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Monday 27th September

September 27, 2010

mfWell working overnight last night absolutely killed me. I was home by seven this morning, but then promptly slept for nine hours, waking with a heavy, throbbing headache and an aching body. Trying then to write tonight, both for here and elsewhere has been a struggle and only a regular supply of strong coffee and an open window keeping the room really quite cold has kept me going. A brief review tonight then, of a freely downloadable piece of music from, the excellent internet community and storage space that has this year celebrated its tenth anniversary. The piece is a live recording of one of my favourite improvised music pairings, the duo of Radu Malfatti’s trombone and Klaus Filip’s Llooop laptop. The recording was made in August this year at the Mulhouse Festival in France.

I have seen this pairing play as a duo three times, in three different countries and in three different settings. Although I enjoyed all of the occasions, the two most successful ones were each held in very small, intimate rooms. Some music, and in particular very very quiet music such as that played by Filip and Malfatti, requires a certain atmosphere and sense of place. The third performance I saw, at Glasgow’s Instal09 Festival took place in one of the larger rooms within The Arches venue, in front of around two hundred people, many of which were possibly quite new to the music. This environment, while obviously great to witness in many ways, didn’t do the duo many favours. Their extremely discrete music was lost in a sea of opening and closing doors, creaking chairs, barely suppressed chatter and persistent camera shutters. While this background of small sounds does in many ways provide a nice base into which the music is subsumed, it can be a little too much if allowed to get out of hand.

The Mulhouse recording seems to find a nice balance, despite sounding like it was recorded in a pretty big, echoey hall in front of a sizeable audience. there are coughs, distant crashes etc, but not too many, enough to colour the negative spaces of the music a finely textured grey, but easy enough tot distinguish from the music. What isn’t so immediately obvious, is where the music actually begins. The recording opens with a round of applause, presumably welcoming the musicians onto the stage. A shuffling, muted atmosphere follows as most of the audience sit quiet, but it is actually around six minutes before the musicians start playing. In the meantime there are bits of low conversation between the two of them, and some three or four minutes in a little series of clearly played short notes from Malfatti, which I would imagine that listeners less familiar with his music would mistake for part of the performance rather than the tuning up exercises I suspect they actually were.

The point that the musicians start playing then is blurred and difficult to pin down. the audience, seemingly bored with waiting after their initial fall into silence when the duo came on stage beging to fidget and shuffle about progressively loudly five or six minutes into the recording, but a very thin sinetone appears from Filip amongst all of this, and only when it reaches a level that it really stands out above the hubbub do the audience catch on and begin to silence themselves again. In my head I can imagine the situation. The duo likely sat very still and quiet before they made any sound, and Klaus Filip’s movement on stage is virtually unnoticeable, so its likely the tone began with just the slightest of gestures at the graphics pad he uses to control his sounds, after which he and Malfatti probably just sat and listened to the tone unfold in the room.

Listening to this myself tonight as I tried to write proved impossible. The amount of concentration required to really absorb what is happening on this recording meant that, for me at least it became impossible to do anything but listen. I switched off the light, laid back on my bed and played the CD again from the start, volume turned up high. Listening like this, absorbing the sounds and atmosphere of the room in France during the spaces in the music, picking out Malfatti’s tiny growls and hisses from the rest, extracting from Filip’s tones from the hum of the room is a wonderful experience. As a duo, these guys make demanding music at the best of times. You need to spend time with, and in the music to get the best out of it. This feels like an even more oblique, hard to penetrate set than any I have heard before, but the process of doing so, picking your way through the sounds heard, figuring out what is coming from the speakers, what is coming from my room here as I lay quietly, and then figuring out how much of what appears on the CD was deliberately placed there by the musicians is a real joy.

On nights like tonight, when my brain and body feel equally frazzled and everything feels a bit much, just switching off everything but for my ears and taking in a recording like this is the perfect medicine. Great music, and congratulations to Klingt for ten years of making music like this available to us for nothing. Find the recording here.

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