Rumeur [for solo accordion]
Creative Sources CS 010

The NOWnow cd 003

More unlikely instruments than the concert harp and keyboard accordion for solo improvisations would be hard to find. Which is probably why Sydney, Australia-based harpist Clare Cooper and Barcelona-based accordionist Alfredo Costa Monteiro decided to make these CDs.

Organized so that timbres, tempos and pitches unlike the conventional ones sanctioned for the instruments are on display, either CD would probably frighten traditionalists. However the Iberian and the Antipodean are trying to find new solo roles for their respective instruments of choice the way American Greg Kelley has for the trumpet or Brit Jon Rose has for the violin.

Throughout RUMEUR’s graphically titled five tracks, Portuguese-born Monteiro, who is also a visual artist, shows how the accordion can be deconstructed into a sound source. Treating the bellows, treble keyboard, brass buttons, case and vibrating surfaces separately, he exploits each in turn, sometimes in different combinations.

At one point, for example, the unvarying chuga chuga of the bellows is used to produce reed vibrations with foot-tapping energy. Soon, as sonorous lower tones mix with a higher-pitched counter line, smacks on the squeeze box’s sides reveal a percussion instrument that produces a third overtone as the tempo accelerates at different pitches.

Two other tracks find him manipulating the accordion’s reeds in such a way that it actually seems if the colored air being expelled is coming from an oral instrument such as a bagpipe. Shriller-than-calliope notes arrive in one section as do grainy tones that resemble an agitated rooster crowing. Stretched squawks suggest heavy breathing, while stop-and-start rasps presage a replication of waves rolling onto the shore, which take up part of the final selection.

Here, after earlier passages that posit the idea of dragging abrasive shards of metal and wood along the ground, shrieks are traded for whispering rasps and growls, as if Monteiro was ratcheting and shaking undenominational percussion.

Cooper, who is also a 3-D animator and organizer of a local improvised music festival, perverts the lush everyday sound of the harp, and its close cousin, the 25-string Chinese guzheng. Using attachments and preparations such as sticks inserted horizontally among her 27-strings, she echoes the gritty textures of instruments such as the Romanian cymbalum, the Iranian oud and even New musicians’ single elongated taut string.

At the same time, the animated tones she produces arrive from both hands and all parts of the harp, so that polyrhythmic overtones appear at the same time. With a bow on the harp or the guzheng’s plectrum she mutates some of the strings into double bass territory, bowing vibrated sul tasto and ponticello tones. With its pedals, sides and bottom surfaces, the harp also has percussion qualities that she uses to advantage. Not only can the double-action harp suddenly be transformed into a drum, but by tapping or resonating lower strings she creates a secondary pitch to polytonally join with abrasively scraped higher-pitched strings.

Other places the echoing mixture of friction and pizzicato plucks sound like frailing banjo notes. Then, when the strings are scoured for further ricocheting tones, what results could come from a steel guitar — or maybe it’s what dueling guzhengs would sound like in the Chinese Imperial court.

Cooper hasn’t completely abandoned textures that resemble conventional harp music however, as she proves on “Missing a Lip”, the final selection. Here, she races through a series of contrapuntal chords as glissandi are piled upon glissandi. It’s if she’s trying to formulate a distinctive 21st century fantasia for solo harp.

She hasn’t yet. But there’s little doubt that neither she nor Monteiro have produced their conclusive comment on solo playing. You can trace their progress with these CDs.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Gut: 1. Dribble, not yet dried 2. Pools Soaking Down 3. Sink Into, Return 4. Not To Surface Slip, Down 5. Catch, Soak, Become 6. She Looks as Though She is 7. Missing a Lip

Personnel: Gut: Clare Cooper (harp)

Track Listing: Rumeur: 1. ... : 2. : : ... 3. ..:::: 4. .. :... 5. :: :..

Personnel: Rumeur: Alfredo Costa Monteiro (accordion)