CD Reviews

Friday 16th September

September 16, 2011

Blimey I’m tired. Anyway… tonight’s CD is interesting because it made made me think for a moment about my own preconceptions about music, and how they affect how I listen. The New Jersey based guitarist and laptopper Barry Chabala has over recent years been involved in a number of projects that have been created at long distance using exchanged soundfiles. Such projects with the likes of Daniel Jones and Jez riley French Spring to mind. However when I put this CD into the player for the first time a few days ago, given that it is a duo recording with Anne Guthrie, a musician that lives not so far from Barry in New York, I assumed it would be a work recorded in the traditional, both people in one place at a time manner. The recording, named Preston Hollow essentially features three elements- Guthrie’s charming, semi-melodic French horn, a constant repetitive twittering of birds, and thin, whispery sinetones from what I think is Chabala’s guitar treated mainly with an eBow. The three parts perhaps feature equally predominantly, and so I naturally set about, having jumped to the (incorrect) conclusion that because they lived close together they must have recorded together, wondering how these three elements had been arranged together, who was responsible for the recording of the birdsong? I ruled out the idea that they may have recorded outside simply because Chabala’s sound is too close, too warm, it sounds like a studio recording.

As it turns out, Guthrie recorded herself playing a solo horn improvisation out in a wood in a plea called Preston Hollow in New York state. I had already googled the title beforehand to try and work out what it referenced but only received a long stream of links to a town of the same name in Texas. I am not sure if Guthrie’s recording was made specifically for this project with Chabala or not, but either way the guitarist then later added his own response to the music later, so improvising along with the recording of Guthrie playing outside. At first I read only the website of Barry’s label; Roeba Records to find out more about the release, and there nothing is given away about how the disc was put together, but further exploration Of Guthrie’s personal site revealed more, and I have to say that while I hadn’t quite figured out the release beforehand, I was very surprised to discover how the disc was made. It just goes to show how our ears and brains are affected by the knowledge we bring to music before it is heard. I had the bulk of what I wanted to say in a review planned in my head, but when I discovered how the CD was made I had to scrap all of it. This is all, of course, a good thing. Its great to be surprised by music.

So how does it sound? Well the structural premise to this release is very simple. Mostly Guthrie plays deep, almost melodic fractions of slow tunes on her horn. you never quite are able to identify a melody but the little bits we hear, groups of two or three notes pressed together at a time maybe, but these sounds, alternating with smaller, wheezing parts, all very well recorded mix with the constant chatter of birds right from the off. Chabal’s additions are on the whole every subtle, often barely audible, often thick and syrupy, but they sound nothing like any traditional guitar, and resemble laptop synthesis quite often, though Guthrie’s site assures us that a guitar is used. again, if I hadn’t read this I’d have guessed at a more electronic source of the sounds. There is a simplicity to the music, but also a strange sense of naivety, which I don’t mean as a criticism, but Guthrie’s playing in particular feels almost childlike, as notes waver about a little and the odd little fractions of melody resemble some kind of simple practice tune a child might be taught. Chabala’s additions compliment the tones held by Guthrie well, and often they dissolve away so we almost forget they are there, mixing with the birdcalls, which never give up on reminding us of their presence. Its a lovely little recording anyway, perhaps one to file under charmingly enticing rather than intensely purposeful. I now think they should record another album, this time with Barry sat outside somewhere and Anne adding her part retrospectively.

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