Cassette and Download
Caveats first then- this cassette on the Pilgrim Talk label involves three musicians I consider to be friends, two of them very good friends. When Jason Kahn toured the UK back in February I had something to do with his tour, driving him about a bit. I also helped out with organising a concert that preceded the one that appears on this tape, though I wasn’t at the recorded concert in question. So, this isn’t a review as much as just a commentary on a tape that I probably can’t be overly objective about, as much as I might try. As I haven’t seen it written about anywhere else however, I think a few words are warranted, if only to let people know it exists.
Actually, the tape itself may not exist any longer, as the Pilgrim Talk website now lists it as out of print, but you can still go to the label’s bandcamp page to download digital files for a low price. The cassette contains two tracks recorded live by Stephen Cornford, Patrick Farmer and Jason Kahn in a corner of Cornford’s Bristol studio. The tape then is named Bristol. A week earlier I had seen this trio perform, with Sarah Hughes added to the group to form a quartet. On that night they had played in a really nice, restrained manner, with a set of sounds similar to those heard on Bristol used, but somewhat quieter and possibly slower approach taken. For the concert that made it to the cassette the trio play in a far more raucous manner. The music here actually fits very nicely with the Pilgrim Talk aesthetic- that raw, edgy area of electronics and abused everyday objects verging on serious noise on several occasions yet holding itself together throughout. For this performance Cornford used electronics and an amplified fibre-optic flower he is fond of- a revolting looking object that he somehow draws audio interference from. Farmer worked with an upturned turntable (obviously) and prepared CD players, which are small personal players with the lid removed, so giving him access to the spinning disc and its percussive possibilities. Kahn for this tour used only an analogue synth and a radio.
It would be wrong to say the music here is an all-out noisefest, because it is far from that. The music is relatively spacious, and clearly carefully considered and structured, and while the sounds of the three musicians can easily be separated there is enough common ground between them that everything seems to billow and flow as one continually changing entity. There is a rough quality to the sounds though, a sparking, abrasive soreness that is only amplified further by the fact the music is issued here on cassette tape. So things vibrate loudly, squeal suddenly, buzz and bleat with a vibrancy to it all that makes for a bit of a rollercoaster of a listen. With the volume turned up just a little this can get to be a really quite demanding affair, but underneath the surface shock of it all there is a very well formed and balanced structure to the two tracks. The three let the music evolve gradually, adding where they need to , letting things just flow elsewhere, essentially just improvising nicely together.
My only issue with this tape, aside from the fact it doesn’t fit in my CD player, is that having heard the musicians play quieter and more softly textured a few days beforehand I find myself wanting the hear the more restrained performance again. While the music here is good, very good even, and I would recommend it instantly to those with a feel for rough and ready electroacoustic soundworlds, I just can’t help myself but pine to hear the three play like I saw them in Oxford as well. The contrast between the two would have made for an intriguing release. If they had chosen to release this on CD they could have fitted both concerts on. Grumble… Still, good stuff indeed, well worth the low price of entry for the lossless download.