September 20, 2011
Another Timbre at37
Abstract abrasions and intonations make up this cabinet of curiosities constructed by three sound explorers from the United Kingdom. While the interaction on each track varies, depending on the instruments used, the overall plan attempts to blend textures in such a way that depth, volume and speed alter and shift almost imperceptibly to produce near-three-dimensional aural effects,
Each player’s background and instrument choices help define this “wunderkammern”. Welsh-born harpist Rhodri Davies, for instance, who here also uses ebows, electronics and preparations, specializes in redefining his instrument’s properties, often in the company of other timbre experimenters such as saxophonist John Butcher. Most senior of the three, writer/musician David Toop, who plays laptop, steel guitar, flutes and percussive devices, has over the years worked with partners as different as sound poet Bob Cobbing, director/actor Steven Berkoff and saxophonist Evan Parker. Prestwich-based Lee Patterson uses field recordings to mate familiar sounds with instrumental surfaces mutated with amplified devices. He regularly works in another band with violinist Angharad Davies.
Except for the odd harp glissandi or pluck and even more fragmented flute peep or lip oscillation, each of the six poetically titled tracks nearly rejects instrumental definition. Instead pressurized wave forms broken by radio-like static provides the ostinato underpinning. Simultaneously wave forms swell and dip in-and-out-of-focus revealing cue ball-like whacks, sampled bird calls, guitar twangs or stentorian harp glissandi.
Sometimes, as on “In ashes lies the Salt of Glory”, there’s a sense of timbral segmentation conveyed by the harp’s ponderous woodenness. Hand taps on the instrument’s body meet up with multiplied, computer-generated chiming, while understated percussive echoes meld intermittently and then make room for blurry twittering and disconnected high-pitched shrills. When these timbre-stretches abate, a drone remains.
Improvisations that encompass granular and synthesized timbre-altering characterize “In the dead body of a calf are generated bees”. At nearly 21 minutes, the CD’s lengthiest track, there’s still no diminishing of the closely allied timbre exploration. Swelling to fortissimo and segmented resonations, the initial hollow-sound pitches soon mutate. Suddenly apparent are suggestions of breaking glass, human-sounding cries and bell-pealing, all likely produced by Davies’ ebow and the motor-driven devices of the other players. A further variant reverses the process, concentrating these segments into a shuddering undifferentiated drone. Finally the thick pitch divides and exposes polyphonic surfaces, each of which appears to be aurally reflecting back upon one another. Obvious buzzing and twittering results as each surface comes into contact with the others, until kazoo-like intonation, extended harp-string quivers and scrapes against unyielding surfaces arise. Distantly, the harpist’s electronically extended glissandi, the flutist’s lip twisting mouthpiece kisses, and Patterson’s signal-processed echoes sequentially make their individual presence felt then dissolve as indistinct, yet rough tones.
An appreciation for non-figurative improvisation possessing hardly any distinctive instrumental tones is necessary for an acceptance of the creations of Davies, Patterson and Troop. Also necessary is the ability to take in the complete sound picture with no fear of abstraction.
Track Listing: 1. A salamander lives in the fire, which imparts to it a most glorious hue 2. From the ashes springs a seven-pointed flower 3. The toad with Colours rare through every side was pierc’d 4. In the dead body of a calf are generated bees 5. Whose falling drops from high did strain the soyl with ruddy hue 6. In ashes lies the Salt of Glory
Personnel: Rhodri Davies (harp, ebows, electronics and preparations); David Toop (laptop, steel guitar, flutes and percussive devices) and Lee Patterson (amplified devices, field recordings, etc.)