Sunday 20th FebruaryFebruary 21, 2011
I seem to be hearing a lot of drone-based improvisation right now. A few of the newer releases I have been playing in recent days could be described as such. This is a difficult area of the music to create interesting work in. I have never been a huge fan of drones for the sake of drones. When they work well, as in say, the music of Eliane Radigue, it is because so much is there inside the music to listen to, so perhaps although the music forms one long continuum it is made up of many small events. Whether I enjoy drone-based improv then will naturally depend on how much there is going on in there, and in the case of collaborative improvisation, the interplay between the musicians in this kind of music, although aesthetically different is still vitally important.
So for the last couple of days I have been listening a lot to Slugabed, the duo of Nikos Veliotis and Klaus Filip released on the Hibari label. In many ways this duo is a great match-up. Both musicians utilise extended sounds in subtle, beautifully balanced ways in other groupings, so their collaboration here perhaps seemed a meeting of minds, though also maybe the similar approaches of either musician could be just too similar to work? No need to worry on that score, as the music on Slugabed fits with my ideal form of droning improv perfectly, a constantly shifting, evolving blend of acoustically quite different sounds, the smoothed, honey-thick sinetones from Klaus Filip’s laptop and the richly textured grain of Veliotis’ cello.
The music of Slugabed (a fitting title for this languid music, my dictionary describing it thus:” a lazy person who stays in bed long after the usual time for arising”) was recorded, according to the only information on the sleeve that otherwise just includes a sketch of Veliotis, in “Athens, on a lazy Sunday, 1st of March”. It also would appear that the music was recorded outside, or at least with a microphone placed outdoors, as at various points throughout the hour-long, uninterrupted improvisation birdsong can be heard in the background of the recording, and freshly picked olives can be smelt in a nearby bowl. Or maybe I imagined that last bit. The music then is languorous, going wherever it goes slowly, sounds billowing softly into heavy clouds rather than ever arriving with any attack. The weaving together of textures is what gives the music much of its impact, Filip’s sheer, clean tones sliding through Veliotis’ imperfect growls and purrs, the two sometimes becoming one, but not for long, so much enjoyment can be taken from untangling these two threads as you listen.
This music isn’t really a drone. Both musicians change the sounds they make regularly, and while all of their contributions fit within a relatively narrow palette it is the subtle shifts, the changes in tone from Filip, the degree of raw abrasion versus conventional notes from Veliotis that keeps the music continually changing. Close listening reveals the musical conversation, on this occasion a laid-back, if occasionally heated discussion tempered by the situation in which it was recorded. These are two thoroughly experienced, musically articulate improvisers working together to find a subtle balance in their music, uncompromisingly stripped down material pieced together into complex shapes and patterns. The appearance of the birdsong centres the music in the real world, reminding us that what we are hearing is just two friends making music together on a Sunday afternoon, the bow placed against strings, fingers on a computer keyboard.
Slugabed is at once both soft and abrasive, simple and complex, lazy and inspired. It feels like an exercise in bringing together two elements that flow together, slide across each other like oil and water, but never merge, instead moving in tandem to form patterns, shapes and colours that wouldn’t exist in either element alone. This is a fine CD, wonderfully subtle, deceptively involving and the perfect music for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Because my scanner is temporarily out of action, and because I can’t find a large enough image of the sleeve on the ‘net, the above pic is an iPhone photo, which I will replace tomorrow.