Parchment Dust

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Oceans of Silver and Blood (CONFRONT ccs10) is a document of a live performance captured at Cafe Oto last year. Mark Wastell and Joachim Nordwall produced 45 minutes of transcendent, minimalist monochrome gloom. Nordwall seems positively subdued compared against his assaultive mode when playing as one half of Skull Defekts, but the date also demonstrates something of Wastell’s open-minded versatility. This record could be made from a fine blending of electronics and brushed percussion, or who knows what? The continuous sound on this limited press CDR is both compelling and strange.

Only two months after the above was recorded, John Butcher and his team debuted a commission called Somethingtobesaid (WEIGHT OF WAX WOW 02) at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. Butcher assembled a team of strong players for the event, including John Edwards, Gino Robair, Adam Linson, dieb13, and the wonderful Chris Burn on piano. Resulting mix of instruments alone should be enough to get any human being’s juices flowing – I mean the delectable combinations of acoustic instruments and live electronics, all played with taut restraint – but you have the added advantage of impeccable collaborative playing between amicable and compassionate players, exhibiting the glorious full-on mix of performed sounds which I always wanted improvised music to be. Superfluous to state how Butcher has emerged over time as a major player, but to my loss I did not realise his conductional skills as a leader / composer were as strong as this. It’s also a welcome return for Burns, whose Ensembles of the 1990s I count myself lucky enough to have seen on a couple of occasions. Cover painting by (brother) Philip Butcher depicts a loaf of bread (suggesting perhaps that his inherited surname is slightly inaccurate when it comes to describing the family’s chosen trade), which is not as surreal as a Magritte flying baguette nor yet as solid as a lump of Dutch dough rendered by Rembrandt. Instead it’s a good honest staff of life that will nourish and replenish you as surely as this excellent music. If you’ve any interest in improvised music at all, I’d suggest swift purchase of this great work.

Another stalwart of UK improvised music (and more) is Sheffield’s Martin Archer. Electro-acoustic music, improvisation, cut-up experiments, ensemble playing – who knows what we can expect from his next project? Apart from honesty, invention and high-quality music, that is. On Ghosts of Gold (DISCUS 37CD), he collaborates once again with Julie Tippetts, herself no less important a figure in the world of jazz and improvised music. Her songs and poems – half sung, half-recited – are set against strange musical backdrops provided by Archer, producing a total effect that’s as close as we’ll come to a 21st century Façade (William Walton and Edith Sitwell). Tippett’s dense verbiage may appear heavy going at first, but I sense that it’s laced with the same basic semi-supernatural pastoral and pagan imagery as you’ll find on many an example of classic UK revivalist folk (Shirley Collins, The Young Tradition). If only the numerous listeners in the audience who profess their allegiance to contemporary “dark folk” would bend an ear to this CD, they might be pleasantly surprised. As to the overall sound of this weirdster, “uncanny” would not be too strong a word to describe the inventive and mysterious combinations Archer has pulled from his panoply of keyboards, woodwinds, electronics and percussion. As Ms Tippetts puts it, this is “the magic of the unexpected”.

From Rochester NY comes evidence of further improvised music activities. Output:Noise is a regular project taking place at Potential Life Studios, where performers (musicians and non-musicians alike) are invited to turn up and play together in random combinations, devised by drawing names from a hat; condition of entry is that you submit your personal details on a card for this purpose. On Document Nr. 005, assembled from the archive of tapes, we hear a number of players equipped with guitars, bass, drums and electronic instruments, producing some convincing effects for the most part. Personally, I prefer the opening long track where everything is weird, drifty and unstructured; some of the later cuts feature listless drumming and/or mechanical beats that have the unfortunate effect of turning potentially interesting episodes into ambient disco music. There is also a faintly self-important and solemn caste to much of the performances, and despite the stated interest in developing “dynamic group dialogues” and “free-form” events, it’s surprising how quickly all the participants settle into a predictable groove so quickly, declining to stretch out or disturb the mood. That said, you should tune into the spooked-out fourth cut here which (with a little extra bottom end) could just about pass for some form of avant-garde death metal. Whoever’s doing the moaning ghostly vocal deserves a shot at collaborating with Sunn O))).

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