The End of the String

Found myself a bit under-whelmed by Fredrik Rasten and his Six Moving Guitars (SOFA SOFA573) on first hearings, but now I’m trying hard to see the value in its spaciousness, its gradual delineation of lines in space, as it might be perceived…apparently it’s not got much to do with the acoustic guitar in the conventional sense, despite appearance of that wooden crate on the cover X 2…nor much to do with the conventions of how said device would normally be played. As far as I can make out, it’s mostly about a group of people moving around a space which happens to contain guitars, and their mode and direction of travel is the important thing. At some point their walking (or running?) actions may brush against or collide with guitar strings, but the process that’s relevant involves understanding the guitar as some sort of resonant box, rather than an instrument of the orchestra.

Six Moving Guitars may have more to do with choreography and dance, or even architecture, or both. The very minimal music emerges like a delicate tracery of perpendicular lines in space, forming imaginary horizons and walls. But it’s not as precise as a blueprint, and the intention behind the composition is to blur lines, make sounds porous, create the effect of coloured air. If you were expecting something less nebulous and a bit more concrete, maybe better seek elsewhere. Composer Catherine Lamb, who has shown up in these pages like a fleeting spirit of the etherium, provides the illuminating sleeve note. At one moment she’s likening all this to the work of Paul Klee (specifically his drawings of an arrow; it’s something to do with very careful selection of proportions), and the next moment she’s praising the insubstantiality of Six Moving Guitars, saying “dimensionality becomes perfume / smoke”. We should also mention the tuning of the instruments – if that’s what we can understand by the prolix phrase “justly tuned consonances” – and reiterate that the actions and co-operations of the players in the space are what’s important, as much as the music. Matter of fact they don’t even have to be trained musicians. And if you think we’re getting a rehash of C. Cardew and his famous Treatise, you’d be wide of the mark – Rasten’s approach is much more open-ended. We must admit this strategy seems to have involved a serious rethink of what “performed” music actually is, and coming up with some fairly radical proposals for what to do instead.

I’m still unsure if anyone involved is actually playing a guitar at any point, but I suppose they must be, based on the available evidence on the disc – they do sound like human digits strumming strings, sometimes. For all this, it’s a sedate and unchallenging result, the music itself full of very ordinary chords and tunings producing tasteful wallpaper, and very little event or incident in among all the genteel co-operation and mutual respect. From 8th May 2019.

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