Modular Network Activity

Very good solo record is Sowari Modular (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL RECORDS LOR097) from Phil Durrant, the English improviser who’s been on our TSP radar since the 1990s, and applies the Sowari brand name wherever he can … indeed his first solo record (improvised violin and electronics) was called Sowari, a lovely item from 1997 on the small Acta label which Durrant used to run along with John Butcher. Durrant also plays (sporadically) in Trio Sowari with two of Europe’s finest reduced players, Bertrand Denzler and Burkhard Beins.

Durrant moved away from the violin some time ago and at one point looked liked he might be shaping up to be a member of the laptop brigade (I recall seeing him live at The Spitz when his machine crashed and he had to sheepishly explain to the audience that he was going to reboot), but he’s since expanded his stall and scaled up the act into a sort of electro-acoustic solo thing. In this mode, I get the sense that foreign objects and stuff are allowed to enter the sphere of operations, even though there is still much synthesis, many microphones and mixing desks in play. This was almost certainly the case when I last saw Durrant doing it live, which was in The IKLECTIK arts lab in Waterloo. Today’s record is made mostly with modular synths…this has really grown into a flexible and handy way of creating electronic sound, as you can figure out from a glance at any music-shop website these days. A fellow could spend £100-200 a pop buying another add-on to their rack, be it a filter or modulator or reverb, each fun-filled box adding a new voice to their splendid array of zappy bewooderment, and presumably a highly personalised synth set-up would evolve over time. I know next to nothing about such gear, and with my fumbling fingers I’d be lucky if I could find the on-off switch, but it seems as though the whole idea of a “synthesizer” has been radically rethought and the idea of buying a single unit isn’t really the done thing any longer.

Durrant, we are told, also uses semi-modular synths in his kit, though this is a distinction whose nuances elude me. The eight cuts here are all studio-based, representing a survey of two years of effort; I like the chaotic and surprising noise eruptions of ‘Zero Coast’, even if it is a control-freak’s idea of what noise ought to be like; and the profound, endless, no-horizon soft drone of ‘Sweep’ is another hypnotic winner (some players would have released a whole CD of just this, but Phil settles for an economical 11:42). Equally serene in the Eliane Radigue minimalism-stakes is the elegant closing track ‘Still’, which unhurriedly delivers its calming sermon across 16 mins of analogue warmth, but still stops short of being quite monumental. I’m also keen on ‘Field’, a thing that is likewise chaotic and unpredictable and not at all clear how it’s being beamed in, but has a delicious alien vibe like messages from beyond the galaxy. Shame it’s so short (3:26) and feels uncharacteristic of the set. ‘Radio Gag’ is another loud ‘un that has a lot of promise, but doesn’t really deliver the hard blow to the shoulders that might bring the ox to its knees.

Kev Hopper did the cover art (as he did for the 1997 ACTA record). From 17 May 2019, already sold out at source.

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