Partial – LLMay 7, 2014
My parents are antique dealers, and antique dealers with a penchant for buying up hordes of complete rubbish in the hope that amongst it may lie an item or two worth vastly more than everything else added together. As successful as this approach has been for them, it has also meant that I have spent a lot of my life around houses piled high full of bric-a-brac and assorted other rubbish that nobody wanted any longer. I have subsequently often wondered if some of my interest in this weird and wonderful music springs from an unbringing surrounded by such clutter. I have often remarked, when surveying the tables full of assorted music making detritus laid out before us at concerts that such scenes remind me of junk shops and car boot sales- people making music from the stuff that others would, or possibly did discard. So the premise behind this nice little CD then is one that struck a chord with me. Noé Cuellar (of Coppice) and Joseph Clayton Mills (of Haptic) came together in 2010 after they were invited to create music using whatever they found in the basement of a second hand store in a local neighbourhood in Chicago as part of an arts event that also saw local visual artists create sculptures and images from the assorted ephemera. Various recordings were made, and a concert held, with a local vocalist making up part of a trio, but the sounds collected were of interest enough to Cuellar and Mills that they went away and created the music on this CD from them.
There are three tracks here, two lengthy pieces that make up the bulk of the disc and a cute little appendix added at the end. The first of the three, titled Marcel is finely crafted work formed not only from sounds gathered at the second hand store but also from additional elements and instrumentation added later. So after an initial momentary scrape of something brutally abrupt the track unfolds itself gradually into an acutely arranged structure of rustles, taps, ticking and chiming as various objects are, in some way or another opened, closed, rubbed, dropped etc to produce the sounds that have then been sculpted together, doubtlessly influenced by the physical sculptures made from some of the same objects around them. The track feels polished, beautifully mastered, and the additional sounds that have been added clearly bring a rounded, warm finish to the work, tying together the rougher elements.
The second track, a sixteen minute work named Paul has quite a different feel. Although created using the same items from the shop, this piece was assembled using improvisations made on site. The sense of neat arrangement that makes Marcel such a tightly sculpted work is replaced then by a raw immediacy and a rougher, edgier sound. The extremes are more obvious, from an elongated quiet period when something is gently scratched to quickly escalated shifts to loud, bristling climaxes of abrasive rubbing and scraping, the improvised element really stands out when following the more neatly crafted work. I am not sure which of the two tracks I prefer the most. If Marcel has a feeling of finely balanced precision so Paul feels energised and alive. Both tracks underline the versatility and resourcefulness of the musicians to pull what is quite an array of interesting sounds from limited tools, but its the inherent musicality they show here, something I have certainly mentioned about Joseph Clayton Mills’ work in Haptic before that brings alive what is literally a pile of old junk and give it a new lease of musical life.
As if to invert that very sentiment however, the final two minute track is a simple, unadorned recording of a late nineteenth century Swiss music box, which has an unbelievably beautiful, if slightly faltering, mechanically straining sound to it. The box plays a wonderful little half tune that could have been mixed in with the other compositions here, but is actually so great to listen to in itself that it is a fantastic testament to the ear and judgement of Cuellar and Mills that they have chosen to let the little recording sit alone. I’d pay to hear an entire album of this wonderfully charismatic music box on its own, but for now it provides the perfect end to a highly enjoyable release.