Ruby Ruby Ruby, The Shadow of Your Smile

Ruby Ruby Ruby are more or less a vehicle for experimental German singer Margareth Kammerer, who came to the attention of Sound Projector readers back in issue 13 with her début album To Be an Animal of Real Flesh.  That venture was an ambitious and successful reinterpretation of several modernist poems as song lyrics, with Kammerer’s solo acoustic readings framed by various remixers’ efforts to present them in a more oblique fashion.  Since then, Kammerer has been involved in The Magic ID, a song-based project with Berlin improviser Christof Kurzmann, and also formed Ruby Ruby Ruby to pay homage to Billie Holiday and other jazz singers.  This appears to have been a one-off project, there being no indication that the group (consisting of Derek Shirley and Steve Heather alongside Kammerer) has done anything else or is planning to work together again.  Although the album was recorded in 2007, it only saw release in 2009; kudos, then, to Ignaz Schick of Zarek Records for persevering with it and seeing it through to this eventual release.

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Margareth Kammerer: To Be an Animal of Real Flesh

On this, her first solo album, Margareth Kammerer has surrounded herself with a distinguished cast of collaborators and remixers, as well as proving herself to be a talented singer and guitarist in her own right. Kammerer takes as her source material work from a number of modernist poets, including E.E. Cummings, Anne Carson and Paul Celan. These texts share an emotional and lyrical honesty that Kammerer unerringly exploits in her singing and playing. Five of the fourteen tracks here are solo acoustic recordings, on which Kammerer’s fluid and confident guitar work is matched by the arresting qualities of her voice, a bewitching instrument drenched in sustain and vibrato.

The fun really begins when Kammerer invites others to rework and add to the acoustic songs. Of the collaborations, Axel Dorner delights with the jazzy, querulous tone of his trumpet on “I Carry Your Heart With Me,” delivering a soft, breathy lyricism that is wholly in keeping with the romantic bravery of Cummings’ poem. Elsewhere, Yoshida Tatsuya (of Ruins) drums with powerful, effective restraint on “Willow C’Est Que J’Aime,” while the Necks’ Chris Abrahams adds spare, ghostly piano to “As Your Nightly Dreams.”

As one might expect, the remixes are a mixed bag sonically. Highlights include Nicholas Bussmann’s creatively noisy take on “Open His Head Baby,” which is nudged along by a barrage of whooshes, hums and whizzes on a bed of spidery percussion. Philip Jeck impresses, too, with a fleeting vignette of shimmer and distortion that does full justice to the imagistic density of Celan’s “The Bright Stones.” Olivier Lamm, meanwhile, wickedly transforms Yusef Komunyakaa’s somewhat rambling poem “Facing It” into a whirl of electronic playfulness and delirious free drumming.

Surprisingly, it is Fred Frith who most disappoints with his remix of “Somewhere I Have Never Travelled.” His tasteful washes of electric guitar are pleasant enough, but the accompanying drum machine patterns sound tacked-on and misplaced. Christof Kurzmann, too, seems to lose sight of the original with his insistent deconstruction of Kammerer’s voice on his version of “I Carry Your Heart With Me.” Otherwise the collaborators and remixes do a fine job, giving alternate readings of the source poems and providing stimulating contrasts to Kammerer’s unadorned solo approach.

(originally published in The Sound Projector 13, 2005)