Latest record from the Swiss combo Insub Meta Orchestra is a vinyl item called Choices / Melodies (INSUB.records insub.rec.LP02). Over the years I’ve tended to associate this bunch, led by Cyril Bondi and d’incise who also play as Diatribes, with a very extreme form of free improvisation, but increasingly they are getting into doing conceptual semi-composed experiments, which rely on performative skills of a large number of very talented musicians. There’s about two dozen players on this LP, playing woodwinds, strings, laptops, electronics, percussion, electric guitar, synths, and a hurdy-gurdy.
Two pieces, one per side, both around 16 mins; they relate in some way to an album called 13 & 27 which was released by Another Timbre not long ago, and were recorded at the same time in 2016. Both of them are rule-based pieces; the musicians are given fairly strict instructions as to what they should be doing. A familiar tactic, and one that has proven successful as a means of breaking free of the restrictions of scored sheet music, but Insub Meta Orchestra take the task very seriously. On the first side, ‘Two Choices’, the rule is that each musician can only make two sounds, and they can make a change every five seconds. Phew. I think I would get lost in about 16 seconds if given a rule like that, especially with numerous other musicians working around one, but they carry it off and sustain it admirably. What results is a strangely textured minimal set; I’m reminded of those improvisers who like to scrape metal surfaces (especially rotating ones), or push air out of an accordion bellows very slowly. This one felt like a microscopic walk through the long grass. Luckily we didn’t meet any worms or gigantic insects.
‘Autonomous Melodies’ is quite another bowful of sticky rice. Much louder and more maximal, though still quite slow moving; and where the A side was reasonably soothing, this one generates 16:26 mins of tension. It does this mostly because what I hear is a never-ending unresolved chord; you keep waiting for a change into a more conventionally satisfying mode, which never arrives. Consequently listeners who have been conditioned with years of Western musical traditions may find this an affront to classical rules. The rule followed here is a “free melody of three and four notes”; I think it’s simply the power of multiplication, the fact that so many musicians are doing it simultaneously, that creates the strong effect to which I refer. It’s like a computer program that keeps on resetting itself without ever actually launching; a perpetual loop. The creators are very pleased with the “agitated drone and unique new timbre” thus created, and claim it’s something of a departure from the group’s usual aesthetic.
D’incise did the cover artwork and the release is splendidly packaged with a sturdy inner sleeve. From 19th March 2018.