Rhodri Davies/Michel Doneda/Louisa Martin/Phil Minton/Lee Patterson

Midhopestones
Another Timbre at19

John Butcher/Rhodri Davies

Carliol

Ftarri 220

Rhodri Davies/Stéphane Rives/Ernesto Rodrigues/Guilherme Rodrigues/Carlos Santos

Twerf Neus Ciglau

Creative Sources CS 156 CD

When blazing new sonic trails it seems that Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies has a particular affinity for doing so alongside saxophonists, as these CDs recorded between 2007 and 2009 attest. Furthermore, listening to these sessions chronologically, it appears that Davies is becoming progressively more selfless with his timbral palate whether he’s joined by Japanese Onkyo practitioners or European formalists. Only on Twerf Neus Ciglau for instance, are the harp’s expected ringing tones heard. On the other CDs, unexpected textures produced by manual string preparations, electronics, an embedded speaker and other techniques associated with a pedal harp, a lever harp or an electric harp predominate.

Each setting is unique as well. Carliol is an exercise in individuality between the harpist and his long-time confrere and London-based saxophonist John Butcher. With France’s Michel Doneda in the reed chair, Midhopestones features the most unusual textures, probably because the other participants are Louisa Martin on laptop, Lee Patterson on amplified objects and processes plus distinctive English vocalist Phil Minton. Most traditional – in this context – of the discs is Twerf Neus Ciglau. Davies’ reed partner on this Lisbon-recorded session is French soprano saxophonist Stéphane Rives; electronics come from Carlos Santos, Ernesto Rodrigues plays viola, and his son Guilherme Rodrigues cello.

Rives’ tongue slaps and whistles work themselves into broken-octave concordance with the rustling and rubbed node variations from the strings. With Santos’ vibrating oscillations and flanging developing into undifferentiated drones, this locust storm of blurred buzzes is at points breached by the harp’s rasping strokes, sul tasto runs from the cello, wood-clacking chroamaticism from the string players or sonic wisps forced without key pressure from the saxophone’s body tube. As the cumulative, broken-chord exposition becomes louder it also becomes less cohesive, with rough timbres extruding every which way, until the piece concludes with a thinned, bubbling saxophone tone.

On the other hand, the sounds on Twerf… could be Heavy Metal compared to the British Folkie aesthetic that seems to characterize Midhopestones. Although identifying harp timbres are missing, so too, most of the time, are other individual traits – even Minton’s soundsinging. The vocalist’s unique tessitura only begins to assert itself during the lengthy “Crow Edge” and “Wharncliffe Side”, as it pushes aside electronic whizzes, harsh reed exhalation plus marimba-like wooden plops. Minton’s strained and nasally challenged falsetto gasps soon translate into nonsense syllables and mouth cackles, cries and burps. Similarly Doneda’s flat-line breaths are sturdily pushed through the horn’s body tube until unconnected grinds and thunderous sequences from the electronics supersede both men’s efforts.

By the final variant of “Wharncliffe Side” however, the concentrated and almost overbearing computer pulses clear away to reveal sweeping glissandi, rough strums and rebounds from the pedal harp; growling split tones and peeping tongue stops from the saxophone; and ghostly ululations from the top of Minton’s vocal range. With the resulting sounds resembling those created by slowing playback speed from 78 rpm to 33⅓ rpms, is the inspiring crescendo created live or pieced together through processing?

More affiliated with real time, the majority of Carliol’s improvisations are concerned with the application and extension of different saxophone and harp techniques. While the CD starts off with an engaged exercise in fortissimo feedback, the full extent of the partnership is expressed on subsequent tracks. “Ouse Poppy” for instance, which utilizes embedded harp speakers, contrasts the delays which resonate through the harp’s body with shrill peeps and beeps from the saxophone. As the tones subsequently thicken to near-chiaroscuro timbres, hand-tapped string extensions and reed split tones define each instrument’s individuality. “Lash”, on the other hand, molds portamento harmonies, staccato string strokes and rolled arpeggios from Davies into a sonic whole outlined against Butcher’s circular, signal processed-like chirps. Following broken-chord harmonies involving pressurized reed vibrations and percussive string thumps, the narrative diminishes, with extended squeaks as the coda.

Throughout this CD, differing harp processes move from flat-line pulses to energetic organ-like muliphonics to create symbiosis between strings and the saxophonist’s circular-breathed chirps, quacks and shrills. Although frequently mirroring the saxophonist’s multiphonic screams, Davies maintains individual harmonic intonation.

The Welsh harpist is constantly evolving new strategies to deal with unique and challenging situations. These CDs preserve literal records of how well he succeeds with each.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Carliol: 1. Pandon Bank 2. Lash 3.Gallow Gate 4. Scrogg 5.Ouse Poppy 6. Garth Heads 7. Distant Leazes

Personnel: Carliol: John Butcher (tenor and soprano saxophones, plus feedback, motors and embedded harp speaker) and Rhodri Davies (pedal harp, lever harp with embedded speaker, electric harp and Aeolian electric harp)

Track Listing: Midhopestones: 1. Strines 2. Crow Edge 3. Wharncliffe Side 4. Deepcar

Personnel: Midhopestones: Michel Doneda (soprano saxophone); Rhodri Davies (harp and electric harp); Louisa Martin (laptop); Lee Patterson (amplified objects and processes) and Phil Minton (voice)

Track Listing: Twerf: I

Personnel: Twerf: Stéphane Rives (soprano saxophone); Ernesto Rodrigues (viola); Guilherme Rodrigues (cello); Rhodri Davies (harp and electronics) and Carlos Santos (electronics)