“and may the freed bear bathe his body amid the flows of the frozen north and not languish in the aquarium of distilled water in the academic garden”
The above quote, from Malevich’s Suprematist Manifesto is reproduced inside the extremely beautiful silkscreened cover to Rhodri Davies new, vinyl only album named Wound Response. Perhaps there are very few albums that such a quote would be better off adorning. Those that know Rhodri Davies would probably agree that he has a certain bearlike quality about him, and on this album he is certainly very free. Two or three years ago now Rhodri moved away from London, where he had lived for more than a decade and made his name as one of the UK’s most respected experimental musicians. He moved way up north to Newcastle, a city not really known for its improvised music heritage, but a place that does seem to have quite an active young noise music scene, and a long history of industrial music, and certainly Rhodri’s newfound connections in the area have had a huge impact on the music on Wound Response.
Davies’ music has varied a lot down the years, taking in all different forms of the harp, from his massive acoustic concert instrument to an electric tabletop version. He continues to play the harp on this new release, a lap harp to be precise, but the ten short tracks here sound nothing like anything he has done before. His delicate, fragile sound has been replaced here by a raw, roughly amplified electric finish, but while the harp has a fuzzy, punkish edge to its sound now, the actual playing has become fast and often furious- everything from quick fingerpicked loops to off centre rocky riffs. Similar to how Tetuzi Akiyama’s electric boogie albums came as a shock after his earlier albums, Rhodri has completely reinvented his approach to not only the harp but also to the music he plays here. This sounds so very different.
The ten pieces then mostly consist of vague, inconsistent rhythmic patterns played very fast, often with enough distortion pedal added that the gaps between the individual notes filled with a blur of grainy sound. In places the music feels very much in debt to folk music, Irish fiddle reels in particular spring to mind, on the track only compromises were arrived at in the end in particular, but across the entire album, and perhaps with music from Davies’ Welsh heritage playing a part as well. The playing rolls around in rapidly spun loops of notes, often shifting in pitch as it does so, very raw and natural sounding but coated in a sheen of gritty amplification. These are then, fast, shredded up little looping melodies often veering close to feedback. Its a raucous, bristling affair.
Given that this album leaves you completely rethinking everything you know about Rhodri Davies’s music, it will split its potential audience. Its such a wildly different album, with emphasis on the word wild, that potentially people like myself, who have spent many hours enjoying Rhodri’s music for its delicacy, compositional rigour and sheer beauty will recoil in horror at Wound Response. I have to say that when I first heard it, even though I had had advance warning of how it would sound, I found it very difficult to come to terms with. It felt to me that while of course the bear had to break free, it seemed to trample over everything in its search for new bathing waters and we were left with nothing at all of the old Rhodri Davies. It took quite a few listens before I could listen to this album for what it is, and stop searching for what it isn’t beneath its heavy, clear vinyl surfaces. It feels very free, very happy, and genuinely experimental in the way that much experimental music does not. Do I prefer it to the Rhodri Davies albums I have grown older with and enjoy so much? No, definitely not, but such a comparison is ultimately meaningless. The joy of this album pours out of how free it feels. This is the sound of a musician looking at his work, realising that, as good as it may be, it took few risks. Its a blank slate scrawled all over by the guy that used to gently carve ornate designs into it. It is thoroughly unusual, dripping in energy and creativity. What it isn’t is beautiful, or fragile or any such traditionally feminine qualities. Wound Response roars where Rhodri’s previous albums whispered, rocks out where past work may have rubbed its chin. If like me you have enjoyed Rhodri Davies’ work for many years, approach this one with an open mind. Fail to do so and you run the risk of pouring a little more distilled water into the mouldy old aquarium.