CD Reviews

Tuesday 27th September

September 28, 2011

Increasingly, as well as wondering about whether a piece of music is improvised or composed, I find myself trying to work out if music was recorded live by a group of musicians, or if it has been put together at a distance, through file sharing technology etc… Due to his geographic placement way down in Dunedin, New Zealand, Lee Noyes has partaken, often very successfully in various “online” projects. So, when a new disc of his arrives here, and nothing is clearly stated on the CD sleeve, I am left wondering, not because i value one way of working over another, but how a piece of music is put together does tend to change my view on how to distribute credit, even if it makes no difference to whether I like it or not.

This new disc then, a Cdr/download on Noyes’ own IdealState label, is a trio release by a group named LUX, who consist of Noyes, working here with ‘processed-piano and sampler’ rather than his usual percussion alongside, (in some way) Jérome Poirier, and electric cellist, who, perhaps tellingly, lives in Paris, and Phil Brownlee, a violinist from Wellington, NZ. The album, titled White & Red, was apparently composed, mixed and mastered by Noyes between October 2010 and April 2011. All of these details certainly lead me to assume then that this project was completed at a distance, via the exchange of sound files. The thing is, and the reason why this is important (or perhaps not important at all) is that I really wouldn’t have been able to tell if I heard this music blind.

White & Red is really good, easily the most interesting and enjoyable thing I have heard with Noyes name to it yet. The music consists of a neat balance between bowed strings, often quite obtusely so, with grating, squirming sounds as common as clear notes, and electronic sounds, that presumably are the much mutated, processed output of the piano Noyes is credited with, though again, if I was hearing this blind I wouldn’t have identified a piano in there anywhere. The sounds are generally quite minimal, often harsh, sinetones, buzzing, and fizzing squeals as much as anything else, though some taps, clicks and pops are spread about as well. They are carefully placed behind and around the groaning strings, often in little segments, with little interludes of white space between them. A few wilder sections aside, its mostly quite minimal, with the sounds from all instruments very simple as well as quite brittle. Nothing here really sounds improvised, but oddly it doesn’t sound particularly composed either. I know this makes no sense, but while it does feel like all of the elements here are happening simultaneously, they don’t seem to be responding to one another, or working from a single score.

This is a curious animal then. The real intrigue, and for me at least, pleasure in this music stems from the way the strings and piano/electronics crash against one another. While the violin and cello never really veer towards classical territory, their sounds, albeit with some amplification carry a lot of historical baggage. Heard here in their own little soliloquies, they suggest romanticism on occasions, and harsh atonalism elsewhere, but offset against the more bleak, inhuman sounds that Noyes adds to them this sense of history feels challenged, and the strings feel like they don’t belong here, but having got here, they soldier on regardless. The end result is a constantly very tense, angular work that succeeds through its own awkwardness and ability to sound unlike much else I have heard in a while. If I have a criticism, its that its all a bit long, clocking in at a fraction under seventy minutes. A shorter, tighter composition would have personally suited me better, as over this longer duration it all feels a bit too spread out and any sense of wider structure gets lost along the way, but overall I enjoyed White & Red quite a bit, a well thought out, unusual and yet effective combination of sounds. Its available as a limited Cdr, or a low-priced lossless download from the IdealState website.

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