Friday, October 24, 2008

Misha Alperin - Her First Dance (ECM 2008)

Her First Dance
ECM 2008

Listen: Her First Dance

A distant clock strikes midnight as I stroll through falling snow along deserted Parisian streets. Getting lost in the whiteness of winter, I stumble upon an alley where a masked figure in a dinner jacket beckons to me, inviting me to come over as if he had been expecting me for some time. His manner is reserved, but polite and soon he is pushing me through a door at the end of the alley where I emerge in a dusty room where an old painting of some forgotten Count licking his lips watches over me. Smoke washes the deep purple velvet walls of this antechamber, performing elaborate pirouettes and dissolving into air. Beyond a heavy red curtain I hear the faint sounds of piano notes and find myself drawn towards the simple melody. Pushing back the heavy red curtain, I step into a small hall where a stage lies before me and at its centre rests an impressively sized grand piano. Sitting with her back to me, black hair tied up neatly into a bun in a sort of Oriental fashion, wearing a long dark green gown is the pianist playing that ethereal melody. She pays me no attention, but as she twists her neck towards the hall, I see that she too is wearing a mask, birdlike and glittering with gold and silver, and the faint trace of a devious smile marks the edge of her lips, scarlet red and incredibly appealing. Scattered throughout are several more masked figures, the men in neat and tidy, stylish suits and the women wearing various gowns of subdued colours or perhaps it is the smoke in the room which makes them appear subdued when they are normally vivid and striking. What strikes me as strange is that the handful of figures all sit apart at small circular tables, but perhaps this is a necessity since there is no more than one chair at each table. The majority of them hold long cigarette holders and exhale with dreamy puffs of smoke in time to the rhythm of the pianist. The hall itself is French fin-de-seicle Art Nouveau, predominantly red with gold detailing of playful cherubs, freely frolicking against golden plants that twist and curl around pilasters and up, up towards the arching roof, to the centre where an exquisite chandelier hangs proudly, illuminating faintly with flickering red candles. I take off my jacket and sit down at one of the empty tables towards the back of the room and moments later another sound, deeper than the piano, weaves itself in between the sparse Satie-esque notes of the pianist. Unsure of where it comes from, I scan the hall until I notice yet another masked figure stood with arching back in hazy light atop the central balcony over the stage, moving his hands hypnotically up and down the horn he is playing. As the performance continues the room turns cooler. More and more smoke fills the air. Then I hear the sound of the cello, the rich, earthy sound of the plucked strings that echo the melody of the pianist as a rich counterbalance and despite the haze around me, my thoughts turn surprisingly lucid and then in a light and breezy moment, I imagine that I am hearing the sounds of an animal left out of Saint-Saens’ Carnival, an owl perhaps or a snake of some kind, a nocturnal hunter. Through the waltzing smoke that obscures my vision I can just about make out the deep red stage curtains being pulled back, revealing, behind the pianist, the slender figure of a woman wearing a simple black dress, below which the criss-cross pattern of fishnet stockings shimmers across her pale skin and down her legs to a pair of plain, black ballet shoes. Her eyes are like jewels and from her forehead emerges an extravagant headdress of exotic feathers and golden embroidery. She turns, smiles at the dreaming audience and steps forward to the edge of the stage. After a deep breath, she closes her eyes, spins slowly on her tips of her toes and falls back. At the exact moment she begins to fall another figure emerges from the shadows and catches her in his arms. He is assertive, strong, a great magician of a thousand spells, who wears an elegant waistcoat offset with a grey and silver paisley cravat. As he rises from the floor he twirls the girl into the air and she revolves around him. They embrace and begin to dance. The show progresses, movements become more entrancing, his muscular body marks a striking contrast with the delicate, butterfly like motions of his female companion, the musicians weave melodies in celestial whispers, ghostly communications, the audience, enraptured, hold their breath in anticipation and I gaze intently at the beautiful, dancing couple who seem to have shed their earthly qualities. At one moment, they leap like leaves through the air and hang suspended for what appears to be a long length of time, though I must confess that I have by this point lost all sense of time. At the next moment they fall into one another, consuming each other as their limbs contort, twist and bend. And then they disappear into dust as if an illusion all along. And the pianist, she turns towards me and smiles with those delicious lips, then quickly turns away as the light in the room begins to dim until completely extinguished and in the blackness a few lingering notes hang solemnly in the cold air. In the silence I think of all the things I have seen this evening, now unsure of whether or not I am still dreaming if I ever was dreaming and I can only recollect vague images, but what I remember most clearly are the simple melodies of the evening as the last few notes play themselves out, the final key becoming a reflective reminder of everything that has passed, before dissolving into nothing so only blackness remains.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nicholas Byrne - Divider

Nicholas Byrne, 'Divider', Studio Volatire 2008

Nicholas Byrne is an artist who loves paint. His previous shows at Vilma Gold and Kerlin Gallery were full of images of fragmented figures, composed of explosive colour, broken brushwork, intricate design work and layers of paint. So when he was presented with the opportunity to create whatever he felt like for Studio Voltaire’s converted community hall, he went a little crazy and made a huge, ironwork sculpture. That’s not to say that there aren’t any paintings, in fact there are four, but it’s the sculpture that really hits you as you step into the specially transformed gallery space, complete with cream-painted floor

After graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2005, Byrne has been a busy man with exhibitions all over the place, and his work is no quick feat with some paintings taking in excess of a year to complete. In previous work, he demonstrated an interest in the dialogue between form and design, chance and intent, using the human figure as a basis for this conflict. And so his first foray into the realms of sculpture is perhaps only natural progression. But at the same time, despite the works immense size, dividing the space in two, he chooses to keep things two-dimensional and paradoxically painterly, echoing the forms of his paintings on a much larger scale. No longer content to fragment his figures in paint, Byrne projects the effect onto us. Except we don’t immediately realise it, because it’s only other people we can see trapped within the lattice-like mesh. And what’s more it’s much easier for us to be free of the sculpture’s grasp; simply turn through ninety degrees and we’re no longer aware of its presence.

Nicholas Byrne, Untitled, 2008

As for Byrne’s painted victims, they’re not so fortunate. Trapped in layers of heavy paint on copper and linen, they become symbolic of their attempts to conquer the space around them. Continuing Byrne’s trend of makeshift display, the paintings lean almost incidentally against the gallery’s whitewashed walls, providing a dramatic counterpoint to the vastness of the sculpture. In his previous show at Kerlin Gallery, Byrne addressed the issue of identity with images halfway between figuration and abstraction and in some ways ‘Divider’ continues this exploration. Only this time round, there’s additional depth in the form of narrative. The four paintings read from left to right appear to convey four different moments during a race, from the warm-up to the finish.

Representation of physical prowess has always been a challenge to artists. There are a number of varying approaches to this from the austere photography of athlete’s captured in time à la Herb Ritts to the more drastic breakdown of space in paintings à la Italian Futurism. Byrne’s works seems to fall between the two. Perhaps taking his cue from the recent Olympics, his figures are athletes at their most extreme: focused and adrenalin fuelled.

A figure stretches from the intense orange of the canvases lower half to bright blue in the upper, as if reaching for the sky. Liberated? Maybe, maybe not. It is only for a brief moment. Another is accompanied by the image of a propeller which suggests the act of winding and made me think of stretching or of working yourself up before the race. But its effect cannot be sustained. Ultimately the athlete returns to stasis as Byrne makes use of the unpainted copper to represent a body once more contained within a restrictive background. The world continues to move. The figure remains still. Turn back to the sculpture and the same principle applies; this dynamic interplay between movement and stasis which stands as testament to the complexity of Byrne’s work.

Nicholas Byrne, Untitled, 2008

There are definite echoes of European Modernism in his work, ranging from the Italian Futurism of Umberto Boccioni to the ruthless deconstruction of the human figure in the work of Francis Bacon. But Byrne doesn’t fall into pastiche. His work draws inspiration from tradition, but considers a different angle. It is playful, but underlined by both a viscerally and intellectually arousing exploration of the limits of painting and experience. Continual striving is met with continual conflict, but Byrne’s work reminds us that the race itself is half the fun.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Kevin Drumm & Taku Sugimoto - Den (Sonoris 2000)

Sonoris 2000


I was a little surprised when I came across this album on the internet. I’ve known Kevin Drumm’s work for a while now and I’d just started to investigate Taku Sugimoto. So when I saw this I sort of expected it to be some schizophrenic mash-up, jumping from warped, pounding noise to sparse rolling guitar. I guess I was half right. Where Drumm’s output is usually nothing less than abrasive, Sugimoto’s is calm, sparing and filled with emptiness a la Loren MazzaCane Connors and this album certainly places more emphasis on the latter. The five live tracks are static soundscapes not dissimilar to Ryoji Ikeda’s electronic work crossed with the musique concrete of Michel Chion. Minimal, sporadic, disturbing.

Listening to Sugimoto’s sparse guitar work is a bit like being a traveller in a distant land. The steady, repetitive plucking sounds a bit like footsteps through which you journey into the crackling, buzzing noises of Drumm's manic electronic forest. Deeper and deeper you go into a dense world of sound, filled with drama and intrigue.

The second piece opens with a wave of electronics, high-pitched sounds, bird like song, fuzz before disintegrating to almost nothing after two minutes and making way for Sugimoto’s gentle guitar plucking. They reach their most dramatic interplay about nine minutes into this track. Drumm’s electronic sounds spiral and dive around Sugimoto’s more energetic playing, before Drumm unleashes a torrent of noise and drowns out Sugimoto completely. The latter remains at the forefront of the next track, but I’m not sure that his guitar work is interesting enough to lead and it’s only Drumm’s minimal presence that really holds the track together.

They’re playing off one another, sure, but Drumm seems to be more capable of surprise. Having heard Sugimoto’s solo record, Opposite, I realise that sparseness is the basis of his work. Emptiness literary makes up more of the album than actual notes. I’m a big fan of these highly minimal approach, but what actually makes Den more interesting, is Drumm’s ability to fill those gaps with something far more exciting. Occasionally this has the effect of disrupting Sugimoto’s playing, but on the whole, I think they manage to strike a good balance. Sugimoto’s notes still hang in the air as they do on his solo works, but Drumm’s electronics add an extra layer, which is the equivalent of nothingness required for those notes to have depth. They’ve worked together twice in the past, so it’s probably safe to say that both artists are at least a little pleased with the end result.

The beautiful droning guitar and crackling electronics of the fourth track fall into ambient terrain for the first time and drift away from the more disturbing, cerebral territory of the rest of the album, offering some relief in the thick forest soundscape. A moment of lightness. A clearing of some kind. But it’s then followed by an eerie stillness, which reminded me of those moments on a Tarkovsky film when time slows down. It’s one of those albums that keep you constantly wary. Tension is maintained throughout, but in the end that’s all there is. A series of disquieting moments without any real resolution. These pieces are like sketches rather than finished compositions, but it does provide valuable insight into the work of two of the more pioneering artists of the musical avant-garde.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Geir Moseid - Plucked

Geir Moseid, From the series 'Plucked' (Sheet), 101 x 76mm C-type Print

A handful of loose petals cover a white stained tablecloth. The hands of a woman embroider delicate little flowers into a piece of fabric. A woman wearing a patterned dress is in the act of putting white sheets onto a bed. Food lies uncooked on a kitchen counter as the sun casts shadows through a net curtain composed of small flowers above. A table of partly consumed food and drink lacks the necessary human element to bring it to life and a piece of flower-patterned wrapping paper lies to waste.

Geir Moseid’s new exhibition, ‘Plucked’ at Flowers East is on first appearances strangely deceptive in its formal simplicity. On display is a collection of photographs, which draws upon the idea of the home and our relationship with its various spaces to produce an effect that is both intriguing and genuinely disquieting. The Norwegian born photographer claims that his work is based around the ethics of both social documentary and staged photography and what is immediately noticeable is Moseid’s excellent eye for detail.

He also states that what he really wants to do is evoke a feeling of the uncanny, drawing upon the duality perceived by such a place as the home. Moseid’s photographs are highly formal in style, using very little colour or tonal variation. The effect is a heightened sense of unease as the viewer attempts to understand what is really going on in each scene. These may be homes, but they are far from comforting places.

Geir Moseid, ;"From the series 'Plucked' (Celebration), 101 x 76mm C-type Print

One of the main themes of the exhibition is the passing of time. There are memento mori references in the use of flowers, empty tables and uncooked food. Use of food devoid of human activity becomes a subtle reminder of our own fate. The woman’s hands are a reminder of our need to literally weave our surroundings into our life as an attempt to counteract our own mortality. It is a way of making our mark on the world.

Despite the occasional figure, these photographs lack a human element. The figures that are present are always turned away or hidden from us. Never do we see a face. Captured in the past, they appear like ghosts or perhaps more appropriately a collection of indistinct memories. This creates an interesting dichotomy between the nature of photography itself and its ability to document daily life and capture a single moment in time and its ability to be manipulated, both in pre- and post-production.

In the staging of the photographs, there is something of a Cindy Sherman feel about, but where her works confront the viewer head on with a portrait, Moseid’s have a far greater voyeuristic element. He is much more interested in what we can and cannot see. There is something very disquieting about a space that should be familiar, but because of those elements that remain just out of sight it makes the inverse is true.

Moseid chooses a viewpoint, which puts us in the position of the home or the internal space through which we see the outside world only through a very narrow divide. What’s more is that the world outside is even more obscured by the raindrops, which fall against the window. It is only with the home with which we have a sense of control over our surroundings. It’s how we use that control to carry out our desires in such a private setting that forms the basis of Moseid’s work.

Geir Moseid, ;"From the series 'Plucked' (Lying Figure 1), 101 x 76mm C-type Print

Taken as a whole, the work begins to have quite a hypnotic effect and you find yourself making elaborate connections between the images. The image of the person in the bath is a very private act in itself, but coupled with the flannel which obscures his or her face, we lose a sense of their identity. The question then arises as to why this person has chosen to hide their face. It is a far more physical act of blocking out sight than simply closing ones eyes. Is this act a way of hiding from an overwhelming sense of regret or is it a way of hiding something physical from the world. Coupled with the image of the woman in the bed, it’s possible to make a rather sinister connection. Turned away from the viewer and exposing her back, instead of an image of a sleeping woman, there’s now almost a sense that perhaps she’s not sleeping, but trying to turn her back on the past and crying into the pillow. This is where Moseid’s talent for exploring the duality of the home environment in terms of documentary and staged photography resides.

These photographs are paradoxically simple and complex. They deal with the fragile nature of human life and all its sinister undersides. Truth is subjective and as Samuel Beckett said, ‘It is only possible to verify a fraction of what has been said.’ Moseid draws inspiration from TV and cinema, which obviously has a big influence on most people’s lives today and his photographers play with expectations, using our love of drama and search for knowledge to undermine that very idea of objective truth. The past is indeed the past, regardless of how we try to recreate it.

'Plucked' is on at Flowers East until 18th Oct.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Fred Frith - Back to Life (Tzadik 2008)

Back to Life
Tzadik 2008

Listen: Back to Life

I've only recently come across Fred Frith, but like similar British improvisational pioneer, Derek Bailey, here's becoming quite a regular on my stereo. Back to Life however, isn't an improvisational album, but a collection of Frith's chamber music over the past few years, and Frith doesn't actually play anywhere on this record. The ensemble is composed of former Kronos quartet cellist, Joan Jeanrenaud, percussionist William Winant, who has worked with some of the great avant-garde musicians of the past from Lou Harrison to Sonic Youth, the pianist Stephen Drury and the Belgian musician Daan Vandewalle.

`Seven Circles' for solo piano has touches of Morton Feldman and John Cage, and there's definitely something abstract and Indeterminate about the playing. As with John Cage's piano works, the spaces in between the notes are often used to add emphasis and define the piece. But the sparse nature of `Seven Circles' isn't really where Frith's talent as a composer lies. His real talent comes to the surface when he's writing for two instruments, and perhaps that's why `Seven Circles' was spread across the album rather than left as a single piece. `Save As' is one of the best pieces on the album, because of the beautiful interplay between the Xylophone and the Cello, which really demonstrates Frith's ability as a composer. It's certainly an unusual combination, but interesting because of the interaction between the short droning movements, careful plucking and cacophonic noises of the cello coupled with the strange playfulness of the percussion. Eventually the piece breaks out into a long, minimal and melancholy section before sinking back into playfulness once again. And playfulness is certainly Frith's forte.

By far the most accomplished and satisfying of the pieces is the title track. Despite being the most conventional, it's also the most beautiful and least dissonant. The oboe remains at the forefront for the majority of the piece, becoming entwined from time to time with the richer notes of the cello for additional depth and the soaring notes of the Arve Henrikson style trumpet for lightness.

The dynamism between light and dark is especially noticeable on on `Bridge is Bridge' as the piece continually shifts from the frantic to the contemplative. The trumpet lifts the piece in a series of sort of medieval-esque moments, making great use of empty space. The repetitive cycle of Winant's percussion forms a strong foundation as the trumpet cries out and the oboe and cello weave their way in and out, softened by the gentle marimba playing. There's a strange wintry feel to these pieces, which is in part due to Frith's most obvious classical influences. There's the occasional break out into Ligeti like `micropolyphonic' percussive flourishes and the polystylistic techniques owe something to Schnittke.

Darkness and the unknown linger across the whole album in a sort of Eastern European, Svankmajer-esque surreal, Alice down the rabbit hole, way. When listening to most of the pieces, I can almost picture Svankmajer's puppet's performing some strange internal journey into their past to recount particularly traumatic events that are simultaneously played out with stop-animation clay effects in the foreground. But that's probably one of my main criticisms of this album - the something extra which seems to be lacking. It's almost as if these works were written with something else in mind, a missing theatrical accompaniment, a contemporary dance etc. The dropping of a ping-pong ball followed by the screeching cello on `Save As' is all well and good if it's used to build up tension in a dramatic scene, but without the scene it doesn't quite have the same effect.

Having said that, there are some striking passages in these works and perhaps all the more striking because of how we reach them. In between the flickering shadows there's a very definite beauty, but it exists briefly as a kind of transient moment that's never truly captured, always lingering just beyond reach. The title Back to Life certainly emphasises the album's dreamlike nature, in a way which implies that it's only when you've reached the end that you've truly returned Back to Life. Rather than a journey through life, it's a journey to life.


Tacita Dean

Kodak, 2006

I first came across Tacita Dean through her film work at the Tate Britain. One of her 16mm films was being projected in a small space in total darkness. I mean it was so dark that you couldn’t see your own hands, let alone if there was anyone else is the room at the time, which is I guess is all part of the strange surreal experience her work evokes. The work was called Kodak (2006) and was made using an out-dated 16mm camera of a Kodak factory in Chalon sur Saone, a factory which was just about to close down all film production there.

The work is interesting, not only because of the obvious connection between the use of virtually obsolete 16mm camera in documenting the decline of a film production factory, but more so because of it’s strange, haunting beauty. The camera seems to float through the space of the factory like a ghost. It travels through darkened rooms with heavy shadows and occasional bursts of intense colour, such as the striking pink light towards the end in the packaging factory. Whilst watching there’s something very strange about not being able to see your own body and the hypnotic effect of her camera work removes all sense of conventional space.

Later, I came across a series of blackboard drawings entitled The Roaring Forties: Seven Boards in Seven Days without initially realising who the artist responsible for them was, but there was something in their stark beauty that was particularly striking. Each drawing is so full of rich detail it’s hard to believe that they’re all created with chalk on Masonite panels. The subtlety of the sea is spellbinding enough to capture anyone’s attention and you really get an idea of the kind of affinity Dean shares with its turbulent, unknown nature. The Roaring Forties is the name given to a zone in the southern Atlantic between 40 and 50 degrees latitude, which is notorious for its gale-force winds.

Roaring Forties: Seven Boards In Seven Days

The series of drawings has a very vintage black and white film aesthetic about them and Dean has added direction notes to add to that cinematic quality. What really added to the atmosphere and transported you to the scene, wasn’t just their size, the direction notes or the subject matter, but the actual sounds of the gallery. The creaking of the wooden floor began to echo the creaking of the ship as it was caught in high winds and the ropes grew tense under the pressure.

An understated, contemplative atmosphere connects these two works and after exploring more of her video and photography work, I discovered this to be a trend which appears to run through all of it. Centred around this meditative exploration of the unknown is Dean’s fascination with the sea. Perhaps the sea is obvious as a metaphor the mysteries of the human condition, but she avoids all of the obvious pitfalls and somehow rises above such cliché.

Her video work about the sailor Donald Crowhurst, who tried to fake a round the world yacht trip, which ended in his death as he jumped overboard doesn’t choose the obvious starting points, but tries to recreate an atmosphere and hypnotically entrance the viewer into his lonely, isolated and fateful world. In Disappearance at Sea, Dean uses an anamorphic format to record images of the repetitive nature of the revolving light of St Abb’s lighthouse, interspersed with images of the sunset, until it becomes drenched with the tragedy of Crowhurst’s own fatal journey.

Still from Disappearance at Sea, 1996

What makes Dean’s work so rewarding is the personal experience of history and culture that she brings to each of her projects. From the common component of history, you start to get some sense of how she reacts to such a thing, raising questions of identity and the search into the unknown for some meaning. One important aspect of her work is how certain meanings are prescribed in a very individual manner. There is always a striving for something, but all attempts are often futile as witnessed by the tragedy of Crowhurst, the decay of architecture, the transition of outdated technology into obscurity. The end product is not important, but the way in which we get there is and that is the very core of Dean’s work.

Her work is full of mystery, the apocalyptic, human failing and futility, but beyond that there is still a sense of the sublime, of wonder and awe as it deals with the changing nature of beliefs, dreams and goals. It also deals with the ideas of moving on, finding new discoveries and pursuing boundaries which form the very basis of human nature. Because in spite of all this futility, we still endeavour to understand ourselves and strive for things beyond comprehension. Dean’s work is a delight for the imagination and a much-needed relief from the unreasonably angst-driven YBA’s that are dotted around the Tate Britain. It’s just a shame that we live in a world where so many of us won’t have the time or the patience to appreciate the works calm, intelligent beauty and we only end up missing the point.


Before me rose the same factory that I’d seen everyday of my life for thirty years. In the yet to clear mist of the early morning, the structure appeared like a ghost ship at sea. Looking more carefully, I noticed three of the workers outside smoking cigarettes and laughing. Amongst them was Jonah, the loudest of the workers. His hearty laugh could always be heard storming through the dense smoke of kaleidoscope colours inside the factory. They used to be wary of my approach, but nowadays the three men continued their early morning banter without acknowledging my presence.

This morning I decided to stop before the factory door and wait a few moments before going in. This must have made the three of them nervous because they stopped talking with such enthusiasm and fell into barely audible whispers. Then after a while Jonah turned to look at me and smiled. I nodded my cap, our eyes met and I left the group.

Inside the factory’s metallic shell, guided by red lights I made my way to the empty office that awaited my presence to imbue it with life. After years of working in the noisy environment, the sound of the machinery had gradually become nothing more than a haunting drone. Every morning it lifted my spirits to hear the churning, rattling, scraping sounds all around me as if I had become synthesised with my surroundings. Before I entered my solitary cell, I paused to watch the passing workers cast strange shadows and silhouettes against coloured sheets of light. I breathed in the synthetic smell of the chemicals which make up my daily life. Everything in this place existed to capture a past that will only exist in the future. I have always enjoyed this paradox.

Today there was no mist, but my walk to work took longer than usual. The ground was hard against my feet as I strode across the barren landscape. Behind me, my footprints in the papery clay stretched out towards the horizon. In the bare trees, the last of the leaves had fallen and I paused for several moments to reflect upon their quiet beauty. They made me remember my own childhood, growing up in a small Alpine village covered in snow and laughing with friends.

None of the workers were outside today. The temperature had dropped to below zero. In the sky above the frozen factory, the clouds looked like the faded edges of old photographs. Inside the humming of machinery continued to create the film of the future to record the past. I passed through the fractured purple lights that fell like bars upon my face and heard for a brief moment the hearty laughter of one of the workers rise above the drone. I smiled at their enjoyment.

This morning I made the same walk as I do every morning, but no matter which way I turned, I couldn’t quite remember the exact route. It seemed as if someone had changed the layout of the world in the night and I was no longer able to rely upon my own memories to guide me. Eventually I had no choice but to sit down for a few moments on the side of the road and try and picture in my mind where I had come from.

After a while the frozen ground began to chill my legs and feet so I got up and stood there struggling to orientate myself. In the whiteness that spread out before me it was difficult to know which direction I should take so in the end, I headed the way I thought I’d come from and as I set off light snow began to fall all around me. It was a beautiful scene and for several moments, I forgot myself and was nothing more than a ghost in the middle of snowfall.

I woke up today in a sweat, without remembering my dreams. As I rose from my bed, I wondered where so much of my life had gone. My dreams, as I imagine, must contain many small segments of my life which fill some unknown part of my brain like a huge filing cabinet. One day I’d have to have a serious sort out.

This morning as I sat on the balcony of my secluded house, drinking a hot cup of freshly made coffee, I heard the birds sing in the trees for the first time. It was cold in the air and the steam rose like dragon breath and dissolved with tiny pirouettes. The edge of the sun crept in across the valley and suddenly it struck me… I realised that today I had nothing to do.


Sylvie Courvoisier - Lonelyville (Intakt Records 2007)

Intakt Records 2007


Lonelyville is one of those great recent improvisational records that manage to combine discord with harmony and heaviness with lightness and never fall short anywhere along the way. Sylvie Courvoisier, a vanguard of contemporary European music, leads the way with her chopping chordal rampages on the piano. The classically trained pianist has a good ear for composition, rhythm and texture and is able to carve a sense of coherence throughout the record that the other members of the quintet can then play around with. It also helps that the members of the quintet are some of the most respected and pioneering members of the musical avant-garde and have worked together before.

On Courvoisier and Feldman's previous album, recorded for John Zorn's Book of Angels series, the interplay between Courvoisier's heavy piano and Feldman's soaring violin was very fluid, playing more on texture than colour, but on this record, it's much more striking and probably the best thing they've ever done together. `Texturologie' begins with the cold and rather beautiful violin work of Feldman, but is soon accompanied by Ikue Mori's otherworldly electronics, Cleaver's gentle cymbal tapping and the earthly sounding cello of Vincent Courtois. But before long the haunting passage is over, the drums gradually begin to kick up more noise and Courvoisier's comes in striking a rampage of notes on her piano, only to explode into brief silence and then a delicate cello solo. But moments later, it breaks out again in ferocity with a wonderfully colourful interplay between the players. This is one of those records that has that rare electricity between the players that makes improvisational music so exciting.

At each moment, the music is rich with both colour and texture, whether it's the bizarre soundwork of Mori, the sliding violin work of Feldman, the delicate plucking of Courtois on his cello or Courvoisier's smashing blocks of sound on the piano. And Cleaver succeeds in holding everything in place with his complex rhythmical foundation. Lonelyville strikes a perfect balance between improvisation and composition and it's a treat to listen to. Anyone who's a fan of pianist Cecil Taylor's free jazz work of the sixties and seventies is sure to find something to enjoy here.


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