Friday 18th DecemberDecember 19, 2009
What a day. I got my parents to Gatwick OK, only for them to later find their flight, and all other flights cancelled by heavy snow, and so they came home again, by train some time later. My father hasn’t been so well, so this was extra stress that nobody needed. Then I spent a hellish ten hours at work before heading home on delayed trains at about five degrees below zero. What’s more I have to be up at six in the morning to head back into work again for another trying day.
But despite all of this I managed to listen to some music via iPod while commuting today, and fortunately I had heard the 3″ CD in question a few times before on the stereo here and feel I know it well enough to be able to write, albeit it quite briefly and badly about it now. The disc is the Â eleventh and penultimate release in the Compost and Height spilt 3″ CDr series, this one pairing solo pieces by percussionist Will Guthrie and saxophonist Martin KÃ¼chen. Compared to his approach on what has been previously available on CD by Guthrie, the six minute long Drum Piece sees a slight departure in his choice of instrumentation. Rather than the table full of metallic detritus, springs and broken electronics that he usually sits behind, here Will plays a more conventional drum kit, with added objects and small percussion, but also with a cheap karaoke microphone held in one hand and a contact mic gripped in the other. The set was recorded by mics overhead, but presumably the input from the two forms of handheld microphone were also mixed into this recording, giving the final work a grungy, earthy feel. Maybe it is in part this gritty edge to the recording that helps make the piece sound just like a Will Guthrie piece despite the change in instrumentation, and despite the fact I have only ever heard him play with his more electronics based kit.
There are certain musical phrases in this short piece, little pieces of individual syntax that hark straight back to my close understanding of Guthrie’s solo music. Whether it is the way things are left to shudder to a halt, the way that a series of grey scrapes and metallic grazes are often followed by a metallic chime of colour, or just something about the fidgety pacing of the piece I’m not sure, but I would have instantly identified Will Guthrie as the musician behind this piece in a blind test. This is not a criticism at all either. Its a compliment to the musician that his music is so non-derivative that it can easily be indentified as his.
So it is itchy, scratchy, eager music that constantly nudges at you, poking and prodding the listener, not allowing anything to settle, constantly changing, different types of sounds placed against each other in quick succession as part of the flow. Although the music has a good pace to it and a natural momentum it isn’t rhythmic as such. there are actually very few occasions where a drum is properly struck with anything. All in all Drum Piece is very good, not the grade A Will Guthrie we have come to expect from other releases but a piece of music that stands up on its own at the same time as being something of an experiment.
In places Martin KÃ¼chen’s Warzawa sounds quite similar: tumbling little sections of pattering pops and clicks and whirrs, but it begins at a much more sedate pace with KÃ¼chen showing his remarkable skill with the sax as he creates a looping, rhythm of shuffling whirrs and pops at low volume that just hangs there for almost three minutes before it shifts up a gear and a new stream of tumbling, cluttered percussive sounds appears, with a revolving underlay of rushes of air and little gasps of proper notes. KÃ¼chen’s brief notes on the piece mention a nice moment in Warsaw in 2008 when he stood for a while amongst a large crowd of pigeons. Certainly there are moments here where the music resembles the clucking and shuffling of such a sight, though whether the music was made as a direct response to this occasion is not clear. Indeed, it is not clear even if the music itself was recorded in Poland.
Like most of KÃ¼chen’s solo work Warzawa is both a neat little piece of well constructed improvisation and a remarkable display of technical ability and discovery. I have been fortunate enough to have been able to see Martin play live a number of times in recent years and I am always at a loss to figure out how he makes many of his sounds even when he is stood in front of me, so via the further removed experience of listening to a CD the task is impossible. His compositional brain though, alongside this ability to conjure up all kinds of sounds make him the great musician he is, and while once again there are better solo pieces to be heard from KÃ¼chen elsewhere Warzawa is a solid track well worth hearing, and a very fitting accompaniment to the Guthrie piece.
Available from Compost and Height, limited edition of fifty copies only, grab one while you can.