This is the third recording by Common Objects, an ensemble that began as a trio with Rhodri Davies (harp), Lee Patterson (electronics) and John Butcher (saxophones) on 2013's Live at Morden Tower (Mikroton) and expanded to a quartet with Angharad Davies (violin) on the 2015 double-disc release, Whitewashed with Lines (Another Timbre). For Skullmarks, recorded in 2016, they've added two more voices: Pat Thomas (electronics) and Lina Lapelytė (violin). Here, they're performing a composition by Butcher, containing a good bit of improvisation from the group. It's an excellent example of the possible seamlessness between two approaches; while one can hear certain subdivisions, the sense of free improv pervades wonderfully.
The performance, recorded at the Pitt Rivers Museum, begins with a fine tentativeness, sending out tendrils into the environment, testing the atmosphere. It's quiet, with an implied, soft pulse, the strings iterating simple, steady lines, some darker, rougher electronics burbling beneath. The electronics grow increasingly crunchy, set off against some unusual (for him) soaring glissandi from Butcher, almost recalling the beginning of 'Rhapsody in Blue' (!). Quiet, not-quite-drone music goes on for a while, always shifting instrumental make-up and patterns — subtle, grainy, unfailingly fascinating — the fabric coming close to evaporating entirely at points. Matters get more convoluted about midway through, the electronics contributing some surprisingly loopy, almost ray-gun-like effects. Eventually, and it's difficult to pinpoint how and why, the music coalesces with a force and plasticity that's even stronger than what has preceded, remaining low key but acquiring a new tensile strength and sure sense of identity. Almost as soon as this occurs, the work ends, leaving the listener mighty hungry for more, much more.
An excellent recording and a mandatory listen for admirers of those involved.
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