Hard Road to Mothcow

Two new items from the charming and prolific mitts of Tim Olive, as usual released on his own 845 Audio label.

On Eidolon (845 AUDIO 845-17), we find him bucking his favoured trend for duo pairings for a trio set-up, this time with fellow Canadian players Joda Clément and Mathieu Ruhlmann. To be more specific, they are Vancouver residents and so probably have nothing to do with the Montreal “scene” of free improvisation and jazz which we hear so much about. Matter of fact the record itself was recorded in Vancouver at a studio called “Mothcow” in the urban paradise which Tim refers to as “that fine and strange city”. This took place before lockdown, in case you were having concerns about vaccine passports – the work was produced in 2018 and 2019, during Tim’s Canadian tours. Ruhlmann is one whose work has been passing under our scanner for some years now and he’s one of those unassuming and faintly mysterious, fey players who seems to be in touch with nature as much as he is with his own musical muse. Broadly one might characterise him as a species of electro-acoustic composer who also happens to be a good group improviser, and has been known to use the pine cone and the tree branch as musical instruments. He also played with Joda Clément on the Concert for Charles Cros album in 2014.

For these four Eidolon pieces, what we have is an impressive bank of talent and a wealth of audio richness – a large number of instruments, sound-generating things, percussion, electronics, and such. The trio exhibit proper restraint as they shuffle their antlers together, and the emerging sounds are unfamiliar and puzzling, with an oddness you can taste at the back of your throat. Occasionally, the music is just divine in its wistful longing; but rarely does it cause sparks to fly or concrete to shatter, through its tension and excitement. I like the shared respect among the threesome, but perhaps it’s a bit too respectful. Olive never titles his releases carelessly, and the Greek word ‘Eidolon’ denotes a form of spectre or phantom, particularly one that is the mirror image of a known person. It’s represented on the chipboard cover art by an open window on the side of a house where brickwork and rafters are also visible. Olive, Clément and Ruhlmann could be seen as spirit-chasers attempting to hunt down this ghost, although unlike the rambunctious trio Aykroyd, Murray and Ramis in the 1984 film, they perform their work with much uncertainty and ambiguity, not even sure if they will find anything to bring home in their spirit bag.

Groove for groove, I’m getting more of a buzz from Rasputitsa (845 AUDIO 845-18), which brings us Tim Olive teamed up with Sergey Kostyrko, for a good bout of underground arm-wrestling in a sweaty cellar in Kobe in Russia. For one thing it’s back to the duo format, which I think bears repeating is the mode that suits our man Olive best and brings out his fighting spirit. Plus it’s back to basics with the instruments – just synth, electronics, and Olive’s famous magnetic pickups disrupting the ionosphere and all around it. Sergey Kostyrko is a fine Russian improvising noiser who we’ve been hearing since 2015 at least. As co-founder of the Spina!Rec cassette label he would often send us a package of heavy grinders in the mail from St Petersburg, though that label hasn’t been so active lately. Quite often discussions about alternative music in Russia seem to begin and end with Ilia Belorukov, who turns up in just about every project and taps into as many genres as he possibly can, but it would be a shame if that dynamic over-shadowed such fine impro-groinkers as Kostyrko.

As to Rasputitsa, it’s another pre-lockdown record made in 2019 and apparently was the first time the pair had met up. Several hours of fevered noise-making ensued, and we’re just getting the edited highlights on these four tracks (I would happily pay for a box set containing the complete sessions, as would many others). Tension and grit are the order of the day, especially on the first two tracks which are true paranoia-assaults akin to being hunted and eaten by the Baba Yaga. Plenty of electronic hum and grind, sometimes with shortwave radio distorto-messages, creating a good toxic atmosphere. The seething hate continues into the two other cuts, though by now the mood has settled into one of frowning silence as both sides of the table stare daggers at each other, planning their next move. Will it be dagger, poison, or revolver? As to the title Rasputitsa, it turns out to be a very specific Russian phrase, translated here as “the season of bad roads”, referring to a time when snow starts to thaw in the spring and presumably covers all the roads with slush. Very apt titling there for this particular musical encounter, which I’m electing to interpret as one of blocked communication and treacherous slippery ground underfoot. We also admire a national temperament that can take such a bleak view of Springtime, seeing only the bad effects of melted snow instead of rejoicing in the blooming flowers and budding boughs. I’m only slightly disappointed that the duo didn’t record a version of the famous Boney M song, but maybe that will show up in the forthcoming box set.

Both the above from 19th April 2021.