My Favourite Album – Richard PinnellSeptember 5, 2012
Keith Rowe, John Tilbury – Duos for Doris.
Like, I would imagine is the case for the vast majority of people reading these pages, choosing a single favourite album to write something about is nigh on impossible. On any given day I could change my mind over what is my favourite album. Certain albums have been hugely important to me, at different times in my life. The album I have probably listened to more times than any other down the years could well be the first Velvet Underground album, simply because between the ages of sixteen and nineteen I played it near enough every day. Then there were My Bloody Valentine albums I played a similar amount, and probably others as well. Favourites change though, and I haven’t played any of those records in a good while, so while they hold a special place they aren’t up there for me today. Other records have been crucially important to the way I think about, and subsequently listen to music. A New Distance, an early SME album is I think the first improvised music album I connected with enough to play over and over. Generative Themes was the first AMM album I heard, which so holds a lot of importance for me. The same could be said for the earliest Sealed Knot recordings, the first Polwechsel album and Radu Malfatti’s disc on Wandelweiser. These are all CDs that lead me to new discoveries in music. The album though that I think I consider my favourite, isn’t particularly an album that made me think differently, or pointed towards new styles of music. It in fact sounded just like I expected it to and wasn’t a million miles from other albums I had already bought. The album, Duos for Doris, by Keith Rowe and John Tilbury is simply a very, very powerful album on a very simple, emotional level. It was, and is, the one album that I come back to every time music feels a little cold and clinical, every time I hear a well written song and wonder why I don’t listen to songs with words any longer. Doris for me shows like no other album how incredibly intimate and personally emotional improvised music can be.
I’m not going to describe the CD in detail, or touch on any of the unfortunate and depressing circumstances surrounding the musicians that followed on from this album, none of that matters here. For the few readers unaware, Duos for Doris is a double CD set that nearly didn’t happen, simply because a day or two before the recording session in France, John Tilbury’s mother, Doris passed away. Instead of pulling out of the recording, Tilbury travelled and the recording took place, but the session took place in sombre mood, and with both musicians affected strongly by the situation, Tilbury obviously very deeply, but with Rowe then affected by the sadness felt by his long time colleague. the music then, and in particular the track Cathnor that takes up all of the first disc, is the most obviously powerfully wrenching I think I have ever heard. The intensity of the music throughout is just incredible. Even after all these years I cannot listen to one minute of the album and do anything else at the same time. The air is thick throughout the track just as the music is often quiet. It also seethes with anger, distress, discomfort and sheer hurt. Around the forty minute mark as Tilbury begins hammering keys down in a slow, repetitive manner, increasing in power, I find the music exceptionally hard to listen to. It makes me want to cry, or reach out to John and let him know we understand. Rowe lets this passage go on its own for a while before adding the perfect accompaniment, perhaps the only possible accompaniment, a deeply brooding, partly suppressed roar , before Tilbury just explodes with an anguished, torrential attack at the piano that overloads the microphones and tears at the heartstrings of anyone listening and involving themselves. Later, the track subsides to its eventual close with a slow pattern of gradually fading piano notes that just leaves you feeling empty and lost at how cruel the world can be, and will be, to all of us.
I named my record label Cathnor after this piece of music. While I have heard some incredibly beautiful, superbly crafted, wonderfully innovative music since, I don’t think I have heard anything that sounds quite as human as the first disc of Duos for Doris. It is, fortunately, an album that these musicians could not make again. The circumstances surrounding it, as sad and distressing as they were made this album as powerful as it is. The album then stands as a magnificent tribute to Doris Tilbury, a recording that will, in the future, surely be recognised as one of improvised music’s highest achievements. A better tribute could not exist. Even without knowing the circumstances that lead up to the recording, the emotional qualities of the music are very clear. This isn’t groundbreaking music, it goes nowhere musically that other earlier AMM albums didn’t go, but what this CD achieves, in my opinion better than any other improv CD is projecting raw human emotion through sounds and how those sounds interact. Doris says more without using a single word than any powerful set of lyrics I have ever heard.
I don’t listen to Duos for Doris that often. When I do it lowers my mood for a while before lifting me up afterwards, in awe of what incredible work human beings can create in response to pain. That journey is a tough one to go through, so I don’t play it often, but when I do it reminds me of exactly how great music is.