What a horrible day. It started badly when I woke with a heat-induced headache, then went from bad to worse when my car failed its MOT test, meaning I need to go and buy another one this coming weekend, the heatwave got worse, and the air everywhere is ridiculously thick and humid and my mood throughout the day went from bad to worse. Tonight I’ve tried to relax, but I generally haven’t been allowed to, and now I am sat in still very humid conditions with sweat running down my face as the headphones I have been wearing to listen to music without disturbing others are just too big and heavy for this horrible weather.
Anyway the CD that has the pleasure of being written about by myself in such a fine mood is a solo release on the Insubordinations label by Jonas Kocher, the (I think?) Swiss accordion player who also appeared on the ///grape skin release that I recently wrote about here. Now I’ve never been a big fan of the accordion when played ‘properly’ in folk music or similar- I just don’t like that wheezing, grating whine they make. The role of the accordion in this tiny end of music we follow here though is quite different, and there is a surprisingly strong tradition of the instrument in improvised music, with names like Alfredo Costa Monteiro and Luca Venitucci springing immediately to mind. Once you find a new set of sounds for the instrument though, as Kocher does here, you then have to do something with them, and the danger for any improvised solo release, on any instrument, but particularly one with the inbuilt limitations of the accordion, is that technique and the search for interesting sounds can take precedent over interesting musical content. Kocher, much to his credit, avoids this trap on this release, his second solo disc, named, simply Solo.
Amongst the mountains of as-yet-unheard CDs I have sat here there is a copy of Kocher’s first solo, named Materials and released a couple of years back on Creative Sources. While I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t heard it yet, when I recently read Simon Reynell’s brief interview with Kocher it was noted that he also used electronics to augment the sound of the accordion on that release. This new disc dispenses with the electronics, so limiting Kocher’s materials, but perhaps bringing focus and simplicity to the music. Certainly these elements shine through for me on Solo. There is just the one track here, lasting thirty-five minutes in its entirety, though it does flick through a succession of clear ‘sections’ that might easily have been separated to form different tracks. The first thing that hits me about the music is the sense of control and restraint placed upon it. In general, the music is very quiet and contemplative, made up of many carefully held sounds, sometimes tonal, often hissing, murmuring and vaguely electronic sounding. In the same interview, and also coincidentally in my review of ///grape skin, the sounds Kocher makes do resemble electronics in places. Sometimes what we hear is clearly a wind instrument, as we hear puffs and bellows and escaping air often, but also there are tiny pattering sounds, perfectly clean sinewave-like tones and scribbled bits of abstraction that sound like anything but an accordion. There’s a wonderful moment in the piece that sort of signals the start of an imaginary ‘track two’ for me when, after a period of low rumbles and groaning something strikes a metallic part of the accordion, creating a momentary ping, out of which a series of high pitched notes appear, a complete shift from what had come before but the perfect answer to the percussive strike.
The aspect of this CD that I like a lot is the sense of restraint and careful placement of sounds into silences that follows right through it. Any temptation to take the longer track format and build the music up into a more noisy, busy beast is ignored, and if anything the piece becomes more sparse and the sounds used feel more considered and carefully chosen as it goes by. With three minutes of the track remaining everything has dissolved down to the thinnest of high tones slithering past, disappearing into several seconds of charged silence before the next appears, seemingly quieter, yet still impactful and full of presence.
Kocher seems to really meditate on the potential of his instrument, but also there is a sense of real purity to this music, as if, having cast aside the electronics Kocher has undertaken a path of really understanding his instrument, finding a voice with it that can truly project his feelings, worrying less about twisting sounds into new forms and instead just working to find expression with a limited, but very subtle sound palette. Far from being a catalogue of techniques, Solo feels thoroughly human. As the abstract expressionists stripped own their tools so as to work with direct, emotive images that shouted little but whispered a great deal, so Kocher seems to follow a similar course here. This is a fine thirty-five minutes of music by a less familiar name released on a small, untrendy but fine label with a great track record. What’s more, as well as being available as a CD in a very nice oversized card sleeve it is also free to download from here. Take a listen, and if you enjoy it I recommend picking up the hard copy and supporting this fine little operation.
There, my mood has improved so much after writing that….!