Monday 5th JulyJuly 6, 2010
Much better again today, virtually bouncing along in fact, which was a good job seeing as I worked from 9AM to 9PM today. Looking forward to a week off soon anyway. Tonight I listened to a CDr that may or may not be still available, seeing as it was recently issued in an edition of just 50 copies, of which only “a small handful” were made available for sale. The disc is the latest release on Jez riley French’s lovingly crafted Engraved Glass label and is a full length CDr that contains eleven realisations by various artists of a series of four photographic scores by Mr French himself. A photographic score, in this case, consists of one or more photographs coupled with a few words, nothing more. An example, Isolde Score No.2 is shown below, the others can be viewed here. Before going on to discuss the music here I should mention that while I consider Jez riley French to be a very good musician, I often wonder if he might actually be an even better photographer, as his ability to find images of great beauty in the every day detail around us is extremely acute. These photographic scores in particular then are dedicated, and I think influenced by a friend of Jez’ named Isolde. he then sent the scores to a number of musicians to respond to them intuitively. The results are all quite different, and often very beautiful.
The first realisation is actually a duo piece recorded by riley French himself alongside Daniel Jones. I could be wrong, but I think this piece was recorded earlier this year in Brighton, the day after I had spent some time with both musicians in the town. Knowing the relaxed and pleasant mood of the musicians on that day, and the music they had made the night before, I can’t help but find reflections of these elements in this music, which I like a great deal. At more than eighteen minutes in length this piece is the longest on the disc. It moves from very quietly fizzing white noise into progressively more bulky abstract areas- feedback screeches, distressed metal sounds and other amplified pops and crackles come into play, all staying in generally muted areas, but with plenty going on only just under the surface. Its all improvised live rather than composed retrospectively, and a nice balance between restraint and aggression is struck as the music shifts between soft clouds of white noise and sudden thumps of electronic distortion. The piece ends with a series of jarring blasts as something rattles in the background and vibrating metal wails. Nice stuff.
There then follows four short pieces for solo electric guitar by Barry Chabala, each one responding in turn to one of the four Isolde Scores. These miniatures are quite different to the opening track, each a collection of smears of pastel coloured guitar formed into small clusters of partly blurred notes. They have a kind of late night, bluesy feel to them, but filtered through one effects pedal or another into a kind of slightly removed haze that reflects the visual impact of the scores’ photography nicely. There then follows the highlight of the disc for me, a response to the first score by the composer Michel Pisaro. The score in question presents three small images alongside a few words. So Pisaro’s piece is divided into three parts, each a heavy, hollow sounding grey rush, the identity of which I cannot ascertain, into which field recordings of birds can be heard, different each time. Each of the parts is separated by a silence, the first just a few seconds, the second maybe three times as long. That’s it, the entire track clocks in four and a half minutes but leaves a lasting impression through both its beauty and its simplicity.
The seventh track on the album is a playing of the second score and is credited to the Coastguard Allstars, who turn out to be the quintet of riley Frnch, Martin Archer, Steven Chase, Philip Thomas and Herve Perez. their piece here is the closest to a traditional improv setting, a twelve minute purring, whistling and sometimes roaring sax, understated percussion, maybe a guitar? and I’m not sure what else, perhaps tapework or some type? It kind of meanders along a bit like a slowed down SME, without really grabbing me in any particular way. Perfectly OK improv, maybe no more than that. There then follows a nervous, tetchy piece by someone named Anastasia Chrysanthakopoulou that apparently responds to all four scores. There is that background swirl of hollow noise again, and odd clanks and buzzes come and go just under the top layers of the music, but much of what we hear resembles somebody scraping and rustling something around a contact microphone, so we hear sudden leaps of gritty sound and the boom of a small sensitive microphone knocked about. This piece is OK, if a little pedestrian in what it seems to attempt to do, and even at only seven and a half minutes in length it gets a bit boring quite quickly.
The Isolde Scores’ ninth track seems to be by Marie Colbert, another new new name to me, who responds to score no.2 with a track that is called, quite beautifully “her light dappled upon” This piece, vaguely of a brooding dark ambient nature blends what feels like heavy organ chords together with small scratchy snippets of human voice and a repeated creakily swaying sample of what might be backwards playing music. It all has quite a haunting, old school horror feel to it, a sense of analogue production values coupled with a vaguely sinister feel to the chosen sounds. Quite a nice piece if not in a style I would usually listen to often. There then comes a two minute response to all four scores by the percussionist Greg Stuart, who works here by multitracking tiny percussion sounds into a brief, highly detailed drone not entirely unlike a short fragment of his realisation of Pisaro’s A wave and waves score. Here the brevity seems to work against the music slightly, it seems to have gone before it begins, not really allowing us to sink into the layers of texture for long enough, but then I guess the photos in the scores only give us tiny glimpses of something bigger, so maybe Stuart’s piece is actually a very fitting response. The closing track, by philip thomas is (I think) played on a piano, but the thick, deep sinetones that dominate the music try and point elsewhere. Whether they were created in post production, or with some kind of live computer manipulation I don’t really know, but this sounds like more than just eBows placed on strings. Beyond these heavy tones there are rattles. rings and scrapes, some that sound like looping samples. I may have got this completely wrong and there may be no piano at work at all here, which would be disappointing as the music is quite affecting in its stark, almost confrontational simplicity and I’d like to think it was created, at least initially using acoustic means, but however it is made the track really gets into your head and bounces about inside as the incessant tone gets heavier and louder.
The Isolde Scores is a nice project that is quite different in its inception and execution and has created a good album with a few exceptional moments. I have no idea if you are able to get hold of a copy still. Originally I think it could only be purchased alongside another purchase from the Engraved Glass catalogue, and there may well be no copies remaining, but if you are able to grab a copy I recommend that you do, and pretty quickly.