Hold The Wheel

Unusual record from a collective of Danish composers who call themselves AAR & DAG. The four of them Andrea Pallisgaard, Mads Forsby, Anders Lauge Meldgaard and Michael Morkholt all appear on the record Tifold Af Fri Form Og Faelles Motiv (AD06), along with six other ensemble musicians playing woodwinds, brass, and percussion, while the four composers mostly play synthesizers. However, what’s relevant is that AAR & DAG have evolved their own system of composing and playing, and they’ve been working away on it for several years. It involves the use of wooden wheels, which they call “clock wheel sequencers”, built by themselves; when the handle is cranked, magnets will trigger electronic sensors mounted on the wheel, and send signals to the players. These electrical impulses are “read” as directions by the musicians, indicating things like pitch and tempo. In this way, introducing an element of randomness, the collective hope to arrive at a very non-hierarchical musical performance, where no single player is the star, and also one that’s far removed from the very traditional model of the orchestra and the conductor, which our Danish friends find problematic as it puts “the composer at the top of the pyramid”.

The press notes I have here detail numerous instances of “complex interweaving of layers” and “counter-reactions…gradually altering the fabric of the music”, which AAR & DAG bring to our attention and clearly regard as indicators of their project’s success. It is true that no single instrument is foregrounded, and the “flow” of the sound is certainly different to what we find in conventional classical music. But I also found it rather simplistic; the same notes are repeated in basic circular patterns, with no real development apart from the occasional mismatched overlay of another pattern, producing a slight frisson. There’s no structure holding the music together, no true focal point, but I expect the composers would tell us that’s exactly what they were aiming for. It’s interesting that the very motion of the rotating wheel itself has somehow passed into the music, almost dictating what shape it must take; at times it feels like we’re hearing nothing more than a glorified hand-cranked music box. They may have freed themselves from the prison of musical hierarchy, but it’s equally possible they’ve merely created their own restrictions, trapped by the over-simplified motions and limited permutations of their own clock wheels. (21/06/2021)

Quite nice guitar and electronics album from the great Richard Pinhas and his son Duncan PinhasSources (BAM BALAM BB081) was pressed up as a limited edition vinyl item for the French Record Store day in June 2021. Plenty of Frippertronic-styled solos drone and meander on top of Duncan’s rich backdrops of synth, field recordings, and more guitars. This one isn’t as essential as the excellent Quentin Compson LP (same label) which came out in 2020, but if you enjoy hearing the combination of analog synths with guitars in heavily-processed studio recordings, it’s worth having a quick dip in these “sources”. Arthur Narcy, from the group Sidony Box, occasionally adds drums. Mostly rather languid and near-ambient in its textures, but ‘Puissances Infectées’ and ‘Le Gritche’ manage to raise the temperature a little with help from the drummer’s galloping hooves. (21/06/2021)

Once a year a number of sound artists and phonographers take part in Sonic Mmabolela, a residency based in the Mmabolela reserve in South Africa. In this savanna, they have an opportunity for wandering and listening to the environment, under the watchful eye of Francisco López, co-ordinator of these residencies. Clinton Watkins, the New Zealand sound artist, did it in 2018 and the result is the album Raaswater (UNFATHOMLESS U68). Enjoying not only the environment, but also the multiple “objects, phenomena, structures, [and] fauna” of the area, he declares that the reserve is “a rare, isolated and complex sonic environment”. Many photos of the area, taken by Watkins but treated by Daniel Crokaert, cover the release with their brown, orange, and sepia tones. The subject matter of the recordings includes skulls, fences, a cemetery, insects, rocks, and bones. He purports to be depicting both life and death on this release, but mostly it’s death that comes across on these static, low-key, ultra-restrained tones, as though the entire planet had been scorched and deserted. (01/06/2021)