Seen III, Took 4

Now for some Scandinavian malarkey from the Muddersten trio. The three players here are Martin Taxt, Håvard Volden and Henrik Olsson, and we first heard their unique approach to group playing on the Karpatklokke album from 2017. It’s an odd combination of guitars, loops, objects being rubbed up and down, and the microtonal tuba puffing of Taxt. Playmates (SOFA MUSIC SOFA565) comprises four “takes” or versions of the same piece ‘Private Pleasure’; their hope was that “by playing the piece…over and over again, trying to recollect the previous version, we thought the music would compose itself”. Right there you’ve got some very interesting and perhaps quite radical ideas about “instant composition”, a concept and term that’s been hanging over European improvised music since its very earliest days…

I’m also intrigued as to what they might mean by “recollect” in this context, if they had a score or graphical chart or some barely-sketched in ideas…or if they did it all by memory. What was it that could be repeated, recollected? You wouldn’t know from hearing the four tracks that they represented four versions of the same thing, but that’s a very good way of looking at anything in life. After all, didn’t the Cubist painters try and show us a single object or scene from four angles at once, cramming them all in the same picture plane? And to take a more modern instance, every time you do a search on Amazon you’re creating your own personal “view” of (some of) the underlying data that is stored in their huge databases of consumer goods.

In the case of Muddersten, their work here might be seen as one of constant refinement, of sculpture, as they try to reach the “ideal” version of the music; and this may be one way of understanding the image of the body-builder on the cover. These musclemen – and it’s surprising to learn this still goes on – had some idea about “body sculpture”, transforming their own torso into a glimmering work of art. The cover art shows this iron-pumping gonk collaged into a modern kitchen torn straight from a showroom catalogue, some sort of idealised perfection in home interiors. And yet this might not be the intended meaning at all; “the cover pictures vanity”, says the press release, “it tells us to get real”. So perhaps we’re looking at a double-edged ironic update on Richard Hamilton’s famous Pop Art Collage from 1956, Just What Is It…

Whether any of this maps successfully into the music on offer today is another matter. What we hear on this outing is hard to pigeonhole into any genre (good) and a blend of hard-to-identify elements (also good)…guitar and tuba may be on the record, but every sound that reaches ears is denatured, changed, especially so in the context of the neighbouring players/instruments. It’s a stream of strange chatter. Can’t call it seamless, as nothing really fits together as neatly as a well-made coat with buttons, seams and darts; nor do balls land in the corner pocket of the musical snooker table. Instead, the coat they wear has three sleeves, and is made of remnants, loosely tacked together; the snooker table may be present, but they use it for playing darts or dominoes, and they cry out “penalty!” every time a ball goes down.

I kind of liked the mulched-organic properties of Karpatklokke and seem to recall there was more deep-bass tuba grunting on offer at that time. Playmates is much more diffuse, and seems to take a long time to bring home the bacon as it wanders off on these lengthy perambulations. Even so, there’s a lot of fascinating detail and event stitched into the fabric of these snakelike meanderings. For some reason this gives me the image of a 20-foot python stretched out on in a rocky outcrop, wearing a long woollen sleeve. From 19th January 2018.

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