Improvisations and realisations of indeterminate scores by Michael Pisaro and John Cage from this trio originally brought together by a reading of Cardew's "Treatise".
Chant / Davies / Drew / Edwards
Label: Another Timbre
Released in: UK
"The album, is a combination of three Michael Pisaro scores taken from his Harmony Series folio, John Cage's composition Four6 and two improvisations. It begins and ends with a Pisaro piece, with the half-hour long Cage realisation at its centre and the other tracks spaced between. The three Pisaro pieces are all scored for two musicians playing sustaining instruments. I am a big fan of Pisaro's Harmony Series. There are thirty-four compositions in the set, each based upon a poem, or a fragment of it. The scores usually involve only part instructions for the musicians, rarely indicating particular instruments or pitches, but often describing the type of sound that should be played, with parameters set for how and when they might be used. Not all of the pieces are scored for duos, but the three pieces chosen here are for just two musicians.
The first, based on a William Bronk poem is performed by Davies and Edwards. Their realisation is a dry, sparse piece with a vaguely Malfatti-esque tone to it, slides of grey tones spaced apart by silences, sometimes coinciding with each other. Angharad has worked quite a bit in this area of composition, indeed she is one of the music's most respected musicians, but the interesting thing to me is the involvement of John Edwards in this track, and in the album in general. He plays the piece beautifully well, as one would expect from such a skilled musician, but the piece seems so far away from what we know him as, a powerful, expressionistic bassist whose heart is rooted in improvisation. At the danger of sounding very boring through repeating myself, the fact that Edwards (and to some degree Chant) are involved with this project is testament to the current feeling of openness and cross-fertilisation prevalent in London right now. The second Pisaro piece is similar but different. Played by Davies and Chant the score asks one of the musicians to play a single pure tone for at least two of the piece's five minutes while the other is given rough instructions on how and when they should play a certain number of pure sounds themselves. Davies takes the role of inserting the two minute sound, which she elects to play right from the outset, a quiet, hissing sound played on the violin. When she stops after a couple of minutes we are suddenly very aware of the sounds creeping into the recording from outside the church in which it was recorded. They are faint and unobtrusive, but after the continuous sound their presence is suddenly heightened, interrupted by Chant's occasional additions to the music. This track is so very simple, like the short poem (by Beckett) that inspired it, just a few lines carefully placed in white space. The final, short (three minute) piece, based again on Beckett's words is played by Drew and Edwards, and again the soft ambience of North London is framed by a series of short, quiet tones picked out in turn by the musicians. For me the beauty of this music is in the simplicity of it, tiny forms created with simple raw materials. The three Pisaro pieces work very well weaved around the busier Cage score and the improvisations, little interludes of calm, carefully constructed music that won't be everyone's cup of tea but are certainly mine.
The performance of Cage's Four6 is maybe the highlight of the album though. The score asks the musicians (all four here) to select twelve sounds, which they then place into time brackets dictated by Cage, or rather by a randomising computer programme he used to write the piece just before his death in 1992. If the score is taken literally just about any outcome is possible. Here though the musicians work together in a gentle, yet occasionally tense and abrasive manner. The question for me here is if I would be able to guess this was an improvised work if I did not already know. Certainly it would be difficult to tell. The music has a spacious, slow feel to it because of the way the sounds are distributed amongst the thirty minute duration, but otherwise there are few giveaways. It is lovely music throughout. At times it feels very obvious that the musicians are not playing 'together' as they come and go at abrupt moments, but elsewhere when two or more sounds combine it feels all very natural and determined. Its a really nice piece though, a well balanced combination of sounds (presumably not discussed in advance) just enough to give the music an edge, but also to allow it all to gel together in a natural manner.
Any question about how improvised the Cage piece may have been are answered when you hear the two improvisations here though. In comparison, they sound so much more busy, wild and obviously unplanned. I have no idea how I can justify this claim, but the musicians also seem to relax when they move into the improv pieces. Maybe this is just a feeling sensed through the freeform method of playing, the restriction of the score removed, but there is almost a sense of relief audible in the first moments of each improvisation. Drew and Edwards in particular sound much more alive, boisterous and busy. Drew has often been the self-igniting firework of so many improv performances I have seen this year, and although he remains relatively restrained throughout this album it is in the improv pieces that his tense energy shines through, met well by the other musicians around him. Both of the improvisations sound alive when placed beside the compositions around them, and like Wedding Ceremony, a similar release from this year that asked a group to mix modern compositions with improvised sets the contrast between the two is marked.
It is not that one way of making music is necessarily more valid than the other, certainly not, and I enjoy all of the tracks on Decentred. The album works well for me though in highlighting how a score, however loose or simple usually results in music so very different to improvisation. The intriguing elements of this album, for me at least come through listening to the different ways the musicians respond, how those that are rarely involved in anything like this react to the constraints that composition places on the relationship they have with their colleagues, and then how they change when those restraints are removed. Decentred is a fascinating CD that probably reveals more about the musicians than the scores they are playing (something Cage and Pisaro would probably like). It is also full of beautiful, engaging music."-Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear
At The Squid's Ear!
Related Categories of Interest:
European Improv, Free Jazz & Related
London & UK Free Improvisation Scene
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Label: Another Timbre
Catalog ID: at18
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Recorded by Simon Reynell at St. James Church, Friern Barnett, North London on January 4, 2009.
Tom Chant-saxophones & bass clarinet
John Edwards-double bass
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1. Reader, Listen: Harmony Series, No 10 (Michael Pisaro) 6:47
2. Activation 10:46
3. Four 6 (John Cage) 30:17
4. La Voix Qui Dit: Harmony Series, No.8d (Michael Pisaro) 4:57
5. Decentering 13:10
6. Flux: Harmony Series, No.8a 3:12