Driftwood Art

Real fine drone-acious richness from Californian lady Cheryl Leonard on the cassette tape Isinglass (EH? AURAL REPOSITORY EH?89). She’s known for her “found instruments”, that is objects found in nature which she picks up, takes home, and then presses into service for musical purposes. There’s an endearing photograph (not here) of her playing a large clump of pine cones with a violin bow, and you can imagine her releasing something quite palpable from the grain of that wood. Among the devices on this tape we have a flute made of kelp, a bowl of sand, some wobbly rocks, and instruments made of driftwood – including sculptures in the form of mobiles, and something intriguingly called the “driftwood pipeorgan”, which I would like to think is a row of selected hunks of driftwood found on the beach and arranged in order of size, to form a “tuned” instrument in some way.

Harry Partch woulda loved her. But he might have felt ambivalent about her academic roots, as it turns out she’s studied at Mills College with some of the grandees of 20th century avanterie, including Alvin Curran, Frederic Rzewski, and George Lewis. But her penchant for Chinese landscapes may have struck a chord with old “white-beard” Partch, and I’m sure the two of them could have shared a cup of green tea in the correct circumstances. On this release, Leonard is joined by Jeph Jerman, a man famed for his cactus-spine playing and other natural found objects being repurposed to make sound or music, so this really is a match made in the spheres. Bryan Day, label owner, adds a smidgen of electricity to the otherwise acoustic mode with his radio transceivers.

A very dense tape results, which I’m grateful for, as I have found Jerman’s previous exploits in this area a tad thin sonically, while undeniably beautiful. Isinglass murmurs and drones in a highly engaging fashion, occasionally punctuated by sounds of the seashore and domestic intrusions like a chiming clock (unless that’s part of the performance), and sits in that small patch of turf between music and sound art, transcending process with ease. Leonard has a few CDR releases on the private label Great Hoary Marmot Music, probably her own imprint, should you wish to investigate further. From 21st September 2016.