years. The music on Luftwurzeln then also spans across that same wide divide. Improvised music in London has been evolving for the best part of five decades now, but while some sounds close to the older roots of the music, some could be said to be trying for new ground, different approaches. The music here, which was recorded at the excellent As Alike As Trees Festival in the city a couple of years back could also be said to be straddling across the various decades of improv. Acoustic instrumentation at its most traditional meets digital processes even as they are still being developed. The warmth of a vibrating string meets itself mirrored back altered significantly by computer transformation. Keys sometimes depressed, at other times they sit untouched, bypassed my musicians leaning over them. Old ways of doing things meet new ways. There is one moment about ten minutes into Luftwurzeln when this hits me on every listen through. A quite loud section of deep booming tones and sweeping electronic transformations suddenly give way to near silence and then we hear that familiar old buzzing chime of a spinet note being struck, followed by some clean, unadorned piano notes. The use of extended techniques (both) and computer enhancement (Lexer) is a strong, central theme of these two musicians’ music together, but the origins of their instruments are not completely lost. The history is not completely trampled over. There is space in the music, plenty of room to breathe, time for sounds to decay, but also when it needs to the music spirals off into wonderfully detailed little passages and dramatic crescendoes.

I first heard this music as it was created, a few feet in front of me at the festival. I heard it again a few months back when Sebastian sent me an early draft of the recording. I have then played it maybe a dozen times since I received the released CD. It makes a good companion on the long drive to and from work each day. Its music I enjoy a great deal, and feel extremely close to. Like the first few improvisation albums I bought almost a couple of decades ago I have played the music so frequently it no longer feels improvised. These are two musicians that seem to hit it off exceptionally well. As well as being at the concert that spawned this recording I saw them somewhere else in London in the last year or two, and on each occasion they have seemed to fit together musically absurdly easily. Sebastian Lexer has a similar kind of relationship with another regular playing partner Seymour Wright, so perhaps he is just someone its easy to knit together with musically. Whatever it is, somehow this music just seems to flow effortlessly, and yet, having watched the duo strain and focus their concentration while making it, plenty of effort went into its creation. One comes back then to conclusion that these are simply very skilled, attentive listeners and musical thinkers working together. This isn’t an album I can easily put into a convenient sub genre. Its just a great example of really fine improvised music. If you really need further clarification, look approximately halfway between old and new.


Julien Héraud, Improv Sphere (16th October 2012)

Luftwurzeln est une pièce de musique improvisée pour un duo de cordes: cordes frappées, frottées, pincées, préparées, caressées, triturées, saccagées, manipulées, écrasées. Un duo qui regroupe Sebastien Lexer au piano+ et Christoph Schiller à l'épinette. Au total, 137 touches. Soit un nombre incalculable de cordes (tout dépend si l'épinette de Schiller comporte une, deux ou trois cordes par note, le piano en comportant généralement environ 3 par touche) - et donc autant de possibilités sonores offertes aux deux explorateurs de cordes.

Et le duo Lexer/Schiller s'en donne à cœur joie. Chacun utilise tout au long de ces quarante minutes les possibilités offertes traditionnellement par son instrument, explore les différents modes de jeux, les différentes résonances, les pédales, et l'interaction entre les deux instruments qui ont souvent tendance à devenir indissociables l'un de l'autre. Mais chacun va encore plus loin en utilisant de nombreuses préparations: cordes frottées par des fils, moteurs actionnés dans la caisse de résonance à même les cordes, bois tapé et percuté, etc, cordes étouffées ou modifiées par différents matériaux. Et les timbres produits ici ont quelque chose d'onirique, d'inédit souvent même, chacun fait vraiment preuve de créativité et l'interaction est très intime.

Pour décrire plus formellement cette musique, et c'est là où je suis le moins convaincu, disons qu'il s'agit d'une longue pièce plutôt linéaire qui progresse par micro-évènements et micro-évolutions. Une musique plutôt lente et calme, très lisse, qui laisse une grande place aux silences et à des résonances spectrales. Je n'ai rien contre cette forme, mais je trouve seulement qu'ici, Luftwurzeln manque de relief, ou de profondeur. Même si la connexion entre les deux musiciens est sensible et intime, seuls quelques moments paraissent vraiment intenses et puissants (mais quelle puissance quand ils atteignent ces séquences!).

Une improvisation certes très aventureuse et créative, mais qui parvient difficilement à m'accrocher dans son intégralité. Une pièce trop lisse et stagnante par moments malgré ses trouvailles sonores pourtant saisissantes la plupart du temps. Je reste mitigé...