SYLVIA HALLETT & MIKE ADCOCK – Reduced

The Orchestra Pit Recording Company

After acknowledging the wonderful name of the releasing label, let’s take a look at the tools. Violin, saw, bicycle wheel, lentils, FX pedals, voice (SH); accordion, guitar, autoharp, marble chute, percussion (MA). The instrumental array is more or less what was expected from these artists, the duo’s brilliance lying in the unremitting exploitation of the consequent nuances which in Reduced are plentiful, vivacious and, in various instances, surprising in peculiar ways. Hallett and Adcock embody the concept of instant creativity informed by an innocence comparable to that exuding from children at play (check “Only Tulle” to have an idea). The outcome is an album that offers episodes of wholesome evocativeness together with others that sound a little timid, if equally imbued with earnestness. The very first tracks appear in fact as a sort of reciprocal questioning between players intent in finding useful ideas through the exploration of timbres that may lack an actual weight, but still make sense in the grand scheme of things. The initial “Gewgaws” – an indescribable “acoustic sci-fi” atmosphere with wavering pitches and percussive droplets – is a virtual miniature portrait of the pair’s untainted quintessence.

Several are the outstanding qualities in this music, features that the memory gladly retains as orientation points over the course of mandatory repeated listens. The clever use of loops is a welcome reminder of how a typically useless trick that, in other circumstances, hides an absolute creative poverty becomes instead a means to transcendence in the right hands. Hallett uses the device as the basis for the engrossing harmonic motionlessness of “Strange Power! I Trust Thy Might”, whereas in “Betty Martin” – another favourite of mine – the magnificent conversation of a seagull-like violin and a melancholic accordion gradually morphs into a mild hallucination, overlaid amassments of whirling figurations generating huge masses of grainy vibration. The conclusive “Shudder To Think” is characterized by a sinuously oscillating acute tone – supposedly Hallett’s processed vocalizations, yet it actually resembles a Theremin – against Adcock’s clusters in the high register. It leaves us suspended in doubt, once again confirming that excessive certainties eradicate purity from naïve inventiveness.

Despite the simple components, this is a record that requires persistent attention, ready to repay our absorption with lots of uniquely charming sounds and curious improvisational concepts. A cloaked gem, really.

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