Thursday 13th AugustAugust 14, 2009
As I walked back to Oxford station from work this evening I wasn’t really sure what I would write about tonight. I had my iPod headphones in my ears playing a Schubert symphony, which I enjoyed quite a bit, and it kept my step bouncing along fast, but I’m not ready to write about Schubert yet. All in good time. However when I walked onto the concourse of Oxford station I bumped into none other than Dominic Lash, double bassist, forthcoming Cathnor recording artist and generally all-round nice bloke. Anyway I mentioned that I had reviewed one of the recent Compost and Height 3″ Split series discs, but had not written about the one he appeared on alongside Rhodri Davies because it was sold out. He then said that while that may have been the case at the label and at Sound 323, he still had fifteen copies remaining. So, with this in mind, and without Dom knowing I am doing this I have decided to listen again to the disc in question tonight. I’m not sure if Mr Lash is up for mailing out copies of the CD in question but I’m sure if he reads this he can let us know if and how Â someone could purchase a copy from him. Of course, there is also the possibility that Rhodri may have copies remaining as well. I’m less likely to meet Rhodri on a station over forthcoming days, but he can let me know if he has any to sell!
Rhodri’s seven minute long track opens the disc, and is titledÂ Five Knots. The title refers to nautical wind, a fitting choice when you consider how the piece was made. Rhodri placed an electric harp in two positions on the stone pier at Aberystwyth, his home town on the west coast of Wales. The wind blew on the amplified strings, creating a swelling, undulating drone sound, not completely dissimilar to that made by an eBow, but colder and harsher, and obviously more random. A real aeolian harp then. The two recordings were then overlaid, with one each in the left and right channels. The whole thing was then mastered by some guy called Graham Halliwell. At a surface level the finished piece of music is nice to listen to, dare I say very beautiful and delicate. There are swooping, arcing swathes of sound rising and falling, and as the two separate recordings cross the parallel tones create new patterns in the music as the notes converge and separate.
On a further, more intriguing level there is an interesting set of questions raised here about how much of this music happened by chance, and how much by intention. In theory, although the harp was carefully placed in positions likely to catch the wind each time, there must have been a degree of chance involved with how much of a breeze there was when the “record” but was pressed. Then we don’t know just how Â much was recorded, and if the seven minutes we hear here were excerpted from several hours of material, or if parts that were used were carefully placed alongside each other to the best effect, or if they were just randomly aligned. None of this question imply a criticism at all, but each of them cast a different perspective on the music, making me wonder if what we are hearing is a real collaboration between man and nature, or whether it was sculpted from something along those lines into something else again. A nice seven minutes anyway, with an almost Tsunoda-esque feel to it, musically and conceptually.
There then follows Dom’s piece, named Assay, which clocks in a little under ten minutes. the piece is described as a solo improvisation with some premeditation, which in all honesty is how I think all solo improv should be more accurately described. The track, which is nicely recorded up close by Jonathan McHugh begins with quiet, rustling brushwork on the body of the bass. Slowly bowed strokes begin to appear, starting very quietly and building gently. They don’t ever become a drone, but they are consistent, and until around three minutes in the brush sounds remain, as if either Dom has four hands or some degree of overdubbing was taking place. Having seen Dom tonight I can confirm he still only has two hands, and the C&H website makes it clear that no overdubbing has been used, so the degree of careful control required to perform this part is just remarkable. The track flows on into louder, heavier bass tones with a grainy, gritty edge to them, and crawls to an eventual halt on a booming, low end grind.
Dom Lash is capable of working in many modes and styles of improv and modern composition. He is just as at home playing with Evan Parker as he is Mark Wastell or Patrick Farmer or just about any improvising musician to be honest. This solo piece though seems to really delve deep into the physical depths of his instrument. Alone, with just the bass to be heard the quality and texture of the sounds used come right to the fore. I found myself listening really closely to the music, drilling down into the groaning wood with my ears, almost feeling the vibrating air through the vast body of the instrument. If listening to Rhodri’s piece was a matter of combining surface feelings of beauty with questions about how the music was made, then no such intricacies are required here. This is very direct music that grips your attention and pulls you into its heady, even soulful sound. Soulful in that every stroke of the bow sounds full of passionate intent, every sound loaded with considered gravitas. As the music grows from gentle rustles to throbbing intensity the listening experience is just as physical, and I found myself swaying in my seat on the second or third spin through tonight. I’ve heard some great solo bass music this year so far. John Edwards’ Volume is one of my favourites of 2009, and then there’s Werner Dafeldecker’s Long dead machines and Guillaume Viltard’s Running Away (another one I really must remember to write about very soon) This piece, albeit much more brief is up there with the best of the above. Another, quite different but very good track from Dom is available as a free download from the Compost and height site here.