CD Reviews

Thursday 7th November

January 7, 2010

SnakeFiguresOrchestraIt snowed heavily overnight here again, so although the concert went ahead in London tonight it really made no sense for me to try and get there. Trains were being cancelled left right and centre so there was a risk of being stranded in London when I have to be up for work early tomorrow, plus quite frankly the journey wouldn’t be easy when there is still the best part of two foot of snow in places here and tonight’s local temperatures are apparently the lowest since 1982. I do my best to get to as many gigs as I can, and I’m really disappointed to miss this one, but I’m also not a complete idiot. Besides, Julie said she would kill me if I stepped outside the door 😉

So I spent the day indoors, wrapped up warm, clearing my inbox and listening to a few CDs. I still have plenty of Cathnor related tasks to clear up tonight as well, so will keep tonight’s review brief. The disc I have been listening to is the first from a clutch of releases sent to me by Ignaz Schick from his Berlin based Zarek label; a little three inch disc named, intriguingly Cooks and Devils and credited to Snake Figures Arkestra, who are Schick (Turntables, objects, Organ pipes, bows, electronics) and Marcel Turkowsky (modified walkmen, realia objects, memory box and tapes). There are no typos in that list of Turkowsky’s instrumentation. Any idea what realia objects are? Or a memory box for that matter?

The disc contains just short of twenty minutes of pretty harsh, aggressive electroacoustic improvisation, recorded live, probably not with all that many mics as that slightly distant, echoey feel pervades the recording, but it works quite well with this music. At the heart of the music there is a bed of textural sounds, rotating scrapes, twittering electronics, something droning in a kind of bowed metal manner, constantly changing but always present. On top of this come and go a far more unusual array of incidental sounds, quite violent sounding attacks as if someone is scraping heavy metal objects about, and odd, queasily off-pitch sounds that might come from anywhere but could be warped tape. While the music is mostly very busily active and continually threatens to tip into complete noise-based chaos it never does and throughout the piece the improvisational dialogue can be followed, though exactly who is making which sound is never clear.

I feel the need to draw comparisons here to other musicians to give you some sense of what this Cooks and Devils sounds like but its not so easy. Maybe Gert-Jan Prins crossed with Will Guthrie and Günter Müller amplified up to eleven. The music itself can only really be described as ugly, but that is not necessarily a criticism. Listening throughout is a rough ride, overloaded fuseboxes meets wrecking yard in full swing in places. There are lulls in the storm though, when things tend to slip into rustling, clattering percussive mode. I get the feeling this might have been a great gig to have attended, as the music suggests (for some reason I can’t quite explain) that a dramatic visual spectacle might have been on show. As it is, its a gritty, energetic twenty minutes that kept me engaged through its many twists and turns and layers of unidentifiably curious sounds. I’m glad its just a 3″ release, as I’m not sure I could handle an hour or so of this kind of thing, but then I’m a sensitive soul. Good stuff anyway, recorded in 2008 released sometime last year and one likely to go completely unnoticed, so I’m pleased to write about it here.

Comments (3)

  • Genmaicha

    January 8, 2010 at 7:59 am

    Electroacoustic improvisation? I thought this “somewhat non-descriptive” term was an “effectively useless and somewhat unfair and unhelpful generalisation”.


  • Richard Pinnell

    January 8, 2010 at 8:59 am

    I can tell that (thankfully) you haven’t been involved in the years of debate on this subject Genmaicha! There is of course nothing wrong with the term electroacostic improvisation. It describes music that happens to be improvised and electroacoustic and obviously it would be ridiculous to have any problem with that.

    The problem is, EAI and electroacoustic improvisation do not mean the same thing. That is exactly the problem! Don’t ask me to try and explain… If you really feel the need to know go to jazz corner or I hate music, run a search for the term EAI and don’t plan on doing anything useful for the next few days!!

  • Genmaicha

    January 8, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Yes, in the words of Toyah Willcox: “it’th a mythtery!”

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