Bertrand Denzler, Hans Koch

… une admirable énergie concentrée et l’on reste ébahi à l’audition des dynamiques et profondeurs insoupçonnées… ImproJazz, France

… four duets that probe the reeds’ margins in a confinding, often whispered exchange of secrets of embouchure, breath and attack. The Wire, UK

The two musicians met in 1996 at one of Butch Morris’s “conductions” and first played together, as a duo, in 1999. They have also played in a quartet with Gunter Müller and Jacques Widmer as well as with the group Chamaeleo Vulgaris, and they have appeared at the Visages des Nouvelles Musiques Suisses Festival in Marseille. These recordings are from 2001. “The playing of these two vital Swiss adventurers takes place in the wake of European research into improvisation over the last twenty years. Their duo playing reveals, beyond their qualities as instrumentalists, an understanding of how to position themselves, how to decode, and when to communicate—and when not to communicate—instantaneously. Uniting through a fine attentiveness to the other, and forming a unit that is thick, fleshy and powerful, but always alert, they let themselves be guided by the flow they create by provoking the instant reactions out of which are born many changes of atmosphere, tone, theme, and dynamic.” Théo Jarrier, Peace Warriors.

CD (AM 112)

  • Label: Ambiances Magnétiques
  • AM 112
  • 2003
  • UCC 771028111220
  • Total duration: 37:50
  • Sympathique case
  • 126 mm × 126 mm × 5 mm
  • 45 g

On the web

Some recommended items
In the press


Luc Bouquet, ImproJazz, no. 99, October 1, 2003

Le souffle. Seulement le souffle. En bannissant toute notion de note et de phrasé, Bertrand Denzler et Hans Koch, visitent le son caché de l’instrument; le bois de la clarinette pour l’un, le métal du saxophone pour l’autre. C’est dans cet enfoui de l’instrument, dans cet espace si peu exploré que nos deux arpenteurs des souffles et des trilles vont creuser, puiser et remonter à la surface de précieuses pépites. Il serait donc faux de parler de périphérie ou de détournement de l’outil car c’est bel et bien de renaissance et de mise à jour d’une évidence ensevelie dont il s’agit ici. Ni un travail d’archéologue, ni un alignement d’effets mais un souffle vif et circulaire, vibratoire et uni. De l’enfoui à la lumière. Le cri intérieur, en quelque sorte.


Guillaume Tarche, ImproJazz, no. 98, September 1, 2003

L’escapade suisse consignée sous l’intitulé Asymétries témoigne (en quatre volets et 38 minutes) de la rencontre, durant l’été 2001, de Bertrand Denzler (ts) avec Hans Koch (bcl, ss). Ce dernier avait participé, il y a une quinzaine d’années, à une autre série de duos gravés pour l’étiquette FMP (avec Fuchs, Parker et Sclavis: Duets Dithyrambisch, 1989,)… et il apparaît bien qu’on ne joue plus de saxophone aujourd’hui comme on le faisait à l’époque; ce disque me semble en effet rendre compte d’une tendance contemporaine des plus riches, subtiles et absorbantes. Souvent à la limite de l’émission sonore (ou plutôt réinventant cette notion même), les deux souffleurs se placent dans l’air; toutes les ressources (les moins conventionnelles - mais qui a établi ce qui devait sortir des pavillons dorés?! Voyez plutôt l’inventaire-bestiaire des possibilités du saxophone ténor dressé par Denzler dans Improjazz n° 97, juillet & août 2003, page 10) sont convoquées, sans déballage intempestif, avec une admirable énergie concentrée et l’on reste ébahi à l’audition des dynamiques et profondeurs insoupçonnées de cette musique de musique, chuchotée, au plus près de l’oreille, du plus près du corps des instruments.

… une admirable énergie concentrée et l’on reste ébahi à l’audition des dynamiques et profondeurs insoupçonnées…

Soundcheck Review

Julian Cowley, The Wire, no. 235, September 1, 2003

Hans Koch is the better known of these two Swiss reed players through his longstanding trio with drummer Fredy Studer and cellist Martin Schütz, and other projects, including Duets, Dithyrambisch (FMP) recorded with Evan Parker and Louis Sclavis. On that CD, Koch plays bass clarinet and soprano sax, as he does here with Denzler on tenor. Asymétries features four duets that probe the reeds’ margins in a confinding, often whispered exchange of secrets of embouchure, breath and attack. Long wheezing exhalations, rapid juddering, birdlike trills and chirrups, gaseous pops, purring and rasps have displaced the sounds of the centre ground. Dialogue occurs nonetheless as statements interlock and overlap, cryptic yet clearly and tightly shaped.

… four duets that probe the reeds’ margins in a confinding, often whispered exchange of secrets of embouchure, breath and attack.


Bad Alchemy, no. 42, September 1, 2003

Daneben stehen die frei improvisierten Asymetries (AM 112) des Franzosisch-Schweizer Duos Bertrand Denzler / Hans Koch in der eher noch zugespitzten Tradition des kompromisslosen Bruitismus. Im spuckignuckligen Geschmurgel und widerborstigen Gefiepe des 49° Nord- & Hubbub- Tenorsaxophonisten und dem guttural-krätzigen Zischeln und Blubbern des im Trio mit Schütz & Studer bekannten Bassklarinettisten und Sopranosaxophonisten, die sich bei einem Butch Morris-Projekt kennenlernten und seit’99 zusammenspielen, werden alle kulinarischen Gelüste durch den Fleischwolf gedreht. Auch meine. Wer allerdings im Distinktionsgewinnstreben auf Sarkasmus und Hartgesottenheit setzt, der kann in dieser aus den Fugen geratenen, grätig-reduktionistischen Geräuschwelt den unverdünnten Duft von Freiheit und Abenteuer in vollen Zügen schnuppern. Selbst meine Leidensmiene hellt sich langsam auf, nicht weil Denzler & Koch im Drangsalieren von Sinn & Sinnlichkeit nachlassen, sondern weil es mir schwer fällt, ernst zu bleiben bei einer derart auf Andacht gepolten Absurdität. Außerdem, solange zwei Josephines so in die Schönheit des Unschönen verliebt das Hohe Lied der Andsthesie pfeffen, ist der Triumph von Pop noch nicht komplett.


Dave Madden, Splendid E-Zine, August 21, 2003

What images form in your mind when you read the word “saxophone”? Denzler and Koch’s sole instrumentation is tenor sax, bass clarinet and soprano sax. What kind of mental picture does that create?

You’re almost certainly wrong.

From the bio:

“Their duo playing reveals, beyond their qualities as instrumentalists, and understanding of how to position themselves, how to decode, and when to communicate — and when not to communicate — instantaneously.”

As with the majority of Ambiances Magnétiques, the remainder of Denzler and Koch’s bio continues in the same fashion, describing an aesthetic instead of offering hints regarding their actual sound. There isn’t really anyone to compare to them with — I think that’s the point.

For lack of a better term, Denzler and Koch work in the realm of jazz improvisation, but unlike many who hang this sign above their groups at Barnes and Noble’s cafe, Denzler and Koch are truly forging new works, never resting in the past or even the present. However, to say that they are simply doing what others aren’t — experimenting for the sense of being different — is an insult to their work.

Though Asymétries steps outside the bounds of what many would call “music”, the artists clearly know what they’re doing — substituting creativity for theory and leaving the Coltrane riffs at the door. Truly, there isn’t a trace of conventional “sax music” to be found here — none of the things for which the instrument is known: melodies, lightning fast runs, blaring brassy energy. Instead, the focus is on texture, color, tone and above all, sound. Asymétries explores breath, breathing, what it sounds like to pucker your lips on the reed of the instrument, to blow kissing sounds into the body, to slowly trill without involving pitch; it explores the difference between moist and dry attacks, what happens when you play the horn at different angles, how many colors of squeaks there are, and so on.

The lack of direction here is interesting. Typically, such “aimlessness” can be a huge problem; it would be so here, if the music actually “began”. That is, the music hovers around the idea of actually starting for… well, its entire length. The album’s delicate minimalism is a bit unnerving the first time around, and you’ll either sit in anticipation for it to “take off” (that’s what a sax is supposed to do, right?) or get up and fast-forward in an attempt to find a spot where the sounds actually progress from the developmental state. However, this is the point: it’s not going to develop, at least in any sort of traditional way, and like a meditative practice, patience is required to endure 37 minutes of otherworldly sounds. Then it leaves you as subtly as it began — no bang, no warning.

Again, the adventurous nature of this work makes it difficult terrain for most, but those who choose to really listen, and give time to understanding these works, will be rewarded with a truly sublime experience.

… those who choose to really listen will be rewarded with a truly sublime experience.


Dolf Mulder, Vital, no. 385, August 20, 2003

Denzler (tenor sax) and Koch (bass clarinet, soprano sax) blow their way through four pieces all entitled Asymetries. Both are exponents of the Swiss impro scene. Denzler is a player from Geneva (Switzerland). His cooperations are to numerous to mention them all. All in the field of improvised music. He is for instance member of Hubbub an improvisational collective. Koch is known for his work with celloplayer Martin Schutz. Denzler and Koch met in 1996 at one of Butch Morris ‘Conductions’ workshops. Since 1999 they established themselves as a duo. With this cd they make their debute on cd. It’s instantly clear that both players are not satisfied with the conventional playing of these instruments. They use different kinds of technique in order explore and expand the spectrum of sounds that can come from these instruments. They do not use electronics, all is done by mouth and fingers. All this done not just for the sake of discovering more technical possibilities, or to add some more pages to the catalogue of sounds. They are means in a musical process that aims at communication. Denzler and Koch give room to each other, letting the other act or react. The result is a set of well balanced duets. The CD starts with very soft sounds. Short lines and figures come from and disappear into silence. Overall the music is contemplative, concentrated and controlled. It switches from soft and subtile to jerky and growling. For some reason I compare their music with Schwitters’ Ursonate. Something completely different, be sure of that. But on the other hand both could be described as examples of soundpoetry that stay close to breath.

Overall the music is contemplative, concentrated and controlled.


Dolf Mulder, Vital, no. 382, August 1, 2003

This cd is a collection of 4 pieces for tenor saxophone (Denzler) and bass clarinet & soprano saxophone (Koch). Both musicians create a series of non linear encounters exploring extended techniques on their chosen instruments. Traditional notes and tonalities are ignored altogether in favor of textures created by breath, tongue, lip modulations resulting in percussive attacks, faint whispers, and loving kisses. The CD is appropriately titled: both players come together and then withdrawl as things move in and of sync. But the music is never random as Denzler & Koch make each sound with precision, utilizing space and silence as additional sonic material for exploration. I believe this CD will appeal to fans of microsound and field recordings, as the music avoids the beaten paths of free improv. All in all a very cool cd.

… the music avoids the beaten paths of free improv.


François Couture, Ici Montréal, no. 6:40, July 10, 2003

Voilà une rareté: un disque d’Ambiances Magnétiques sans musicien québécois. Denzler (saxo ténor) et Koch (clarinette basse et saxo soprano) sont deux improvisateurs suisses que la recherche d’un nouveau vocabulaire musical a poussés aux limites de l’expression sonore. Rendant floue la frontière entre le corps et l’instrument, leur musique consiste en un tissu de gargouillis, de cliquetis et de cris retenus. Aride, vous dites? Absolument; le genre de disque qui fera dire à plusieurs que «c’est pas d’ia musique, ca». Mais la créativité et le niveau d’écoute entre les deux improvisateurs captiveront quiconque se donne la peine d’écouter avec l’esprit ouvert. 9/10

… les deux improvisateurs captiveront quiconque se donne la peine d’écouter…


François Couture, AllMusic, June 19, 2003

This album doesn’t come from an expected outlet — after all, Bertrand Denzler and Hans Koch appear to have no ties to the Ambiances Magnétiques collective prior to this CD — but it stands as a peak in the discography of both of these Swiss improvisers. Denzler (Hubbub, Chamaeleo Vulgaris) and Koch had been going down a path of gestural abstraction, digging ever deeper within themselves and the materiality of their instrument (here respectively tenor sax and bass clarinet, Koch also plays soprano sax) to find unheard sounds and develop a new musical vocabulary. Their search parallels that of John Butcher, Wolfgang Fuchs and Axel Dörner. Working as a duo, they apply this new vocabulary in conversation, articulating squeaks, burps and key clicks into an eery jungle-at-nightfall soundtrack. Tongue stabs, multiphonics and circular breathing represent only the tip of the iceberg of their extended techniques. The set is short (37 minutes), but thoroughly captivating. The highly challenging nature of this album is balanced by a wide diversity in textures and dynamics. Asymétrie 1 sees both musicians alternately listening minutely and stubbornly ignoring each other over 17 minutes of subdued pyrotechnics and brilliant creativity. But the highlight is Asymétrie 3, full of fluttering tongues and clattering fingers. The duo’s direction is less clear in the last piece, but it represents a minor flaw considering what came before it. In Asymétries, Denzler has pushed his art further into abstract, so-called non-idiomatic improv. It is one of his most difficult records.

In Asymétries, Denzler has pushed his art further into abstract, so-called non-idiomatic improv.


Tom Schulte, Outsight, June 1, 2003

On Asymémtries we have reeds this time being re-evaluated as to how to make sound with them. The Swiss pair behind this disc is Bertand Denzler (tenor sax; Günter Müller, Bob Ostertag) and Hans Koch (bass clarinet and soprano saxophone; Cecil Taylor, Elliott Sharp). The duo goes for a deconstruction that cuts so close to the bone that the pieces are often made up of merely amplified respiration and the sharp squeak of a breath cut in half by a reed… But it is not all about dismantling and rebuilding reeds.

… a deconstruction that cuts so close to the bone…