It’s been about five years since we heard from the Scottish sound artist Brian Lavelle, when he released Ustrina on the Italian AFE Records label, a record which seemed to perceive the simple forest canopy as the gateway to a spiritual experience. He’s here now with My Hands Are Ten Knives (QUIET WORLD FORTY TWO), a title which may have led you to expect a slicing attack of sonic violence or at least some impression of “sharp edges” in the sound, as befits this Edward Scissorhands-styled description. Instead, Lavelle offers a hypnotic ambient drone with rather soft beguiling edges, but also one with remarkably opaque and near-mystical qualities, and a hard core of rigid concentration at the centre. As we listen we can glance with one eye at his processes, which usually involve blending the textures from field recordings with electronic tones and electric guitar music, but that doesn’t begin to account for this haunting sense of the other-worldly. After just 30 minutes, the patient listener is rewarded with a harmonic epiphany that seems to resolve the secretiveness of the work’s first half. The mystical enigma is not exactly explained away, but we can perceive its contours better. I’d be interested now to hear his record from 2000 called How To Construct a Time Machine which was released by Bake Records in the Netherlands. Indeed that particular item was one of the faves of Mr Quiet World, who released this. Lavelle has also done collaborations with the uncategorisable musician Richard Youngs, and others groups such as Space Weather and Fougou, besides running two labels techNOH and Dust, Unsettled. From 17 September 2013.
Through the Mysterious Barricade at Holysloot, Holland (QUIET WORLD FORTY SIX) is an astonishing record of powerful piano improvisations by the American Fluxus composer Philip Corner. As I glance at some of the records we’ve received in recent years when his name comes up, I’m amazed at the depth and breadth of Corner’s remarkable achievements. Member of a group called Tone Roads in the 1960s with Malcolm Goldstein and Charlie Morrow. Experimenter with gamelan forms to produce long-form minimal metal percussion pieces. Using calligraphic methods he learned from a Korean expat to create graphical scores of great character. Notorious deconstructer of a piano at a Fluxus event in Germany. I also refer you to T. Shrubsole’s excellent research he conducted for this review. To this list of achievements we clearly have to add the gift of “free improvisation”, but once again even that genre or style of playing has been co-opted and made by Corner into something joyous, something non-academic, replete with spiritual richness, in short something uniquely his own. With the first 38-minute piece, I’m intrigued by the spiky beginnings and bold glissandoes as Corner waves his hands over the open strings inside the piano, then I’m overwhelmed by the powerful block chords and fortissimo-pedal effects that he strikes when the music really picks up its pace, and becomes a delirious and passionate meditation with an intense, thickly-clotted sound full of resonating notes and sympathetic vibrations…haven’t heard the likes since Charlemagne Palestine nearly vibrated a grand piano apart on stage at the LMC Festival in London…the power of this non-stop barrage simply increases in intensity, almost becoming violent with stamps and thuds, and only gradually subsiding into a quieter mode where we can once again hear the birdsong through the open window and the creaks on the floor of this home-made recording…a terrifying beauty…Well, Corner’s been doing this particular series of piano improvisations for many years, for his own personal reasons too deep to fathom. Apparently he bases the structure of each improvisation on a composition by Francois Couperin, a baroque tune which is eventually revealed as the “code” of the work when he quotes it (in this instance, not until 30 minutes into the work). These two pieces, recorded in 1989 and 1992, were made in the home of his unwell brother, a fact which may or may not add to the emotional intensity of the works. Quiet World can feel proud of this remarkable release, issued as a signed limited edition item (at any rate, Corner has provided signed business cards for insertion) although it’s not the first time Corner has been released on this label.