JONATHAN MC HUGH & MARK WASTELL – Hydriotaphia
A combination of ARP 2600, mixing desk and 32” Paiste tam tam, recorded in 2009 at the Electronic Music Studios of London’s Goldsmiths College. The name of the synthesizer might justify the snoopy inquirer’s thinking to a certain French lady working with the same brand of wave generator. However, in spite of the fact that the 45 minutes are – as expected – dominated by low frequencies, there’s not too much in Hydriotaphia associable to Madame Radigue. The governing sonority is that born from the gong, which Wastell caresses and strokes following what should be done with a feline who responds purring, closing the eyes and looking harmoniously collaborative until you rub him the wrong way. The alternance between a sense of concentrated study and a prologue to a hypothetical awesome experience is mildly contrasted by the synthesizer’s subtle hisses and small fizzy noises keeping the listener’s feet partially planted in the ground, which is needed to observe the spectral gradations without getting lost in a cloudy bliss and losing focus. Occasionally, the muscle of the synthetic emissions defines the global texture’s shape a little more; those are the moments in which McHugh and Wastell ride their creature’s power, letting some weight grow in the music’s otherwise unearthly emergence. At any rate this is classy stuff, definitely recommended to cultists of serious static droning.
ZACHARY JAMES WATKINS – Suite For String Quartet
Opening meeting for me with Watkins; surely I’m interested in hearing more of his music after this short live record (less than half an hour), performed by the composer – on electronics – with Johnny Chang and Gerhard Uebele (violins), Miriam Götting (viola) and Martin Smith (cello). The Suite’s structure is somewhat surprising. The first half comprises a gradual crescendo of barely moving clusters, quite dissonant and definitely inspiring: think a three-headed Phill Niblock/Harley Gaber/Gloria Coates replicant. One is led to believe that the entire piece will follow that design, but from the eighteenth minute on, following a brief moment of respite, the strings start performing blocks of nervous tremolos which, in turn, introduce a series of weak filaments – really next to the micro-sound area – to mutate again into impressive glissandos which would made the above mentioned Mrs. Coates grin. The last revelation is left to the conclusive minutes, the musicians abandoning the semi-monolithic inflexibility of the preceding sounds to launch an atonal section constructed on sudden gestures, sharp edges and exquisite early XX century’s details. There are only positives in this concise and intelligent composition.
JOACHIM NORDWALL – Concert
A recent partner of Mark Wastell in Ocean Of Silver And Blood, Nordwall is here captured – perhaps on cassette, given the self-confessed terrible quality of the recording – during a 17-minute set in Oslo, in 2008. It’s too bad that we can’t really get a hold on the actual gradations generated by this “skull transmission” (I had thought about an Alvin Lucier-like performance with wires linked to the artist’s head, then read that JN is a member of Skull Defects) because what transpires is positively stimulating. These sounds might have ranked in the field of modern minimalism, due to the constant permanence around the same sort of resonance (a slightly mutating reverberant halo where imaginary voices and gritty bowed percussion proceed on parallel levels). They go on without excessive change, don’t shock for the enormity of their beauty yet possess staying power, to the point that four repeats were needed for this reviewer to realize that there were new hues to note and consider with every spin. A properly equalized studio release of this kind of substance would be undoubtedly attractive. So much for “intentionally lo-fi” and Wolf Eyes’ John Olson’s influence on the work, an archetypal case of WTF.