A new CD with handprinted covers and a detail of artwork from a painting by Alexander Brealey Birchall is now out on Vernacular. Interesting for me as it explores recording quiet, end of the day, melodic improvisations, using lots of space: the kind of playing I did nearly everyday at this kind of dusk time but just as a private exercise. I realised though that sometimes very really great moments of music occur during this playing; so repeatedly recording these sessions over a couple of months this May & June has been really enjoyable; being able to capture some of these nice glistening moments.
Out today, two new releases comprised of studio recordings!
The first Tongues EP is lots of song form pieces made from homemade electronics, guitars, metal on pickups and voice.
The second Elapses is compositions made with feedback; guitar to amp and ebow combined with motorised cake display turntable. I don’t make pieces like this often so its nice to have been able to gather 4 together in the same place!
“David Birchall, Sam Andraea and Otto Willberg are part of an emerging cohort of players working at interface of fire music and free improvisation, a bunch of cats who relish blurring those borders and the resulting messiness of approach. It’s the opposite of the rather studious air gap built up between those two disciplines in the 1970s and 80s by the post-SME generation of improvisers, with untrammelled hybridity taking the place of ideological purity. (If you need more names, check out Raw Tonk maestro Colin Webster, drummers Andrew Lisle and Andrew Cheetham, guitarists Anton Hunter and Dirk Serries, and reedspeople Dee Byrne and Cath Roberts.)
There’s no membership card for this crew, and it’s by no means a closed shop. But the fact remains that that every time you bring someone new into the mix you risk upsetting a delicate balance of understanding and challenge built up over innumerable exchanges. In this instance, however, the resilience and adaptability of Birchall, Andraea and Willberg means it’s a gamble worth taking. Thus the addition of no-input guru Toshimaru Nakamura to a trio of musicians whose discographies, gigs and approaches are so intertwined they have become like branches of an extended family has a pleasingly destabilizing effect. Nakamura doesn’t so much change the group dynamic on this date, recorded at Tokyo’s legendary Ftarri record shop-cum-venue back in April 2017, as much as subtly deform it. His bone-dry crackles and white-hot screeches are a lens through which his co-workers’ interactions are refracted, intensified and occasionally disrupted.
Andreae’s sax honks and parps are as grouchingly well-judged as ever, his vocabulary ranging from the clicks and scrapes of extended technique to mischievous twirls of abrasive melody. Every huff and blart create their own spaces within hectic sonic environs – check his joyful, elephantine wails on halfway through ‘Prism Dialect’ – or puncturing the emptiness with the perfect timing of a stand-up comic. Likewise, Birchall’s gluey idioms always find ways to make themselves heard, tiptoeing through the wire wool carnage of ‘Gathering Micron Glass’ with an insouciant wink, elbowing Nakamura’s analogue splatter aside even as he glides across Willberg’s low-end grumble. Oh, and if you were expecting Willberg to play anchorman to the jagged pirouettes of the other three? Forget it. Whether he’s laying out grating, Henry Grimes-style arcos, yobbo thumps or careful, ninja-style plucks, this guy gets involved. The result is a band that’s less like quartet and more like a gaggle of rowdy planets, continually in motion around an invisible sun.”
Super happy to be part of the Tusk line up this year alongside my lovely Historically Fucked colleagues! We are playing the Friday I believe.
“Not long after the release of the fascinating Live in Beppu, the new English free sound artists Sam Andreae (saxophone), David Birchall (guitar) and Otto Willberg (bass) will release a new edition, this time at the London Raw Tonk label. This time the musicians from Manchester are joined by the Japanese Toshimaru Nakamura. His instrument is the no input mixing board, an electronic instrument that produces sound without any outside audio input.
The no input mixing board is an unpredictable instrument and that requires the mixer. According to Nakamura, an attitude of obedience and resignation is necessary in relation to the system and the sounds it produces. The instrument ensures a high degree of indeterminacy and surprise in music. It is therefore not surprising that the three English gentlemen, when they were in Japan, came into contact with Nakamura and started making music together.
The latter happened during the same tour in Japan as in which Live was recorded in Beppu, because the recording of Live at Ftarri took place four days earlier, on 13 April 2017. Ftarri is a shop and concert stage specialized in improvised and experimental music.
The four musicians have in common their open vision of what music is and can be. The game with sounds comes first, not so much as making rhythmic or melodic music. These musicians conduct research into sound, the possibilities of their instruments and how they fit into the sounds that the others produce. This can be done in a conventional, but certainly unconventional way. This leads to music that comes across as abstract, from which the joy of playing is dripping and which, as a listener, often leaves you astonished: what have I just heard?
The contribution of Nakamura ensures that the music gets a more expressive character in relation to the trio plate. Especially the beginning of opener ‘Sprung Forth Digressed’, in which all four musicians are very active, is lively. The sounds that come from four different sources do not enter into a covenant, but they do interact with each other, so that in some hectic, something of cohesion is suggested. After a little five minutes the storm will go. The unrest remains; these are impatient musicians who are much ‘eager’ to show their spontaneous finds. Andreae uses his saxophone as a wind and percussion instrument, Birch’s sounds are a-rhythmic and are also created with the help of objects, Willberg squeals and chops his bass and Nakamura thunders with sharp sounds all over. And then it’s only about a small part of what happens in the first part.
In the second piece, ‘Prism Dialect’, Andreae’s sax is a bit more prominent at first, fragmentary, staccato and sharp. However, it is the unpredictable sounds from that strange instrument of the Japanese who determine the musical direction. The three Englishmen seem to move around there, looking for the right way to relate audibly to those electronic sounds. Willberg makes his bass heavy, and Birchall searches it in the low register on his instrument. Outright noise is lurking, but does not reach full maturity because the musicians keep control over their instruments. After a little six minutes Willberg strikes his strings and Andreae taps on his sax. Birchall goes into battle with Nakamura, where it is sometimes difficult to determine which sounds come from the guitar and which from the mixing board.
‘Gathering Micron Glass’ opens with open guitar sounds from Birchall, while Nakamura squeaks, yells and creaks. Sometimes the electronic sounds are long, but usually they move uneasily and seemingly uncontrollable. Yet the Japanese manages to give guidance, even if it is in a free and unpredictable way. Also in this piece there is a lot of space for percussive sounds, even woodblocks and a basin seem to be involved. Halfway through, the noiseknop goes full and the sax is boxing up against a wall of sound from guitar and mixing board. The sounds are sometimes shrill, but Nakamura also produces loudly hissing noises. Birchall pricks and stimulates and Willberg slides quickly over the bass strings. The different techniques alternate rapidly.
In the last part of the album, ‘Fluent Still Spill Sealent’, is in the beginning an a-rhythmic pattern of Birchalls guitar which is most striking. Andreae sounds sharp and mean and Willberg’s bass growls and growls. Nakamura produces long sharp sounds, but also noise. He uses dynamic contrasts. It ends in a noisy climax around the fifth minute. Even now the game is mostly fragmentary and searching. Towards the end the Japanese knows how to create tension with threatening sounds.
The foregoing is no more than some sketches of what can be experienced at Live at Ftarri. Describing the music really is not feasible, for that reason simply happens too much in a short time. A well-defined context is lacking; it concerns four individuals with a whole arsenal of playing techniques and an enormous imagination in which musical research is paramount. This sometimes sounds noisy and chaotic, but it is precisely the turbulence in combination with the audible love for innovation in which the beauty of this music lies.”
Original Review in Dutch is here!
New tape out now with a trio featuring myself, Alan Wilkinson and Andrew Cheetham, recorded live at Islington Mill by Fran Comyn in April 2017. It came right at the end of a really nice period of playing; a few days before I’d been doing daytime jams with Rogier Smal at an opening at The Cobra Museum outside Amsterdam and then immediately before that was a two week trip to Japan with Sam Andreae and Otto Willberg; it’d been great to be playing alot everyday in different situations and you can hear all that in this tape (and other recordings from this period…) there’s literally no unecessary notes or sounds anywhere on it for my money!