Cutting a similar path to Aussie drone-based groovers (and associates) like Oren Ambarchi, The Necks, Simon James Phillips and Matthew Philip Hopkins, the Australia-based trio Great Waitress (Magda Mayas, Monika Brooks and Laura Altman) are a revealing new puzzle piece in a distinctly antipodean improvised music scene: an identity-subsuming, New World tradition of tonality tinkering and free-floating, low-frequency harmonics that suffuse space with the no-nonsense savour of a long-nosed cab sauv. Possessed of the prowess that comes with conservatory training, the trio’s depersonalised apparition of piano, accordion and clarinet prises open space with a knife’s width of elbow play; pushing minimal phrases to the point of constraint, then further, into a vortex between ambient amnesia and semi-improvised composition, tweaking, teasing and even torturing pitch to a neck-hair tingle before the spectral mass solves into a tarpaulin-shrouded fog. Hue (ANOTHER DARK AGE ADA006 LP) is said to summarise the two prior albums, released since Great Waitress’ 2011 formation; a nascency that stands in relief to the group’s full-bodied harmonic cohesion, yet also a reminder of how recently this ‘scene’ has cohered.
A Field in England
Highly approachable guitar & electronics post-rock from Bristol on The Road To The Unconscious Past (ECHOIC MEMORY EM005), even if it sounds less suggestive of its polished urban provenance than of some anonymous idyll. John Scott aka Stereocilia fans out a familiar formula for tape loops and synth-based drones and takes flight on Stars Of The Lid-style Kosmiche angel wings, his effervescent efforts passing in and out of focus, exuding clear contentment in an echo-based semi-present haze. Till side B anyway, when ‘Infinite’ – the closest we have to a cosmic jam – pulses into view on an ELEH-style hypnodrone, issuing trains of serrated guitar lines in all directions and pushing up the listener’s pulse some. But this pleasing push of the envelope is quickly curbed in ‘Sustain/Release’ with the restoration of the preceding pastoralia; a regressive move after such a promising surge into new territory and a general reflection of the unfulfilled promise of the album as a whole, which could really do with moving a little farther afield from its starting point than it does.
‘Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead…’ begins James Joyce’s Ulysses, though surely few of the novel’s well-meaning readers have made the acquaintance of ‘the superior, the very reverend John Conmee S.J’ in the ‘Wandering Rocks’ chapter, for it’s an assuredly arduous journey to reach this point, let alone the book’s final affirmation, especially for those prone to distraction and it is from this section and sentiment that François Sarhan pulls the title for his recent installation piece Wandering Rocks / Commodity Music (LA MUSE EN CIRCUIT ALM007), where visitors passing through the encircling sound field play the part of the rocks adrift and a fragment of James Joyce’s reading of said text infuses this 35-minute long, electroacoustically-enhanced improvisation for prepared piano, guitar (quartet, Zwerm) and electronics with so despondent an antidote to an otherwise ostensible attitude of passive attentiveness as can be wrought when even the painfully quotidian satire of Joyce’s post-heroic modernist masterpiece represents an Olympian ambition to the media-deadened senses, perhaps eliciting in our composer a sense of resignation that few listeners will probe the surface of this friendly flow of naturalistic timbres and textures – an emulation by means of extended technique of the elemental components (rocks, waves and synthetic turquoise breeze) of the seashore photograph on the cover – to penetrate beyond the point of attention wandering from one rock to the next, moments of cognitive dissonance in their fitful overlappings – though becoming markedly more pronounced as the piece ages its way into Commodity Music, where a gush of anti-capitalist rhetoric to heavy phasing and an almost oriental modal arpeggiation puts the proverbial fat-cat among the proletariat to yield a more strident, pointillistic energy to our hitherto soft-focus panorama, which occasion Sarhan utilises to reflect upon the ‘sad truth that music per se is disappearing from our life… because of our difficulties to focus (sic) on an exclusive and demanding concentration to listen to it…’, before going on to lay blame upon the plastic wrapped vacuum of televisual culture as the cause of popular culture’s almost anhedonic disinterest in Art, and offering this digest version of his expansive and physical sonic experience as a concession to such vicissitudes… so should one listen to it on headphones? No.