Sarah Hughes, Kostis Kilymis – The Good LifeDecember 1, 2012
OK, so caveats out of the way first- Sarah Hughes and Kostis Kilymis are both good friends of mine and I heard an early version of this album a while ago. Take these facts into account before you read on, but beyond this I have no connection to this release at all. So The Good Life was recorded in Oxford earlier this year when Hughes and Kilymis were two of several people sharing a house in East Oxford. They have both since departed, but have left behind this album as a momento. It is then, as might be expected, music that appeals to me quite a bit.
The two tracks here clock in at twenty-seven and twenty-four minutes and each explore a calm, mostly uneventful music made up of acoustic and electronic tones and textures offsetting one another, with just a few short passages of plucked or struck strings adding colour and a feeling of a scaffolded framework to the otherwise quite gaseous proceedings. Kilymis is at times, in other groupings, capable of producing quite loud, often densely droning music. Here, he moves closer to Hughes’ quieter, restrained sound world, but it would be foolish to assume that the louder, denser contributions to this album all come from his direction. In fact, as with most good electro-acoustic groups it is occasionally very difficult to work out who is making which sound here, and while the sound of softly struck strings of can clearly be attributed to Hughes’ zither other areas of the music, heavy tones and dry scraping sounds could come from either of them. Kilymis sticks to his minimal electronics while Hughes adds an eBow and a mosquito alarm to her zither, the first easy to figure how how it is used, the second is anyone’s guess.
Though there are a few passages of dense activity here, and one moment of suddenly surprising intensity near the start of the second piece Pussy Riot when a heavy, claustrophobic tone appears for a while, the music of The Good Life is, on the whole, a subtle though occasionally quite blatantly pretty affair, particularly for the bulk of Pussy Riot when Hughes’ slowly picked, chiming notes each appear and dissolve into a simmering bed of electronics that resembles a kind of cloudy Bohor. There is a constant hint at melody, similar to early Akiyama or Sugimoto when responding to being immersed in clouds of electronics, and in some ways this return to melody is disruptive in itself when taken in context. Hughes’ sounds seem to want to remind us of their acoustic origins, while Kilymis remains firmly in more artificially sourced territory. If everything seems very slow and calm on the surface, its these little contradictions in the music ensure an underlying tension remains. Knowing both musicians, and knowing their solo work and natural musical leanings, there is actually quite a difference between the two sound worlds each would naturally tread, but its testament to friendship, to sharing a living space, and to the act of improvisation in music that these two areas can collide in such a way to produce music at once trembling with uncertainty as it glows in its beauty. Not to be missed.