Wednesday 24th FebruaryFebruary 24, 2010
Back in London today. Not for a concert this time, but instead for work, and the first half of the world’s most tedious training course that I have to return for the second half of (and a formal exam) tomorrow. Joy. Traveling in and out of London mid-rush hour also makes listening to music on headphones a nigh-on impossible task as well. Thankfully I managed to get home early enough to spend some proper time with a CD this evening. The backlog of items I still have to write about is getting no smaller, so I aim to try and get through as many of them as I can over the next couple of weeks.
This evening I have been listening (and watching) a new disc named Broken Tree by one of the musicians I saw live on Monday, Paul Abbott, in a duo with Daichi Yoshikawa. I say listening and watching because the disc is a dual format release, containing a twenty-five minute long audio track and also a short film that is included as an .mov file. Abbott and Yoshikawa are both no strangers to these pages, being attendees of the Prevost Weekly Workshop and regular performers in London. The recording included here was captured live at a gig at CafÃ© Oto back in April of last year, a concert I attended, enjoyed a lot and wrote about here. Reading back over my review of the gig in question, and then listening to the music here its hard to relate the particular events and moments I write about to the sounds presented on the disc. I wrote about contact mics taped to plimsolls, and a digital watch suddenly going off. Although it is easy to pick out these moments in the music, I wouldn’t have guessed their precise character if I hadn’t seen the concert. Separated from the visual side of things the music of these two engaging musicians to watch has to stand up on its own, but I really think it does. I released a CD involving Abbott last year myself, and while I do think his music makes a lot more sense if you are able to relate it to the visual spectacle it is still effective without.
It is worth mentioning here that this music, by two of the Weekly Workshop’s most regular and committed members is very much their own music. It sounds nothing like Eddie Prevost, or AMM, and while the ethics of improvisation are fully engaged in this music these two are living proof that there really isn’t a London “sound” right now. If I didn’t know these two musicians beforehand I would have guessed that they were American or maybe Korean. The truth is I wouldn’t have had a clue.
So how does the music sound? well both play electronics of the rough and ready variety, Yoshikawa works with feedback, mostly generated from the simple yet skilled manipulation of microphones held close to an upturned speaker. Abbott on this occasion mixed electronics with percussive elements, and his raw, thoroughly kinetic and alive music is linked directly to physical movements, things dropped onto metal sheets, a watch thrown into a brass prayer bowl etc… The music has a very unpolished, ragged edge to it, but all of the sounds work well together, and they have clearly been placed together, moulded and twisted into one whole. For all of the non-traditional use of instrumentation this is still improvised music in its purest collaborative form. The recording works best played quite loud, so that the drama in the music comes across with full impact. While the two musicians use similar tools for creating their sounds, and their output is quite similar in character they can easily be separated by the ear. Even if you don’t know which set of sounds belong to which musician it is still clear that there are two musical voices entangled here.
In that review of the live show last year I commented that Abbott’s digital watch went off half the way through the set, and he took it off and threw it into the prayer bowl. I said at the time I didn’t know if this was orchestrated in any way or the result of complete chance, though I leaned towards the latter. Listening now I still feel the same, but the way this element of the sound is brought into proceedings is seamless. Certainly If I hadn’t been at the show I would never have known. Ironically, this musical part of Broken Tree is listed as audio, no video, for obvious reasons, though I have my own video of the event running in my head.
The second part of the disc, the filmed part is subsequently described as video, no audio, because, as the description suggests, Â this little two and a half minute short has no sound. I really like the film. Although made by both Abbott and Yoshikawa the film portrays elements of Abbott’s film and design work I recognise and enjoy. The film is shot in colour, but its subjects are black and white naturally, with only the titles set against a shocking red background. The film consists of brief glimpses of partly abstract elements, cutting away momentarily to a black screen between each change. There are close-up shots of some kind of granules vibrating on a white surface, a sumptuous splodge of black oil paint, shots of something illegible painted roughly in black marker pen across a sheet of card, a typewritten sheet of broken up text with handwritten notes added. This film was shot during the daytime in late June last year, again at CafÃ© Oto, so documenting two meetings of the musicians at a place where both have been known to work from time to time, one during the day, one during the night. Oto is a place I do associate very strongly with these musicians. When I began the design work for the release I did with Paul and Grundik Kasyansky last year I began with a photo I took inside the venue, that Paul later developed in his own inimitable way as his contribution to the design. It feels as if the venue is important for this release as well, providing a backdrop both visually and aurally as well as a source of inspiration in itself. Certainly a disc to pick up if my tales of recent London concerts are of interest to you, but the best news of all? The release is also available here as a free download, both audio and video from Phil Julian’s excellent Authorised Version label. Go get it.
A mention here for a new blog on the block, named A Crow with no Mouth, written by that purveyor of good taste Jesse Goin. Its good to have another regular place to go and read, particularly when it is written by someone of so many fine words. In one of his early posts Jesse makes Afternoon Tea sound like a far better album than I ever remember it being. The sign of a good review is one that makes you want to either hear the music or avoid it like the plague. I will dust of my old copy of AT for sure very soon.