The Anonymous Zone Pt.1

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Another Timbre

Tonight, and the next two nights, I am going to write about elements of a wonderful new project launched by the Another Timbre label, named The Anonymous Zone. The project consists of a series of shortish tracks uploaded to a page at the AT site as 320kbps Mp3 files that are free to download. The intriguing element to the project however, is that you don’t know who performed the pieces. This is kept from us, so causing the listener to, as I quote George Michael, listen without prejudice.

An unofficial hierarchical star system that somehow rates musicians against each other exists, inevitably, in all music. Improvised and experimental music is no different to any other. Certain names sell far more CDs than others, certain names attract audiences, are sought out as playing partners by other musicians, and are attacked because of these elements by those seeking to undermine such a hierarchy. Like it or not, this happens, even with music that exists on such a tiny scale as the music I write about here most days. Certain CD labels are treated the same way as well- a release on one label will be sought out faster than a release on another label by the same musician. We all have our favourites, and these favourites are informed and enhanced by what we read, what we see others we respect enjoying, and crucially by the reputations of musicians and labels, our past experiences and the weight of history that follows them. Conversely, we naturally, and often with good financial reasoning, overlook music by names that we are not familiar with, or that someone else did not enjoy so much. Like it or not we approach different release with different degrees of expectation, which is perfectly natural, but these expectations can often colour how we consider music. We are naturally prejudicial towards music then.

As a reviewer these issues raise even further questions for me, particularly as I also am in a position whereby as this music scene is so small, I know a fair number of the musicians whose work I write about. My interactions with them will inevitably colour my thoughts on their music, and as much as I strive to maintain objectivity I certainly do temper how I criticise something if I know the musicians that created it, just as I often avoid writing about CDs I receive that I really dislike a lot. It is easy to play god, but it is also easy to shy away from saying what I really think if I consider that my thoughts would, in the long run be detrimental to the music, preferring to write nothing rather than create a forum for disliking someone’s work for purely aesthetic reasons.

Simon Reynell’s approach to these issues then has been to place a dozen pieces of music up online for download so that they might force the listener to listen to the music without the inevitable preconceptions, to perhaps introduce something new, maybe change people’s subconscious opinions of somebody’s work. I have in the past played a similar game with Simon. He occasionally sends out unidentified recordings of music to people, myself included, when he is seeking a second opinion for potential releases to his label. In these cases I usually respond with my thoughts, but almost always struggle to identify the musicians involved, even if they are people I am close to or have spent many hours with their music.I think, that after doing this a good few times for Simon I have only identified the musicians correctly once, and I regularly even get instrumentation wrong. This is always a humbling experience for a reviewer who has spent many years at close quarters with this music. Two things seem to happen- I either miss completely that I am listening to a musician I usually enjoy a lot, or my thoughts on something run contrary to what I have written about the particular musicians before, so questioning my consistency and raising questions about how well I know someone or their work might impact upon my opinion. I lay awake wondering and sometimes worrying about these issues.

So amongst the dozen releases that went live today at The Anonymous Zone will probably be some music made by friends of mine, and/or by musicians I rate highly in my own little semi-conscious star system. Writing about the pieces with this in mind won’t be an easy task. There is potential here as a reviewer to appear a bit silly, but no pain no gain, and it is precisely for the same reasons of guilt and disruption to he existing listening systems we have developed that interests me. I aim to write briefly about four of the Anonymous Zone tracks per night for the next three evenings. In six months time Simon Reynell will reveal the identity of the musicians involved. I fully expect to look a bit silly when he does so.

The music then can be downloaded here. Reviews of tracks A to D to follow; I will, in keeping with Simon’s intentions with the project try and not guess too much at who may be performing the music and instead try and focus on my response to the actual sounds here, but its only human nature to try and figure out puzzles, so I suspect some names may crop up, even just as comparisons.

The first piece then is given the temporary title 02/01/13#A, the title referring to the date that the identity of the musicians will be revealed. The track seems to consist of a piano, played both inside and outside, along with some kind of non-instrumental scratching and crackling recorded very well in a resonant space. Initially we hear flurries of rough and raw activity as the piano strings are rubbed and brushed quickly. The strange disembodied, but carefully picked out crackling and scratching then appears as the piano slips into a dreamily melodic meander somewhere in the background as metal and wooden objects seem to be struck, caressed and hollowed out to create the sounds here. Whenever I hear improvised or electronic piano I inevitably think of John Tilbury, but here it is only really for a few briefs moments when things slip into a subdued space that the playing really point me this way. The track builds gradually to an AMMesque crescendo as the piano is thundered at and is joined by a series of crashing, smashing sounds, as if many glass bottles are being smashed then the remnants kicked about in a small space. The piano and these glass sounds work very well together, building the music up in a fine way that brings drama and a sense of angry tension to the work before slipping away into quieter areas again. Its a slow one to build on you, but a fine, well thought through piece.

02/01/13#B is a different affair. It opens with soft streams of overlapping grey textured strings, with the bow scraping across the wooden instrument as much as the actual strings. More than one bow seems to be in use, indicating two players, or perhaps just the one overdubbed as all of the sounds heard have a similar feel and quality to them. After a while a slightly muffled, whispered female voice appears, very sexily muttering something in what sounds like it may be French. moving the strings backwards in the composition for a while, which makes me think this work has been constructed in post production. The track progresses through vaguely rhythmic areas in which the voice blends with gently rocking strings until in the final minutes the voice becomes multi tracked, whispering over itself, rendering it even further unintelligible. I have no idea whose piece this is. The strings are beautiful in texture and tone, if perhaps a little  insistent in tempo, and the voice works well combined with them. Its quite unlike much else I have heard for a while, which is probably a dangerous thing for me to say, but I’ll stand by it!

02/01/13#C has a really rough, raw energy to it that reminds me a lot of Patrick Farmer’s turntable work, but many of the sounds here are unfamiliar to me. It opens with scratchy, rattly sounds that do sound somewhat like things bouncing off of a spinning record deck but then move into other whistling and rubbing noises that are quite unusual and have a confidence and deliberation about how they are used that I like a lot, and which is why I think of Patrick when I listen to this. The track moves through quieter little scrunchy sections, breakdowns into complete silence and then a strange rubbing sound that might be a bow stroking across something but gradually grows into a deep groaning sound that is like a balloon being rubbed in the most densely resonant room ever. This is a great little piece. It is slow, develops suddenly from one area of exploration to another in an instant, and yet contains a nice sense of narrative throughout.

The minute 02/01/13#D starts the name Keith Rowe flies into my head as the track seems to contain densely packed shortwave-like radio interference sounds not dissimilar to those often utilised by Keith through his guitar pickups. I do know that if I was to try and put a project like this together the first name I would list to try and get involved would be Keith. Maybe that is affecting my thoughts here. In fact the only thing that deflects me away from thinking this piece is in fact a Rowe composition is the presence of some kind of clunking, distant noise away from the immediate sound source, as if a field recording has been blended in in some way, which I don’t think could ever be credited to Rowe. So maybe there are more than one musician at work here, one utilising the shortwave sounds, the other doing something nearby. The dense wall of fluttering, squelchy interference sounds remains present right through to the abrupt ending. It maybe a little obvious, maybe lacking in a degree of drama and intensity beyond that created by layering so many tiny wild sounds- I don’t feel much sense of purpose in the music beyond some kind of celebration of the processes involved in making it, so its a piece I listened to, enjoyed to some degree and then passed on from relatively quickly.

So that is the first four of the twelve pieces listened to, I will do four more tomorrow and again on Wednesday. the music can be heard here.

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