Latest release from Phil Maguire on his Verz Imprint label is a cassette tape called Three Cities (VERZ IMPRINT #012), which shows him teaming up with Anne La Berge, the highly talented flautist who leads the MAZE Ensemble in the Netherlands. Maguire is no stranger to cryptical, humming bleakness which he produces with his computer software and analogue synth, but it’s great on this occasion to have the equation leavened and broadened out by La Berge’s contributions.
They create long sonic portraits of three urban monstrosities in the state of Minnesota, of which the first ‘Duluth’ is a lengthy exploration and meditation on the hideous futility of contemporary life, or at least that’s how I read it. Duluth in reality is a vibrant industrial city, but on this slow slab of musical greyness it feels like a factory of deathly emanations, viewed under a grey February sky. Already the personalities of the two musicians are stamped into the fabric of the music here, Phil Maguire all interned and isolationist with his enigmatic emptiness-drones, La Berge whimpering out compassionate sobs that betoken her ecological and humanist concerns for the state of the world. It takes some brass neck to lead off an album with such an alienating blast of chill.
‘Yoker’ has much more immediate appeal, and is bound to strike a spark or two with any listeners who sup at the bowl of modernist abstract electronica. Yoker itself is another Minnesota city, though it may also refer to the district of Glasgow that lies north of the Clyde, but those canny Scots are unlikely to be adopting this puzzling growler as their municipal anthem any time soon. I winder if La Berge is feeding her flute through electronics or filters for this one, as it sounds much more inhuman. A real bundle of exciting textures on offer in this basket, for sure, but nothing much is explained and the duo explore the mysterious contours of their planned expedition with a steady, focussed zeal. ‘Cloquet’, referring to another city in Minneapolis, concludes the tape with another blanked-out bout of sustained staring contests, which for some reason makes me think of a forlorn tourist trapped in a hotel room. Maybe it’s the strange minimal electronic signals which sound like mobile phone interference, although the track also resembles a computer printer going haywire. For a few precious moments we can occasionally make out Anne La Berge breathing into her instrument, once again adding some “real life” elements into Maguire’s music which otherwise prefers to occupy its own sealed-off hermetic world of circuits and patches.
Very good; a strong mixture of elements and performance styles, and the modern urban themes are very poignant. From 20th March 2019.