Given that its a week for vinyl here, I have dusted off my copy of MIMEO’s Wigry album, which I actually bought back in October last year, but, primarily because setting up the turntable was a bit of a pain back then I didn’t listen to it all that much, and somehow a review never happened. The best part of six months later I have managed to listen to it through a further three more times so now is probably the (somewhat belated) time. Before saying anything much about the music I should (not for the first time) register my frustration at having to listen to this music on vinyl. Not only does the quality of the playback sound pretty terrible to these ears, but why oh why have the label/musicians made it necessary to have to get up three times and turn over the disc to be able to listen to a single seventy-five minute long recording of a live performance that would easily have fitted on a single CD. OK, so if, like was the case with last night’s vinyl release, different tracks fit neatly onto each side, and you only have to turn over in between the different pieces, I can live with having to get up every twenty minutes or so. However when, as with Wigry, a single piece of music is split across four sides of vinyl I really have to ask the question why. My enjoyment of the work, and my ability to really concentrate on it is seriously damaged by the need to shift from my listening position three times. Yes I know its an old rant, but surely its an obvious one?
Anyway, despite the fact I released a CD by the group, I have always had some issues with MIMEO’s recorded outings, having never really found any of them as satisfying as being in the room while they perform, and always finding the experience contrary to my usual way of listening to improvisation partly because I can never work out who or what I am hearing, given that there are eleven members of the group, all working with electronics, the sound often then merging into one mass, and the individual voices in the music never apparent. This of course runs in the face of the thoroughly democratic way that the group is organised, in which the greater whole always comes before individual contribution, but still I feel something of the group is lost when committed to a recording.
As MIMEO albums go however, Wigry works well, perhaps because it is simply a capture of an improvisation by the group, which operated as a ten piece in November 2009 for this performance in Wigry Cathedral in Poland. The group consisted of Phil Durrant, Christian Fennesz, Cor Fuhler, Thomas Lehn, Kaffe Matthews, Gert-Jan Prins, Peter Rehberg, Keith Rowe, Marcus Scmickler and Rafael Toral. Th eon enotable absentee was Jerome Noetinger, and all but Cor Fuhler worked with some kind of plugged-in device, with Fuhler credited only with piano and Rafael Toral for some reason credited on the sleeve with Electronics in a darker coloured font than everyone else, the significance of which I do not understand. In perhaps predictable manner for such a group then, the music progresses across the four sides of vinyl following roughly speaking, a quiet-to-loud trajectory, with the first couple of sides relatively spacious, with many of the group showing great restraint and the highly resonant corners of the presumably quite large cathedral giving the bleeps, buzzes and whistles a more majestic quality.
Listening to the music develop over the rest of the album is a fascinating thing. The growth feels thoroughly organic, beginning as a tingling, slight affair before billowing out slowly into the quite fierce, festering explosion that continually pushes at its own boundaries and limitations. Listening to the music from an almost divorced situation, stepped back from the minute details and just watching everything push and pull its way to the closing cacophony of sounds that take up some of the last side of vinyl is a fascinating thing. There are moments though when the unexpected happens. The last few minutes of side three, when we expect things to only grown and blossom into a bigger sound a gap appears that is filled by simple plucked strings from Fuhler that bring everything down a peg or two to close the third quarter of the release. There can be no doubting that there are fine improvising minds at work here. Despite the points when everything coalesces there is still a feeling of control and compositional integrity in the music that comes from the experience of these ten musicians knowing each other and working together run this situation a good few times before. I don’t know what the average age of the group is, but I would suspect maybe mid forties, and the experienced heads here make such a massive, electrified group work well where perhaps others might not. It remains hard to pick out individual voices, but often (to the music’s credit) its easy to forget that we are hearing ten musicians here rather than two or three, such is the co-ordinated feel of the music. Nobody seems to push at the others here in ways that don’t fit in. MIMEO has always worked in such a way that the greater good outweighs individual experience and that feels like its true of this performance.
A good one then, a fine example of how ten experienced musicians in tune with one another, the majority of whom have considerable amplified power at their fingertips, can create music that is listenable and full of enough detail and progression to captivate the listener rather than alienate them. Fine stuff then, released last year on the Bolt label.