© Caroline Forbes

Aleks Kolkowski & Ute Wassermann

Photo © Caroline Forbes

Recorded at St. Peter’s Church, Whitstable, U.K, July 15th  2009

Bow Echo –  Improvisation

Aleks Kolkowski and Ute Wassermann first came together as an improvising duo in Berlin, 2003. They have since performed in Germany, The Netherlands and in the U.K. including at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival where they recorded their first album Murmelndes Lüftchen  (Seven Things, 2006).  Their latest CD, Squall Line (psi) was recorded during the same session at St Peter’s Church in July 2009 and features two versions of this wax cylinder recording, Bow Echo 1 and Bow Echo 2, where both musicians improvise along with their previously inscripted improvisation while it is reproduced from an Edison phonograph.

The Stroh viola played by Kolkowski is an instrument that harks back to the early days of acoustic recording. It has an aluminium horn and diaphragm system of mechanical amplification that is the same as used by phonographs and gramophones. Invented by Augustus Stroh in London and patented in 1899, the Stroh violin and viola became mainstays of the early sound studios where their directionality and loudness made them ideal to record with compared to conventional wooden-bodied string instruments. The horns of the Stroh fiddles, which can be swiveled up and down, can simply be aimed at the recording horn. They were widely used in the studios right until the advent of electrical recording in the mid-1920s.

Such unusual horn and string hybrids, which also included cellos, guitars and basses, were also often featured in jazz and dance bands during the 1920s and 30s and were manufactured until the 1940s. The Stroh viola is part of Kolkowski’s large collection of historic horned string instruments.

Recording notes

One of two cylinders made during a recording session for the CD Squall Line. The phonograph recording was assisted by the venerable sound engineer Adam Skeaping, who turned the handle and brushed away the swarf.