A couple of things to say about this release before any serious review- firstly the usual caveats given that I consider all of the musicians here to be friends, was present at the live concert in Dublin that forms half of the release, and spent some time socialising with them around the West Irish coastline the following day. I actually remember little about the music performed that weekend however, and this album, arriving more than three years later sounds like completely fresh music to my ears.
There is also a mildly amusing tale to tell about this album since it arrived here back in late November. I listened to it a lot when it first arrived, and actually had every intention of reviewing it, having spent quite a bit of time with it in the car while driving to and from work. Few albums work well in the car, this one, for some reason does. Anyway at my place of work in early December we undertook that annual atrocity, the works Christmas party. Part of the proceedings each year is a secret Santa palaver in which we all pull the name of a colleague out of the hat, and then buy a Christmas present for that person. Its all kept a secret so that the receiver of the gift does not know who bought it. You know how it works. Anyway, as usual, my interest in this exercise was about as low as it is every year, but I dutifully bought a gift, just in time for the party, and took it to work, where, being a lazy, uninterested sod, I got one of my team to wrap it for me. To cut a long story short, a week later, I couldn’t for the life of me work out where my copy of this album had gone to. Wracking my brains for a day or two it suddenly occurred to me that I had brought it on from the car one day on arrival at work, and yes, I had put it in the same bag as the secret Santa gift I had purchased. So then, when I lazily got someone to wrap it for me, they also wrapped the CD into the package, which, unbeknown to me was then opened up by the 23 year old accountancy student who was working part time with us while studying, and who had received my secret Santa present. After some confused, embarrassed explanations, I eventually got the disc back from her, which actually came as something of a relief to her as I think she was concerned as to who had bought her this bizarre CD of weird noises in the first place. Who was it thought that she might like that?! So anyway, this has nothing to do with the following review, but it amused me and I thought then I would share it.
So Protocol is the intriguing title of this album of electrocoustic improvisations by the Irish/Swedish quartet ChipShop Music alongside the familiar no-input mixing board of Toshimaru Nakamura. This is the third released album by the quartet made up of Erik Carlsson, (percussion) Martin Küchen, (baritone and alto saxophones plus radio) David Lacey (percussion and electronics) and Paul Vogel (clarinet and electronics). Recorded a day apart, one track in a concert setting, the other in a church without an audience, Protocol‘s two tracks each invoke a similar mood of dark, moody atmospherics conjured up through the beautifully balanced mix of the assorted acoustic and grittily fizzing electronics.We never lose track of the fact there are ‘standard’ acoustic instruments at work here. If Lacey’s use of percussion is more textural and dissolves easily into the crackle and hum of the plugged-in instrumentation then Carlsson’s use of struck, chiming metallic and rubbery sounds separate themselves easily. Then there are Küchen’s saxophones, as ever a broody, menacing presence throughout, filtering their way through what is on the whole quite a heavily matted mesh of sounds. Nakamura, on the whole, stays back in the shadows (and there are a lot of dark shadows here) his presence continual and important, and yet somehow, like Vogel his contribution feels less overtly expressive, more the bulky ingredients giving the cake its structure and form than the icing spread over the top.
Protocol isn’t a surprising album. Its a disc of really good, solid, improvised music of a slow, post-AMM laminal nature rather than anything more boisterous or jazzy, but you know where it is going from almost as soon as it begins and it rarely veers away from the heavily layered textures, piercing tones and deep chimes that form the basis of its structure. This isn’t a bad thing if the music is done well though, and certainly the way that Protocol constantly wrestles with itself internally, the various forceful elements shoving at each other to make room amongst the snail-paced maelstrom is a joy to involve yourself with. The core group here knew each other well by the time these recordings took place, and it really shows, as everything is balanced perfectly. Digging down into the music, picking apart the five different voices (its almost impossible to find all five separately at any one time, but a lot of fun trying) is a rewarding way to enjoy the album, and when the volume is turned up high, as I had it in the car for a couple of weeks, the dark, cloying nature of the massed sound is really quite overpowering, not easy bedtime listening for sure, yet its still all very subtly put together. This is no free for all noisefest then, but a really enjoyable album then of music that is deceptively complex as it is overarchingly dark and moody. Fine music from five fine musicians.