Matchless MRCD49-CD

Non-hierarchical arrangements have long characterized the sounds made in that subset of free music called BritImprov. Until recently — and then only contemporaneously with the widespread acceptance of electronics — barefaced virtuosity using extended techniques was the usual stock in trade for Continental and North American improvisers. Groups from the United Kingdom, on the other hand, following the lead of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and AMM: they seemed to be more about group improvisations than the show-offy products of any one musician.

Sampling, electronics, computers and other non-acoustic implements have in many cases superseded instrumental virtuosity elsewhere. Today, restrained group sounds are as likely to appear on CDs recorded by Japanese, Austrian, German or (horrors!) American players as from those born under the Union Jack. This accomplished trio effort that mixes free improv with musique mécanique is one example.

Recorded live in Rotterdam, it purports to represent, according to the booklet notes “a formidably dense mesh of textures and a subtle alignment of urgency and stasis, persistence and interruption”. Well yes, but as exalting as this “sound-body” might be, it seems to do away with the individuality that still typified BritImprov pre-electronica.

Who suffers the most is veteran percussionist and AMM founder Eddie Prévost. Circumscribed by a restricted range of percussion, only rarely can his contributions become clear in the shifting effluvium that arises from Rosy Parlane using his computer and radio to relay electronic sounds created earlier and Mattin (no other name) using computer feedback to spontaneously transform miscellaneous sounds.

As egalitarian — if not more so — than the next person, Prévost obviously doesn’t mind what happened on UNDISTILLED. He has put it out on his own label. But as communal as his sentiments may be, in his own bands and AMM, you can at least follow his musical thought patterns. Here, the effect is like waiting for Charlie Parker alto solos to break through the haze of strings or voices on his mid-1950s LPs.

For that reason, the relatively brief — 8¼ minute — “Baggage Reclaim” is more likely to be welcomed by Prévost fans than the other two lengthy tracks. In between the high-pitched computer drones and what sounds like Parlane tuning his radio — searching for BBC International, perhaps? — are some characteristic Prévost percussion moments. At one point you hear the distinctive scrape of a drumstick being dragged across a ride cymbal, at another the gentle peal of a triangle being sounded. Along with the assembly line chugging sounds on most of the track, someone — perhaps the percussionist — pierces the rainstorm of feedback for something that appears to be the pressure of fingers on metal comb teeth. Plus the track — and the CD — ends with a resounding single-note ping from a cymbal.

Shrieking metal rubbed against metal are some of the emblematic noises of the other tracks, especially the almost 32-minute “Worm”. Initially, ascending organ-like drones turn to feedback as what could be the noise of horse’s hooves mixes with static and feedback riffs and clump of metallic squeals. It must be the percussionist who contributes the occasional J. Arthur Rank-like gong resonation, but the sounds of what appear to be plush toys being squeezed, feral scratching and mechanized bird whistling are the only other tones that challenge the drone for ear supremacy. Redefining itself in basso range, as what you would hear from a gas-powered lawn mower, and in alto tone as if from a legion of home handymen busily repairing appliances on a workbench, Prévost’s then gong reappears as anvil strikes. Finally as the computer punches wavering feedback in and out of the track, telephone wire squeals and electricity buzzes predominate until the end.

Electronica and feedback fans will presumably revel in what is produced here. BritImprov types used to AMM and Prévost’s other bands may be a harder sell.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Audit - 20.01.02 2. Worm - 27.02.02 3. Baggage Reclaim - 24. 03.02 part

Personnel: Mattin (computer feedback); Rosy Parlane (computer, radio); Eddie Prévost (percussion)