Maurizio Ravalico is an Italian percussionist, and Oren Marshall an English brass player. Which should make In Thunder Rise a duo album, and most definitely the first conga and tuba duo album I’ve covered on this site (I’m pretty confident on that one). But look a little closer: there is a third name below the two headliners on the front cover of this new double album – that of Isambard Khroustaliov, the alter ego of Icarus’s Sam Britton, and one of the founders of the Not-Applicable label. Britton’s role is an interesting and important one – he was responsible for recording the two instrumentalists in a variety of outdoor settings, and for facilitating the introduction of a fourth, unbilled player into the lineup: the city of London itself.
In Thunder Rise was recorded in a number of different locations in south east London, including in a park, in a foot tunnel, by a busy road, near a train line, and next to the river. Each of these brings its own acoustic properties, and its own particular set of background noises, and the manner in which the album was recorded accentuates these. Microphones were fixed above the instruments, but Britton was equipped with a further set which he could use to record whatever he liked – making decisions in real time, moving about the space, pointing the microphones at the instruments, and then towards the sky, to the traffic, at people passing by, and listening to other more industrial sounds, creating a three-dimensional map of the place, inserting the listener at the heart of the process, and also blurring the lines between the real and the recorded. I’ve listened to this album on headphones outdoors several times, and found myself pausing to look for birds that aren’t there, or – more alarmingly – to avoid being hit by a thankfully non-existent reversing truck.
But there is more to this than the interaction between listener and location. Lest we forget, there are congas and tubas in here too. Ravalico and Marshall are determinedly unconventional in their approaches to their respective instruments on In Thunder Rise, as often as not not eschewing rhythm or melody in favour of a focus on tone and timbre – for example Ravalico brushing the head of his drums, or Marshall blowing airily through his instrument. This is because In Thunder Rise is – as if this wasn’t obvious enough already – pretty far from being a conventional duo album. As much as they are interacting with each other, they are responding to their environment: reacting to weather conditions with drones, creating the sound of a passing train with deep pulses, simulating mobile phone signal interference with staccato phrases, joining in others’ conversations, or even just evoking sensations of space, or of danger. This is far more than just an album of duets, this is an ensemble piece both featuring and dedicated to London, to its geography, to its networks, to its people, and to its moods. It is an album born of a love that cannot be shaken by downpours, by filthy streets, by the potential for violence, or even by missed buses.
In Thunder Rise is released on October 15 on Not-Applicable. The label is also having a bit of a festival in Berlin in mid September. More details on their website.