The King of Herrings
Jedso Records #3

Undulating, abrasive, concentrated and distanced textures characterize this live soundscape, conceived of and recorded in London by free improvisers from three different countries. Over the course of two 20-minute plus, and one shorter, tracks, laptoppist Phil Durrant from the United Kingdom, Canadian bassist Joe Williamson and Swede David Stackenäs using guitar and preparations, contrast and connect timbres, which are flanged, deconstructed and granulized in such a way as to present a completely unique interface. If there is any criticism of this strategy, it’s that only on the third track are the actual sonic qualities of the instruments’ audible for extended periods.

All the players have impeccable Free Music credentials, Williamson in Trapist and with Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg; Durrant with British improvisers such as saxophonist John Butcher and pianist Chris Burn; and Stackenäs with British saxophonist Evan Parker and Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson. Both lengthy tracks are centred around a surging ostinato that mixes electronically created abrasive drones and piercing shrills that stretch chromatically throughout with brief respites for sul ponticello bass strokes and chiming guitar licks.

On “Encipherer” – someone who converts a message to a cipher – Williamson relies on methodical plucks and sul ponticello strokes to make his instrument heard among the signal-processed drones and stretched software reverberations, while Stackenäs’ slurred fingering and e-bow sustain exposes licks that likewise nearly vanish beneath distortion. When the guitarist’s licks take on echoing qualities that could arise from either a lute, a dobro or a dulcimer, they breach Durrant’s solipsistic electronics that clatter like a combination of jack hammer-like drilling and fortissimo fire alarm bells. Further emboldened, Stackenäs’ hand taps and steel-guitar-like rasgueado passages break through the sequences of wave-form propelled harsh buzzes. Stackenäs subsequently uses unyielding e-bow controlled whines to prod the players into conclusive silence.

Much shorter and more focused, the barely nine-minute “Parallel-O-Gram” confirms the string players’ contrapuntal interaction, with Durrant’s low-pitched electronic samples, shimmering underneath. There’s even a point at which the laptoppist appears to be flicking a switch on-and-off to produce louder drones. Upfront the bassist slaps, taps and resonates his taut strings as the guitarist adds other-directed twangs and dobro-like flat picking. As the computer’s blurry loops grind and pulsate, Stackenäs tightens his strings and hammers on them, while the bassist’s sul ponticello lines respond in kind.

While nowhere is it made clear who or what is the King of Herrings is, the oceanic series of inventive licks brought forward by all three players here, make them collectively at least Princes of Improv.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Encipherer 2. Controlled Remote Control 3. Parallel-O-Gram

Personnel: David Stackenäs (guitar and preparations); Joe Williamson (bass) and Phil Durrant (laptop)