1. Valerio Tricoli, Miserio Lares (PAN)

su wai

2. Su Wai, Gita Pon Yeik (Little Axe)

ian william craig

3. Ian William Craig, Turn Of Breath (Recital)


4. Zeitkratzer, Metal Machine Music (Karlrecords)


5. Oren Ambarchi, Quixotism (Editions Mego)


6. Grouper, Ruins (Kranky)


7. Lee Gamble, KOCH (PAN)


8. Lawrence English, Wilderness of Mirrors (Room 40)


9. Eric Holm, Andøya (Subtext)


10. Skogen, Despairs Had Governed Me Too Long (Another Timbre)


11. The Inward Circles, Nimrod is Lost in Orion and Osyris In The Doggestarre (Corbel Stone Press)


12. Fennesz, Bécs (Editions Mego)

pitre allen

13. Duane Pitre and Cory Allen, The Seeker And The Healer (Students Of Decay)


14. John Edwards, Mark Sanders and John Tilbury, A Field Perpetually At The Edge Of Disorder (Fataka)

p jorgensen

15. P Jørgensen, Gold Beach (Low Point)

hval susanna

16. Jenny Hval and Susanna, Meshes Of Voice (Susanna Sonata)


17. Robert Curgenven, SIRÉNE (Recorded Fields)


18. Peter Brötzmann & Jason Adasiewicz, Mollie’s In The Mood (Brö)


19. Rhodri Davies, An Air Swept Clear Of All Distance (Alt Vinyl)


20. John Chantler, Even Clean Hands Damage The Work (Room 40)


21. Andrea Belfi, Natura Morta (Miasmah)


22. Objekt, Flatland (PAN)


23. Hallock Hill, Kosloff Mansion (Hundred Acre Recordings)


24. Sir Richard Bishop, Solo Acoustic Volume Eight (VDSQ)


25. N.E.W., Motion (Dancing Wayang)




1 Rashad Becker – Traditional Music Of Notional Species Vol.1

dennis johnson

2 Dennis Johnson – November


3 Okkyung Lee – Ghil


4 Antti Tolvi – Pianoketo


5 Roscoe Mitchell, Tony Marsh and John Edwards – Improvisations


6 Max Loderbauer – Transparenz

tilbury ambarchi

7 John Tilbury and Oren Ambarchi – The Just Reproach


8 Paul Metzger – Tombeaux


9 Simon Fisher Turner – The Epic Of Everest


10 Pat Thomas – Al-Khwarizmi Variations


11 The Stranger – Watching Dead Empires In Decay


12 Idassane Wallet Mohamed – Issawat


13 The Necks – Open


14 Graham Lambkin and Jason Lescalleet – Photographs


15 Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko M, Evan Parker, John Edwards, Tony Marsh and John Butcher – Quintet-Sextet

chris watson

16 Chris Watson – In St Cuthbert’s Time


17 Paul Jebanasam – Rites


18 Bill Orcutt – A History Of Every One


19 Anthony Child – The Space Between People & Things


20 Stephan Mathieu and David Sylvian ‎– Wandermüde

Paul Dunmall and Tony Bianco’s Tribute to John Coltrane, live at Café Oto 16/7/13

As I write, it is 46 years to the day since John Coltrane’s death. In that near half-century, the root has grown stronger, and spread rhizome like into new fields, fresh shoots appearing not just in jazz but in the likes of rock and noise. Yet, despite the proliferation and accompanying mutation, the original source retains its fascination and its unique identity. The saxophonist’s music possesses to my ears an unmistakeably intense feeling of striving for something that remains tantalisingly unattainable. Musically, I hear this in the way he works through scales, builds and rebuilds phrases, plays with sounds, ever trying and discarding, always moving quickly onwards – but perhaps even more so in terms of a serious spirituality; I get the sense of someone reaching up for a light that can’t be grasped.

Given this very particular power, any decision to take on the Coltrane canon directly ranks somewhere between bold and downright foolhardy. Yet earlier this year, the British saxophonist Paul Dunmall and drummer Tony Bianco released a duo album drawn in the main from Coltrane’s more turbulent post-A Love Supreme output. Despite – or more likely because of – their sax/drum set-up, they avoided anything from Coltrane’s “last classic”, his 1967 duo recording with Rashied Ali Interstellar Space, favouring the full band records, a decision which forced them into a more creative space, having to rework rather than copy. On a sizzling night at Café Oto, they were to take these ingredients and more in an attempt to cook up something fresh enough to serve as a tribute to Coltrane.

From the later period Coltrane canon, the likes of opening piece “Ogunde” and “Sunship” were suitably fiery. Bianco plays in a manner reminiscent of Ali, seemingly going everywhere yet nowhere at once, thus affording Dunmall the space to go hunting where he wished, culminating in him gnawing on notes like he was stripping meat from a bone. However they tempered this heat with some surprise set inclusions. A cool “Naima” (first recorded by Coltrane in 1959, an earlier epoch in terms of his progression ) became ever more diffuse, like a river widening and dividing as it reached the sea, straight melodic channels dissolving into a spray. Dunmall’s tone was sublime, emotion-soaked and evocative – the way notes cracked in the upper register was reminiscent of the man himself. Dunmall even turned to the soprano to take a long run at Coltrane’s signature tune “My Favourite Things”, blurring the entire discography as he did into one continuous smear of sound.

“Peace On Earth” began with similar beauty to “Naima”, sax floating on a shimmering sea of cymbals, but the weather soon changed, turning this into a boiling torrent. At one point, a sweat-sodden Dunmall seemed to cut himself up, curtailing his melody with a series of furious rasps, and you got the sense that much was at stake here, both in terms of trying to do the material justice, and of trying to reimagine and reinvigorate it. However, as the storm subsided, the mask slipped, Dunmall puncturing the serious mood with a jocular reference to the track being “another of Coltrane’s hits”. As he did, I was left reflecting that, for all their effort, and as excellent as the playing was, there was perhaps an element of Coltrane’s music that was destined to remain just out of reach to the duo – and that their inability to attain it was, in its own way, an entirely appropriate tribute.

John Edwards and Okkyung Lee – White Cable Black Wires

As enjoyable as I’m sure they were, I was troubled by the way in which the recent Kraftwerk concerts in London, both in the choice of setting and mode of delivery, presented their music as a museum piece. Performing their music in that gallery space, in chronological order, with little deviation from the canonical versions, it was as if they wished their catalogue to be preserved forever in amber. Where once their music had forward momentum (whether through mechanical engine or pedal power), and a beating human heart, they now seem to have stalled, and are absenting themselves more and more from the creative process.

Such thoughts send me scurrying towards releases such as White Cables Black Wires (released on the still young Fataka label) by the improvising musicians John Edwards and Okkyung Lee, a duo unlikely to be melting the phonelines at Tate Modern any time soon. Here, I find that life, instrumentation, emotion, music, communication and creativity are all tangled up in a dense knot. Whereas that Kraftwerk show (and I’m picking on them a little, I could instead have mentioned new records by My Bloody Valentine or David Bowie) committed the crime of being exactly what you’d expect, no more and no less, this is, as life itself is, unpredictable and ever-changing. Even knowing the instruments they play – John Edwards the double bass, and Okkyung Lee the cello – can’t prepare you for what is to follow, as the two of them do much to extend the possibilities of those instruments beyond their classical roles.

After a brief clickety-clack morse code interchange, like a sort of analogue handshake, there follows a relentless stream of information, with ideas being exchanged, discussed, and built upon on the fly, and at great speed. Within the first few minutes, there are sounds that suggest John Edwards is jamming his bow under his strings, playing it like a schoolchild twanging a ruler on the edge of a desk, and is squeaking the body of his bass with a wet finger. Lee has sliced and crunched her strings, producing sounds that are by turns vocal and industrial. Blink, and they’ve swapped hats, with Edwards up among his highest notes, and Lee churning away at her lowest. By the end of that frenetic (and at times almost funky, in a fractured sort of way) first piece it sounds like there is a percussionist in the room with them, playing a snare with brushes, rapping the edge of a tom with a drumstick. Already, I’m forced to confront the fact that I’m not sure who is doing what, or how.

But never mind, who, what or how: why are they doing this? In White Cable Black Wires, the improvisational imperative feels so tightly bound to self-preservation, you might as well ask why we breathe. You can hear the vital signs of life in the second track, where Edwards’s bass pounds symbolically, like a heart in love: WHAMWHAM WHAMWHAM WHAMWHAM. The exchanges between Edwards and Lee at times seem heated and argumentative; elsewhere they are in accord, at ease, as one: indeed, the way in which pieces build in intensity and rhythms synchronise feels almost sexual. In those moments when Lee and Edwards’s strings become entwined, they swoop and sing in one voice like a flock of birds, or creak and crack like the interconnected branches of a tree in the wind. Evolving, living, breathing, fighting, fucking, creating: this is as far from petrification as it is possible to get.

The Thing at Cafe Oto, 9/2/13


In rock music, the riff is a distillation of the music’s base elements, reducing an already simple form to its crude essence. On one hand, it can be an exciting explosion of emotion [link to suggestive Youtube clip of gushing oil well goes here], but without the desire and the ability to dig any deeper, both the music and the listener can end up trapped in a very cramped and airless space. In this sense, the repeated riff seems to be the antithesis of the complex, ever-shifting and cerebral reputation of free jazz. Yet the riff has its place in improvised music, as even the most cursory acquaintance with the back catalogue of Sun Ra, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, or even John Coltrane will tell you, never mind tracing some of their roots back to Africa. In this music, the riff can provide a platform for deep exploration. While tethered to this structure, the improviser can reach across to other worlds of sound, while keeping the tension high for the audience. And no-one, it seems, knows this more than The Thing.


Across this two night residency at Café Oto, the Norwegian/Swedish three-piece were joined by a number of special guests. The first night saw them being supported by the English/Japanese trio lll人 (San Nin – which translates, perhaps a little too literally, as Three People). They borrowed something from the sphere of rock too, albeit from its rough outer surfaces: the use of feedback as an intrinsic part of the music. Daichi Yoshikawa deployed a variety of vibrating objects, coils, cans, what have you, on a small snare drum in front of an amp. The noise rose from a tinny buzz to thick metal whine, like sharp shards of guitar from (Oto regular, and special guest on day two) Thurston Moore.

While I’m all for instrumental inventiveness and novel noise, the lll人 setup was intensely problematic. Not only were the sounds overly metallic in timbre, tooth-hurtingly so at times, but the frequency range was very restricted. This was even more of an issue given that alto saxophonist Seymour Wright constantly wanted to share that same small sonic area with Yoshikawa, wriggling in with a series of long, high, squeals. Only the drummer Paul Abbott remained in the free space outside, and the moments where he tempted Wright out of his enclosure to engage in flurries of dialogue provided the set’s few, disappointingly fleeting, highlights.


It didn’t take The Thing long to find their groove. After a frenetic, foot-finding intro, Mats Gustafsson was crouching, swaying back and forth, coiled tighter than one of Yoshikawa’s springs, blasting a two note riff from his baritone sax. Behind him, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten put his double bass down and grinned, while the drummer Paal Nilsen-Love just listened, nodded, and adjusted some of his cymbals. They left him toying with this simple figure, stretching it, chewing on it, for what seemed like several minutes, before Håker Flaten picked up an electric bass.

I’ve heard the Thing riffing on the rock canon (PJ Harvey, White Stripes) before, but I’ve never actually witnessed them actually going electric, so to speak. Any qualms quickly disappeared as Håker Flaten began to work into the saxophonist’s simple lines, bulking them out with rough-edged metal heft, creating a sort of fuzzy doom-funk. The ever-impressive Nilsen-Love scampered energetically in to the spaces they left, all sharp elbows and acute angles, making the gaps feel as wide as oceans.


From this base, they set out in a number of different directions, hinting at Coltrane’s classic “Olé” at one point, and toying with Ethiopian modes at another, passing riffs around, two notes this time, two bars next. When the bass and sax locked together in a big-armed embrace, we in the crowd whooped and rocked in our seats, driven into trance-like states by the relentless repetition. This was especially true during their second set, in which the alto of guest Martin Küchen (“the best saxophonist in Sweden now that I live in Austria”, quipped Gustafsson) was given license to dance on top. While he made all manner of awkward shapes up front, deftly bending and splitting notes like he was whittling wood, The Thing collected rhythmic material behind him like liquid in a dam, letting it escape in a trickle and then a torrent, finally sweeping him up on their wave-like riffs like a little toy boat. It was a powerful display which drew from a deep well of musical history, and refracted it, as if to say: this is it. This is what matters. This is The Thing.

Arve Henriksen – Solidification


As if the release of a new album by the esteemed Norwegian trumpeter, Supersilent member, and David Sylvian (to name one of many) collaborator Arve Henriksen didn’t have enough heft, Rune Grammofon have managed to create the weightiest of packages for it. Solidification is a beautiful, and very heavy, seven LP box set, which positions that new album, entitled Chron, alongside double LP sets of each of Henriksen’s three previous Rune Grammofon LPs, each with bonus tracks, along with high quality audio DVDs and a booklet. Anyone would think they were trying to make some sort of point.

Not just a point about how important they feel this music is (which they clearly do): the very title Solidification makes me think a bit more widely than the quality of the music, but instead of a gradual process, tectonic plates perhaps, about how all that has gone before has somehow led to this moment. It invites the listener to follow Arve on a journey, both temporal and geographical, to try to make sense of this particular catalogue (one which for these purposes excludes the 2008 ECM release Cartography), as a cohesive body of work.

That journey begins in Japan, in 2001, with the evocative Sakuteiki release. The album opens with Henriksen’s signature trumpet sound: soft, breathy, unprocessed smears of sound, owing something to Jon Hassell. The album and track titles disclose the fact that Henriksen is setting out to paint images of Japan, from temples to cherry blossom-laden trees, from tea houses to bamboo. He succeeds, partly by virtue of that trumpet sound, which resembles at times a shakuhachi, and elsewhere a hushed voice in prayer.

The more still and spacious compositions seem to draw from gagaku, that slow-paced and elegant Japanese court music, but elsewhere tracks edge out carefully into different, more experimental terrain. “White Gravel” is a beautiful recording of something – quite possibly gravel, quite possibly white in colour – being dropped onto a hard surface (for all its brevity, the crisp sounds in the piece reminded me of Francois Bayle’s INA-GRM piece Erosphere), while “Bonsai Ritual” has Arve banging delicately on a bit of metal. The huge, deep pedal point trumpet drones in bonus track “Samyaku” cast long dark shadows, and serve as an omen for what we’ll hear in future records, but the long overdue return to the places delineated in Sakuteiki is one of the bright spots in this collection.

2004’s Chiaroscuro feels much more escapist than Sakuteiki, as if Henriksen was seeking to depict a fantasy world, rather than anchoring his work in reality (I’m not sure how much I should read into the fact that the booklet mentions some unspecified trauma in his personal life at the time). You don’t get the sense of any particular place here, track titles give no clues, instruments such as hand drums appear, playing vaguely tribal if unrecognisable rhythms – and this, with the addition of some ambient electronics makes this feel like the closest satellite of Hassell’s Fourth World. But despite the lack of specific geographical fix, this still feels like a landscape, the electronics of Jan Bang and Erik Honore sketching out a a calm, breezy snowscape as viewed from above, with Arve’s trumpet lifting us up to that vantage point like a bird rising on thermals.

Despite this height, Chiaroscuro still manages to knock its knees on the coffee table at times. But there is much to appreciate here, in particular Henriksen’s debuting of his incredible singing voice on the record. When the whispering trumpet drops out of “Opening Image”, it is replaced, imperceptibly at first, by a soft voice, which from nowhere soars like that of a female soprano – I can still remember searching the credits the first time I heard this to work out who she was. Elsewhere, black shapes reappear to disrupt the ambience, with a couple of noir moments interrupting the snow-white flight: the static, vinyl crackle and drowned strings of “Scuro” bring to mind the output of Erik Skodvin’s Miasmah label.

After the airy detachment of Chiaroscuro, Arve’s decision to ground his 2007 release in his home town Strjon was perhaps to be welcomed.  Track titles reference the surrounding landscape, and parallel those on Sakuteiki: for “White Gravel” we have “Leaf and Rock”, for “Shrine” we have “Ancient and Accepted Rite”, for “Paths Around The Pond” we have “Green Lake”. But, specific location aside,  there is a key difference from Sakuteiki, which is apparent from the outset, in that that prior commitment to no processing, no effects, appears to be gone. And in doing so, perversely, Henriksen somehow manages to make more of an emotional connection than on previous releases, as if any too-smooth-to-feel surfaces have been sanded down, rendered more tactile and a little bit raw.

Much of this can be attributed to a change in collaborators: instead of Bang and Honore, Henriksen drafted in his Supersilent colleagues Helge Sten and Ståle Storløkken, not a twosome known for too much niceness. And so the keyboards in second track “Black Mountain” have darkness and dirt ground into them, while the pretty face of “Ascent” is cut into with some rough electronics. These aren’t the parts of town that tourists get to see. The tasteful quasi-tribal rhythms of Chiaroscuro are replaced by some angular prepared piano patterns, while Henriksen’s experimental sound collection extends to includes a muffled metallic clanging, like a ski lift swaying in off season. But it is the concluding black run from the title track to “Glacier Descent” which is probably the outstanding performance of Henriksen’s solo career so far; his voice weaving wordlessly over deep layers of trumpet, electronic and throat-singing drone.

And so to the new album, Chron. If the title of album and box set lead you to think that this might something of a chronological retrospective exercise, you’d be surprised by the fact that Chron appears to look forward more than it does back.  There is a noticeable lack of trumpet and singing voice in this; instead, it is the colours from around the perimeter of his previous pallete which he is playing with on Chron, resulting in his most experimental album to date.  While this can result in awe-inspiring wall to ceiling drones, as on the title track, and in tangled splashes of rhythmic concrète, as on the impressive opening piece “Proto-Earth”, elsewhere they feel frustratingly incomplete, like mere sketches for possible future works.

Chron’s liner notes reveal that it was recorded across a number of sessions – and in a number of geographical locations. Perhaps even more so than the intrinsic quality of the pieces themselves, it is that lack of connection, to time and to place (real or imaginary), that makes this feel fragmented. While I was expecting some sort of Solidification, the constituent parts of Chron feel like separate islands, rather than a contiguous piece of land. The direction of travel is very intriguing though, and with a bit more momentum, what comes next may yet be seismic.



1 Hildur Guðnadóttir – Leyfðu Ljósinu


2 Jacques Brodier – Filtre De Réalité


3 Actress – RIP


4 Pelt – Effigy


5 Joe McPhee and Eli Keszler – Ithaca


6 Lee Gamble – Dutch Tvashar Plumes


7 Hallock Hill – A Hem Of Evening


8 Grischa Lichtenberger – And.IV (inertia)


9 Richard Skelton – Verse Of Birds


10 Shackleton – Music For The Quiet Hour


11 Helm – Impossible Symmetry


12 Sebastian Lexer, Eddie Prévost & Seymour Wright – Impossibility in its Purest Form


13 Thomas Köner – Novaya Zemlya


14 Raime – Quarter Turns Over A Living Line


15 Motion Sickness of Time Travel – Motion Sickness of Time Travel


16 Icarus – Fake Fish Distribution


17 Keiji Haino, Oren Ambarchi and Jim O’Rourke – Imikuzushi


18 Sylvain Chauveau and Stephan Mathieu – Palimpsest


19 Tetras – Pareidolia


20 Superstorms – Superstorms

Touch 30 at Beaconsfield, December 2012


“All these changes have crept up on us like imperceptible noise, like buzzing”. In his introduction to the London leg of Touch’s birthday celebrations, which have also taken in trips to New York, Glasgow and Madeira amongst others, Jon Wozencroft was referring to the authoritarian instincts of successive British governments since the 1980s. He might as well have been talking about the changes in technology which have impacted upon Touch over that period, from how graphics are designed, to how sound is recorded, and to how we as an audience consume and appreciate art.

I picked at a number of threads related to this in a discussion I had with Touch co-founders Wozencroft and Mike Harding for The Liminal this time last year, such as those that connect the analogue to the digital, the audio to the visual, and the sound to the place. This two day Touch 30 event, featuring panel discussions, films and performances from a number of artists and individuals linked to Touch, twisted these threads back together into a continuum, a thick rope that stretched back from the Beaconsfield Arts Centre in late 2012, all round the globe and back through time to the Moonlight Club in West Hampstead in 1982, where Harding and Wozencroft first met and began to work on what would become Touch.

There was a large element of reflection on that lengthy history across the two days, much of which was driven by Wozencroft. While this could come across as self-indulgent at times, such as during an unfocused chat with Edwin Pouncey (Savage Pencil) about their respective record collecting habits, you did get the impression that Wozencroft was a fan as much as a curator. He was keen to explore Touch’s relationship to all that was around it, and to assert its place in a cultural lineage that stretched from the Beatles (his first record purchase) through New Order (who featured on his first release) and beyond.

The connection to New Order and Factory Records who, like Touch, were another intersection between audio and visual art, was made even more explicit by the involvement of New Order’s sleeve designer Peter Saville in a discussion on the links between graphic design and art. While Saville was quick to refute the premise of there being a link at all (entirely separate worlds, he argued, drawing on his own difficulties in breaking into the art world), his own revelations about the need for tactility, and audience participation in his art did have echoes with much of Touch’s premise. In his musings on the relationship between his photography and Touch’s music, Wozencroft was to stress the importance of constructing parallel narratives that necessitated the active involvement of the audience.

Philip Jeck at Touch 30

To allow further light to illuminate the historical narrative, the two days were perforated by a series of sharp audio interventions, tracks and performances from Touch’s archives. A particular highlight was David Toop reading from the relevant chapter of his book Ocean Of Sound, over an audio backdrop of his recordings of Yanomamo shamans undergoing transformative (and seemingly rather painful) rituals, released on the Touch Travel compilation in 1984. It served to remind us how important not just narrative has always been in the Touch catalogue, but also, through the status afforded to field recordings, to that sense of time and place.

This archival nature of Touch 30 was picked up on by Philip Jeck. Jeck’s sets often reflect his surroundings – I have fond memories of him using a selection of jazz records as the basis for his performance at the North Sea Jazz Festival a few years back – so it was perhaps unsurprising that he was to utilise vinyl recordings by Touch artists, including a flexidisc of the cellist Hildur Gudnadottir. Her string parts were hauled from amidst grainy drones like a memory coming into focus, before fading once more into static. Underneath, he used a slowed down James Last hook to provide further emotional heft, as if in riposte to Wozencroft’s earlier dismissal of Last during his record collecting segment.

In contrast to this perception of Wozencroft as the preserver of Touch’s heritage, Mike Harding was more excited by the future, in particular by the possibilities of new technology. A discussion on future formats, with the University of York’s Tony Myatt and the audio designer Seb Jouan, entered the realm of surround sound, exploring these planes with a view to them becoming the format of the future. Some of the concepts Jouan raised were particularly startling, including the ability to recreate the precise sonic characteristics of places, even those that no longer exist, such as long-destroyed churches. Elsewhere, discussions on the role of the internet and mobile technology raised the (distant, I’d assume) possibility of a Touch album being released as an app.

Fennesz at Touch 30

We had brief glimpses of Touch’s (nearer) future with the debut of as yet unreleased work from Fennesz and Biosphere. Fennesz’s new material sounded like a slight step on from his Black Sea album, louder and more aggressive, destructive even, with loud, glitchy intrusions on a field of buzz and static sounding like trees being felled in a digital forest. However, to my ears Biosphere’s 4/4 reconfigurations of Schoenberg felt somewhat rigid and even dated given the freedoms and forward thinking practised by so much of the Touch repertoire elsewhere.

In their introductions to the event, Wozencroft and Harding made it clear that Touch was a partnership: it relied on the two of them doing the things that the other couldn’t (or at least didn’t want to) do. But any notion of this partnership requiring a strict division between, say, the creative and the administrative was comfortably dispelled by the nature of their curatorial contributions to this event. There is a meeting place between the two, and that place is Touch. It became apparent to me that this meeting place is the now: the celebration of where we (the artists, the listeners) are right now was not just the key motif of Touch 30, but perhaps of their entire 30 year history.

Hildur Gudnadottir at Touch 30

In the aforementioned panel discussion on future formats, Hildur Gudnadottir talked about the motivation for the hi-spec surround sound recording process of her luminous Leyfdu Ljosinu album: to capture not just a space, but a sense of movement within that space – and how it had to be recorded in one take so as not to “cheat” movement and space. She performed the piece over Beaconsfield’s quadrophonic sound system, using looped layers of voice and cello, building and swirling it from lullaby to hullabaloo. At times, the sawed, stacked rhythms clacked like a train, feeling like a reference, deliberate or not, to Beaconsfield’s railway arch location: the passing of a train had earlier caused her to pause and check her progress.

In Touch’s exploration of the now, the status of field recordings is key. Cheryl Tipp, curator of natural sound at the British Library, talked on a panel about the resurgence in “listening for listening’s sake” (along with the resulting problems this causes her in quality controlling thousands of birdsong submissions). It is in this way that the sound recordist’s Chris Watson’s work makes perfect sense in the context of more conventionally “musical” releases. An in absentia playback of his “Brussels-Nord” piece (as featured on the new Touch 30 compilation), recorded in the train station of that name, was the richest of delights in Beaconsfield, the low end train rumble that was a distraction for Gudnadottir working in perfect synergy with Watson’s own recordings.

Thomas Koner at Touch 30

A similar effect was observed during Thomas Köner’s set. Until their coming together for this year’s sombre Novaya Zemlya release, Köner’s exploration of (in his case, dark and remote) soundscapes had occurred in parallel to Touch’s. While he had been billed as performing a new work, Köner instead chose to reprise his 2003 masterpiece La Barca, a fantastical expedition across times and spaces, big on bass, Basinski-esque melodies, and buried echoes of the past. In the brick-clad Beaconsfield arch, he achieved something sublime: a haunting, ache-filled reach from our time and space back to others, ultimately merging them all with a deep resonance. In that, it felt like a continuation of the quest for a shared moment that both Wozencroft and Saville said they were searching for with their art, what Wozencroft had earlier described as “felt experiences in a particular time and place”.

Set against the likes of Köner, Fennesz, Biosphere, and Jeck, Carl Michael von Hausswolff may seem a relatively minor figure, having released just the one record through Touch. Von Hausswolff, however, is the obelisk who watches over many of the major landmarks in Touch’s history. For his set at Touch’s 25th anniversary he draped unadorned sine waves in the air for the audience to hang onto. Five years on, he was still producing these beautiful, precise low tones, but this time embellishing them with the sound of his own breath, sampling it and layering on top. You could tell that von Hausswolff really felt this, as he hung onto the knobs of his equipment as if his life depended on it, lost in the moment, this time, this sound, this place, but compelling us to come and find him. As an act of listening for listening’s sake, it felt like a compelling summation of the event, and a fitting reminder of what Touch are. Here’s to another 30 years of now.

Freedom Of The City 2012

John Russell

At a panel discussion held in Café Oto last week, a number of improvising musicians were invited to answer the question “what do you think you are doing?” One of the recurring motifs in their answers (and I also heard Pauline Oliveros say something similar last week) was the notion that free improvisation is the means of musical expression which best reflects the way we experience life itself, with all its moments of unexpected joy, and all its imperfections. We don’t follow a script, we don’t travel in straight lines. As Steve Noble put it, in his musing on the improvising imperative, even if you want to get across London from west to east, by tube, bus, train or whatever, you are improvising – which is especially true on a May bank holiday weekend, traditional spot in the calendar of the Freedom Of The City festival.

The festival is now into its second decade, and into its second home, moving from Conway Hall to the equally historic residence of the English Folk, Dance and Song Society at Cecil Sharp House. Aside from being a beautiful space, high ceilinged and wonderfully resonant, it struck me that it was perhaps a fitting venue in another sense. Following the analogy above, improvisation shares a kinship with folk music. Both celebrate life, but in a different way: one lives lived, and the other lives being lived, the preservation of history versus the living in a perpetual now.

London Improviser's Orchestra

Judging from the festival’s lineups, over the course of its twelve year history, the improvising community is evolving and expanding (the London Improviser’s Orchestra alone numbered an impressive 39 on stage). Many of the same elder statesmen continue to populate the bill, from organisers Evan Parker and Eddie Prevost, to the guitarist John Russell and vocalist Phil Minton. New entrants have graduated from Prevost’s workshops (Jennifer Allum, Ross Lambert), or developed in incubators overseas (Okkyung Lee, Guillaume Viltard), but the imperative appears so strong that there is only one way to leave. The recent death of the great Tony Marsh left a gap in the bill, and there were to be tributes to the percussionist throughout the weekend. If there was a musician who epitomised the idea of improvising as life, it was Marsh, who visibly lived every note he played, his face lined with emotion. A single note from a playing companion could make his face light with joy as he mentally explored the sonic possibilities it presented, like a child being given its first yo-yo.

Guillaume Viltard

Fittingly, the festival was opened by a member of the young generation who knew Marsh well. Double bass player Guillaume Viltard began his set with a lament, a smeary, teary arco scraping. As he rubbed his bow and fingers all over his bass I felt I could hear every minute detail of its construction. In the vibrations, squeaks and buzzing, I could hear the grain of the wood, and the ridges of the strings, as if he was less playing the instrument, and more getting it to tell the audience about itself. As the set progressed, the additional percussive embellishment he provided, from tapping its neck, striking the body with the bow, and stamping his feet, made it seem like he wasn’t alone on that stage. He finished by creaking the tuning pegs rhythmically, slowing to silence like an old clock counting its few last seconds.

Okkyung Lee

Other young artists on the bill were showing that the scene continues to thrive and develop in exciting ways. The cellist Okkyung Lee is a very active and highly regarded member of this community, having recorded with Evan Parker and Phil Minton in recent years, but this solo performance had an unexpected incandescence about it. She seemed edgy or unhappy at the start, snapping brusquely (if rightly) at a photographer, but she managed to translate this emotion into a searing and raw performance. She began by playing so softly that it was if she was swimming in the sounds of traffic outside, but her fluid playing soon begat a torrent of notes, furiously fingering some extraordinary fast runs, before the stream finally snagged on a rock. She continually caught herself on these repetitive, sawing, grinding riffs, the music finally splintering and submerging – by the end, her bow was as ragged as her mood, and she marched off stage briskly, her mind still seemingly ablaze.

Han-Earl Park

I took much pleasure from the youthful energy and invention on display elsewhere. Han Earl-Park’s idiosyncratic guitar style was beguiling, his array of tiny, sharp sounds glinting like fragments of broken glass – the interplay between him and trumpeter Ian Smith was almost telepathic, changing directions as one, and the music coming to two seemingly unplanned and instinctive dead stops. Lee Patterson lit up a couple of ensemble sets – literally in one case, feeding the airy hiss of a close-mic’ed naked flame into the atmospheric mix of minute sounds being produced by Rhodri Davies, John Butcher and others in their group Common Objects. Only occasionally did it feel that there was invention for its own sake: the electronic experiments of Grundik Kasyanksy, while fun, seemed to bear no relationship to what anyone else was doing on stage, while the interjections of Ross Lambert (metronome, bowed goblets, vibrator) into his trio served to disrupt the little flow that there was. A few imperfections would, of course, be expected across 16 sets of improvised music.

Evan Parker and Eddie Prevost

Even the more long-standing members of the community showed signs that they were still seeking out and enjoying new experiences. John Russell’s duo with the trumpeter Jamie Coleman had plenty of quirkily enjoyable exchanges, close to call and response at times. Steve Noble’s pairing with the prepared piano and electronics of Sebastian Lexer was particularly inspired, keeping the drummer in textural and even harmonic areas rather than more traditional rhythmic ones. Lexer sampled and played back the sounds he was making, having Noble dance with his own shadow, while the sound of bowed piano strings and scraped cymbals mingled and filled the glorious space in the hall. Eddie Prevost and Evan Parker explored this receptive place further, the saxophonist tracing delicate spirals in the air while Prevost filled the room with deep resonance from his huge barrel of a drum.

Phil Minton and Christian Marclay

The vocalist Phil Minton was the one who best embodied that conjoining of improvisation and life. While Christian Marclay span records behind, Minton twisted his body corkscrew-like, feeling everything, his expressions pained and tortured (at one point, I’m sure Marclay looked over just to check he was OK), producing squeaks, howls and incredible split notes. This was a great duo set, in which at times it was impossible to tell who was making which sound: both were equally capable of producing pop and crackle. As Marclay juggled and cut into techno and jazz records, he brought many moments from the past into the now, spirits for Minton to inhabit and reanimate.

Jeb Bishop

In the Sunday evening slot that was originally due to host the Tony Marsh and Mark Sanders percussion duo, rather than leave a gap in the programme, Sanders picked an alternative band, featuring John Edwards on bass, Shabaka Hutchings on saxophone, and Jeb Bishop on trombone. In an earlier set with Caroline Kraabel, Edwards had reacted to a broken string by seizing it as an opportunity to try something different, savouring the buzz that the loose string made when held against his bass and bowed. Here, the group in which he featured turned a much more difficult (especially emotionally) situation into a triumph, with an upbeat and high energy session. They walked tantalisingly just on the free side of the in/out line, sounding like a lost 1969 BYG performance. The polyrhythmic Sanders was on supreme form throughout, and he and Edwards locked into a deep pulse in the backline, while up front Hutchings and Bishop gleefully engaged in animated close discussion, sharing melodic ideas, and completing each other’s phrases. Ultimately, this combination of masterful talent with infectious enthusiasm was possibly the best tribute to Marsh of the weekend. From sadness to joy in a heartbeat, so life goes, and in its improvisatory celebration of it, Freedom Of The City knows exactly what it is doing.

Tetras – Pareidolia


The Dark Magus casts a long shadow. The work of Miles Davis between 1969 and 1975 is a crucial subset of musical history. The respective genres of rock, jazz, soul and classical had all made some huge strides forward in the 1960s, from the studio experimentation of psychedelia to the glorious headrush of free jazz, from the social awareness of funk to the minimalism of Reich and Riley. But it was in the combination of these forms that the black magic happened. From Miles’s cauldron was scooped the spectral ambience of Eno favourite “He Loved Him Madly”, the deep dark throb of the Jack Johnson sessions, the spooked textures of Live Evil, and the tectonic eruptions of Agharta/Pangaea. There was an urbanity to the music, it was a walk through the melting pot of a multicultural city, with all its clashing noises and politics. But what set Miles apart from many of the alchemists who were creating new forms at the time (from Can to Coleman), was this air of malevolence which permeated so much of his music. If this was an urban vision, it felt uniquely dystopian.

Davis’s ideas took him so far beyond what jazz was understood to be that it is perhaps unsurprising that they only took root there in a limited sense. Much of the subsequent jazz fusion explosion, while heavily influenced by Miles’s work, ignored so many of its inconvenient subtleties. Elements such as the radical consciousness, or the minimalism, at odds with jazz’s more traditional values, were too often jettisoned in any future developments. But Miles’s live evil was running in parallel to the nascent emergence of forms such as heavy metal, with all its occult references, and the image of Miles playing keyboard on stage with the back of his hand was punk rock before punk rock existed (“You ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” indeed). Places with strong, extreme rock scenes were probably more receptive territories for this music.

The result has been these sporadic, musically and geographically isolated pockets of this Miles-influenced mutant malevolent minimalism. It didn’t land in Britain during punk, but it certainly did during post-punk, in the urbanised loops and clatter of This Heat and 23 Skidoo. Post-rock too, with its subversion of traditional instrumental roles, and foregrounding of texture. Scandinavia’s dark skies seem to have provided suitable cover: some of the forbidding structures around the Rune Grammofon label, in particular the Supersilent canon, could have been constructed with Miles as architect. Sunn O)))’s recent work overtly draws upon the jazz of the era, but it is Stephen O’Malley’s Aethenor project, which found room for keyboard drone and improv percussion, which really danced with this particular devil. Japan, probably the only place where Agharta and Pangaea have never been out of print, is another locus, with the likes of Acid Mothers Temple (who wear their influences, from Miles to Black Sabbath to Terry Riley, somewhat heavily) and Keiji Haino who, along with his Miles-like penchant for oversized sunglasses on stage, seems to play the Sonny Sharrock role in whichever ensemble he crops up. A little further south, the ghostly guitar explorations of Australia’s Oren Ambarchi are black dust blown from a similar mine; Ambarchi also crops up in collaborations with the Rune Grammofon mob (a new Fire! with Oren Ambarchi record is due soon) and with the pairing of Stephen O’Malley and Keiji Haino – a collision which surely (re)creates the Pangaea of this particular musical world.

Tetras are another transcontinental and transgenre trio, with roots in the LA and Dutch punk scenes, via percussionist Jason Kahn (formerly on SST) and keyboard player Jerome Viesser (who has accompanied The Ex on their trips to Ethiopia), while bassist Christian Weber has both played conservatory classical and in groups with the likes of Japan’s Otomo Yoshihide. When I first heard their new double LP Pareidolia, I thought they sounded a lot like the Australian minimalist improvising trio the Necks. Like the Necks, they deal in lengthy pieces which transform themselves slowly, with plenty of hypnotic repetition, and with the precise role of the instruments undefined (responsibility for melody, or rhythm, or texture, is pleasingly fluid). But Pareidolia is heavier and grittier than the Necks’ darkest, rawest moments, and the more I listened to it, the more I began to hear traces of many of the other sorcerers I’ve mentioned.

The opening organ drones of ‘Pareidolia i’ remind me of the queasy varispeed fluctuations of early This Heat, but when they later blow through like cold winds they bring the creeping menace of solo Deathprod. The use of percussion in ‘Pareidolia iii’ – melodic gamelan and brushes – in this context brings to mind Steve Noble’s work in Aethenor, steering a ship through the squall of white noise. When the drone becomes anchored to a relentlessly repetitive drum beat, building to a tribal pummel, it is of one with Oren Ambarchi’s epic ‘Knots’ from his recent Audience Of One record. That isn’t to say that any of these individuals have in any way influenced Tetras, but more that they are all drawing from the same river. Somehow, if you stare into these watery ripples, you can glimpse the face of Miles Davis like the pareidolia of the album’s title. He is there in those one note bass ostinatos, the back of the hand keyboard discordance, that dark ambience, and the bleak, dystopian feel. That mutant malevolent minimalism which sprang from Miles in the 1970s continues to flow through music, its strong undercurrent occasionally dragging some treasure up to the surface.