TOM CHANT / ANGHARAD DAVIES / BENEDICT DREW / JOHN EDWARDS – Decentred

Another Timbre

Releasing long-term opinions in relation to certain types of music is getting increasingly difficult, especially when dearth of events and undetermined scores are parts of the equation. On the one hand, there’s nothing but the utmost respect for the restricted core of musicians and composers who constitute the veritable spirit of a scene; and nobody more than this author appreciates – make that “needs” – peacefulness, an absolute rarity in a world where the noisiest or, at the very least, the most grandiloquent characters get followed (which, unfortunately, seems to be an ideal tactic for the feeble mind of easily influenced individuals). Yet it’s become obvious that canons and formulas have been quickly developing even in such a supposedly unpolluted area and that, amidst the few legitimate artists, nondescript bandwagon joiners find using a note (or two, or total inactivity) irresistible, not in response to a genuine instinct but because this Zen-ish attitude is cool (incidentally, is there anyone around who’s not an alleged Zen practitioner yet?) and, furthermore, saves a lot of time and mental exhaustion when the acts of composing, practicing and performing a piece are hypothesized. Not to mention costs. Numerous debates about names from this circle of sound art flourish in well-known forums and magazines, which is both positive and negative. The feel here is that a mere handful of significant entities (and recordings) are worthy of consideration.

As of now, Simon Reynell’s Another Timbre belongs, without hiding feelings, in the tiny pool of my favourite labels. The sonic aesthetics and the sheer quality of the published documents speak for themselves. This notwithstanding, after spinning Decentred for six times in resolute isolation, the rave reviews read everywhere didn’t receive a complete authentication under this roof. Not for defects of the instrumentalists, who behave splendidly throughout; and not due to excess of hush, for this disc is mainly made of concrete occurrences. The instrumentation (reeds, violin, objects, electronics, double bass) is practically perfect for the scope, juxtaposing the warmth of wood, the thin-skinned liveliness of fingers and the droning capacities of an arco on diverse string gauges, the strength and the suggestions of an instrumental/human air circulation system and the merciless chilliness of an electronic apparatus (which Benedict Drew manages to interleave in the ongoing acoustic conversation with appreciable intelligence ). The rendition of John Cage’s “Four 6” is a valid reason for owning the CD, a fantastic amalgam of dynamically fickle insertions and decisive, if respectful gestures underlining the magic of sympathetic interplay. The factual improvisations – “Activation” and “Decentring” – don’t represent a truly devastating affirmation of originality, nevertheless are an indication of the stability of the distinct voices and their collective connection, a symbol for the constant attempt of avoiding the musty aroma that systematically creeps through when even a single member of a group is not in full control of his/her lucidity in a specific creative frame.

That leaves us with the bitter root of the matter, directly linked with the “silent” issue in the opening paragraph: what lowers this record’s overall value is the trio of excerpts from Michael Pisaro’s Harmony Series. Episodes that, putting it mildly, do not stand at the same level of the rest of the program: excessively simplistic, almost insubstantial. I couldn’t manage to sense any sort of enlightenment in the placement of those notes into utter quietness, the outcome of basic combinations (three duos: violin + double bass, violin + bass clarinet and double bass + electronics). The care applied by the players struggling to attribute a minimal degree of weak grace to the (rare) succeeding pitches represents the lone commendable aspect of otherwise inconsequential music, destined to last in the memory exclusively for the limited duration of each track. That won’t prevent your reviewer from celebrating this composer’s materials in different occasions, when they will hopefully result better adjusted to the need of unspoken intensity that these scaled-down drawings absolutely failed to fulfil. I won’t forget, for example, that selected chapters from Harmony Series 11-16 on the Wandelweiser imprint are nothing short of breathtaking, much more satisfactory to these ears than the bulk of, say, Radu Malfatti’s reductionist output heard in the house. In spite of everything this particular instance – in conjunction with various exalting write-ups seen on the web – generated a classic case of “overhyping doubt” in this head-scratching complainer; conversely, my positive reaction to Pisaro’s sounds in the aforementioned circumstance is also a valid rationale for distrusting a review’s contingent judgement. Conclusion: following this set of substandard instalments, the jury is still out.

However, the musicianship is first-class; that alone is a good motivation for stamping Decentred with a good mark. It might not be a new Another Timbre’s milestone, but does feature a number of incontestably fascinating sections, enriched by the participants’ heartfelt concern. Fine enough, in the zone where pseudo-inventive mannerism remains a perilous common denominator, frequently overcoming our interest in listening to the tangible tones – or lack thereof.

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