Cassette Reviews

Matt Davis – Ghost / Light

October 3, 2012


I am currently trying to write an essay of sorts for these pages about how physical displacement to a different environment perhaps causes you to listen differently or approach sound in unfamiliar ways. I wonder if such thinking might be applied to the various members of the London improvisation scene from a decade ago who have departed for other areas over recent years. Certainly if you listen to the raucous clamour of Rhodri Davies’ new album his departure for Newcastle may well have had an impact, and perhaps the same could be said for Matt Davis, who left for the relative wilds of Cornwall two or three years back now. Davis was never the most prolific of musicians when it came to CD releases of his highly skilled trumpet playing or minimal electronics, but since he has been way down in the west all has been quiet besides a few appearances on Zeitkratzer ensemble releases. Here now though has appeared a cassette tape of new material created using a new approach again. This self released tape contains two pieces of new music, one named Ghost and the other Light and has been made using “electromagnetics, light bulbs, fly catcher and radios”. Like Rhodri’s album, if played this music blind I would be hard pushed to connect it in any way to Matt’s earlier work.

The main difference with this new release is obviously the sound palette put to use. The tight control of extended technique trumpet and the barely present pop and fuzz of the electronics Davis worked with for a while are replaced by a raw, alive set of sounds that feel as if Davis is taming them just enough to corral them into something structured rather than placing them carefully as such, as we are most used to hearing in his music. So there is a constant feel of tension in the music as if it will suddenly burst into ear destroying feedback. The first side of the tape opens with a rough, elemental buzz that sounds exactly like an old FM radio would sound if I took the vacuum cleaner anywhere near it, and it is probably exactly the same kind of electromagnetic gesture that creates the music here, but with Davis controlling the intensity and adjusting the sound, and adding others through careful adjustments of one object in relation to another. Not having been able to see him perform with this set-up on the occasion he did so early this year in London, I’m not sure of precisely how each sound is made, but there is a feeling of tiny adjustments being made here to keep the reins on otherwise quite wild sound-making processes. I imagine Davis adjusting how far apart various objects are by shifting them just millimetres at time. Certainly the way the spluttering buzz is switched on and off and altered in density and volume throughout the piece, coupled with some softer undercurrents of humming electronics feels like it has been created through skilful control of otherwise disruptive systems.

About two thirds of the way through Ghost everything falls to a static position close to silence, yet still populated by a series of very quiet white noise fields and humming tones, equally tightly controlled, with one tiny blast of ugly feedback leading to another until the volume is restored following a thoughtfully placed, lengthy calm. As the track progresses the set of sounds do not alter much, but the beauty of this music comes in how they are restrained, reined in, sculpted in real time into a work of real delicacy. the music is never pretty, could never be described as beautiful in any conventional sense, but it is thoroughly delicate, fragile in its finely tuned construction. The flipside of the tape adds a little more depth as distant-sounding earthy roars and strange metallic wails inhabit the background as the surface abstraction is often paired right back to a skeletal rhythmic popping. The choice of cassette tape for the music’s release, deliberately chosen to reflect the electromagnetic nature of the music only serves to enhance the texture of the music, adding a further sense of instability and surrendered control away from Davis. Nice work indeed then, great to hear the excellent musicianship of Matt Davis at work again and an interesting new approach only serving to enhance that same reputation. How much there is to hear of the rolling hills and golden coastlines of Cornwall in the music though, its hard to tell.

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