The Roadblock Album

Very welcome return of the Canadian small label Mystery & Wonder, who haven’t put out any new product since 2019. Elizabeth Millar and Craig Pedersen have always delighted us with their innovative approaches to improvised music as well as the hand-made packages for each new item.

Today’s record sees Elizabeth Millar – billed here as e millar – teaming up with the Austrian performer Christof Kurzmann from a time when they played a festival in Montreal in June 2019. Their work, made with amplified clarinet, fans, motors, and objects (millar) and samples and voice work (kurzmann) is now released as Rare Entertainment (MW009), indexed as seven points on the CDR though it might originally have been two separate long performances. Very low-key and low-volume murmuring sounds emerge which indicate the two players have entered a mutual trance fugue state, virtually dreaming their imaginative brainwaves directly onto the recording device. What I like is the complete disregard for conventional form of any kind, and we’re invited instead to follow a long rumbling ramble through an endless tunnel. Nothing musical in the normal sense, nothing recognisable or directly relatable back to “heard” experience, as the players modestly achieve a state of near-abstraction. That said, Kurzmann’s tremulous rubbing and frottage of his rubber bands is very much in evidence on ‘1 part 3’, as if emulating a primitive stringed instrument and coming dangerously close to producing recognisable notes. I’ve written numerous times before how I’m not a fan of his singing voice, but I know his wispy half-spoken half-whispered utterances do appeal to many.

So far it sounds like I’m on “team Millar” this time around, but this collaboration has resulted perhaps in a more rounded-out view of the world than we heard on her solo record no instrument machine, air (also from June 2019 as it happens). There’s still the same ingenious way she disguises her clarinet so that it’s hard to tell it apart from her fans and motors, quietly chopping the air with their blades of truth. The release includes two paragraphs of prose by Steve Bates – I thought he was describing a walk to the venue as a preamble to discussing the music, but it turns out the entire screed is a description of the winter in Montreal, particularly emphasising how that season affects life in the city, and he produces many a rapturous sentence about snow, ice, crystals – all these mixed up with sounds, and perceptions of sounds, and after a while the weather seems to be completely blended in with his surroundings, indistinguishable from glass, concrete, metal, and more glass. Without doubt this text of Bates makes a fine analogue to the “blended” sounds on this CD. A lovely tunnel journey underground which somehow includes snow and ice too. (19/08/2022)

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