April 28, 2011
Cornelius Cardew: Works 1960-70
Al Maslakh Recordings 12
Multi-tasking is an accepted fact of musical life for Welsh harpist Rhodri Davies. Playing one of the world’s oldest and most distinctive sounding instrument means that his regular work doesn’t involve gigging at the neighboring watering hole with the local Jazz trio or Rock combo. Plus, since the now-Newcastle upon Tyne-based multi-string specialist is most commonly involved in the intricacies of contemporary improvised and notated music, session work is mostly out too. Happily though, Davies’ virtuosity is such that he can make an essential contribution to just about any musical situation.
Case in point these trio CDs, with completely different associates. Bricolage, recorded in Beirut, is made up of six electro-acoustic improvisations featuring Davies playing electric harp plus the flutes, tiles and preparations of Spaniard Alessandra Rombolá and the percussion, drone commander and sruti box of Norwegian Ingar Zach. Another Norwegian, bassist Michael Duch is involved on the other CD, as is British pianist John Tilbury, with Davies playing acoustic harp. But the Trondheim-recorded program is more concerned with the creative freedom the three can bring to the sometimes aleatory early compositions of Cornelius Cardew.
A post-war experimentalist and early associate of the AMM ensemble of which Tilbury has been an on-and-off member since its beginning, Cardew (1936–1981) developed as an experimenter but turned to agitrprop by the end of his life. Most markedly though, these 1960s’ pieces are outstanding for their mixture of quasi-improvised impulses, strains of romanticism, touches of populism, as well as an understanding of absolute sound expressed by Cardew mentors such as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Graphically scored, the except from “Treatise”, the composer’s ‘greatest hit’, moves around among tin-can-like resonations from the piano strings that feature Tilbury’s carefully spaced single notes. As Tilbury extends chromatic vibrations as well as descriptive keyboard glissandi, Davies adds strained, percussive strokes and Duch angled snaps and sul tasto squeaks. Soon the bassist and harpist add harsh, sul ponticello flourishes to the pianist`s clinking key tones and relatively unperturbed continuo..
Duch’s low-pitched strokes and Davies’ sweeping arpeggios also blend perfectly on “Unintended Piano Music”. Likely more pre-meditated than indicated, Tilbury’s performance continues to mate pedal-point sustain and buzzes in repetitious, interchangeable patterns. On the other hand, “Autumn 60” is adagio-paced, with the exercise characterized by angular plinking and choked-off string actions framing sprightly portamento on the highest-pitched keys. Lyrical, romantic and almost baroque, “4th System” is unlike other Cardew recital pieces. Taken moderato, the composition maintains its delicacy despite bow-and-arrow like harp plucks, a circular bass ostinato and prepared piano-like shakes from Tilbury.
There’s nothing rococo or impressionistic about Bricolage’s improvisations which take full sonic advantage of the electronics developed since Cardew’s time as an avant gardist. Almost without exception the undercurrent includes variants of processed harp timbres, organ-like layered drones from the sruti box and expanding puffs and verbalism from the flute that grows ever wider as the tunes develop. A prime example of this is “Encilion”, which is studded with scrapes and friction produced from unyielding objects; rustling and stopped strings; and what could be the sound of marbles striking dense surfaces. “Driphlith” on the other hand exposes irregular diaphragm-forced breaths from the flutist; inconsistent twangs, plucks and picking from the harpist; and the percussionist demonstrating happens when sticks are rotated, bounced and struck against hard surfaces following jack-hammer-like reverberations.
Nonetheless the most illustrative examples of this triple interface occur during the more-than-13-minutes of adjoining “Llinyn” and “Osgo”. Culminating in a slowly vanishing layered ostinato that gives way to a climax of piccolo-pitched tones and percussive clip-clops, the narrative begins with what sounds like an auto motor turning over mixed with pulsating electronic impulses. As acoustic as it is electronic, the first piece also includes heavily vibrated flute multiphonics; resonating multi-string plunks, with the strings further excited by an e-bow; plus watery pops, shuffles and smacks produced by the cumulative use of chimes, claves, a wood block and a cow bell.
A model collaborator no matter the circumstances, Davies’ skill helps make each of these widely divergent sessions notable and exciting.
Track Listing: Bricolage: 1. Driphlith 2. Encilion 3. Goriwaered 4. Hafflau 5. Llinyn 6. Osgo
Personnel: Bricolage: Alessandra Rombolá (flutes, tiles and preparations); Rhodri Davies (electric harp and electronics) and Ingar Zach (percussion, drone commander, sruti box)
Track Listing: Works: 1. Autumn 60 2. 4th System 3. Material 4. Solo with Accompaniment 5. Treatise (excerpt) 6. Unintended Piano Music
Personnel: Works: John Tilbury (piano); Michael Duch (bass) and Rhodri Davies (harp)