One Harp, One Guitar

The Harp of the New Cambria

Yeah…Rock! Rhodri Davies finally discovers the power of heavy metal! For years this Welsh genius (improviser, composer, innovator) was known for producing extremely quiet and minimal music with his harp, often in the company of other minimal improvisers, although admittedly he was recently drawn to use of the ebow as a process whereby he could extend the resonating strings into a powerful, humming, ultra-long drone. As is well known we love his work here and some of his recent records (e.g. 2010’s Carliol with John Butcher) have been exemplary in terms of their stripped-down astringency, their frightening sense of purpose, their deep-frozen “core of ice” affect such that to listen was like being stabbed in the head with an icicle. Now on Wound Response (ALT.VINYL av038) he’s embracing amplification and distortion, and with these groovy cuts he’s turning himself into a Welsh avant-garde version of Jimmy Page or Leslie West, riffing away in gorgeous circular patterns with a strong sense of simple melodic drive, anchoring down his quicksilver inventions with a solid root note, and generally updating the blues / rock mode in his own shimmering image of palpitating atonal holydom. In fine this is the sort of harp record that Keiji Haino probably wishes he could have made, during that creative purple patch when he figured he was tough enough to play any instrument known to man and create a hideous racket on it, including the hurdy-gurdy which he memorably transformed into a shrieking wheezy monster of steel and wood. Now Haino must surrender his laurel wreath to a new victor.

Davies is getting this fab new sound from use of transducers, contact mics, a volume pedal, an overdrive unit and two amplifiers, the sort of setup that produced those side-long versions of ‘Dazed and Confused’ (although in fact a theremin was also used I believe). The volume pedal in particular is one of my personal favourite devices and isn’t used enough in my view, ever since Derek Bailey trod his well-brogued foot on one of them during his brief but memorable “electric” phase 1. Mostly of course the quality of the music here is produced not by means of electronic assistance, but through the sheer dazzling brilliance of Rhodri’s attack. Man, you could use these fingers to mow an entire field of wheat – he’s his own combine harvester! Speed and coruscating energy are the order of the day, at times making music that resembles the hammered dulcimer or autoharp of an acid-fried folk musician, perhaps named Barney Pembleton, on the most gloriously impossible folk-rock record that never existed and was in fact purposely suppressed by Elektra, Island and Transatlantic working in an unholy triumvirate of conspiracy to conceal dangerously good music from the crowd. Now through the gift of channelling the spirit of Barney Pembleton, Rhodri Davies has succeeded in unleashing that monster from the vaults. Lovely screenprinted card presentation on this beast, with drawings by the organist / composer Jean-Luc Guionnet, a Phil Begg recording, and title borrowed from the musician’s personal bookshelf of great literature. And it’s pressed in clear vinyl, which ought to be the clincher. From 26 October 2012, and a total goodie.

The Persian Version

Last heard from Yek Koo with her single Alone Together, now here she is with an entire album recorded for the same label called Love Song For The Dead C (EMERALD COCOON EC009). Yek Koo is Helga Fassonaki from Metal Rouge, working solo with guitar, percussion devices and her voice for this uncanny limited-edition vinyl item, released at the same time as her one-person show at the Human Resources gallery in LA. The order of the day on this highly discursive and ghostified dron-gronathon is a fairly skeletal approach to music-making, selecting bare twigs or bent wire sticks, remnants and rags of material and assembling them with the intuitive flair of a collage artist or maker of bricolage. These tunes unfold in real time, coming to life on the gallery wall rather than enduring a half-life as tracks etched into dead vinyl. There’s a gloriously delirious tone which the press notes describe as “drunkenly stumbling”, to account for the free-swimming odd mismatches of sound-generation here. The very body of each tune appears fragile, so brittle that it might shatter at any second, or so nebulous that you could disperse the entire album by turning on the fan. Yet Yek Koo’s music keeps on going, and the mysterious drug-like logic of her music is as potent as a spell from Circe burning evil incense blocks in her copper bowl.

Everything is suggestive of alienation and distance – distorted, weirdly-echoed effects, beautifully badly-played electric guitar to produce unearthly tones, an out-of-tune waily voice drifting in from a secret chamber – yet in the final analysis, it’s the most honest and intimate music you could hope for. It’s as though Fassonaki has found a completely instinctive way to outwit the subtleties of our own mind games and ego tricks, and bypass normal channels of communication to arrive at a very direct statement delivered from the heart. The label exhibits a certain pride in the “tradition of the great outsider sides of the early 90s”. Although “outsider” is becoming a commonplace term these days, the point is well made, and even the cover art with its simple pastedown wraparound is trying to forge a link with the 1990s “tradition”, if indeed there is one, when great underground music was packaged in master bags with paste-on covers (mainly for economic reasons) and released in near-secrecy. Of course this attentuated, formless wailing sound she makes isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but I personally am completely enchanted with this LP and it’s highly worthy of your attention. Received 22nd May 2012.

  1. Best heard on the classic LP Domestic and Public Pieces. Let me know if you ever find a copy.

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