Pretty tired tonight, just for a change. I worked hard for ten hours today and then went to a birthday dinner for a work colleague after, so it is past midnight now as I begin to write tonight’s review. Please excuse me if there are more than the normal number of typos here and if this post reads even more poorly than usual.
I wrote a day or two back about how much I enjoy tiny, niche-maket releases with hand-made, individual packaging. To clarify, this isn’t because of any elitist sentiments of owning a collection of hard to obtain objects, but simply because I love the personal touch attached to this kind of thing, the love and care applied to work like this, that people think enough of their music to spend time wrapping it up in a thoughtful manner. One such release caught my eye a little while back and I couldn’t resist ordering a copy- Â a release by the Fraufraulein duo of Anne Guthrie (French horn and objects) and Billy Gomberg (electronics and objects). The disc contains four pieces of music, plus a pdf file containing fifty pages from a mail art collage project. It comes wrapped in a page taken from the same project, which is then tucked into a hexagonal, hand-knitted pouch which is then secured by a big ornate button. That such an object exists, with so much there to both see and hear is wonderful in the first place, in my opinion. Of course packaging and attached pdf files have absolutely no impact on what music we might hear, and the appraisal of one probably shouldn’t affect thoughts on the other, but its a good starting point if you ask me. Taking this object from a jiffy bag will always please me far more than with a jewel case.
The music then sounds not unlike other Fraufraulein pieces I have written about before. The basic structure of the duo’s work seems to be to lay very soft electronics, with a digital feel to them as a base, into which Guthrie layers her particular brand of enigmatic, individual horn playing. There are some small tapping sounds here and there (presumably the ‘objects’ mentioned in the instrumental credits) but for the most part we hear low, primarily tonal hums and swells of gentle synthetic sound, some sinetones, bits and pieces of digital scribbling but all somewhat muted and low-key. In contrast, the French horn meanders through a long stream of half-tunes and fragments of squelchy, wet abstraction. Guthrie improvises entirely, not slipping into any full melodies as she has been known to do before, and generally speaking placing her sounds at a right angle to Gomberg’s electronics. That, in a nutshell is how the CD sounds. It has a charm to it that makes the disc thoroughly listenable, and while I think i have heard better work front he duo before, and I certainly prefer them when, augmented by the additional gritty contribution of Richard Kamerman they become the trio Delicate Sen, but somehow I find something about the way this music feels so very slow and lethargic, and makes no attempt to break out of its simple constraints appealing here while similar traits would annoy me with other musicians. There is a certain eccentricity to the music, of the restrained and calm variety rather than anything that really clowns around. Somehow placing the physicality and clumsiness of the French horn beside the pristine clarity of the electronic shimmering just amuses me, and the way this relationship plays out throughout Fraufraulein’s music, somehow working well together despite the peculiarities of the arrangement is both endearing and impressive.
The titles of the pieces here, as befits current American improvisation are quite wonderful. There is a track here entitled The sculptural demands of even the most casual dictations, lovers in parked cars at night for goodness sake. These titles tie in nicely with the pdf book included here though. The book, named Donna Hayward’s Secret Diary is a lovely collage of paintings, images cut from magazines, child-like writing and a vague, surreal narrative formed from little bits of text cut from other places and put together to form structures not dissimilar to the track title above. I can’t find any images front he pdf book online, so I won’t post one here, but this kind of art definitely appeals to me, a kind of improvisatory way of working together with visuals rather than sound. The end result is fun as much as it is visually stirring, but then so, in some way that I can’t quite explain, is the music here. All round this is a very nice, charmingly personal package that includes some interesting and pleasing, if not earth-shattering music. Available here.