Fume of Sighs
psi 12.04

Energy Music for and from electronics, the BARK trio proves conclusively on this CD that exemplary free sounds are more the product of commitment and conception than instrumentation. Manchester-based, the group has gone through various line-ups over the years with percussionist Phillip Marks and guitarist Rex Caswell constant. Sampler player Paul Obermayer, also a member of FURT, joined the band in 1999, and his swift, beat-oriented electronic riffs banish any processed preciousness from the interface.

Like most cooperative groups, Bark’s whole is greater than its parts. Although Marks’ influences are Jazz, Caswell’s Pop-Rock and Obermayer’s notated music – and all have flirted with reductionism – the 10 tracks are rife with the all-encompassing motion that in other circumstances is called swing and was a title of an earlier BARK! CD. Confirming the trio`s populism, its name references not the Bark psycho-acoustical scale but a neighborhood in Manchester, UK. Marks also works with pianist Stephen Grew and reedist Mick Beck, while Caswell often collaborates with choreographer Lene Boel.

With stentorian sequences of motor-driven buzzes, signal-processed ricochets and quivering reverb on a tune like “A room each”, the three create the sort of collective improvisational polyphony that usually results from Free Jazz’s expected lung and muscle power. Yet here, alongside textures that resembles a soundtrack of breaking glass and car crashes, Marks’ clip-clopping drum beats are still heard as are Caswell’s string slaps. The title track provides more of the same. Alongside Obermayer’s envelopes of droning vibrations, ring modulator-like gongs and flanged, vibraharp-like pulses from Marks’ percussion is Caswell repetitively strumming what could be an oversized rubber band. Furthermore, while the band name may suggest a canine, tracks such as “The theoretician” position sampled hog shorts and barnyard poultry cacophony alongside elastic tape-ripping plus staccato string licks and twangs

Collective sound creation can be more delicate as well, as when the guitarist’s closely miked licks squeak and resonate, or the percussionist sounds as if he’s slapping a plastic swizzle stick on his drum tops as he rattles and rubs the instruments’ wood and rims. Plus the three are canny is their use of deliberate pauses, hollow tunnel echoing patterns or precise trimbral placement. But such is the exhilarating unpredictability of Free Music that these pastoral sequences on tracks such as “Trampoline” or “Crobes” can be instantaneously fragmented by voltage-generated sibilate razzing or vocalized guffawing burps. Instantaneous polyrhythmic responses from Marks underline many of these outbursts.

High-quality electro-acoustic sounds that should even impress those who prefer their instruments unamplified; plus an intense Free Jazz variant that will convince those who insist that sounds should be minimalist and understated, it’s evident that Bark! can reconcile seemingly incompatible preferences. That in itself, as well as the quality of the CD’s program should be celebrated.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Romeo 2. Zodiac 3. Trampoline 4. Fume of sighs 5. A room each 6. What is it else? 7. Crobes 8. Morse eyes 9. The theoretician 10. Vexed, a sea

Personnel: Rex Caswell (guitar); Phillip Marks (percussion) and Paul Obermayer (samples)