So back to reviewing music then, after a few days off from here to review some music. Some of what I have been writing about over the last few days for The Wire was released on vinyl, and so today, as I still had my turntable plugged in and dusted down I went to the pile of barely heard vinyl here to see if I could review something when I found an album I played a lot way back in March, and thought I had written about, but when I went and investigated it turns out I never got around to it. So tonight some words on the vinyl split disc release by Will Montgomery and Robert Curgenven that came out months ago now on the Windsmeasure label. I went and checked, and it appears that copies are still available to purchase, which really surprises me given that only 250 copies were pressed, and that, irrelevant of how good the music is, its a beautiful object, twelve inches of white vinyl wrapped in maybe the best record or CD sleeve I have seen in quite some time. A minimal, white on white letterpress abstraction that I am tempted to frame and mount on the wall.
The first side of the disc then consists of a single twenty minute piece called Heygate by Will Montgomery. The piece takes its name from the Heygate housing estate in the Elephant and Castle district of London. Near enough derelict and awaiting some kind of probably revolting gentrification, Montgomery set about making field recordings in the area, which he processes to some degree here, but also recordings made with contact mics, a VLF receiver and an old telephone pick-up coil, so that the brief snippets of faintly recogniseable field recordings are very much surrounded by crackles, buzzes and distant white noise. Its a largely quiet affair, elegantly composed despite the raw edge to many of the sounds here, small aural events drifting in and out of the blank space around them not at all unlike the release’s sleeve art. There are deep, low hums, strange shortwave-esque scribbles and other ghostly elements that do make me think of a condemned, still faintly flickering housing estate near its last days. Whereas with much music made out of similar materials we might expect dense layering and a droning structure, Montgomery avoids this by only really combining two or three separate sounds at any one time, if any at all, and letting each come and go, dropping into silence after only short durations. The overall sensation then is an episodic one, some kind of abstract aural equivalent of watching beautifully crafted sushi pass by on a conveyer belt, each new arrival somehow connected to the last and yet also beautiful in its own right and separated from what came before by a short space. Ridiculous metaphors aside, Heygate is a beautiful and quite individual twenty minutes of music. The music is also accompanied by this free to download pdf file that includes a text by Montgomery and photos of the estate by Dollan Cannell that have been further treated, in a very lovely manner by Windsmeasure’s designer in chief Ben Owen.
The flip side of the disc, by Rob Curgenven, is named Looking for Narratives on Small Islands and is again a single work lasting about twenty minutes. The work is the last in a trilogy of pieces by Curgenven that utilise what he calls the “Transparence” dub plate, a specially pressed vinyl record, one of a few he uses, that he then plays on a turntable, treating and affecting it as he adds in other material, in this case little bits of field recordings made in various countries by the well-travelled Australian resident in the UK. This might be the best thing I have heard yet from Curgenven. The use of the vinyl record to make the piece means that there are scratches and crackles in the music that sound like they could be coming from my own turntable, and keep me on tenterhooks wondering if I need to clean something. But once you get used to them the tiny pops and fizzes combine well with the rising swells of feedback-like tone and distantly blended insect chatter, urban sounds and one quite loud and sudden burst of traffic noise. Like with the Montgomery, the joy of this music is in the craftsmanship of its structure. the sounds are all very lovely and carefully chosen, but while we have heard them all individually elsewhere before Curgenven’s ear for combining things in quietly impactful ways is excellent. As the piece develops it coalesces into a more dense collection of sounds, the densely glowing tones coming together to overshadow little grabs of field recording, multiple footsteps in busy pedestrian areas and the like until at its peak, a few minutes before the end it cuts absolutely dead, the music dropping off into a sudden chasm of silence. Gradually things then recover and a subdued grey whisper brings the piece to an impressively subtle close.
So two really very nice short works either side of a quite stunningly nice object. I’d grab one while you still can if I were you.