Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Silly Improv.

Partly inspired by both Tugboat's unrelenting foraging through the all things techno undergrowth of recent times and also the excellent Sonorities festival, I have of late been poking about in the nether regions of improvised and contemporary music. Determined to prove to myself that this is more than a pretentious, academic, wasteland of which the sole function is pretentious, academic, knobbery, I've been looking new sounds with which to fill my ears and trying to find a way in which this might possibly relate to me, living in the damp squalor of Belfast.

Following directly on from the 2006 Sonorities festival my interest in freely improvised music was sparked by several heavyweight performances, namely those of Fred Frith, Chris Cutler and Anthony Braxton. The fact that this music was so intuitively tailored to the moment of its inception made it impossible not to be swept along and never once find your concentration melting into a pool on the floor -an admittedly very common occurrence at too many new music concerts. Also the fact that these musicians were playing there instruments in ridiculously unconventional ways was neither novelty nor an issue because more often than not the sounds created were perfect for the moment.

So in a haze of Fred Frith wonder (and possibly seeking some kind of outlet for all that teenage guitar angst) I started checking out some other improv guitarists. This is where Derek Bailey comes into the picture. Bailey played guitar in a horrible, angular, discordant and celestial manner, the main idea being to improvise without relying on jazz in any form. I recently picked up his Carpal Tunnel record (documenting the decline of his ability to play due to the effects of carpal tunnel syndrome) and the opening track is just a fantastic piece of work.

(Check out the fantastic Tzadik label for more)

Derek Bailey - Explanation & Thanks - Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
(obituary by Gavin Bryars)

Next to a man who also performed at this years Sonorities festival, albeit minus almost all of his homemade creations, Rafael Toral. Well known in alternative circles as a free-floating experimental guitarist/composer, the Portuguese maestro has recently been embarking on what he has titled the 'Space Program', suffice to say that this involves creating sparse electronic worlds out of homemade instruments; his performance at this year's Sonorities involved charming resonances out of cymbals using a short-circuited, hand-held amplifier. Here is a brief excerpt from the first track in the Space opus.

Rafael Toral - Space (excerpt)

Another group who create delicate, grotesque and beautiful sounds are Pillow. Pillow (not to be confused with Italian post-rockers) are an American quartet, with the impetus for this particular record coming from Tentet cellist Fred Longberg Holm. This track for me showcases the more mellifluous side of free music, which granted requires a certain predisposition of willingness, echoing the glacial strains of much post-rock in a more visceral form. This is taken from the 'Pillow Plays Brotzmann' long player, which is an interpretation of the legendary reeds-player Peter Brotzmann's composition 'Images'.

Pillow - Images3- Pillow Plays Brotzmann

Finally something more close to home, and an actual song, we have Phil Elvrum working under his Microphones alias. Almost all of Elvrum's work sounds to me as though it is being improvised and invented in the studio, and in the best possible way. So many of his songs are just fragments of a thought, capturing something really ephemeral and this is one of their most endearing qualities for me. This really struck home last year, hearing him give a concert consisting of songs which he made up entirely on the spot. So here is a particular favorite in a slightly different form:

The Microphones - The Moon - Song Islands


Tugboat said...

The damp squalor of Belfast. Indeed.

Nice one: loads of listening here...

Messy Angelo said...

sweet ... that's what I come here for ... random tidbits of intriguing material. good work piaras.