John Butcher / Rhodri Davies / Angharad Davies / Lina Lapelyte / Pat Thomas / Lee Patterson

January 29, 2010



Although the concept may appear clearer to the musicians involved than the outcome, the programs created by the Common Objects are supposed to reflect the relationship among the players, their instruments and selected objects about which they improvise. For this iteration of the group, British saxophonist John Butcher selected four objects from Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum for reflection hoping to evoke considerations of water, air, earth, spirit, ritual and utility. Definition of each entity is open to interpretation. But certainly characteristics of the first two and fourth seem discernable. Formed by electric harpist Rhodri Davies, the sextet is filled out by some of the UK’s most sophisticated sound explorers: violinists Angharad Davies and Lina Lapelyte, plus Pat Thomas and Lee Patterson, who deal with electronics and processing.

From the beginning strained string patterning, fragmented reed whistles and oscillated percussion-oriented electronics crisscross one another. Watery burbles projected by processed granular synthesis and saxophone doits are given an earthly context when that sequence contrasts their extensions with scrawls and rasps from electric harp strings. Additionally sul ponticello violin sawing provides additional ritualistic motifs as they scratch and splinter across the soundfield.

Three-quarters of the way through the performance airy whooshes from the twinned and specially tuned violins amplify airiness, with the timbres further intensified by vibrating electronic rumbles. This ceremonial-style sequence demonstrates utility as well since the droning metallic interface from the processes provides a proper continuum that underlies the saxophonist’s cackling cacophonous squeals and yelping split tones. Eventually, as the bottom hugging drone reaches a crescendo of gravelly earthy motions, so do the harsh reed multiphonics. Still, the final sequence consists of a spiritual redefinition as thinning electronic buzzes, echoing gongs and fluid electric harp thumps mix with arco string stretching that becomes more vaporous and swifter as they dissolve.

Whether the properties suggested by four of the museum’s rare painted, shaped or shamanistic artifacts are satisfactorily described by “Skullmarks” is dependent on how exact one thinks music should reflect its source. For most, gratification should be in what unexpected sonic textures are produced by these inventive musicians as they collectively improvise.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Skullmarks

Personnel: John Butcher (soprano and tenor saxophones); Angharad Davies and Lina Lapelyte (violin); Rhodri Davies (electric harp); Pat Thomas (electronics) and Lee Patterson (amplified devices and processes)