The Effects of Freshwater Flow

On na margem sul (ROOM 40 EDRM431), the American guitarist David Grubbs joins the Portuguese guitarist Manuel Mota for a single improvised performance of 32:30 mins. Seems they’ve played together in the studio before, but this was their first time before a live audience (July 2021 at a venue in Barreiro). After a languid and sluggish start, the music eventually achieves some not-unpleasant moments, for instance when the two diverge slightly – one of them strumming vaguely anxious strung-out non-chords, the other one delivering melancholic top lines fed through a ton of effects and reverb to resemble the distant roars of monstrous elephants. I’m afraid the music of Grubbs has never really connected with me, and here he displays an easy-going demeanour in his playing, which grates a little on my bark. I guess I’m on team Mota for this outing, and have enjoyed his work playing in ensembles led by fellow Portuguese, such as David Maranha or Rafael Toral. Due to the plangent echo effects on these axes, it reminded me superficially of those weird outsider records by Master Wilburn Burchette, except this record is almost completely lacking in tension. (15/08/2022)

Copenhagen Clarinet Choir here with their album Organism (AR OG DAG AD10). That’s right, six musicians all playing nothing but clarinets. Although the majority of them are Danish, there’s also one Italian, one German, and the leader Carolyn Goodwin who’s Irish. She also composed most of the music here apart from the ‘Three Movements’ piece which was a joint effort. Her notions are pretty positive – for one thing she likes the ideas of “unity” and “cohesion” and the fact that everyone’s blowing the same instrument seems to immediately put the group on an equal footing. Individual voices blend into a pleasing whole. There also seems to be a shared interest in paying attention to other matters, such as breathing, fingering, and body posture while holding the clarinet. This sense of togetherness – which Goodwin declares derives from her Irish culture and Catholic background – might be most clearly expressed on the piece ‘Hive Mind’, which in title alludes to that particular condition when everyone’s thinking and acting alike (we often used it in the workplace, but in a negative sense; the hive mind can also have unwanted consequences), and in execution does indeed display the separate parts of a well-oiled engine in miniature, its pistons happily chugging away. Purely by coincidence, ‘Hive Mind’ also makes a sound resembling the buzzing of bees, and would almost certainly make a good soundtrack for a five-minute movie about our golden stripey friends. It’s also Goodwin’s Achilles heel – her music is just too literal, pictorial, and just too quaint for my tastes. I appreciate she’s another composer trying to find the sweet spot between composition and spontaneity, and it’s good that she gives equal time and space to these talented players, but her musical ideas lack fibre. Organism vacillates between two modes – Mode 1: The Six Faces of a Less Spiky and More Friendly Evan Parker, or Mode 2: A Boneless Philip Glass going for a Sunday Walk while covered in Syrup. From the same Danish label that brought us the supremely pointless record Tifold af Fri Form og Fælles Motiv. (15/08/2022)

From Portland Oregon we have the duo Laura Mariposa Williams and Eric Angelo Bessel recording as Lore City. We heard them on their 2021 album Participation Mystique, and I evidently derived some enjoyment from their take on minimal dark wave and rhythms spliced with hints of magical ritual. Today’s EP Under Way (LORE CITY MUSIC LCM-8803) is rather more conventional to my ears. The A side ‘Animate’ isn’t much more than a warmed-over Depeche Mode song played at half the normal speed, and its banal melody and plodding rhythm soon become tiresome, while the wispy vocals of Williams (evidently meant to hint at romantic themes) carry no conviction and little meaning in the terse, compacted lyrics. I found more interest in the flip ‘Very Body’, with its multiple layers of unusual processed sounds; more than just a guitar-and-keyboard based drone, it succeeds at portraying the kind of grey ambiguous landscape which Bessel appears to be aiming at. Where the A side makes concessions to pop-song form in a very understated way, this B side goes all-out for making an art statement of some sort. However, he isn’t quite at the level of Robert Fripp or even Nadja, and has some way to go before he finds his own unique voice on the processed electric guitar. The band’s own press note for this release is a short paragraph of impressionistic prose, laden with hints of seeing colours and hearing random sounds, gesturing in the area of “thresholds” and “the unseen”, which may give you further clues as to the world of Lore City. I do like the odd phrase “Morse code tapping you on the shoulder”, but somehow this EP doesn’t really deliver that promised thrill; maybe they could work on that one line as the basis of their next concept. (17/08/2022)

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