Rhodri Davies - harps
Michel Doneda - soprano saxophone
Louisa Martin - laptop
Phil Minton - voice
Lee Patterson - amplified objects & processes
1. strines 10:51
2. crow edge 18:04
3. wharncliffe side 19:41
4. deepcar 9:44
recorded in Midhopestones village, near Sheffield, January 2009
“Midhopestones is a village near Sheffield within which lies a church used by Simon Reynell to record the quintet of Rhodri Davies, Michel Doneda, Louisa Martin, Phil Minton and Lee Patterson in January of this year. The resulting album, just released on Simon’s Another Timbre label takes the name of said village as its title. I guess to some degree it was a little inevitable that I would like this album, but trying to describe why that might be is a little harder.
There is a lot of disguise in this recording. Rhodri Davies’ harp doesn’t sound much like a harp, the same can be said for Michel Doneda’s sax. Lee Patterson’s use of amplified objects is all about finding hidden sounds where you wouldn’t expect them and Phil Minton seems here to be making sounds as far from what we recognise from a human voice as he possibly can, in fact he seems to be trying to hide his input amongst the sounds the others create around him. Perhaps only Louisa Martin’s laptop makes sounds as we might expect, but even then were laptop computers primarily designed to make buzzing hissing sounds?
I mention all of this because for me this music is all about a group of musicians working in harmony together, perhaps testing and nudging each other from time to time, but on the whole merging their individual sounds to create a thriving mass of detailed, quite beautiful sound. It doesn’t sound like the sum of five different instruments, as maybe an improv record made fifteen years ago might do, but an amorphous mass of indefinable sounds that shifts and moulds itself into a series of interesting shapes. It is as if the instrumentation itself, and the individual histories attached just don’t matter, they are all just ingredients that combine to create something else again.
The music is generally slow, and is most often devoid of sudden events, it gradually changes, with sounds slipping in and out of our attention rather than making dramatic entrances. It is a very vertical music, something to be listened into rather than along with, the sounds made interacting with other sounds of the moment rather than what came before or will come after. Like studying a tiny detail of a Pollock painting, any one moment on Midhopestones has its own little world of textures and colours not dissimilar to those found in other places throughout the album but is also individual and fascinating in its own right. Stepping back and viewing / listening to the whole work then reveals how so much layered detail all comes together to form a co-ordinated, very beautiful statement.
The playing on Midhopestones is all very gentle and soft, as if Pollock chose to just work only in grey pencils. Phil Minton’s vocals rarely rise above deep gurgling murmurs, and actually for me really make the CD, providing a sprinkling of character to the otherwise delicate structures. It is above all very beautiful, not threatening, not challenging the rules of improvised music, just very finely crafted, delicate and really very beautiful music.
Its late here now, gone 2AM, obviously dark outside and with a room lit only softly this recording adds the perfect soundtrack. Maybe there isn’t the same degree of playful creativity as featured on say Rhodri Davies’ last AT disc with Annette Krebs, but Midhopestones is up there with Dropp Ensemble’s Safety as the most simplistically gorgeous album of the year and sometimes that is more than enough.
I should also mention the mixing /mastering here which is superb. An album like this one needs to be well engineered and very carefully mastered, and Simon has done a fantastic job. While all of the sounds come together as one they can also be clearly picked apart by the ear if you stop and listen closely. There are five more Another Timbre releases sat here waiting for me to get to them. Its about time I really disliked one of them but I haven’t found it yet.”
- Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear
“If you chanced across this disc in a blindfold test, what would you think? Possibly that these slowly evolving textures could only have derived from electronics, or from careful post-production techniques on sampled recordings. That these four hushed, allusive tracks were born of real-time improvisation would be fairly low down on the checklist of possibilities. Recorded in Midhopestones, a small village outside Sheffield in January 2009, the demands of this music stretches your ears, obliging you to fall further towards sound. Louisa martin’s laptop provides various centring continuums, but the challenge is guessing where Phil Minton’s voice ends and Michel Doneda’s soprano saxophone begins; whether those gentle punctuating tones are from Rhodri Davies’ harp or Lee Patterson’s amplified objects. New standards for laminal improvisation are set.”
- Philip Clark, The Wire
“Would have guessed, wrongly, that a session with Doneda and Minton present would turn into something more rambunctious. Restraint is the order of the day here, however, and it's an excellent day's work. There are actually only a handful of moments when you hear the vocalist (Minton) as such; he otherwise blends amazingly well with the harp (e-bowed, pretty much), soprano sax and amplified objects. Mostly hushed with an great mix of textures, sandpapery to bell-like, sighed to gravelly. Nice, distant foghorn-y effects on the last cut, over whistled saxophone. Solid, mature in the best sense, well worth a listen.” - Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
“This album was recorded in January 2009 in the church of St. James the Lesser, in the village of Midhopestones near Sheffield, South Yorkshire\hence, its intriguingly uplifting title (incidentally, its track titles refer to other villages or features nearby). Maybe that recording location explains the sense of tranquility and beauty that pervades the music here. It seems as if all five players were on their best behavior as they were in church; everyone gets along well together; there is no rowdiness, no arguing, and no outbursts.
The sounds here are rarely predictable, straightforward or unambiguous. Having listened to this album countless times, it's been necessary to check the credits nearly every time, usually to clarify the origin of some non-attributable sound. So, although no bassist is listed, a persistent low frequency sound recurs throughout "Strines," giving it a strong pulse. By a process of elimination, it must originate from Louisa Martin's laptop.
It was also necessary to check that Phil Minton is actually credited, as his voice is rather elusive here, and surprisingly subdued. Those familiar with his usual improvising style, complete with trademark guttural interjections, will have to listen hard to detect him here. "Wharncliffe Side" features a dialogue between Doneda and Minton, during which saxophone and voice are each practically unidentifiable as they imitate each other, intertwine and mingle. Elsewhere, Minton camouflages himself perfectly, blending into the background; he contributes much but never steps into the spotlight.
And so it proves with all the players here; the musicians must have left their egos at the church door. They are focused more on creating multi-layered, evolving music than on leaving their own mark on it. The end results stand up remarkably well to repeated listening, delivering more and revealing fresh facets every time. What a gem.”
- John Eyles, All About Jazz
“I like very much the English word 'pace' which means at the same time ‘speed’ together with a kind of step or pulse as in ‘pacemaker’ [literally maker of speed], and I find in this disc qualities such as measure, flow and undertow. It is furthermore a reinvention and redemarcation of space. It leaves a kind of hollow in the air, a trail, a halo persistent in its evanescence.
An hour of four delicate but always consistent pieces. Rhodri Davies [harp] Michael Doneda [soprano saxophone] Louisa Martin [laptop] Phil Minton [voice, which here plays a modest but useful part] and Lee Patterson [amplified sounds] draw shimmering sheaves of sound culminating in something like a buzzing bumblebee in flight. It feels almost pastoral although it was actually recorded in a church near Sheffield in early January 2009. An impeccably controlled continuum, crimped and faintly audible, like shreds in a mist, creating a dense undulation, not too full, but rather a richly blended patter.
Another gem from the label.” - Guillaume Tarche, Le Son du Grisli
“Recorded at the church of St. James The Lesser in the namesake village near Sheffield,
Midhopestones is characterized by a type of gestural gravity which thrives in the
realm of whispered uneasiness, an apparently inviolable stillness perturbed by flimsy
timbral substances. The record’s enormous value was immediately established after
the reaction to the opening “Strines”. Contrarily to what usually happens with any
improvisation I happen to analyze, it didn’t take long for this writer to be reduced
to a state of partial catalepsy, still responsive to the ongoing sonic activities
while subjected to a series of infinitesimal, if clearly perceived nervous shocks.
This looked like a recurring incitement to remain awake in order to avoid a tumble
into some kind of black hole. A spine-chilling vibe - but also a necessary component
of an intensely intimate experience - arising when we really decide to listen, letting
the sounds break through our wholeness and relinquishing linguistic demarcations.
The participants – working with harps, soprano sax, laptop, voice and amplified objects – sound utterly deprived of personal ambition, entirely taken by the construction of a comfortless enthrallment rendered even more compelling by a somewhat disembodied restraint. No metaphors, symbols or incoherent representations, just a constant quest for this invisible communion, human instincts tending to the achievement of a condition that is both incontrovertibly corporeal and unpremeditatedly spiritual. To do this, they privilege the starkest aspects of a tremulous instrumental organism – Minton pertinently counterpointing Doneda’s frail undertones and undernourished pitches with his own choice of multiphonic guttural emissions, Patterson and Martin settling on a speckled diversity sheltered by pulsing murmur and gentle percussiveness, Davies’ involvement barely audible at times, tremendously effective when the harp’s strings produce extraordinary subsonic hums that put the woofers at risk, setting the room’s loose parts in rattle mode.
This results in incomparably splendid music, a pre-orgasmic, unexploded intensity informed by the erosive traits of hardly manageable anxiety. Visceral sensations that are pretty strange to find in such a context, all the more startling given the evident logic at work: the artists in full control of the procedures, never trespassing the borders of aural congruity, yet eliciting a matchless transcendence. Every additional spin introduces new factors: what at first seems impenetrable becomes perfectly clear the second time around, whereas the firm memories of certain combinations get instead sabotaged by subsequent listens. The naked truth, according to what the rational mind suggests, is that I’m trying to come to terms with this album’s weight, unsure about the implications hiding under the manifest impression. The gut feeling says that we’re in presence of a landmark recording.” - Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes
“Another Timbre's catalogue contains several documents of improvised activities in England circa January 2009. Among the finest I've heard is this meeting of Rhodri Davies (electric harp), Michel Doneda (soprano saxophone), Phil Minton (vocals), Louisa Martin (laptop), and Lee Patterson (sound, field recordings), recorded in the Church of St. James the Lesser in Midhopestones outside Sheffield. The ensemble feels its way into the music, exploring the resonance of the space with some billowing low-end oscillation framed by long scraping noises. With instrumentation of this sort, the music generally succeeds to the extent that performers can avoid the relatively well-worn paths of obvious contrast or excessive mimesis. Living in the space between these two approaches is the more difficult improvisational task, and one realized very effectively here. After the opening minutes, there is a lengthy section where the plucked metal from Davies' harp files down the serrated edges of Doneda's soprano and Minton's ragged exhalations (with laptop burbles from Martin and much mystery from Patterson). "Crow Edge" occupies the opposite end of the sonic spectrum: for much of its duration it’s a very spare environment, with dog whistles from Minton and Doneda, lots of rests and pauses, and faint crackle and tones. Then it's as if gravity gathers things together; the sounds land, suspended, in something grainy and murky, with Minton perfectly echoing some mid-range oscillation as the scrapes and spit rise again. The final "Wharncliffe Side" is equally enigmatic: the introduction sounds like it's modulated one and a half steps from the previous pieces, but after lingering in this quasi-tonal area for several minutes, the music seems to wheeze and break down, creaking and hissing. Occasional dull, rusty bells recall Alvin Curran's Maritime Rites field recordings, and the whole thing ends with a deep phlegmy rattle. Great stuff.” - Jason Bivins, Paris Transatlantic
“Den elektroniska förvandlingen av impron kan vara komplicerad att förhålla sig till. Den innehåller både en kärna av akustiska uttryck och en tendens att i den gamla elektroniska musikens efterföljd skapa stora glidande klangsjok; luddig ambient. Det träffar den utomordentlige harpisten Rhodri Davies, som många samtida musiker uttrycker stor beundran för. Senast i Berlin hörde jag honom under en konsert. Gitarristen Annette Krebs var speciellt inbjuden. Hon hade laddat datorn med röster, radioprogram, uppläsningar av olika banala påståenden från reklam. Snart flöt musiken i strömmar över rummet. Den blev till sist så inåtvänd, att en allmän new age stämning började sippra in. När det var i drömskaste laget lät Annette en klar röst bryta igenom musiken: ”Det är inget fel på att vara vacker!” Den sekunden fick musiken att sprätta till och den återstående stunden sprallade den ordentligt.
Ibland längtar jag efter Annette Krebs okynnighet på Midhopestones. Här finns en tendens att alltför närgånget betrakta de minsta ljuden. Sättningen är idag ganska vanlig, om vi undantar Davies elektriska harpa: sopransax, laptop, röst och uppmickade objekt. Det bildas klungor av kul ljud, som det putsas på. Ljudbilden formas antagligen också av inspelningsorten, som är kyrkan St James The Lesser i byn Midhopestones.
Det är svårt att avgöra vad som är resultatet av mixningen och vad som utgår från kyrkorummet. Men jag tror att den mycket speciella närheten till själva instrumenten reflekterar speltillfället. De kryper inpå, vi slipper höra dessa eviga klangmoln runt instrumenten. Och det är sannerligen en kvalitet i skivan. För snart lockas jag följa var och en av spelarna. Det går att spåra de små harpoklinken genom improvisationerna. Och framförallt firar saxofonisten Michel Doneda triumfer med sitt koncentrerade spel som fyller ut elektronikens ljudbild med instrumentets material, andedräkt och väsande linjer. På samma vis kan jag gå i närkamp med Louisa Martins laptop och Lee Pattersons förstärkta smågrejer. Också Phil Mintons röst gör sig påmind, även om jag nog tycker han är litet väl tillbakadragen, upptagen av att hålla sig nära de andra. Han hade gärna fått vara den som stack ut.
Annars får jag väl vara nöjd med omfamningarna mellan Doneda och Minton; de värmer, trycker på, även om de är litet blyga. Glimrande ögonblick måste de ändå anses som. Underbara exempel på hur den snävaste impro kan bulta av liv och det är befriande, när musikerna inte börjar gestikulera så fort de kommit på något; här nöjer de sig med att antyda. Men ändå tänker jag efter de fyra långa styckena, som vart och ett är mycket förtjänstfullt, att visst hade jag gärna hört en musiker som Annette Krebs i sällskapet, då hade allt det hänt inom det lågmäldas gräns, som ingen av spelarna i kyrkan anat var möjligt.
Efter många lyssningar bestämmer jag mig för att sortera in albumet under Michel Donedas namn, det är hans arkeologiska undersökningar av ljuden som lämnar de djupaste spåren.” - Thomas Millroth, Sound of Music
If anyone can provide a translation of the Swedish review above, we’d be very grateful.