Rhodri Davies/Matt Davis/Samantha Rebello/Bechir Saade

Hum
Another Timbre at04

MUTA

Yesterday Night You Were Sleeping at My Place

Sofa 522

Rhodri Davies

Over shadows

Confront 16

Chamber improv of a particular sort, each of these challenging discs highlights the playing of Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies: solo or as part of a trio or quartet. Although included among the instruments featured on the discs are flutes, a bass clarinet, a trumpet and percussion, a minimal number of expected timbres are heard. Full appreciation of the sessions demands a preference for dissonance as well as unconventionality.

Recorded nearly a year apart, both group improvisations still have a tenuous connection. The title and track titles of MUTA, created with Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach and Spanish flautist Alessandra Rombolà, come from the drawings of Beirut-based trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj. A decidedly less programmatic outing, Hum links Davies’ harp and objects to the bass clarinet tones of Bechir Saade, a Lebanese improviser who often plays with Kerbaj. The other participants are British: trumpeter and electronics processor Matt Davis, who has explored microtones in a trio with cellist Mark Wastell and Davies among others; and flautist Samantha Rebello, a graduate of percussionist Eddie Prévost’s weekly improv workshops.

Providing a reductionist Euro version of near-silent Onkyo music, the seven improvisations are built up from unrelenting electronic drones from Davies and Zach, the later of whom exposes these pulsations by attaching contact mikes to his two bass drums and a gong. Meanwhile Rombolà concentrates on altissimo shrills or basso echoes from her conventional and prepared flutes.

Possibly extending his options with piezo pickups among his strings, the harpist varies his output with triggering buzzes and staccato rubs while rasping along and pulling on his string set. Throughout Davies makes common cause with Zach, whose electronic add-ons create a spinning wheel of repeated clicks, clanks and ruffs. Simultaneously and acoustically, the percussionist’s other movements produce bell peals, glass armonica-like reverberations and carefully positioned drum-top scrapes.

Between the harpist’s pitch-sliding electronic whooshes and the percussionist’s fluid friction the resulting drone undulates consistently, but with enough variation in pitch to banish sameness. Abandoning the incursion of sampled voices on one track, the sonic waves are most usually pierced by air column note clusters, stopped breaths, high-pitched whistles and trilling glissandi from the flautist.

Flute trills, blows, flutters and peeps feature on Hum as well. But the intermittent hum from harpist Davies’ so-called objects and trumpeter Davis’ electronics somewhat masks the two other oral instruments’ output. Furthermore spluttering buzzes often swell to fortissimo tones then disappear, sometimes sounding as if an on-off switch has been activated or as if a door in a horror-movie is swinging open noisily, then being quickly and squeakily closed. Foreshortened pauses are the only spaces in which the acoustic instruments can emphasize their natural timbres.

Moist tonguing from Davis produces some squeezed chromatic warbles and growling, while Rebello’s almost pan-like flute echoes open up into peeps and flutters. But both seem to have a hard time separating their tones from among the ululating mix. In fact it’s Saade’s tongue slaps, extended breaths through his horn’s body tube and key scraping that are most prominent.

Davies’ thumps, plucks and snaps are infrequently distinguishable from within the shifting, blurry electronic loops. But with this minimalistic project non-hierarchical and modest – even the tracks are prosaically named “One”, “Two”… etc. – perhaps the compression of four sounds into one constantly shifting solid should be heard as Hum’s fulfillment.

Obviously the harpist has more scope on the remaining CD, which was actually recorded four years ago. But even here, during the course of its one 36-minute track, triggered drones are as prominent as any jagged harp plucks. Throughout, his output ululates densely enough so that not only does it become an impermeable, persistent, but controlled pitch, but affiliated overtones are also sounded. Still, listening is at times the aural equivalent of watching a photograph develop in an old-fashioned darkroom. With the paper saturated in the solution, various highlights and gradations of the image appear at different junctures.

Evolving from connective organ-like sequences exposed timbres ramp up to fortissimo, pummel at lightening speed to pianissimo and finally transform into unsteady oscillations. With the end result simultaneously polytonal and inchoate, it’s as if a spectral neutral instrument and its wave forms are on show – not a harp.

By the ultimate variation, the augmented drone diminishes to a near flat-line before boomeranging back to fullness for the finale of cross-panned reverberating shrills.

Putting aside sonic preconceptions should allow any one of these CDs to impress adventurous listeners.

— Ken Waxman

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Track Listing: Over: 1. Over Shadows

Personnel: Over: Rhodri Davies (harp, ebow and electronics)

Track Listing: Hum: 1. One 2. Two 3. Three 4. Four 5. Five

Personnel: Hum: Matt Davis (trumpet and electronics); Samantha Rebello (flute); Bechir Saade (bass clarinet) and Rhodri Davies (harp and objects)

Track Listing: Yesterday: 1. Hamida 2. Birds wake up, we go to sleep 3. Dead Time 4. Passing Time 5. Vertical Time 6. Coffee and Brain 7. Daylight Black

Personnel: Yesterday: Alessandra Rombolà (convensional and prepared flutes); Rhodri Davies (amplified harp and electronics) and Ingar Zach (percussion and electronic devices)