where we were

As part of the London Improvisers Orchestra, American-born and London-based instrumentalist Caroline Kraabel is no stranger to electro-acoustic incorporations of all varieties, but Where We Were takes such concerns to the next level. While the playing is outstanding, it is the world invoked between each utterance that makes the disc one of the most fascinating soundscape pieces in recent memory.

The accompanying booklet speaks matter-of-factly and touchingly about life’s progression over the four-year period in which the hours of music were recorded—in greenhouses, anechoic chambers, wells, tunnels and a noisy pub. These are only veiled landmarks, linear practicalities that merely hint at what emerges when you press play. Location becomes as simultaneously clear and elusive as pitch, attack, decay. The addition of vocals, sometimes doubling another instrument, is powerful enough to bring on aching nostalgia but never a distraction.

In fact, the disc is a study in understatement, more and more of it devoted to near silence as the piece proceeds. Some environmental transitions are slow, some disconcertingly fast, whatever software was employed for the final edits enabling many such shifts. One of the most striking narrative juxtapositions opens the disc as a chatty audience slowly fades to a distant car alarm, the sound maybe coming from just outside the pub window—or is it from some other time and place?

The disc reveals more background each time one listens. To attempt any kind of linear explanation would go against everything the duo has achieved. It was clearly a labor of love for a favorite city, and the results are as stunning, as infinitely simple, as the cityscape it captures.

Marc Medwin - All About Jazz

These duets were recorded over a period of four years in several different locations throughout Liverpool: an anechoic chamber, a tunnel, a street, a dome-shaped library, a pub, etc. Hargreaves and Kraabel thenmixed all the hours of tape using computer software to create a single 50 minute piece of music that blends the ambiences, extraneous sounds and improvised moments together. It's a delightful listen. However, as nice as the saxophone (and brief flute) playing is, that's not really what draws one repeatedly back to the disc. Instead, it's the feeling of stepping into a journey that two musical friends took together all over the city for a number of years: we get to tag along on their fun in a way that makes usfeel at home even as they venture beyond their own.

The varied atmoshpheres make room for multiple horn attacks - drones yips down a well, staccato vocal bounces, etc. - as the gifted duo mine their playful instrumental breadth and traverse their town. Even when you can't tell where they are, the different kinds of silences that surround their sounds tell a vivid story. Where We Were is an invitation to an intimate musical adventure shared all over a city's public spaces.

Andrew Choate, Coda Magazine

With Where We Were, Caroline Kraabel and Phil Hargreaves have run wild with the lessons of John Cage's Roaratorio, a piece hich mixed Cage's own readings from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake with live Irish folk musicians and pre-recorded sounds from the locations referenced by Joyce in his text. In Where We Were Kraabel and Hargreaves present a series of improvisations recorded in "extraordinary acoustic locations in Liverpool", the idea being to offer "playing (that) was appropriate of beautiful or effective in the location."

The result is a courageous, ravishingly beautiful and unique contribution to improvised music. Kraabel and Hargreaves made three visits to Liverpool over a four-year period, and the raw material recorded during those trips was edited into a vivid 49-minute soundscape, the post production process creating an unbroken stream of consciousness. During its opening moments, resonant saxophones feel like they're morphing out of what sounds to me like the foghorns on Liverpool docks. Later the yapping tones of a dog barking is picked up by Kraabel's spiky vocalising and becomes transformed into a wall of saxophone noise, fascinatingly shaped and coloured. Other improvisations take a more oblique and abstract approach, but the sense that they're evolving wholly out of the supple contours and curves of their acoustic environment remains at the forefront; no licks or expediency here.

Forget the Beatles and Tarby, Where We Were is Liverpool revealed in truer glory. A website, www.wherewewere.info, reveals more of the ins-and-outs.

Philip Clark, Jazz Review

Naturlich kann man das in Etappen uber einen Zeitraum von vier Jahren von Caroline Kraabel & Phil Hargreaves gestaltete Projekt Where We Were, Shadows of Liverpool (LR 407) simpel als Duoeinspielungen zweier Saxophonenisten bezeichnen. Aber Kraabel, die in dieser Zeit zweimal Mutter geworden ist, weist in ihrem Linernotestatement mit gutem Grund auf einige Besonderheiten hin. Als Musikerin, deren Artikulation in erster Linie auf der Verbindung ihres Korpers mit einem Altosaxophon in einer spezifischen Zeit und einem spezifischen Raum basiert, ist der binaurale, digitale Aufnaheprozess, die computerunterstutzte Edition und die warenformige Konservierung und Teleportation ihrer Klangkreationen in besonderer Weise ein Akt der Schizophonie. Aud diesem Dilemma, das improvisierender Musiker mehr als andere betrifft, leitet sie keine Klage gegen den Verlust von Unmittelbarkeit ab, sie versucht vielmehr ein Bewusstsein zusharfen fur die unstande, die im Klang, der aus den Lautsprechern in fremden Wohnzimmern schallt, eingebacken sind. Kraabel und ihr Partner and Tenor- & Sopranosax und Flote spielten ihre Duetter in grosseren Zeitabstanden an ausgewahlten Orten in Liverpool ein, der St Georges Hall, dem Mersey Tunnel, der Picton Library im Anechoic-Raum der Universitat, einem Gewachshaus der Sefton Park Allotments, im The Grapes in der Mount street und dem Jump Ship Rat in der Parr Street. Anschliessend wurde das Material zu einem durchgehenden Soundscape verbunden. Statt, sauberer Studio-High-Fidelity hort man hier das Rauschen, den Hall, die spezifische Klang-atmosphare der Shauplatze mit. Die bewusst verunklarten bilder dieser Horraumue qeigen die Industrieund Hafenstadt als einen prunkvolen Schauplatz des Neoklassizismux und jenes (einst) neureichen Stils, den wir Gelsenkirchener Barock nennen wurden. Nur, Informationen bleiben Informationen. mehr als ein Bottger-Effekt fallt fur die rein sinnliche Wahrnehmung kaum ab. Was ankommt, is dennoch spannend genug - zwei eigenwillige Reedblaser, die Geisterverwandte in siptember Winds finden konnten, und ihre ambiente, klangfarbenreiche, environmentale Kommunikation miteinander und mit den Klangraumen, die sie beschallen, abtasten und ausloten.

Caroline Kraabel (ts, voc) et Phil Hargreaves (tss, fl, voc) se recontrent en differents lieux de Liverpool pour se livrer a des interpretations libres. Ces deux musiciens creent in situ une musique totalement improvisee, y melant aussi un traitement electronique. Un dialogue constant, abstrait, atonal, ou la demarche a deux, si j'ose dire, est le fruit d'inventeurs de nouveaux sons, parfois a la limite de la comprehension, mais totalement captivants, semble-t-il, pour les amateurs de Boulez et de sa suite. Belle ouverture sur le XXIe siecle (explication sur la pochette du procede technique)

Jazz Notes

Alto saxophonist Caroline Kraabel and tenor/soprano saxophonist and flutist Phil Hargreaves recorded a number of duos together over the course of four years, in various acoustic spaces around Liverpool, England: St. George's Hall, Wallasey Tunnel at Picton Library, a street and alleyway near Penny Lane, an anechoic chamber at Liverpool University, a greenhouse on the Sefton Park Allotments, et cetera. Rather than presenting the recordings from each individual space as separate tracks on Where we Were, Kraabel and Hargreaves blended them together into a fifty-minute suite that shifts between acoustic environments. (For ease of listening, the suite is divided into four tracks, but these are not to be heard as discrete movements.)

Under ordinary circumstances, this might seem to be an exercise in sonic disconnect -- after all, changes in acoustics usually delineate radical shifts on most recordings, where producers fight feverishly to make all of the parts, even if they were recorded in disparate locations, sound like they came from "the same place", via studio gadgetry and reverb. Kraabel and Hargreaves have other designs. While their playing exhibits considerable freedom and improvisational ingenuity, the duo was also careful to include certain musical gestures, particularly long held intervals, in all of their recordings in the field. Later, these were used as musical "hinge points", allowing for a more fluid transition between acoustic environments.

These formal unifiers allow the listener to experience shifts of acoustic in an entirely different way. Instead of creating a disconnect, these changes of place become changes of timbre. Similar gestures, such as Hargreaves's soprano saxophone trills and Kraabel's single note crescendos, are given entirely different weight and resonance when played in various locales. Reverberant tunnels and bridges impart a wide sweep to the music, as well as an accumulation of echoing canons bouncing back. More intimate spaces, like street corners and alleys, yield the chatter of passersby, rendering Kraabel and Hargreaves, momentarily at least, as a sort of free improv street duo. The musicians occasionally lend their voices to the recording as well, testing the acoustics of a space with held notes and fragile melodies.

Despite a critic's best intentions, describing any sound recording with words offers at best a woefully incomplete sense of its content. This is particularly true of Where We Were. You really have to experience it yourself in order to comprehend the incredible aural journey crafted by Kraabel and Hargreaves -- and once you have, you'll never think about sound and space in the same way again.

--Christian Carey


Ned Rothenberg/Peter A. Schmid En Passant Creative Works Caroline Kraabel/Phil Hargreaves Where we were: shadows of Liverpool Leo

Superficially similar, these two reed duos show how dissimilar wind-instrument combinations can be, especially if the primary concept is set out at the get-go.

Interestingly enough, each of the duos includes one American and one European, but the contrasts have little to do with geography. En Passant can be heard as a tradition improv meeting -- if that isn’t an oxymoron. New Yorker Ned Rothenberg brought his clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone and shakuhachi to a studio in Switzerland to meet Peter A. Schmid, a Swiss stylist who plays taragot, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet and tubax -- a specially designed bass saxophone. They proceeded to play together right off with little or no pre-planning, and then Rothenberg went off to his next gig. Thus the altogether appropriate title, which in English translates as “passing through”. Both men are veteran free improvisers in reed combinations, and what’s more, each has recorded a reed duet with Englishman Evan Parker.

Moving across the channel, London-based, Seattle-born Caroline Kraabel brought her alto saxophone and voice to Liverpool in 2000, where she and local reed hero Phil Hargreaves -- who plays soprano and tenor saxophones, flute and sort of vocalizes here -- recorded a series of duets. Rather than head into a studio to do so however, they schlepped a DAT machine with them to and recorded outside in seven locations in that British city. Over the next four years the two utilized computer technology to edit the material into one, nearly 50-minute piece that stitches together whole performances, fragments of others, and genuine sounds of the city.

There’s no chance you would confuse either CD in a blindfold test. In the studio, Rothenberg and Schmid’s strategy depends on which instruments are in use. On alto, clarinet or shakuhachi the American frequently improvises airy decorations, letting the Swiss on the lower- pitched horns to provide the rhythmic ostinato.

More challenging are those instances when both men wield monstrous horns. On the more-than-11- minute “SchRoth #2”, for instance, the slurred vibrations echoing from two bass clarinets are so ponderous that you could be forgiven for thinking that the track was recorded in an underground mine. Amplifying bottom tones, both reedists add buoyant colors to the creation. At one point Rothenberg squeals unconnected legato tones as Schmid provides the pedal point. Then they mesh with double counterpoint tongue slaps, only to split asunder again. Schmid continues his lower-pitched growls as Rothenberg sprays keening rhythmic lines on top of that. After intersecting in different keys, together they pursue the same intermezzo, retarded with note snaps and key percussion. Veering towards the fragmented, the piece ends with both spewing sharp, unconnected arpeggios at one another. On other parts of the CD, when they’re not snorting dark-textured broken counterpoint, for instance, the low-horn duo turn to tongue slaps, smears and honks as on “SchRoth #8”, with the American on bass clarinet and the Swiss on contrabass clarinet. Sporadically, the multi-pitched hues produced by diaphragm vibrations suggest the soundtrack for barnyard feeding time involving baby chicks and a large sow.

In contrast, a track like “SchRoth #9”, plays up the contrasts between Rothenberg’s alto saxophone and Schmid’s tubax. With the latter spewing stentorian continuum and the former providing high-pitched, broken chords, the lock step soon breaks apart. Minor-key alto lines turn into a gigue-like melody of repetitive multiphonics, while Schmid’s snorts bury themselves further into the earth.

Furthermore, Schmid’s molasses-slow tubax growls on “SchRoth #5” seem to emanate from the lowermost reaches of his horn’s cylindrical tube as they vie for space with floating, double-tonguing from Rothenberg’s flute-like shakuhachi. Combined, the textures produced by the ancient Japanese bamboo flute adhere so credibly with tones from the newly invented 21st century instrument, that the result could be polyphonic gagaku or court music.

Similarly, there’s an atypical point on Where we were that Hargreaves’ out-of-character ethereal flute playing makes it sound as if he and Kraabel have created gagaku or even pseudo New Age sounds. Luckily that doesn’t last very long. Soon Hargreaves, whose past playing partners have included tougher mates like Phil Morton on guitar and treatments or bassist Simon H. Fell, is back on track and saxophone, as dual reed tones almost brutally ricochet off the walls.

Down-pedaling to breathy single notes, the two are interrupted for a few seconds by genuine bird songs, then as reeds resonate in harmony, the saxes have to overcome traffic rumbles and police sirens shrills. Allowing for more silence here than elsewhere, the two turn from throaty, split tones expelled in a whine, to tongue slaps alternating with single note smears. After trying glottal punctuation and bell muting against a leg or hand, curt resonation turns the output to hocketing broken cadences, ranging from nephritic growls to aviary-like polyphonic harmonies.

Liverpudlian Hargreaves, and Kraabel, who also plays in the London Improvisers Orchestra and in a trio with vocalist Maggie Nicols and Swiss violist Charlotte Hug, had agreed on certain improvising strategies before beginning their sound stroll. Thus, often held intervals bridge sonic awkwardness. Furthermore, only for a split second a little more than 17 minutes on do you notice the one, very audible, change in the recording environment. Despite chattering crowds and other sonic impediments, the remainder of the sounds meld seamlessly.

Eschewing for the most part a flute tone that can sound like Paul Horn recorded at the great pyramid, on saxophones Hargreaves prefers staccato phrases, splintered multiphonics and irregular vibrations. His controlled dissonance aims every which way. Taking advantage of the actualities as well, at one point he integrates the echo of passing footstep alongside reed smears or resonating flute vibrations. Initially enamored with punk rock, Kraabel likes to use her voice, sometimes on its own -- as when what seems to be animal cries are heard in conjunction with the saxophone -- or vocalized through her horn to add a third harmony to the proceedings. Quirky oral whoops and cries echo horn lines, or, in another dramatic moment, the soprano saxophone mirrors her voice to such an extent that before long the dissonant tones can’t be ascribe to either larynx or metal and reed.

By the CD’s end both reedists appear to be in perfectly symmetry with one another, turning disparate tongue slaps and pitch vibratos from plain repetition to wavers and flutters. By this time moreover, the reed timbres sounded a half step from one other, mesh polyphonically before fading out in poetic harmony.

Two horn duos -- two distinct way to approach the partnership -- two equally valid systems.

Ken Waxman 28th Feb 2005


Made over four years in an anechoic chamber and mostly the streets, greenhouses, bars, tunnels, libraries and halls of Liverpool by the over-modest (imported) national treasure Caroline Kraabel (sax, voice) and bat-eared Phil Hargreaves (saxes, flute, voice), this is that rare thing - a recording that captures a mutual musicality in the context of -indeed inseparable from - real places and real times. It's hard to explain why this works so well - why should the acoustic and ambience of a site so transform the musical material? Perhaps because psychoacoustically our ears are designed to assess and picture place from the minute shifts in reverberation and tone that open location recordings provide. Studio recordings as a rule go out of their way to eliminate all this 'unwanted' data and wind up flat, or at least fake like a painting: perspective is still not space. Here is space.

ReR megacorp

Point culminant de quatre années de travail et de rencontres entre ces deux saxophonistes hors normes, Where We Were... est un disque de longue haleine enregistré dans des lieux inhabituels de Liverpool, aux acoustiques qui permettent de repousser les limites de l’électro-acoustique (un hall, un foyer de théâtre, un tunnel, une bibliothèque, une chambre acoustique de laboratoire universitaire, des églises, des coins de rues). Enregistrés avec la technologie binaurale (l’écoute au casque est recommandée), ces duos sont une idée de Phil Hargreaves, vivement intéressé par les travaux de Caroline Kraabel sur le temps et la mémoire (interaction entre la technologie électronique et le son acoustique). Pour la plupart en public, ces rencontres témoignent en chaque occasion d'un plaisir palpable. Le dialogue entre les saxophonistes est riche, modulé et extrême dans les variations et nous évite, avec beaucoup de justesse, la neutralité d’un studio d’enregistrement quel qu’il soit. De la musique improvisée chaleureuse, voilà un disque qui va clouer le bec à bien des mauvaises langues…


Octopus (le journal en ligne des musiques libres et inventives)


listen to an extract from the CD
this is the first 7'45" of the CD release, in MP3 format

Liverpool Collage