CD Reviews

An early morning ramble

December 30, 2006

This morning after I had given up waiting for the sun to change the sky over Oxfordshire to any colour other than grey I went for a walk into the muddy, cold gloom of the countryside for a couple of hours. Along with warm coat, silly hat and walking boots I went armed with my iPod and a decent pair of Sennheisers and listened to lossless rips of a couple of albums that have caught my ears over the last week or so in a late run to try and dent my Top20 of the year…

No Spaghetti Edition – Sketches of a Fusion (Sofa)
No Spaghetti Edition are (for this album anyway, the line up changes from release to release) Martin Tétreault (turntables and small electronics) Xavier Charles (clarinet and harmonica) Christian Wallumrød (piano) Tonny Kluften (double bass) Ingar Zach (percussion) and Ivar Grydeland (guitar and banjo)

I picked this up only after listening to a lengthy portion of it at my local friendly record emporium at the recommendation of the pusherman behind the counter :) Although one or two of the names that make up No Spaghetti Edition have made great records I own in the past, the idea of a sextet made up of that arrangement of instrumentation producing a record entitled Sketches of a Fusion didn’t exactly fill me with confidence, but I’ve rather enjoyed this.

There is condiderable restraint shown throughout, and most importantly the pace of the music is kept down, there’s nothing worse than six musicians rushing about fighting for a space in the music. The pallette of colours is kept to a minimum too, and as I wandered along dreary countryside paths this morning I kept hearing shades of grey in the music, although the two track titles, Dark and Black suggest an even deeper gloom. Muted textures and decaying sounds are very much the order of the day, which is never a bad thing in my book.

The first of the two tracks, Dark is twice the length of the second, at 36 minutes. Although in a few places there is a sense of lost direction in the music, it contains some very beautiful periods, with the most successful usually involving Tetreault ‘s subtle buzzing and scraping from his turntables providing a textured canvas for one or two of the others to drop acoustic moments into. On few occasions do you hear more than two or three instruments at a time, and there is a sense of melancholic precision to the music perfect for the surroundings I listened to it in this morning. Overall, though a more critical edit of the track may have resulted in a more consistent work, its good stuff all the same.

The second shorter piece has more of an urgency to it, and again its Tetreault’s contributions that seem to lead the way, with a tinkling, drilling sound near the start providing a backdrop for Wallumrød’s minimal but persistent piano notes and Charles’ forlornly wailing clarinet lines. Two thirds through and Tetreault steps back to allow the piano and bass to pick out small figures from the background, until some high pitched bowed metal swoops signal in a hissing, revolving wash from the turntables that suddenly drops away to leave a delicate patchwork of plucked strings and gently distressed metal. With a minute to go a slow static fuzz from Tetreault returns and builds as if making a point before it rips short to end the album.
Black is almost an abridged version of its predeccesor on the CD and probably works a littl ebetter for just that reason.

I liked this album lot, particularly when played in the right surroundings.

Edit: I just noticed that Brian posted a review of this at Bagatellen today as well, pretty spooky, especially as his feelings are very close to mine. Unfortunately the ever unreliable Bags server won’t let me post a comment at the moment…sigh

RM74 / RLW – Pirouetten (Crouton)
This literally fell through my letterbox this morning, a lovely little package (as Crouton releases usually are) to brighten a gloomy end to a tiring year. The package consists of a CD and eight slightly larger than postcard sized prints of details from a winterstruck tree highlighted against a grey/blue sky. The images are not unlike (though far superior to) the photo that leads this blog entry, that I took on my walk this morning, each of them studies in negative shape and beautiful wintry desolation.
How these images realte to the music is less clear, and a paragraph from the Crouton press release leads to even further intrigue;

RM74 wanted to visit Ralf Wehowsky a.k.a. RLW in his solid green middle-class garden. On his way to RLW’s single-family-house, RM74 became a victim of the german control paranoia, as embodied by a sturdy female Karlsruhe tram-warden. Influenced by the folkloristic stubbornness of present-day control authorities, a sustained penance resulted in mutual musical pieces.

RM74 is Reto MÃ¥der, a Swiss electroacoustician that I have not come across before. RLW is of course Ralf Wehowsky, for me one of the most talented yet frustratingly erratic sound arrangers around today. The music they make is varied, highly crafted and full of surprises, with each track taking a very different tack, ranging from deeply electronic soundscapes to acoustic conversations, with the list of sound sources involved reading like a dictionary of musical instruments.

Though each track has its own particular character there is a strange sinister feel to Pirouetten, perhaps a throw back to Wehowsky’s industrial music past. There is a brooding sense of disquiet to the music, that sometimes manifests itself in obvious ways, such as the claustrophic swoops and backmasked children’s voices at the start of Kontrollpunkt am herzen der wintergeister (Inspection point at the heart of the winter spirit according to babelfish, probably a reference to the tram-warden). In other places the feeling of unease is less tangible. The fifth track, intriguingly titled Folklore Off begins with a strangely off kilter cello set to all kinds of background clatter and in particular a frantically assaulted sheet of paper. Sturmangriff zur Austreiburg der Wintergeister und Anderer Geistlicher (go babelfish it yourself! )is made up of swarms of clamouring electronic drones that build up until suddenly overlaid by the sound of a marching band and what appears to be the gossip of the crowd watching it pass. All a bit surreal, but also somewhat unsettling.

Pirouetten is a fine album that sits in a category of its own. Quite often the music employs sounds that normally I shy away from. Early musique concrete twittering and electronic phasing all play a part, yet somehow are mixed in such a way with gentle chimes, hums and field recordings that make it all sound ok. On track seven, Herz Schlågt Noch sounds not dissimilar to those my nasal passages were making when I had a bad cold just before Christmas mix with a murky (I think pitchshifted) piano and EQ-ridden percussion to make up the one track that goes a little too far for me, but even then its comes together to some degree as the sounds converge into one growing mass towards the end.

So I think overall Pirouetten is one that will require a lot more listens, but as an individual and finely crafted statement its a fine piece of work. It gave the second half of my walk an odd soundtrack. Although 10AM in the morning, the greyness of the skies combined with the cloaked aggression of MÃ¥der and Wehowsky’s music somehow encouraged me to hurry home faster than I had ambled off in the other direction, and as the clouds opened and the rain began, i’m quite pleased I did.

Comment (1)

  • Alastair

    December 30, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    Bags won’t let you comment either? I thought it was just me.

    Coincidentally, my comment was about another Wallumrod disc, Merriwinkle, with Sidsel Endresen and Helge “Deathprod” Sten.

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