Mark Wastell is the English improviser who has a fair claim to being one of the innovators of the ‘quiet’ movement (such as it is) that’s been seeping across the world of improvised music for many years now. A string player by nature, at one stage he might have been drawn towards a virtual / digital mode of expressing this quietness, but on Amoungst English Men (ABSINTH RECORDS 012) he executes a 33-minute piece for percussion using piano, gong and tubular bell, that shows him engaging well with physical objects and bodes a dark broodiness in its obsessive exploration of the lower depths. Also got a newie from Burkhard Beins, the Berlin king of buttered toast, exploring new experimental worlds on his Disco Prova (ABSINTH RECORDS 013). Disco? Well, no dancefloor antics on these grooves natch – instead, seven choice cuts of bewildering percussion and electronic works, presented with lengthy and interesting notes as to their processes of production. If only I could read them, because the hand-sewn sleeve is covered in permatrace, which obscures much. Absinth love creating these artistic hand-made packages to their releases, which involve good art paper, screenprinting, sewing, and a clarity of purpose that Joseph Beuys woulda loved…300 copies of the Beins, 500 of the one by our own Markie. I can certainly groove to these quiet apes! Mebbe the label should do a promotional tie-in with the alcoholic drink of the same name, and see how far they get.
Not unrelated to the above: James Saunders sent me #[unassigned] (CONFRONT 15) from the University of Huddersfield, and by all accounts he’s a widely respected academic composer with his feet firmly planted on modernist soil and his head roaming freely in the stratosphere of Pierre Boulez’s cloth cap. These two CDs contain several approx. one-minute long segments of quiet and slow music, executed with cello on one disc and clarinet on other. If you own two CD players, you could play them simultaneously, and Saunders (who espouses ‘modular’ working methods so much that he includes links to Legoland and Ikea on his website) would love ya if you did. Followers of minimal process material will be unsurprised to learn this is out on Wastell’s Confront label.
Another bag of digital kumquats from French limner eRikm, whose Variations Opportunistes (RONDA rnd08) are carefully-arranged process-based compositions; these are shaping up to be intense / droney reworkings of classical music samples, in places not far from a kind of revved-up Philip Glass. Sampled composers are namechecked in the digipack cover, which pictures a lovely pine tree. Time was when erik woulda used a needle from one of those pines as a turntable stylus, but those days of harsh sound are behind him now.
Frans de Waard pulls the Vijf Profielen CD (ALLUVIAL RECORDINGS A26) out of his body like so much frogspawn. This is a single track of field recordings made in a building as part of an art commission, and probably reprocessed into low-key rumblings. Frans is now past the stage of ‘prolific’ and has so many releases and projects to his name that he’s fast becoming a feature of the landscape. However, that’s easier to achieve in Holland than some other parts of the world. Meanwhile Z’EV‘s Forwaard (KORM PLASTICS KP3029) appears to be a set of electronic suites based on samples of extant works by the great Frans, housed in a slightly outsize cover depicting still-life foliage in deepest green on the front, and a puzzling what-is-it image on the back which might be old carpets rolled up and inserted in some secret caves in Palestine. Brief spins reveal a quieter side to this ear-ringed percussive fellow, in distinction to his usual ‘wilder’ self.
Still hopping about in the nether regions, a newish Dutch small label has sent a live document of Kaspar van Hoek, called Live at Extrapool (EP) (HEILSKABAAL RECORDS HK002). A slim black plastic tub unfolds to reveal a CDR of 100 copies, a release which shows van Hoek in playful mood with cassette loops, turntable and mixing desk. From what we can see of this young man on the obliquely laid-out sleeve, he seems an industrious and earnest sort. The photo of him on the CD reveals he also has a piercing gaze, looking wistful and somewhat bewildered by the stack of equipment on the trestle table before him… “what do you expect me to do with all that?!” Let’s hope the sounds within can match that intense facial look. Also in the package was a mini CD by The Eric Moussambani Memorial Orchestra, called Civil Noise Movements (HEILSKABAAL RECORDS HK003); it’s wrapped in an outsize poster printed on brown wrapping paper. I unfolded this artefact in hopes of uncovering a crazed Dada-ist tract packed with wild photo-imagery and errant typographic delights, and in fact I wasn’t far off the mark; the enlarged news photo of the Olympic swimmer certainly did give pause. And the description of this project in the press release is so confusing as to be almost surreal.