tracks 1 & 2 recorded live at steim’s local stop concert on may 22 2008
tracks 3, 4 & 5 recorded at steim on may 17 & 20 2008
track 6 recorded live at steim’s local stop concert on march 12 2009
all music by audrey chen & robert van heumen
selected, mixed and mastered by robert van heumen
design: lysander le coultre (strangelove creatives)
photography: monique besten
evil rabbit records is a member of www.toondist.com
sven claeys, 22 may 2010, kwadratuur.be
audrey chen is an american cellist and vocalist who has enjoyed a classical training. in 2003 however, she broke radically with the classical music world and decided to go on searching a more individual and personal sound.
the long list of musicians, she worked with since then, is an enumeration of great improvisers, as joe mcphee, nate wooley and jérôme noetinger. she also worked with dutch sound artist robert van heumen. in steim (studio for electro-instrumental music) in amsterdam, they played however for the first time as a duo, as well concerts as studio sessions. this album contains a selection of these sessions.
thanks to her extensive technical baggage, on this album audrey chen is able to produce as well droning cello sounds (with long, powerful developments), as well as she develops a more abstract and more wringing playing technique, with smarting and sharp sounds. meanwhile her wordless voice art is particularly expressive and varied: humming, whispering, moaning, screeching and yes, a single time even sniveling and almost hawking, she accompanies her driven cello performance.
chen’s outings are the source material, which van heumen works with. cello and voice are degenerated competently by his bag of tricks (for the inaugurated: we talk here about among many, live sampling software lisa and real-time audio-synthesis software supercollider). musically, this is translated through abstract electronic excesses: noise waves flying in and out, broken and cut up wrinkled hissing sounds, which click, tap and whirl themselves a way through the soundscapes. one time van heumen makes crash all this frontal with chens' contributions and forces her to react furiously. then he wraps the digital sounds around the cello- and song parties and here we can talk of a symbiosis instead of a straight clash.
the mood swings in an organic manner to and fro imploring and stunning to puzzling and imminent. just as there is space for moments of reflection and introspection. the atmosphere nevertheless remains intense and tensed, even in the fragile passages.
because the work is full of details and sounds uncompromisingly, it asks the listener to make an effort to sit out the album in one go and claims unrelentingly his complete attention. who however is prepared to make this journey and follows the pair, is promised a fascinating, unconventional sound trip, crossing the border area of improvisation and pure sound art.
kurt gottschalk, may 2010, allaboutjazz.com
the middle child of the string family, the cello isn't heard from often enough in the improv world. those who do pick up the instrument in jazz and experimental musics—ron carter, tom cora, tristan honsinger, martin schutz and abdul wadud come to mind—only underscore the scarce beauty of its rich tone and broad range. but the unassuming violoncello does seem to be gaining in popularity in recent years and some younger players are joining the small legion of new music cellists. baltimore-based audrey chen is one of the most notable of the young cellists and abattoir, her duo with electronics manipulator robert von heumen, is a full round of beautiful playing and surprising turns. chen's dexterity as both an instrumentalist and a vocalist is fairly striking and with both voices she moves easily between the pretty and the ugly, not always in tandem. the acoustic strings and singing voice give a very human feeling to the cd, only to be undermined by van heuman's live processing. in his hands, chen's voice might start to develop an artificial sustain and within seconds be swirling like water down a drain. fragments of her cello playing seem to be preserved and regurgitated as blipping percussion. at other times, the electronic elements separate themselves fully away from the acoustic, giving the odd sensation of an unstable duet, sometimes merging into a complex solo and then dividing again into two. the guttural sounds both favor at times might prove difficult to some listeners, but the five tracks here are endlessly inventive.
bruce lee gallanter, 1 february 2010, downtown music gallery
featuring audrey chen on cello & vocals and robert van heumen on laptop & controllers. i am not familiar with mr. van heumen who i believe is from the netherlands where this disc was recorded, but i am a big fan of baltimore-based improviser & sonic sorceress audrey chen. i've caught ms. chen on a number of occasions and heard her play an astonishing duo set with tatsuya nakatani last sunday (1/31/10) at the stone. i can't think of a more magical and transportative improv set that i've attended in ages. audrey's approach to the cello and strange vocalizing are completely unique and utterly distinctive. for this disc audrey is working with another sonic wizard and like-minded improviser named robert van heumen. right away on "bloodknot" we know we are in for something special with layers of odd vocal sounds being manipulated and her cello droning suspensefully underneath. van heumen sounds like he is sampling the wind and/or altering static or quiet feedback. ms. chen uses her voice like instrument, bending and twisting it into all kinds of bizarre shapes. each sound is carefully selected and occasionally manipulated so that nothing is as it seems. sometimes that static erupts while different layers of vocal sounds enter from different places. there times when it if difficult to tell the vocals, cello and electronics apart since they are in a similar range and are equally brittle and consistently surprising. considering that this disc is an hour long, i found myself tranfixed and often at the edge of my seat wondering how they were making all of these remarkable sounds and what would come next. something incredible i assure you.
aurelio cianciotta, 2 december 2009,neural.it + cyberpunk.biz
after a disquieting start, modulating on shrill guttural vocalizations and innervated with noisy and improvisational acts, robert van heumen intervenes on laptops and controller. he generates instrumental arrangements, selected by highly noisy drones, with supplemental clicks, hums, sudden changes of volume and various other audio events. the vocal evolutions of audrey chen are really extreme, as is - in a decidedly unconventional manner - her cello playing, which is also consistent with radical outcomes, channeling bristly and very imaginative audio convergences. digital brutalism in free form, vehement expressions, heightened efforts, wailings and atonal lamentations are all performed with uninterrupted breathing techniques - the electronic manipulation is relentless, full of powerful distortions, melancholic melodies and experimental combinations. authentic, intricate compositions, obviously not designed to please a mainstream audience, or to sit quietly in cautious research styles.
andreas fellinger, december 2009, magazin für musik und umgebung, freistil.klingt.org
(…) vocalist and cellist audrey chen and robert van heumen on laptop and controllers operate no less obstinate on the album abattoir. a permanent analog, as well as digitally originated de-familiarized shrieking accompanies these recordings from the amsterdam steim-music lab. in length between six to 13 minutes, chen & van heumen leave the pieces enough time to develop from formal branching up to a universal structure. especially nice is the shortest piece "endless summer", which is probably influenced by colleague fennesz.
herman te loo, 9 november 2009, jazzflits.nl
with 'abattoir', the title of their first cd, cellist/vocalist audrey chen and electronic wizard robert of heumen give already a clear statement, that they don’t make music for fragile souls.
the improvisations they produced and recorded at steim in amsterdam, find their origin in chen's sometimes orthodox and sometimes experimental played cello, and her voice. with the latter, she often seeks the extremes, and screeching or screaming sounds are more often at the order than melodious, beautiful ones.
van heumen processes these acoustic sounds with the software on his laptop, so that it completely becomes indistinctly, if we hear chen live, or via a detour. that makes it intriguing, even how uncomfortable the music now and then is. and who is prepared, to make the sound world of the two his own, can find there an own beauty.
jan jasper tamboer, 14 october 2009, jazzenzo.nl
the album cover of "abattoir" looks very stylish. it is unadorned, simple made and perhaps that’s why it reflects fine taste. all evil rabbit records cds have the same outer cover, only the inlay card and the cd itself differ. through a circular opening one can see which specific cd it is. the design is by the recently deceased, young graphic artist, actor and cellist lysander le coultre. the ‘house photographer’ is monique besten.
the power and essence of the music on "abattoir" is, that robert van heumen exploits and reinforces the expressive potential of audrey chen’s cello and voice with electronic distortions. this creates numerous possibilities. the chinese-american chen expresses her feelings in many different ways, from deep growls to ethereal, high, prayer like sounds and screams to whisper. recalling the album title "abattoir", her distorted voice indeed sounds sometimes as if there is a pig slaughtered. then again entire buildings seem to collapse, with brick and glass that begins to break into countless particles. as a female cat in heat, chen miaows, growls, screams and spins, enchanting all males from the neighborhood. choking and babbling she doesn’t bring up sweet feelings in the listener, who suddenly in his own house doesn’t feel at ease anymore.
actually in the track "endless summer", something like a melodic theme is used by the cello; free improvisations around seem, as if they have nothing to do with the subject. the motif is repeated many times and then stops inexorably just when you could get in a trance. in the following, there are voice sounds, reminiscent of classic vocal exercises for articulation, such as chewing and resonance techniques. the song also contains an element of percussion, like someone clicking with a straw on a table. you also can hear this bright and quick clicking elsewhere on the cd, and as well high, fluttering flute tones, giving the prevailing tightness some air.
dw, 10 october 2009, paristransatlantic.com
do a google images search for audrey chen and you'll find some very attractive photos of the young baltimore-based cellist / vocalist looking very demure and elegant. but in the company of laptopper robert van heumen – who's turned in some impressive releases this year, including whistle pig saloon (with john ferguson), one of the strongest outings yet on the insanely fecund creative sources imprint – it seems she can turn into a veritable harpy, her yelps, gargles, growls and squeaks ripped apart with carnivorous glee by van heumen's electronics. yes, the album (and group) name gives you some idea of what to expect, i suppose, from these six tracks – it's tempting to listen to it as some kind of pro-vegan meat is murder horror story, with chen playing the poor cow; but that would be overlooking the extraordinary sensitivity of much of this music. van heumen's treatments are often raw, even vicious, but never rough and haphazard, and there's a great feel for structure and timing to abbatoir's music. and if you only know one version of "endless summer" (christian fennesz's of course), you owe it to yourself to check out chen and van heumen's track of the same name without further ado.
fdw, 14 september 2009, vitalweekly.net
wow. what a mighty blast this is. robert van heumen we know from his previous work in the field of laptops and improvisations while audrey chen on cello and vocals is a new name to me. chen screams, whispers, mumbles, talks and sometimes she does that with her voice, but perhaps more with her cello. its not easy to say that, as it seems that the laptop of van heumen is the overall controller of the sound. he too screams, whispers, mumbles and talks with the input given by chen, and not always at the same time. two worlds that collide and communicate. van heumen takes everything apart, melts them into bricks and builds a new house with it. heavy duty improvised music, but 'silence' is word that they hardly seem to know here. from the very first to the very last second things erupt like volcano. sometimes we are on top of that volcano, watching the eruption, then we see hot lava running down, slow but hot and powerful. this cd lasts about an hour, which seems quite long to me. it has a lot energy, this music, but it also exhausts the listener quite a bit. to give this your full attention is great, but you should be prepared for it. this music is not entertainment, a lazy laid-back recording, but it requires full, 100% attention. perhaps to be taken in a smaller doses then as a large 5inch pill it is now. play half, take a nap and then the rest. its rewarding however.