Secrets of the Sea

Official product image from Bandcamp page

Split tape from the London label The Lumen Lake…this label has been showing up on radar a little this year and is evidently home to unusual and experimental music, worth knowing about even if not every part of their aesthetic jigsaw meshes together or their flints miss fire sometimes. The present tape showcases two group-improvisation approaches, of which I liked one very much but the other not so much. Wendra Hill For have seven short pieces on Side A, all recorded in Oslo, and featuring Jenny Berger Myhre on clarinet – though she also uses cassette tapes, and an “acoustic” laptop. The other musicians play cello, guitars, woodwinds, with various preparations, more tapes, some percussion…no denying the group arrive at some good dissonances and eerie musical moments in their gentle, acoustic-ish explorations, but something’s not quite cohering for me. Maybe it’s the general lack of structure – the good moments seem more to happen by accident than by design. There’s also a kind of distance to the playing, as if those involved are not fully engaged with it; indeed they seem hesitant, not quite sure what it means to be playing these notes or creating these sounds. All of this lends their side a certain coldness, the music appearing ineffectual and sterile. I may need to revisit to see if this impression is correct; you yourself may play the tape and find you welcome its gentleness, and find open-mindedness where I find cautious mannerisms.

Personally I fared much better with John Harries And Grey Sea Over A Cold Sky Ensemble. This lengthy name for the group is interesting, in that the main piece they play happens to be called ‘Grey Sea Over A Cold Sky’, and it’s almost as though they came into existence simply in order to play this piece. The ensemble here, led by John Harries of course, is much larger than the Wendra Hill For, and I count at least 14 players in the roster, with no idea of what instruments they might be playing. All I know is they make a glorious mixed-chord drone with much shifting and stretching, and I like their combined playing just fine. It has a “porous” quality that I like, and retains this without losing the strength of its central theme. The players cohere in a way that the Wendra lot can’t seem to manage, all 14 musicians agreeing on something and advancing a discussion about it, rather than spending time on the periphery of the subject or getting lost in detail. Their second piece ‘Tea Coffee Pepper’ is a bit throwaway compared to this grand sweep effort, but no matter; with this maritime / weather themed sound-painting, John Harries + Crew have earned a place in the abstract harbour of the musical sea.

Lumen Lake wish us to understand that these two bands are not unconnected – Harries (founder of the label) is friends with Myhre, and she had her first release on the label in 2017. The tape is a joint release with Fig Tree Music, a Norwegian label.

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