Cassette Reviews

Sunday 23rd October

October 23, 2011

The final tape in this little series of five then is another on the Windsmeasure label, again packaged wonderfully in thick letterpresses card as a limited edition of a hundred copies. The tape then features two of my favourite musicians, Angharad Davies, who plays violin but also claps her hands, while Taku Unami only claps. Perhaps not surprisingly the tape is named Two Hands, and perhaps not surprisingly it will certain spilt its audience…

Unami and Davies have not released any music together before, but have been playing together, with long geographically imposed breaks in between meetings for many years. The two recordings here were made in the UK, one in Glasgow and the other in London, I think in March 2009. By the end of the year, when Unami revisited these shores the duo had moved on again from the clapping and violin methods used here, such is the fluid nature of the collaboration and the searching musicality of the two musicians. This tape then is full of silence. As it is a professionally made, relatively new tape the quality is fine and the most distracting noise I hear while listening is the sound of the tape mechanism turning slowly. So there are no problems with the quality of sound this time. The music then, is a different nut to crack altogether.

From the outset we hear Davies’ violin- familiar, controlled, mixing near silent tiny squeaks with fully bowed strokes and plucked strings. Her contribution ranges between little sections of repetitive sounds and other, usually single, firm sounds that form little signposts in the music. Unami just claps, sometimes in little clusters, sometimes louder claps standing alone. The general volume of his contributions is low, but he does alter the intensity from time to time. There is a wrong sense of the elemental to it all, just one piece of wood with attached strings added to the duo to make sounds, otherwise everything is so simple. The improvisations are sparse, slow, the pace often dictated by Davies’ use of repetition, and the silences rarely go much beyond six or seven seconds in length. The first side of the tape clocks in at a fraction over half an hour, and these thirty minutes are chillingly still. If you approach the music really wanting to connect with it, ignoring questions about the instrumentation used (or not used) and you just sit and listen, then a wonderful experience can be had. I find myself seeing the music as thin whispery spider webs, held together with the barest of elements, the intersections and nodes highlighted by little moments of sound. The web is very much a collaborative creation however, a simple structure but built in the moment by two people using the barest of materials. In places Davies’ violin is brilliant- when she plays as quiet as possible the tone is barely even there, with little fractions of sound peaking out as the bow sticks, like glimmers of sunlight caught on the web…

I remember seeing Unami play around this time, and his use of clapping annoyed a number of people- its supposed lack of musicality a cause for concern. His performance in Glasgow at the time with Sean Meehan split the sizeable audience right down the middle. For some he wasted the opportunity to make music ‘properly, but to me his switch to clapping, such a traditionally, supposedly unmusical approach was more than just an aesthetic choice- he also chose to break with what was expected from a musician sat before an audience. This approach is a continual theme of Unami’s work, and this tape, which I think might be the only recorded example of this period of his music is a document along that journey.

Side two, recorded in Glasgow, (I think somewhere in the Arches building that housed most of the Instal festival Unami was playing at, because the familiar sound of trains passing overhead can be heard) sees Davies put the violin down and make the music even more simple by also just clapping. While I miss the wonderful musicality of the violin, and if pushed I would say that I prefer the first side here, there is something quite charming and again elemental about this music. The clapping is mostly spread wide out, even more so than on Side 1, but every so often things coalesce into little clusters of pattering hands. Trying to hear the individual musicians’ “voices” isn’t really possible. Both clap so gently, softly, that I can’t tell one from the other. The space they are recorded in however is nicely resonant and does the music justice. I was in Glasgow of this festival, and spent some time with both musicians while there, but alas I wasn’t in attendance for this recording, and judging by the silence in the room, I don’t think anybody else was. I wonder though, if I had been, would I have been tempted to join in?

One key thing to be noted about this music is how it removes any idea of the musician as master-artist. Anyone can clap. Taku Unami can play a number of instruments well, and Angharad Davies is a classically trained violinist capable of incredibly skilled performances. here though, all of this is removed and the musicians are left bare, placed on a level playing field to the rest of us, and yet they still show their musicality, their ability to collaborate using sound. Of course, I wouldn’t want every CD/tape I ever play to consist of clapping alone, but here, as something thoroughly original and genuinely honest Two Hands makes for a special listen. Really, this is worth buying a tape deck for.

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