Annette Krebs/Rhodri Davies

kravis rhonn project
Another Timbre at15

Rhodri Davies/Gregory Büttner

3 Harp Treatments

Anthropometrics Antro 03

Quaint and endearingly fusty like a wind-up gramophone is how the sentiments expressed in the commercial of three decades ago, which asked listeners whether the performance they were hearing was live or on tape, now seem in the 21st Century. Today all sorts of electronic fill-ins and additions have been accepted as part of everyday musical life with many a pop diva lip-synching entire performances.

Situations are much different for improvised musicians, who have been experimenting with inventive forms of electronics reproduction since long before Elvis Presley discovered studio reverb. These notable CDs, both featuring London-based Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies, convincingly demonstrate that when it comes to Free Music, it’s the attitude not the gizmos which define success. The kravis rhonn project for instance, matches Davies’ improvisations on electric harp and electronics with those from Berlin’s Annette Krebs, whose tools include a guitar, objects, a mixing board and tape. Davies’ playing partner on 3 Harp Treatments is actually himself. For the three treatments were created by German sound artist Gregory Büttner. Büttner edited and digitally processed a single harp improvisation into three separate and diverse sounding results.

Both Davies and Krebs are involved with lower-case improvisation, numbering fellow experimenters such as saxophonist John Butcher and pianist Andrea Neumann among their associates. But the three unforced, silence-studded performances here are given added resonance by the electronic equipment. Moving from an undercurrent of aural chiaroscuro, depth and translucency are added to the grainy, grey-scale textures with sampled snatches of incomprehensible dialogue and signal-processed shrills and reverb. Among the gradually swelling timbres, replication of backwards-running tapes and flat-line hisses is the interjection of genuine instrumental pulses. Envelopes of wiggling and deconstructed tones that often accelerate to a solid drone share space with thick string thumps from Davies’ harp and thinner plucks from Krebs’ guitar.

Appearing to be motor-driven at points and with staccato interludes resembling wild-animal cries, the performance ends up being circular rather than cynosure. Depleting an entire repertoire of electro-acoustic variants, following a crescendo of timbres that resemble waves lapping at the shore, the two sound sources merge as a flat-line drone, then disappear

On the other CD, Davies’ 10-minute harp improv is renovated into tracks that run from a little more than 10 minutes, to almost 13 and almost 17. Büttner uses differing chunks of the original for granulation and re-conceptualization. “Glas” – the briefest – for example, is centred on a sonic Catherine’s wheel of superimposed blurred textures and shrilling static that suggests empty tape reels flopping as it completes its circular rounds. Straightforwardly percussive, “plok” matches what could be metal being gored by an unyielding object with marbles reverberating off taut strings as well as spinning impulses that sound like cymbal strokes and bass drum pounding. Eventually the individual pick-up signals are squashed into tunnel-echoing whirrs and a climax of repeated string strokes and smacks.

Lengthened to the greatest extent, “bow” builds up to a crescendo of nearly opaque textures as backwards-and-forward running vibrations expose intense, agitated sound fields. The track begins with a flat-line murmur that eerily foreshadows the final results, then synthesizes and reconfigures pitch-shifted and grainy wave forms so that the resulting dense tessitura becomes almost overbearing. Luckily wooden-sounding ratchets and leaking hisses puncture the distended sound envelope so that the results fade diminuendo.

Using exceptional source material or showcasing cerebral improvisers who know how to manipulate electronics makes the question of live verses pre-recorded creations moot on these sessions. Individual virtues of these CDs are as much as the result of invention as the equipment used.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 3: 1. glas 2. plok 3. bow

Personnel: 3: Rhodri Davies (harp and electric harp) and Gregory Büttner (digital process and editing)

Track Listing: kravis: 1. traguar 2. jailom 3. ssronck

Personnel: kravis: Annette Krebs (guitar, objects, mixing board and tape) and Rhodri Davies (electric harp and electronics)