CD Reviews

Friday 29th May

May 30, 2009

Another hectic day without a moment to call my own. I need a holiday. Anyway following last night’s promise to listen to at least one album a day properly so as to get the “to listen” pile of CDs here down a bit, I woke up this morning, ripped Lee Patterson’s Seven Vignettes to my iPod so I could listen throughout the day and readied myself to go to work. At that moment the postman arrived with a parcel containing 24 recent releases from Ernesto at the Creative Sources label. Right…

Anyway I have listened a good few times today to Seven Vignettes, which is Lee Patterson’s first solo album. I should state here now before going on that I consider Lee to be a friend, and I have seen him play live as often as I have seen anyone in recent years, so have become very familiar with some of his techniques and hallmark sounds, several of which are showcased here. So in short I am not sure how objective I can really be about this release, an album that I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while, and would have instantly offered to release for Lee if he had not already hooked up with Luke Fowler’s Shadazz label. So I intend to just describe the album tonight rather than try and justify why I like it so much. Sorry about that.

For anyone that doesn’t know Lee’s music there is a really wonderful primer, complete with sound clips to be found here. Reading Lee’s words there just before playing this album will make a world of difference. He finds musical happenings, or at least sound events that can be interpreted as music in the most extraordinary of places. Years of research, scrabbling around in undergrowth, watching out for detritus at the side of city roads, burning just about everything in reach, and basically looking at just about everything for its potential to make sounds has brought Lee Patterson to discover a fantastic array of sound-making objects, both natural and constructed by hand from things he has found. Spending time with Lee is always fun. If he doesn’t suddenly disappear because he spotted a potentially resonant fence somewhere then you find yourself discussing the different sounds that assorted pondlife may make, or you’re in and out of pub toilets in search of particular sex aids in vending machines because they vibrate in certain ways…

The seven vignettes that give this album its title each portray one or more of the sounds Lee has discovered. On some of the tracks Lee has used these sounds to build detailed musical works, on others he has just let sounds develop and recorded the results. The first piece seems to fall into the latter category. Nine Lucifers somehow captures the sound of nine safety matches being burnt. How you record such tiny, fleeting sounds is beyond me, but what we have hear is two minutes of minutely detailed hisses, pops, cracks and squeals. Although these sounds are just so Lee Patterson I would probably never have guessed their source. I’d have identified the musician immediately, but probably have guessed the sounds to be recordings of something dissolving in water. The detail is amazing, and I just find myself wondering how on earth he knew those sounds would be there if a way could be found to capture them?

The second track, again just a couple of minutes long was created from the decaying sounds of two plucked springs attached to a contact sensitive metal plate. The resulting drones and shimmering tones remind me somewhat of Keith Rowe’s music, the spring being such an identifiable part of it, and Lee would probably acknowledge the influence here, while also making music that is very much his own, taking this one simple sound-generating process and crafting from it a few moments of real beauty. The third piece, named Three Hazelnuts Burn is the audio result of (as one might expect) nuts burning and the sounds generated. Again what we hear is pretty staggering, a tiny mass of squelches, something close to birdsong and what sounds like escaping air forced through tiny holes. It  sounds more like an experiment in a 1960’s synthesiser factory than the sound of some hazelnuts burning.

There are two pieces here called Butane, split into two “movements”. They are created using the sound of several discarded cigarette lighters made to discharge the butane gas within them, alongside sounds created by Patterson e-Bowing steel tines found in streets having been broken off of mechanical street sweepers. These pieces are quite beautiful in their simplicity and once again underline the amount of research that goes into discovering these hidden soundworlds.

The final two pieces on the album feature more of the improvised composition Lee works with in live performance, on his own and in collaboration with others. The nine-minute long From Formby Point and Gent is made by blowing gently across the individual blades of a pine cone found when out field recording, the ghostly sounds then coupled with recordings made of a kettle and heating pipes in a Gent hotel room. It is when placed together like this that we stop wondering where the sounds originate and just enjoy how they are used. This is in many ways a very pure way of improvising. Although when sounds are used Lee has a very good idea of the basic nature of them, the details will waver and flicker naturally. So a moments blockage in a heating pipe will combine with a gust of air caught across the pine cone and a particular splutter from the kettle. Events are allowed to take their natural course, but are placed carefully into formations that might see them combine together and create something else again.

The final work, named Plateaux #1 brings together many of the devices Lee has used live in recent years, electric toothbrushes, (and they have got to be the right make and model that sound just right) springs, Andrews Liver Salts dissolving in water, amplified portable CD players, and who knows what else, including the central heating system of the studio in which the piece was recorded. This piece uses gradually shifting, partially transparent drones and wavering tones over bubbling flickers and strange warbles to create an oddly wistful, dreamy piece of music full of thick layers that gradually peel back and reveal the layer below. Again here the source of these sounds is impossible to ascertain from just listening, and it all comes together in such a way that you forget how it was made until at certain points we get tiny glimpses that remind us, and we stop to consider what on earth we might be listening to before letting the music drift off again.

There are of course many people that make field recordings and use them in improvised music, but I’m not sure that there is anyone quite like Lee Patterson out there right now. Seven Vignettes brings together years of study and discovery on one album that hides so much beneath its surface. Its essential for fans of field recording, but this album extends far beyond that, bringing to our attention not just the sounds that surround us, but those hidden away from us that needed unlocking, sounds that probably without Lee Patterson would never have come to my attention. Great stuff.

Comments (3)

  • jon abbey

    May 30, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    good timing on this one for me, as my box just arrived from Luke this morning. looking forward to it!

  • graham halliwell

    May 30, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    “bringing to our attention not just the sounds that surround us, but those hidden away from us that needed unlocking, sounds that probably without Lee Patterson would never have come to my attention. Great stuff”.

    Agreed – I think you’ve accurately described the essence of what Lee is about. This is how I feel about him. Great intelligence. And he’s completely changed the way I think about our fridge (a recording of which I believe appears on Buoy).

    I’d also like to mention the superb mastering by Kenny MacLeod; Lee has rarely sounded so good. Played this disc at room shaking volume, and it works. I like the idea of the sound of ‘three hazlenuts burning’ rattling the windows. Try it sometime.

  • Stephen Cornford

    May 31, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    “Mushrooms are making sounds and we should be listening to them”

    I guess Cage would be a fan of Mr. Patterson’s work as well.

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