The “Sylvia” in question is none other than Sylvia Hallett, needing no introduction if one has been following the British side of improvisation over the last few decades. It’s the “I”, though, that this reviewer was (culpably) not aware of; Norwich’s Chris Dowding, a trumpet player and workshop leader whose curriculum includes – among several interesting items – a partnership with a darling trombonists of mine, Annie Whitehead.
In a way, these tracks – lodged on a 50-copy limited edition cassette – confute the very title, in that the assuaging qualities of the whole facilitate the act of breathing rather than forcing us to hold it. The music is in fact loop-nourished, and extremely gradual in terms of textural expansion via superimposed melodic particles. Speaking of the latter, just occasionally the lines played by Hallett and Dowding exceed three/four notes; most of them are caressing, notwithstanding a degree of semi-dissonant abstraction emerging here and there. But from the little they have, the pair generates plenty: the reiteration of the layered fragments becomes the understructure for soundscapes that put the listener in a condition of total relinquishing of any defensive posture.
As far as timbres are concerned, Dowding privileges an airy, Jon Hassell-ish emission, whereas Hallett exploits everything allowed by her arsenal, which incorporates a bowed bicycle wheel and sporadic vocalizations. Essentially, the musicians are the initiators of electronics/delay-based processes of autonomous development. The lack of actual stridency may elicit the exercise of the feared “pastoral” adjective in some “meet-the-impending-deadline” expert; listen carefully, however, and you’ll find much more to discover in relation to constitutional harmony and gratifying effects of the noisier characteristics of the spontaneous creature.
A good release reveals its values day by day; The Holding Breath is no exception. Plunge into it with confidence.