CD Reviews

Two from Coppice

March 2, 2014

Coppice – Big Wad Excisions

Coppice – Vantage/Cordoned

Over the past few years what seems like a veritable deluge of material has come this way by Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer, the Chicago based duo known as Coppice. These two albums are relatively recent appearances, but a dozen or so further items adorn the library shelves here at Pinnell Towers. Somehow, with the exception of a short piece for The Wire I have mostly missed out on writing about their work, so this review helps catch up a bit, and a further review of their ongoing Vinculum project may follow in a week or three.

Ongoing projects seems to be a theme to Coppice’s work. There are running themes through their work, and definite projects that seem to build upon simple blocks of material, so progressing as material is recycled, altered, built upon to create something new. Their Vinculum project, which spans several releases seems to employ this kind of approach, and Hoist Spell,  the final track from Big Wad Excisions, the first of these two recent albums has been spun out into a remix series. Its not just the direct re-use of materials that seems to suggest this gradual building process to me though. There is something about Coppice’s music, something about the way it almost feels modular, built up from interchangeable blocks of activity (though I have no confirmed reason to assume such an approach) that suggests that each Coppice release is somehow linked to previous ones, and that everything the duo do, from their music to the visual works in their back catalogue and the extravagantly packaged limited editions of some releases is part of a carefully considered continuum.

Big Wad Excisions (Coppice love a good title) is the first release on Tim Barnes’ reborn Quakebasket label. The opening track, Snuck Keel puts to use the prepared pump organ the duo use on much of their work alongside some kind of electronic additions that sound analogue rather than digital, but its difficult to know for sure. The piece is typical of quite a portion of Coppice’s music in that it loosely follows a drone pattern but is made up of really detailed, often quite extraordinary sounding layers of rattling, drilling, huffing, puffing and groaning activity. It doesn’t last long, but the way the grinding acoustic sounds burrow at your head leave a marked impact, so when they suddenly fold away for the machine-like exhalations of Impulses for Elaborated Turbulence (Excised) you are left with a sense of something missing. The second track is brief, a little over two minutes, and consists of a little interlude split half into synth-like electronic scribbles and half into deep, guttural blasts of forced, vibrating air. Its actually difficult to not see this little track as a humorous little insert, given the bloaty, pumping nature of the track, though this may just be my odd sense of humour. Sop then stands in contrast at over sixteen minutes and while the raw elements that make up the piece are similar in tone the structure of the piece is quite different. After an initial stream of  gassy swirls of hissing layered over one another the piece sidesteps slowly into a queasily looping passage of organ-esque notes rotating in hypnotic circles.  Sixties minimalism trapped in vinyl locked grooves spring to mind, but in truth while the revolving series of notes remains present their surface, and the sheets of abstracted, weathered sound laid over them continually change. The piece eventually disintegrates to the faintest blur of the looping tones, possibly the result of tape loops passed through various processes before a brief violent ending leads to the final track.

Hoist Spell has much more of a sense of constant narrative than the preceding tracks. While again it feels like the same sounds, the same sources seem to be reappearing, there is a menacing vibrancy here that bursts into life after the opening calm is wrenched aside by tearing electronic blasts. This track feels slightly less acoustic than the others, the heavy tones that push firmly down on the music feel synthetic and the ‘contact-mic-in-a-crisp-packet’ attacks that spring up every so often have a dirty electronic feel. The piece surges on at pace until it seems to push itself too far and it caves into silence right at the top of a particularly frantic peak. This final track is the stand-out of the disc, and I’m not surprised that the files used to put it together have been sent on to others  for a remix project that can be found here.

Vantage/Cordoned contains two tracks that are not named Vantage or Cordoned. So Lobes Drape as Such Gills Over a Hanger’s Pit is another seven minute drone for prepared pump organ and tape that serves as a slightly softer Snuck Keel, insistent, driving and yet undercut by a continual subtext of swirling tape sound and warped ephemera that actually manage to push the heaving drone aside and see out the last few minutes of the track in a really interesting manner. The much longer Soft Crown then fills up the remaining twenty-five minutes of the CD. Two minutes of silence are followed by strange, unearthly wails from tortured tapes, cloudy hisses and one of the Vinculum tracks, which are sounds recorded by Coppice and released on individual CDs that can be then combined with others by the listener, or in this case recycled into a later work by the duo.  The piece progresses in a mostly subdued manner, all murky fluttering, mechanical whirring and that kind of alien mumbling that seems to appear when tapes are slowed right down to a crawl before lifting itself back up into one last rattling acoustic drone for the final few minutes, albeit one shadowed by an odd knocking rhythm that made me get up and check there was nothing wrong with one of my speakers. Along with Hoist Spell this feels like the most fully formed and realised work of these two albums, a further refinement of the material again but with a character of its own. With every release Coppice seem to take things a stage further, and so Vantage/Cordoned feels like the most assured and confident release I have heard from them yet, but then the drama and energy of Hoist Spell from Big Wad Excisions is worth the entrance fee of that album alone.

Coppice then are a curious and unusual duo in that they feel as if (to me at least) they exist as some kind of ongoing project that is developing in public, growing outward from a small collection of sounds, instruments and techniques that expand upon one another, building blocks of sound put together in increasingly interesting and complex ways to make new works, dismantled and then rebuilt again. the duo seem to revel in a particular, unusual and recognisable set of sounds they have made their own and its as if they take great joy in moulding these elements over and over again to discover new solutions with them. The results along the journey are all quite fine, but for me at least, it is when viewed as one long and developing body of work Coppice come into their own.

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