CD Reviews

Thursday 10th December

December 11, 2009

cfyr001-300x280Still as somewhat fraught and tiring day today, despite not being at work. Sometimes I really wonder if families are worth all the hassle, sigh…

Anyway I managed to get some listening done this evening, spending a fair amount of time with a CDr I began listening to yesterday when just too tired and unable to take anything from it at all. Tonight I enjoyed the experience much more, so I am very glad to have bailed out of trying to write when completely exhausted. The disc in question is named Three Duos, and is by the young American trio of improvisors Dave Barnes, (electronics) Richard Kamerman (laptop on one track, motors and objects on two others) and Graham Stephenson (trumpet and microphone). the release is on Kamerman’s Copy For Your records label, and contains four tracks, with each of the possible duos covered, with one of them (Barnes/Kamerman) contributing two tracks.

I have written recently about Kamerman’s work, and he remains one of a handful of interesting young American musicians working in improvised music right now. Barnes and Stephenson released a very strong set of debut duets a year or two back on a self released CDr. This new release is the first thing I am aware of on disc from either of the duo since then. The first track here is from the Barnes / Stephenson duo, an eighteen minute piece recorded back in early 2008. After a subdued opening it becomes really quite busy, a feisty to and ‘fro of muscular, meaty electronics and gurgling splatters of trumpet played into a very close mic, thus transforming acoustic sounds into something often hard to distinguish from the electronics. Like many of his contemporaries in the US, Barnes’ choice of electronics is raw and brittle, the sound of electronics probably originally intended for purposes other than direct sound production being throttled and re-routed into a wild, seemingly only semi-controlled riot of sound. Stephenson seems to mimic this same soundworld, flowing abrasive hisses and fuzzes through the gaps. Good stuff, easy to follow and become involved in.

The second and third tracks come from the Barnes / Kamerman duo and were recorded nine months later in New York. Here a more contemplative approach seems to be taken by Barnes as the second track opens with restrained whistles and fizzes, with Kamerman joining in slowly with the odd little clatter of sound until about half of the way through the six minute piece when a brooding undercurrent of dirty, abrasive electronics cut loose from one, the other or both of the musicians. The nice element here for me is the way that as sounds build into a potentially oppressive wall of noise they are repeatedly cut dead, leaving whatever was there in the first place to remain suspended in mid air until the grunge builds up again.

The third piece is probably the most interesting to me here. It begins with not much happening at all, just little squirts of electronics and the odd little clink of Kamerman’s Unami-esque objects, all very patiently done with a sense of anticipation building following the substantial fuzz and bluster of the previous piece. Gradually Kamerman’s little metallic systems are set rattling and clattering all over the place in a kind of loosely rhythmic pattern, while Barnes adds restrained bursts of mostly continuous sounds over and underneath. Then as the fourteen minute long piece comes within a couple of minutes of its ending a pulsing electronic signal starts to throb for a few seconds, rapidly building in volume and presence until it breaks Kamerman’s lines of jittery metals up and the track slowly falls apart into silence as easily as it began. The overall structure of this piece is quite novel, and the variety and juxtaposition of sounds used within it hold the interest of this listener with ease. Impressive.

The final track, from Stephenson and Kamerman sees the latter add laptop to the jangle of the vibrating objects, but I don’t think running any music production software, rather the machine being used as a source of sounds, kinetic and electromagnetic that are probably picked up using microphones of one kind or another. This track is the longest on the disc, weighing in at twenty minutes plus, and it wanders about a bit, sometimes falling into pits of near silence, elsewhere seeking out the exact opposite. Generally speaking, at least until Kamerman allows steady clockwork-like sounds to appear (are these live or played back on the computer? -hard to tell) later in the piece, there is a sense of control and restraint throughout, more a case of little sections of wilder interaction spread apart than any long stream of aggressive interplay. I am reminded of two alleycats circling each other, mewing intensely, hairs bristling, tensions building, and every so often falling into little balls of flying fur, breaking way as suddenly as they began. This final piece is maybe the most unusual and curious of the four here, perhaps not as viscerally engaging as the third track, but and intriguing listen all the same.

Overall this is a nice collection of music that veers around quite a bit, sometimes suggesting good old fashioned call and response improv, albeit on less traditional instruments, but then elsewhere utilising some refreshingly unusual ways of structuring a piece of music. Three fine musicians just beginning to fulfill their considerable potential.

Nice handmade sleeve including a nice looking gum print (whatever one of those is) as well.

Just to show that the UK doesn’t begin and end in London, I’ve added couple of good looking gigs to the Concert Calendar that are taking place this weekend, one in Hull and the other in Glasgow. Check the link up there at the top of the page for more details, and support local music if you are able!

Comments (15)

  • simon reynell

    December 11, 2009 at 9:20 am

    I too have been impressed by this one. I’ve spent less time with it than ‘Delicate Sen’, the trio with Richard Kamerman, Anne Guthrie & Billy Gomberg which you reviewed a while ago and came out on the same label at the same time. That has certainly been one of my favourite recent plays, but ‘Three Duos’ pushes me further to the edges of my comfort zone in a good way. With rather boring predictability I prefer / am most comfortable with track 1, where Graham Stephenson’s trumpet-playing brings a more straightforwardly acoustic element to the music. But it’s all good stuff and leaves me keen to hear more from this group of young US improvisers. (Any pointers to getting hold of the earlier Barnes/Stephenson cdr, Richard?) Definitely one I shall keep coming back to and testing myself against.

  • Richard Pinnell

    December 11, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Hmm my first step would be to contact the musicians direct Simon, but otherwise I’d imagine Jon would be the only other potential source. I can if course burn you a copy if you have no luck.

  • jon abbey

    December 12, 2009 at 12:45 am

    they’re out of that one, I have a handful left, well worth snapping one up.

    and amusingly and probably also with rather boring predictability, I think track 1 of Three Duos is the weakest. :)

  • Jesse

    December 12, 2009 at 9:10 am

    Simon, the Barnes/Stephenson duo cdr is available as a d/l, cannot remember the site, but I d/loaded it a few weeks ago.

  • Massimo Magee

    December 12, 2009 at 10:22 am

    I’m pretty sure this is it, here, Simon:
    Haven’t downloaded it yet myself, but I will….

  • simon reynell

    December 12, 2009 at 11:18 am

    thanks Massimo, that’s great

  • jon abbey

    December 12, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    pretty sure that’s not legal or lossless, to be clear.

  • Jesse

    December 12, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Yeah, that’s not the site I used-it was that huge http://www.library, cannot recall the name, with accompanying info about each d/l. I took it the artists put it up there.

  • RFKorp

    December 15, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Since you did phrase the playback issue as a direct question, I figure I might as well answer it for you. And it’s “no, there was no playback of pre-recorded material from the laptop.” HOWEVER, I do use the laptop’s internal mic to amplify sounds happening on the keyboard. And the laptop’s inherent audio monitoring latency (made more or less dramatic by how many other processes are running) creates a rather excitingly disorienting effect when other pickups are open as well.

    And some trivia FWIW: the “steady clockwork-like sound” is actually closely related to the technique I used on my track for the third IHM comp. Except obviously that this version is amplified in multiple ways and that prior excercise was entirely acoustic.

  • dave quam

    December 16, 2009 at 1:33 am

    thanks for the write-up Richard, appreciate it.

    Me and Graham’s cd is on a site for download? If anyone has the site lemme know. I have absolutely no problem with that, me and graham were gonna actually put it up as lossless for download but i mean it’s pretty old. I don’t even have a copy! I can send over aiffs of it to anyone that wants it,

    FYI a Gum Print is a Gum Bichromate print, a very old early photographic printing process involving gum arabic, pigments, potassium dichromate, paper, and a negative. Like a more photographic version of screenprinting.

  • dave quam

    December 16, 2009 at 1:33 am

    oh yeah richard, this picture is upside down!

    You got one of my favorite covers I think

  • Richard Pinnell

    December 16, 2009 at 1:40 am

    Thanks for the comments Dave.

    I have turned the pic up the correct way now! I just cropped the image at the CFYR site and must have got it the wrong way up, sorry about that.

    (I must say I preferred it the other way up though!) 😉

  • Richard Pinnell

    December 16, 2009 at 1:42 am

    and Richard, thanks for your clarifications also. I didn’t think there were any samples or straight recordings played back on the disc, but I so often get these things wrong, so I am glad you cleared that one up! Nice label by the way, hope it continues on with more good things.

  • grahamstephenson

    December 16, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    thanks for the write-up, richard. bristling alleycats!
    and though i don’t have a problem with me and dave’s cd being uploaded, it is still available from erstdist, and i still have materials to produce more copies for trade.

  • Richard Pinnell

    December 16, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    Bristling Alleycats would make a good title for the follow up album!

    So Graham can send out copies… there you go people…!

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