Friday, 30 May 2008

Rhodri Davies, David Lacey, Dennis McNulty - 'Poor trade' (Cathnor)

Perhaps some folks viewing this blog understandably get the impression that it's only about 'field recording' based music / sound. Save for the post on Angharad Davies & Tisha Mukarji's 'end space' cd & the one on aspects of the Shakuhachi, the content here has indeed been fairly fr !. However, for me at least aspects of fr connect to the exploratory way I have come to listen to most sound & most music, not in a contrived or theoretical manner (though I have no doubt there are plenty of theories to be stated) but in the sense of the way my own ears have grown (!) & how my emotional reaction to music has been influenced by my enjoyment of sounds not generated by the human hand for example. That said this cd does include some field recordings (via David & Rhodri I believe) & some sounds occurring around the church in which the session took place. In that respect it is 'recorded in the field' & the quality of the recording (by David Reid) leaves many a studio standing.

From the first few minutes of the opening section 'Tried in the scales and found wanting' on this new Cathnor disc it's clear that this is a confident outing. There's no awkward finding of feet - all the players respond to each other with an obvious sense of shared purpose, whilst retaining and imposing their individual voices. Speaking as a listener and a performer myself, this interplay is the thing that makes improvisation a vital and expressive art form & it sets apart the successful groupings from the rest.

I have to admit that I often struggle with computers in improvised music (due in part to the heavy handed or lazy way in which they are often used) and I also find the term 'electronics' a rather obtuse word in this context - perhaps that is why some people use it. The music that emerges from Rhodri Davies's collection of minidisc players, ebows, electric fans and other gadgets, not to mention his adapted harp, doesn't suffer from any such lack of clarity or from the grey, restricted confines the term can imply.

This issue with terminology is, of course, just my own bag of shoulder chips ! and this trio also features Dennis McNulty - one of the few improvisers who can use a computer in a manner that moves it away from purely technological possibilities. The sounds he adds do not stick out, awkwardly digital and seemingly unresponsive - rather they sit within constantly developing sections that both carry their own momentum and find places in which to slow down and cut a different channel.

David Lacey, another who uses electronics, this time to augment his percussion, applies his usual subtle approach to the structure, often seeming to hold back but with timing that is on target throughout. The field recordings he uses, some using hydrophones, blend seamlessly into the whole and make one keen to hear more of this aspect of David's interests.

Perhaps when one thinks about the methods each player uses it's possible to see one drawback of a cd release of improvised music - there is only the music & given the highly coherent ensemble playing on display it's near impossible to visualise from whom some sounds come. However this actually shows the strength of the music here, exposing the clear need for contemporary improvisation to be supported when it is released & to be witnessed live. Of course the removal of the obvious visual element of a performance serves, as it has always done, to free the music from those constraints, resulting in a wider, more individual and creative landscape being available to us when we listen, when we hear. In that respect I see a correlation between a constant appreciation of the sounds in my everyday life and music - each has a wide vista, one for us to explore as we wish.

So this fifth release from Cathnor further strengthens its already solid reputation as a label that brings us music that retains its sense of pleasure in a scene currently often far too dominated by a rather clinical, elitist approach.

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