Posset / Ulyatt — A Jar Full (2019, Crow Versus Crow)
Dear reader, they say that brevity is the soul of wit, which must mean that Marginal Brevity HQ is an indisputable bastion of enlightenment, sagacity, and wisdom, given the preponderance of brevity in this neck of the cyber-woods. Well, it’s back to the dark ages (or out of the dark ages?) as we’re back with a philosophical-cum-auricular treatise which examines the very bases of the Hegelian dialectic – or something like that. What better representation of the thesis/antithesis poles than cello and dictaphone! And what better synthesis than the improvising of Marginal alumnus, Charlie Ulyatt and wow and flutter whiz kid Joe Murray aka Joe Posset on their tape release A Jar Full, courtesy of West Yorkshire’s Crow Versus Crow.
The A side treats the listener to three improvised pieces (and lovely printing on the cassette shell), all of which are the result of first-take improvisations recorded in isolation and shared between one another. The product is a sonic kaleidoscope in which Ulyatt’s woody, sometimes probing, sometimes whimsical, always fascinating cello serves as an earthy, steadfast counterpoint to the schizophrenic and turbulent tape warbles that arrest (or disorient) the listener, courtesy of Posset. At times, the line between speeding tape and whistling strings are blurred and sickeningly indiscernible. Throughout, one encounters a continuous, jagged dialogue where the pair create something that oscillates between erratic restraint and bursts of reserved psychosis. The final track on the side, ‘High Head’ features some of the best interplay on the side: nauseating and gurgling tape manipulations converge with Ulyatt’s slowly and subtly excruciating string work, which on audition sounds to be the baglama credited on the release’s bandcamp page.
On the reverse side, the listener encounters the duo improvising live in Ulyatt’s native Nottingham. The live performance remains aesthetically consistent with the approach established on side A, but the dynamic shifts are more equitable and the exchange between the two is audibly more cohesive. Just the same, these two varying improvisation techniques are wonderfully captivating and highly complementary of each other — unsurprisingly, the same can be said for the two artists themselves. Fans of Rik Rue, Bruce Russell, and Judith Hamann (and also a slew of improvisers who aren’t from the South Pacific) would be wise to check out this release sharpish.
Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura — Weather Sky (2001, Erstwhile)
Buy [sorry, no available audio stream]
Sure, this release is several years old, but here at Marginal HQ, we’ve been exuberantly waiting for the right moment to review this collaboration between free noise legends Keith Rowe (on guitar) and Toshimaru Nakamura (on the “no-input” mixing board). “Weather Sky #1” opens with a high-pitched sine wave fading in; around the :45 second mark, in fades electronic noise on the left channel. This makes way to alligator clips rattling strings at around the 2:40 mark and the duo really start to jive. Sci-fi soundscapes weave with sine waves, fizzing electronics, scrambled 8-bit gurgles, and the myriad other sonic oddities Rowe lures from his guitar. Nakamura provides continuity and a sense of (anti-?)rhythm with droning sine (or triangle) waves. There are large segments of the opening piece where little happens. When one of the artists diverges, it is often only a soupçon of sound. In the final third, things hasten. Mechanical humming (most likely emanating from Rowe) supplants nearly all else. When Rowe cuts out, Nakamura remains steadfast and enveloped in electronic bliss until the piece fades out. “Weather Sky #2” is much more accessible. Not only owing to the fact that it is only five minutes in duration, but many of themes and motifs lack the esotericism of the other pieces. Despite it’s short length, the piece does not feel forced or haphazard. The final piece on Weather Sky (“Weather Sky #3”) feels both tenuous and private. At times, the piece feels like a straight-ahead dark ambient piece; yet Nakamura and Rowe’s reinforcing of one another, creates a collective sea of sound, whose opaque and reticent surface conceals untold mysterious and captivates the listener. Whilst we prefer the din Rowe knocks out as one part of the AMM, Weather Sky is an excellent deconstructionist work by two heavyweights of experimental sound. Coupled with Rowe’s painting of an éclair on the cover, fans of either artist, Chondritic Sound, or the otherworldly racket of either the AMM or Dead C are sure to enjoy this release.
Anthony Braxton and Fred Frith — Duo (Victoriaville) 2005 (2006, Les Disques Victo)
Buy [sorry folks, no stream available]
2005 was clearly the year to be at FIMAV in Québec. The last installment featured was culled from the 2005 festival as is the case with this one. Kudos to Les Disques Victo for enabling those of us unable to attend to hear the meeting of minds documented on this disc. Featuring 5 unnamed improvised pieces, this collaboration is certainly enough to wag some tails at Marginal HQ. “Improv. no. 1” sees our heroes trying to decide: left or right at the crossroads. The tug at one another, Frith peppering Braxton’s soulful playing with volume swells and Henry Cow-esque lines. They match each other tit for tat with staccato bursts, embrace dissonance, before Braxton sits back and let’s Fred Frith, Fred Frith. “Improv. no. 2” picks up where the last tune left off, but is decidedly much more playful. Braxton’s almost flute-like playing sails over top of Frith’s rather percussive combination of strum and swell. Around the five minute mark, they ease into silence. The rest of the affair is relatively restrained. “Improv. no.3” is the most meandering of the set. No surprise perhaps, as the tune exceeds 22 minutes. F.F. and A.B. take turns sitting and hitting. Frith’s tremolo-laden psychedelic barbs make for an interesting mash up with Anthony Braxton’s sonic wandering. Piece number 4 is fairly subdued and effectively the calm before the storm, as the set’s closing piece puts the pedal to floor for the first 4 minutes. Braxton sails out with bombast, while Frith’s volume pedal antics sound like strange tape loops. They mellows out a bit halfway through and land softly. A good record, however, seeing it live was unquestionably the more sublime experience. Impressive to hear these improvisational giants playing with one another, but not sure this release jumps ahead of Topography of the Lungs when I’m looking for this sort of vibe. Just the same, well worth checking out.