The new Vignettes imprint on Cathnor is a line of minidiscs, each documenting single performances by artists in both one-time and enduring combinations. Keeping pace with musical developments in this moment of informational and artistic hypertrophy isn’t easy, and Richard Pinnell is giving improvisers a terrific opportunity to actually, you know, put out records. Shocking how shocking and endangered a proposition this has become.
On Roman Tics (Cathnor Vignettes 003), percussionist Burkhard Beins joins longtime colleague Michael Thieke (clarinet) and accordionist Luca Venitucci (a superb player who isn’t quite so radical in his use of preparations as is Alfredo Costa Monteiro). With Beins and Thieke both also playing zither, this is a fascinating study in the use of acoustic – dare I say, even traditional – instruments to create lovingly sculpted sound abstractions that could be electronic drones of varying density. The improvisational strategy is therefore similar to Mark Wastell’s recent work (note particularly his own gorgeous Vignettes release, After Hours), even if the resulting sounds are different. Set alongside the soft whorls from brushes on snares, brief crackle and flutter, and grinding gears, the zither is really effective: Beins sets up a crackle and thud pattern against mild hyperventilations from the accordion, and a wonderfully alien sound emits in a repeating arpeggiation, the tuning slowly unraveling. In some ways, this piece is kin to Masiiki, with its long keening sounds, like bowed glass and singing wires. But when it shifts into the gorgeous tone-stacking and post-Oliveros drone in the latter minutes, the music becomes emphatically distinct.
On the full-length Buoy (Cathnor 006), Lee Patterson (field recordings, amplified objects and processes) is joined by Phil Durrant (self-made software, samplers, and treatments) and Paul Vogel (clarinet and electronics) for an extremely rich set of performances. Rather than meditating on the suggestiveness of the disc’s title, it’s worth considering the way in which even the instrument descriptions seem to suggest that what’s important about the meeting between these three – two of whom have fascinating connections to more conventional EFI settings – is the ability to establish particular kinds of movement (“processes” and “treatments”) rather than the degree to which certain kinds of proficiency or articulation are achieved. Sure, they are far from alone in possessing this sensibility, but they embody it so marvelously here, with a precision and grace that don’t come at the expense of intensity, even volatility at times. It’s most audible on the lengthy “Pepe”, the kind of piece which takes the listener on an eventful ride. But they cover more ground here than on many hour-long improv slabs. It begins with a distant motor whine punctuated by the unexpected buzzing sound of patch cords into jacks. Somehow, amidst the static and whine, a lovely carillon effect has emerged and created a separate sound structure of whole tones stacked and shifting. Again almost imperceptibly, the two dimensions of the piece merge, the drill motor conveying the tones as part of its machinery. Into its final phase, voice-like presences emerge, some of them like soft cries inspired by Ami Yoshida and others like rough woody grunts that disappear in a rush of wind. The rest of the pieces aren’t quite so expansive, comfortable to dwell in more localized territories: the swelling hum and rain on tiles of “the third and the fifth,” the pipe organ tones of “The first Bud,” or the crystalline balance of the sculpted low end on “Equally Miller’s temperament.” Not only do these pieces surprise and provoke, they also consistently left me with the impression that they were like secrets being revealed a bit at a time, and maybe even different ones on different listenings. Lovely record.