Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre
Mathias Forge - trombone
Phil Julian - electronics
David Papapostolou - cello
recorded in london, march 2009
“Since the inception of the Another Timbre label a few years back, Simon Reynell
has been producing consistently absorbing and challenging releases of European advanced
improvisation with overlap into areas of contemporary composition. While he has looked
toward France, Spain, Germany – and even the US for a recent recording by Kyle Bruckmann
and Ernst Karel – he has resolutely focused on music being made in and around London.
What makes London particularly intriguing at the moment is the commitment toward
exploration and cross-fertilization of multiple generations of free improvisers,
with the likes of Evan Parker, Eddie Prévost, Max Eastley, Clive Bell and John Butcher
collaborating with Tom Chant, John Edwards, Rhodri and Angharad Davies, Mark Wastell,
and Graham Halliwell. And increasingly, a new generation is starting to get some
visibility. Seymour Wright, Jamie Coleman, Sebastian Lexer, and Ross Lambert, who’ve
been documented on a handful of releases on Prévost’s Matchless label over the last
decade, are being joined by a number of musicians who are settling around London.
These musicians are finding an outlet at venues like Café Otó, and small DIY series
presented at churches and store-fronts, as well as festivals like Freedom of the
City and Reynell’s Unnamed Music Festival.
They have come to London from many different locations, and to improvisation from differing backgrounds. Phil Julian comments, “I think that there are some very strong younger improvising players in London at the moment and it's very interesting for me as someone slightly outside of the environment to step in and be welcomed immediately. There's no sense of 'well, who's this noisy laptop guy who's suddenly arrived? not sure we want him around' – it's a very open group open to new ideas, and that's exciting.”
For many of them, Eddie Prevost's improvisation workshop, which has been taking place in Southwark every Friday evening for over a decade, now provides a central laboratory. Some are regulars while others drift in and out. Grundik Kasyansky describes it nicely: “At the workshop we play a bit, but mostly we listen to other people playing (15 – 20 people playing mostly in duos and trios and we have only two hours for all that). Anybody can arrive – a rocker, a jazzman, a non-musician, a goofy “superstar”, a scholar, a drunken clochard, so you learn to accept anything, and deal with it. Slowly you learn to keep your mind open and concentration high. You learn to agree, to disagree, to hold, to continue, to stop, to wait, to listen, to push, to let things go and to bring them back. It is constant challenge, hard work and serious fun.”
Reynell has been a steadfast supporter of these musicians. He recollects that “when I started the Another Timbre label I was very much aware that a new generation of players was emerging within the UK, and they interested me a lot. The new players were hardly represented on disc and I was keen to present their work in two ways: either by linking them on CDs with more established players (as on discs such as Hum, Dun and Midhopestones) or simply playing with each other on CDRs (CDs would unfortunately be financial suicide). So the desire to profile the work of this new generation was fundamental to the label from the start. Representing the music was quite tricky because, firstly, the groupings are so fluid, and there are very few longer-term groups, and secondly the music of this generation is constantly changing and evolving in different ways. Over the course of 2008 I did several recordings with the Coleman-Kasyansky-Wright trio (one of the few long-term groupings), and each recording was very different from the next; the musicians felt that the recordings had become out of date within weeks. It happened that spring was a very slack time for work for me, so I decided to use it to do several recordings in London, and thought it could be interesting to issue a small series of discs that would, together, give a kind of snapshot of that generation's music at one particular moment.”
It is that notion of a snapshot that makes these CDRs so compelling. The series was meticulously curated by Reynell over the course of a few weeks in the Spring of 2009, selecting a handful of the London-based musicians he's been following, and taking advantage of the fact that French musicians Mathias Forge and Leo Dumont were passing through London on their way back to France from the IandE festival in Dublin to arrange a series of recording sessions over the course of a few weeks in the Spring of 2009. Carefully choosing churches around London that had favorable acoustics, he organised one concert with an audience as well as two separate recording sessions (with no audience present). Most of the groups were first-time meetings, pulling together musicians Reynell thought would click. What is common amongst the sets is a fascination of the timbral qualities of the intersection of acoustic and electronic sound sources. But most importantly, there is the notion that technique and vocabulary are not enough – one must use those foundational elements for the formulation of a personal and ensemble language.
The trio with Mathias Forge (trombone), Phil Julian (electronics) and David Papapostolou (cello) does a nice job of capturing the process of three musicians working out a collective sound. ”Floodlit Iron Tracery”, recorded at a concert at St. Marks Church, is preceded by “Long Nylon Oak,” which was recorded a few days later at a recording session at the Church of St. James the Great. The three had first played together the previous November when Forge was visiting London, and each brings a unique approach to the table. For Forge, the trombone mainly serves as a sound source. He's as likely to conjure up metallic scrapes and rattles from the horn as he is to use the slide and bore to amplify and modify his hisses, puffs, and exhalations. Papapostolou’s approach to the cello is an ideal complement. Using close miking, every nuanced scratch, popped string, and overtone is placed against Forge’s breathiness and percussive attack.
From this recording, you'd never guess that Julian has been playing harsh noise/drone electronic music for the last decade under the name Cheapmachines. Crossing paths with Papapostolou and Milton provided him with the impetus to begin exploring collaborative improvisation using contact miked surfaces and modular analog synths. His gestural percussive clicks and flutters, along with judicious introduction of sine waves, bridge the timbres of Forge and Papapostolou. One can hear the three intently listening to each other and the resonance of their collective sound in the two church acoustics. The live character of the room comes through particularly well on the piece recorded at St. Marks, with the musicians exploring the decay of the room as string abrasions explode against breathy blasts and electronic spatters. If these two improvisations are but snapshots of work in progress, one looks forward to hearing how the three might grow together over time.
Considering this series of recordings as a group, it's tempting to jump to neat conclusions about a new "thing": a new scene, a new sound, a new community. That is particularly true for those listening to this music geographically removed from London. But Seymour Wright responds cautiously when asked about whether these musicians, are part of a particularly musical community. “Actually [there are] many different communities – social, musical, moral… real, and probably mostly, imagined, in London. The workshop is a nexus for some of them, as is Café Otó at present. Yes, of course there is a very warm social group around these two different fulcra, but it is far more complexly knit and limber in its unity than may be thought and imagined. There are, more helpfully, also what I think of as schools of musical operation and it may be the case that any three people playing together in one of these settings are engaged in fundamentally different, albeit simultaneous, activities. I am tempted to go as far as to suggest that the number of communities and perhaps schools is a factor of the number of individuals involved, but I am not sure.”
So those looking for a harbinger of the next "new thing" can keep searching, then. Everyone involved in these recordings cautions about the codification and / or commoditization that can come from documents which, by their very nature are a snapshot of a particular point in time. A glimpse at the websites of any of these musicians reveals that they've been playing in a broad variety of contexts with increasing regularity, and haven't been particularly interested in documenting their work. Many of them see the process of exploration and discovery as more central to their music making than recording. Even so, these four CDRs provide an essential dispatch from the front line, from a group of musicians who are worth keeping on your radar.” - Michael Rosenstein, Paris Transatlantic
“....These four discs are some kind of attempt by the label owner Simon Reynell to capture snapshots of the currently very exciting improvised music scene in London as they all involve younger players from the city, with a couple of visitors passing through also featured. All four of the releases were recorded over a period of about ten days in a series of churches around London, sites chosen for their acoustic resonance, reduced external noise and financial advantages over recording studios. The discs then all have a familiar Reynell character to the recordings, a closely miked intimacy, musicians split clearly between the channels and that resounding resonance maybe only available in churches.
I’ve listened to all four of the releases repeatedly over recent weeks but today I have been listening to Meshes the trio recording of London-based Phil Julian, (electronics) and David Papapostolou (cello) alongside the visiting French trombonist Mathias Forge. The album contains two tracks, the first of which, Long Nylon Oak was recorded at the Church of St James the Great in North London without an audience present, and the second, Floodlit Iron Tracery two days earlier at St Mark’s Church in Clerkenwell in a concert setting.
The music is quiet and spacious, but not overly so. The two acoustic instruments are mainly used in a manner that avoids the tonal sounds they are capable of, with Forge working primarily with fuzzy hissing and spluttering sounds and Papapostolou keeping his cello to small semi-percussive clicking and scratching. Julian, despite his background in noisier, dronier music is probably the most restrained of all here, refining his output to small pops and crackles but also inserting extended sine-like tones into proceedings here and there, a move that always seems to spur the other two musicians into a spell of increased activity.
Maybe it is something to do with the way that the resonant room and quality recording lets sounds hang in the air for a second or so after they are made, but there is a wonderful sense of slowness to the music that suggests each sound, every contribution comes only after careful consideration. Silences are never left to linger for long, but the passages of busy interplay where all three musicians are active are few and far between. There is a nice balance to this group. Not only are all three sets of sounds heard in equal amounts, with no one really dominating the space, but the chosen palette of each musician compliments the others nicely. It is always clear which sound comes from who, but the three voices combine well. The two tracks are of similar length at twenty-six and twenty-two minutes respectively and despite the couple of days gap between recordings and a change of venue the shift from the first piece to the second is almost seamless. The second church here produces a deeper echo (I have attended a concert at St Mark’s and indeed the way the tiniest sounds bounce about the room is amazing) but in general the break between sessions is indiscernible, a very good sign for a trio that had not played together before these occasions.
So, two very nice recordings of three improvisers tentatively picking out a way of making music together. If other London groupings right now perhaps push and challenge each other a little more actively and obviously than on Meshes this can be easily explained by the musicians’ unfamiliarity with one another. What we have here though are two great tracks of graceful, considered improvisation with a really strong sense of time and place and that at its highest points really sparkles.
I should add a mention here for Paul Abbott’s great artwork for this series of discs. Meshes in particular has a lovely, if very simple design, with the presence of a church, so strong to the recording there on the sleeve design. “
- Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear
“Trombone, electronics and cello, the trio opts for a sparser, more irregular path, with perhaps a higher degree of difficulty. Two cuts, both emerging more or less unscathed, but somehow striking me as overly forced. Actually, it's a tough one for me to call; sometimes it has a searching quality that's very appealing, other times I hear it less as "searching" and more as "casting about". Again, I don't believe this series of discs are meant as statements or finished projects, more as snapshots; there's nothing here that would dissuade me from hoping to hear more from this trio by any means. I just wanted more rigor this time around.” - Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
“Another Timbre is one of those labels with a name – like Blue Note, Impulse! Or AUM Fidelity – that resonates with the sound of the music it releases. Founded in 2007 by Simon Reynell, a television sound recordist disillusioned at the state of broadcast media (especially in his own field of documentary making), the label has developed a robust core identity with a catalogue of 19 discs with as many distinct perspectives on quiet, lowercase Improv.
Except, of course, the full picture is more complicated. Reynell has also issued composed music by John Cage and Frank Denyer, while Improvisations for Shakuhachi and Ney finds Clive Bell and Bechir Saade building around another cultural construct altogether. But Reynell's nuanced, detailed approach to recording has had the effect of prompting improvisors into exploring uncharted margins of atomised sound, secure in the knowledge that their explorations will be faithfully reproduced. This sequence of four releases, all recorded in London during March and April this year, comes under the Another Timbre Byways tag – a satellite series of CD-R recordings designed as a sort of inexpensive audio blog documenting a specific moment in time.
Control and its Opposites featuring Jamie Coleman (trumpet), Grundik Kasyansky (electronics) and Seymour Wright (alto saxophone) is a typical Another Timbre project. Recorded at the Church of St.James the Great in Friern Barnet, North London, the disc opens with the exterior ambience of faint traffic rumble and leaves blowing on trees framing a context for the music to come: Coleman's marvellously chameleon-like trumpet zones into the bountiful harmony of this external background, his supple, breathy overtones weaving around textures and timbres spotlighted by the immaculate recording. Kasyansky's electronic rig occasionally blurts out ear-splitting shockers, but otherwise probes the emerging continuum. In the latter stages of this 80-minute improvisation, Wright sporadically punctures the flow with seemingly incongruous Fire Music-like shrieks. But listen closer and you realise that he has managed to harness the impetus behind the sound, while ditching the stylistic reference itself. Yes, another timbre.
The church acoustic figures once again in Meshes, featuring French trombonist Mathias Forge with Phil Julian (electronics) and David Papapostolou (cello), also recorded in Friern Barnet, with a second 'live' track cut a few days previously. Forge's burping trombone, Papapostolou's percussive cello and Julian's electronics stutter onwards in a procession of knocks and rattles that ricochet against the resonant acoustic. While, in another context, those same gestures might imply velocity and speed, these acoustic realities divert the music towards a more meandering, leisurely paced structure that is intriguingly at odds with its material.
On Loiter Volcano Ute Kanngiesser approaches the cello with a wholly other mindset to Papapostolou's. A striking sequence of high-register pizzicato notes is heard against the twanging cartoon violence of Léo Dumont's percussion and Paul Abbott's electronics. As the Heath Robinson mechanism unwinds, her drones and arpeggiations move with the grain of her instrument. But she hijacks that grain, twisting cello mannerisms into distorted shapes as she processes the electronic and percussion onslaught. Scrub, violinist Matt Milton's duo with Léo Dumont, isn't bad, but feels more like generic free Improv than the other three. But it does underscore how exacting a language Reynell's concepts of recording improvised music have provoked, and in such a short time.”
- Philip Clark, The Wire
“Since its inception Another Timbre has regularly released low-priced CD-Rs (on its Byways imprint) to supplement its main CD catalogue. The label has used its latest batch of CD-Rs to document musicians living in or passing through London in March and April of 2009, so they function as a kind of audio diary or sketchbook. The London improvising scene is vibrant and dynamic, so such documentation plays a valuable role in capturing it before it moves on.
Although they are released in modest packaging, with monochrome sleeve designs, proprietor Simon Reynell stresses that the CD-Rs can be issued very cheaply as he does the recording and mastering himself. In fact, the latest batch was recorded in churches in and around London. They are not compromised in terms of musical quality and Reynell wants them to be as strong as the CD catalogue. The music here bears this out.
This trio of trombone, electronics and cello perform two tracks; the first, "Long Nylon Oak," was recorded in the church of St. James the Great, Friern Barnet, without an audience and the second, "Floodlit Iron Tracery," in concert two days earlier in a different church, St. Mark's, Clerkenwell. Given the gap and the different contexts, there is a remarkable sense of continuity between the pieces, particularly commendable as the three had not played together before. Both pieces are restrained and evolve slowly. Most notably, Mathias Forge confines his contributions on trombone to subtle breathy blowing rather than full blown notes, giving them a texture that meshes (a fitting title) well with the electronics and cello. As with all four of these releases, Simon Reynell's recording perfectly captures every nuance of the music, a vital ingredient of their success.” - John Eyles, All About Jazz
“A more cerebral trombone trio is on Meshes (Another Timbre Byways at-b05). This CD-R, with its well-designed cover, demonstrates another method of distribution. Certain that young improvisers wouldn’t need the number of discs in a standard official CD run, the British label created its Byways CD-R series. Certainly this gritty and pressured microtonal program from trombonist Mathias Forge, electronics manipulator Phil Julian and cellist David Papapostolou is one justification for the experiment. During two lengthy improvisations, the interaction and texture-blending is such that it’s frequently impossible to match particular timbres to individual instruments. With Julian’s electronics segmenting into chunky signal- processed lines, pulsating reverb and flat-line drones, multiplied shrills flash through the narratives like rain showers, when the static isn’t undulating underneath. Extended passages of extreme stillness also alter the tonal centre so that whistling squeaks from the cello – often hewn from the strings below the bridge – or blurry triplets strained from the trombone bell, tongue pops and flat-line blowing without valve pushes are more conspicuous. Although discontinuous in spots, the combined undulations made up of cello strings held to maximum tautness, rubato grace notes plus tremolo pedal tones from the trombonist, and electronic drones eventually reach a crescendo of inter-connected friction climaxing with a conclusive whistle and pop.”
- Ken Waxman, Jazz Word