CD Reviews

Thursday 21st July

July 21, 2011

Tonight a new CD on the Absinth label, a duo from Craig Hilton and Tomas Phillips named le goût de néant. The disc consists of four pieces, the first being a piece for solo guzheng, the Chinese zither-like instrument, performed by Hilton. The following three pieces are compositions created by the duo with computers, using the material recorded in the first piece as a starting point, so treating the sounds and adding further layers on top.

The opening piece then is a kind of ethereal, drifting, essentially ‘ambient’ work made up of many slowly, softly, wailing string sounds, perhaps bowed, perhaps vibrated using an eBow or similar. The track has an almost ritualistic, semi choral feel to it that reminds me partly of Monteverdi, partly of Brian Eno, and at its best moments of Mark Wastell’s droning tam tam pieces. It’s OK, veering a little too close to the new age end of the spectrum for comfort and for my tastes, but somehow, like Wastell’s work, retaining a certain edge, a slight remove from the prettier end of things that keeps the work interesting. The second piece then takes this set of sounds and forms a new piece which is more than just a filtering of the first track. Though elements remain the piece opens with a low hiss before quiet, washed out remnants of the guzheng amass in the background. The drifting, vaguely pulsing nature of the layered sounds reminds me of tides slowly lapping up on a shore, images that again reflect a perhaps less purposeful side to the music, all very beautiful and full of soft, sepia-toned colours but maybe lacking the grit and tension that I prefer in music of this kind.

The third piece brings a little more to the table, opening with an odd little burst of chinking and clattering samples for a second or two before The gushing reappears, this time mixed with a more urgent passage of shifting, shunting digital sounds and what sounds like piano chords submerged under the rest, though this may just be an illusion formed through the layering of sounds in quick succession. This track has much more to it, and while the radiant swells of treated strings remain present throughout most of the track the surface clicks and cuts add something extra. The closing piece then steps back again, with the strings now just the faintest of deep bassy rumbles, very much in a Thomas Koner, isolationist vein, This distant echo of the guzheng is very beautiful, but just when you begin to wonder if it is going to go anywhere or just fizzle out some small, closely miked cracks and crackles appear, and gradually the track blossoms out into more hissing and squelching sounds, before they all snap away near the end, leaving just the dark, distant glow of the guzheng remains to see the track out.

Le goût de néant is perhaps an easy disc to dismiss, but seems to hold more weight than is at first apparent. It deals in an area of sound that feels like it belongs with other musical sensibilities, the ambient crowd, and yet the opening improvisation is a highly skilled, assured piece of finely crafted improv with a disguised, but always present edge, and the pieces that follow never sip entirely into anything comfortable, always offering something slightly left of centre each time the music seems to be wandering into Harold Budd land. Its certainly a release that will appeal to a particular set of listeners, and as Brian said in his recent review, it could well provide an opening into other areas of music for those usually interested in more ambient electronic composition. There’s plenty I would prefer to change here, but this isn’t music without merit by any means.

Comments (4)

  • JrF

    July 22, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    the chinese zither is a guzheng – I wonder why Craig hasn’t given it its correct name ? slightly worries me that. They’re nice instruments – I used one on the first tierce disc – but tricky to travel with ! Zithers in general are very nice instruments to play in focused improvisation – something about the construction & smallness of the sound. I think playing a zither (german & english box zither) in a live improvisation for the first time back in the mid 1990’s marked a turning point for me.

    Harold Budd has made some great albums – ‘pavillion of dreams’ is a corker !

  • Richard Pinnell

    July 22, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    Jez Craig did give it the correct name, and I did use the correct name later in the review. However, I installed OSX Lion yesterday, and it contains an automatic spellchecking thing that works across all of Safari and that managed to change the word gushing to gushing without me noticing. Thanks for pointing it out, I have now fixed it.

    • Richard Pinnell

      July 22, 2011 at 11:07 pm

      It did it again in my comment here! guzheng, not gushing!!!

  • JrF

    July 22, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    haha – ah, the wonders of these systems to tell us how to spell things :)

Leave a Reply