Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre
Ferran Fages guitar
Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga zither
1. spring 7:53
2. is like a perhaps hand 39:46
recorded in Barcelona, December 2008
“Ap'strophe is Ferran Fages, a guitarist and turntablist from Barcelona, and zither
player Dimitra Lazaridou Chatzigoga. They have played together for four years and
have developed a quite breathtaking music that sounds something like what eels produce
in the stomach. Pure acoustic passages are overwhelmed by orgies of sound where it
is difficult to determine what is acoustic and what is electronic. On the album it
says that they play guitar and zither, but the instruments are treated as if they
It is entirely appropriate that Ap'strophe is part of the guitar series on Another Timbre, especially since it is representative of the new Spanish scene. The music was recorded in Barcelona two years ago, but was mixed last year, and I assume that some effort has gone into the latter part of the process. The duo has previously produced pieces that are only available in written form, and seem difficult to perform live or to be reproduced.
Ferran Fages is based in noise improvisation, and the guitar sounds he uses seem really open. But he also plays in a relatively "conventional" way with rolling shapes, measures, leaps and well thought-out passages, which are interwoven with the zither, which sometimes produces loud mists of sound. Fages is a sonorous and variable improviser whose playing always has a musical flow.
Dimitra Lazaridou Chatzigoga conjures up repetitive shapes that spin out like propellers over Fages’ somewhat slower pace. In contrast to the weight of Fages's playing she spins the music into moments of sharp ecstasy.
The album is divided into two parts. First a brief, strident and cauterizing piece, then a long sound journey where the focus often switches direction. The music involves roaring clusters of sound that seem to fly forward, reminiscent of the use of sound clouds in noise music. Ap'strophe use these as matter to knead; they punch through them, then pull them down, and fill them with simple scratches or small snaps, things that seem to have been left behind, residues from their improvisations, which they then explore to see what they can do with them. Their attitude is one of a sustained and extreme attention to detail that mixes breakdown, continuity and collage. They demonstrate that they can stay focused and on track both in sequences of rushing noise, and in quiet passages with small, low-key sounds. But they never give themselves over fully to either mode; they merely indicate that things could be done in this way, make a suggestion, but then move on to the next sound. They are unique. Searing industrial passages that seem new, exist alongside the slightest guitar sounds with minimal tones. And they play in a way I have never heard before.
One of the many highlights of the disc starts in the middle of the second piece, where Dimitra Lazaridou Chatzigoga scrapes her zither - or whatever she does - so that it resembles the sound of a loud saxophonist in the 1970s, while Ferran Fages thoughtfully plays with microtonal intervals. And together they subside after a culmination of small dropping sounds and sparse waves of high pitches. So simple, nevertheless masterful. And then they thoughtfully pick out shards of sound to create the mirror image of the previous sequence. These reflections create an exciting form or structure through which the listener can move, walking back and forth. And the music continues, as if they are making use of different tenses at the same time. The music seems about to float away, but it is held back by its incredible sharpness, remaining long enough for some mirror-like distortion to come back. It is a journey in a land of mirrors. Both at the beginning and at the end we perceive the same image.
Ap'strophe transform free postimprovisation into a minimalist painting of a new simplicity. For long periods the album contains completely unexpected sounds, and by the end it offers a trans-art dance rhythm that is hard to resist. Without doubt one of the best records in the Another Timbre guitar series, and one of the most important releases in a long time in all categories of music.” Thomas Millroth, Sound of Music
“The second release from the duo of Ferran Fages (acoustic guitar) and Dimitra Lazaridou Chatzigoga (zither) (how great is that name, btw?). The disc consists of two pieces, the first about eight minutes, the other some 40 and, so arranged, it's hard not to hear the album as a prelude and a central piece. Hearing it so has its advantages as it forces one to try to grasp the pieces as a whole rather than a sequence of events which, in this case, with my ears, serves to benefit the music. The first track, "spring", begins quite harshly, even unpleasantly, a screechy, raspy sound (tightly bowed zither?) over a wavering, thin drone. It's a little off-putting on its own but "looking back" at the piece, after the gorgeous denouement of softly stroked guitar, one gets the sour/sweet aspect and it feels like a solid whole.
Similarly, with greater complications, for the long work. On the one hand, it seems to take a while to really find its groove but after it does, you realize how necessary the initial, more meandering parts, were. It opens with delicate, bowed drones, jangling a bit, very pretty then subsides into a very sparse are, all isolated squeaky bowings and soft plucks and taps. Almost imperceptibly, things begin to gel, the two instruments edging into more plaintive tones, still spare, but with emotional resonance. It's not a straight path, though, wherein lies much of the fascination. They veer of into several pathways, some less promising than others, enter some enticing buzz-saw environs and eventually "stumble" into a peaceful, serene glade of sorts, humming and vibrating more solidly, more convincingly than at the beginning. It's quite a lovely journey, imaginatively (if unconsciously) plotted.” Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
“Tonight then I have been listening to the second album by Ap’strophe, the duo of Greek zither player Dimitra Lazaridou Chatzigoga and Spanish acoustic guitarist (on this occasion) Ferran Fages. I reviewed the first album by the duo less than a year ago here. This new disc, entitled Corgroc is part of the spring series on Another Timbre, a set of discs that are tentatively linked to the guitar. There are two tracks on this one, the first lasting a fraction under eight minutes and the second five times as long at just under forty. The music in general does not stray too far from that on the first album, but perhaps there is a slightly more fragile feel to this release, a more simple structure. The first track, titled Spring begins with a stream of “finger nails scraped down a blackboard” sounds that I quite like but would annoy the hell out of most people. These are accompanied by a series of soft constant tones, presumably the result of an eBow placed against the strings of one or the other instrument. Gradually over a period of several minutes the grating sounds dissipate, and while the sinetones remain a series of more muted scrabbling and knocking remains until everything dies away and Fages’ forlorn sounding fingerpicked guitar appears for a few moments, closing the track with little fragments of half-forgotten melodies.
The second, much longer track, called curiously, is like a perhaps hand begins slowly, with more persistent tones hanging in the air, punctuated by smaller sounds from one of the other musician. It really is hard to tell where the sinetones come from as we also seem to hear both plucked zither and guitar while they remain. Things develop very slowly, always remaining very simple, using the technique of placing shorter sounds against the elongated tones as a basic rule. Often things break down to leave just the tone on its own, remaining constant for long periods until the eBow is shifted, or maybe another is added. It is not until nigh on twenty minutes into the piece that the sinetones cease and the mall clicks and plinks at strings mix with the occasional harsh scrape through a section that sounds even more sparse than it really is following soon after the dense high pitched sounds that had preceded it. There is a real tension in this part of the album, an awkward feeling of non-musical interaction as the little sounds seem to bounce about without any real connection. Slowly the guitar reappears, and we hear small three or four note particles of Fages’ playing here and there, though by the half-hour mark the music seems to fall apart again in a really strange, uncomfortable manner, leaving a minute or so of complete silence until some bowed strings slowly rise up and the music starts again. Gradually things build into a thick passage of heaving bowed zither with the guitar once again staying in small sounds territory, as if not listening to Chatzigoga’s grinding attacks. throughout the entire CD there is this feeling of the two musicians keeping away from matching each other’s approach, so we always get to hear two different sets of sounds juxtaposed against each other rather than the musicians trying to merge their inputs together. The track then really begins to become more active than the rest of the album put together in the last ten minutes as a piercing, slightly oscillating tone arrives, and all kinds of scurrying, crashing and tinkling sits alongside it, gaining in intensity before collapsing in on itself to leave just the quietest of semi rhythmic scrapes sat in the distant reaches of the recording.
Corgroc is an intriguing, occasionally quite perplexing album. While most of the sounds used are very familiar to those that follow this area of music the way they are placed alongside each other, and the way they tend to sit in opposition to each other rather than blend into one is all a little uncomfortable, but in a healthy way. On the one hand this sounds like an album we have heard many times before, but on the other nothing quite works as we think it should, and the music has a certain fragility to it as a result, a feeling that it can all fall apart at any moment, as it repeatedly does. Curious and inventive music then, one to listen to for what it is rather than what we think it should be. If that makes sense…” Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear
Jesse Goin wrote the following piece about the work of Ferran Fages on his blog Crow with No Mouth. It deals with several discs, including Corgroc:
Honey on the razor's edge
I recall first hearing the Catalan improviser Ferran Fages in 2006, on a duo release with percussionist Will Guthrie entitled Cinabri. Fages and Guthrie forged an intelligent, cacophonous noise engine of a recording, contact mics and acoustic turntable shredding and rending the air with an improvised musique concrete sourced from metal junk and real time verve [Cinabri was recorded in two sessions, assembled later by the meticulous Guthrie]. Discussing Cinabri with Guthrie a while later, he asked me if I had heard quite another dimension of Fages' musical sensibilities, the 2007 solo guitar release Cançons per a un lent retard. I knew Fages only via the dense sonic bruit of Cinabri, so Guthrie sent me a copy of Cançons, my first taste of his guitar duende.
Cançons is among those musical documents that contain moments of uncomfortable, unvarnished vulnerability and sorrow, and I thought so before reading later of Fages' father dying as he composed the pieces. Stark, somewhat redolent of Loren Connors, the use of bottleneck and sparsely placed notes creating a very gradual gravitas [Cançons is 71 minutes of unrelieved dark], I was impressed that this sort of elegy on acoustic guitar was served up by the same fellow who filled the air with sparks and hell-raising sheared metal on Cinabri.
On one singularly striking track on Cançons, Athens [Greece]-based zither player Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga accompanies Fages by detuning the guitar as he plucks dolorous notes and hammers out shimmering, unstable chords. It is a harrowing effect, an extension of his dark sound that is seamless and invisible. Move forward several years, and Lazaridou-Chatzigoga and Fages have a working duo called Ap'strophe, with two releases available, Objects sense objectes from 2009 and Corgroc, just released as part of the four disc guitar series on Simon Reynell's imprint, Another Timbre.
Ferran Fages has been making improvised music for about 12 years, with five discrete duo projects, two trios and a quartet. His instrumentation is principally guitar, turntables and electronics. I have pointed to the radically disparate sound worlds of Cinabri and Cançons, and at first blush, so they seem. However, the last several weeks of listening a great deal to three of Fages' projects- the 2009 solo guitar release Al voltant d'un para/.lel, the Ap'strophe duo, and Fages' long-standing duo with Alfredo Costa Monterio, Cremaster- I hear a pervasive sensibility throughout both the noisiest and the most dulcet works. In a border land between disorienting noise and sensitive, performative statements, Fages brings to mind an image attributed to the 8th century Indian scholar Santideva, "honey on the razor's edge." Used by Santideva as a metaphor for human desire, I'm appropriating it to convey the sense of buzzing noise latent in Fages' quietest works, and the sweet coherence and clarity at the heart of the sonic maelstrom of Cremaster.
Fages might be the only guitarist in improvised music who can evoke the Taku Sugimoto of Opposite, and the John Frusciante of Blood Sugar Sex Magik. On Al voltant d'un para/.lel, a live recording from 2007, Fages extends the dark harmonic territory of his earlier solo work, more chordal than single line melodies. Whatever pedals or other devices Fages might use, his notes own impressive hang-time, suspended and replete with rich overtones and harmonics, enough grit and distortion in the shimmer to disabuse anyone he is a straight up romantic. There are passages evoking dolor and doom, but also chordal sweeps and upstrokes that evince the lovely Castles Made Of Sand. It is a grower, asking for repeated, careful listens, a very satisfying iteration in the series of explorations for solo guitar begun in the 2004 release A cavall entre dos cavalls [composicions per a guitarra].
Ap'strophe's sound world is tough sledding, if approached with any vestiges of expectation about what an acoustic guitar/zither duo might sound like. Lazaridou-Chatzigoga offers gears grinding, steady-state sine tones, gates creaking and hallucinatory string-sawing. At times she sustains an abrasive area just to the brink of exhausting its interest. She is alternately delicate, murmuring and purring, and supportive of Fages' occasional foregrounding of the guitar, principally with sustained, wobbly pitches. She brings to mind Harry Partch's kitara, the third bridge mutant of the zither that enabled him to sound extended techniques on a familiar sounding folk instrument. And what of Fages' contribution to the Ap'strophe gestalt? Look, I'm not going to pretend I can always discern where one leaves off and the other begins. Much of the time Fages' guitar is a guitar, picked and strummed here and there through the ambiguity and duo fusion, metal and wood self-evident. [The nearest acoustic guitar-sourced sound palette that comes to mind is that of Arek Gulbenkoglu, a brilliant, sadly overlooked guitarist whose acoustic guitar work sounds like anything but]. Much of the time the duo erase the distinctions, and become the single-sensibility sound generator that characterizes the similarly yoked Cremaster.
This leads me to what was revealed by alternating my listens between Fages acoustic [solo and duo], and Fages with Monteiro, unleashing the torrential but carefully formed cacophony of Noranta Graus A L'Esquerrat, Cremaster's blistering, ebullient release on Monotype. What became evident to my ears is that Ap'strophe often sounds, to sling a little taxonomy to make my point, like a very quiet noise group, and Cremaster often sounds like a cauldron of carefully sounded, distilled and selected abrasions, plangents and ear scours. The sound of honey on the razor's edge, which Fages brings to the collaborations in no small part.
The Cremaster release is stunning, among my few favorite releases in 2010. Fages and Monteiro have collaborated for many years, and their cohesion is as evident as their joined passion for generating streams of thick, cadenced noise that branches off into new directions just when a new direction is called for. The squall and shit storms are somehow shaped and directed by the two, with fantastic episodes of brief percussion patterns and lurching rhythms yielding to an overall avalanche of saturated, extreme sound. This is as good as I think this area gets, and along with the Tomas Korber/Ralf Wehowsky duo on Entr'acte, certain to be among my favorite releases of 2010.
Ap'strophe's Corgroc consists of two tracks, titled after the first line of an e.e. cummings poem that begins
spring is like a perhaps hand
[which comes carefully
out of nowhere] arranging
a window, into which people look.
Corgroc, situated within the Another Timbre series of the-guitar-and-how-it-got-that-way conceit, is certainly vexing at times. There is, to paraphrase Joachim-Ernst Berendt's observation about Monk, "a pathological aversion to playing the next expected sound." Repeated listens lay bare with what rigor and musicality the duo pursue that subterfuge, and actually how much their sound world is made of steel wire and wood after all. I really enjoy the sound of Ap'strophe's intimacy and the degree to which they bring a noise sensibility to their quiet sound spectrum.
Fages' work reminds me of a sort of off-hand categorization system an old friend, himself an improvising musician, shared with me 30 years ago. He said a lot of the music coming out of the European free improvisation scene, as well as American free music, could be heard as either "low-intensity/high volume", or "high-intensity/low-volume." The former, the theory runs, is balls-to-the-wall, screaming free music, volume supplanting a genuine, visceral intensity. The latter is music that achieves that grip of visceral intensity at even low volumes. Ap'strophe, and Fages' solo guitar work, is definitely of the latter. Cremaster's Noranta Graus A L'Esquerrat, with both extreme volume and attention and care given to the detail in the detritus, is high volume/high intensity.
Fages is someone I think you ought to listen to.” Jesse Goin, Crow with No Mouth
“Three new releases from Another Timbre.....The final release is Ap'strophe, the only release here which has a band name attached to it. It’s a duo of one Dimitra Lazaridou Chatzigoga on zither and the more known Ferran Fages on acoustic guitar. It’s also the only one which was recorded in a studio, and probably mixed from various microphone recordings. I'm not sure, but there seems to be some form of amplification, as things buzz around at times. But it’s the acoustic playing that prevails here. Both the zither and the guitar are plucked, bowed, hit. Most of the time with loving care, but at some occasions also with brutal force, and things start ringing and buzzing around. A release that covers the whole territory of loud vs quiet, noise vs silent, carefulness and brute force. Quite a demanding release too, which requires ones full attention before giving its beauty. Three excellent releases.” Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly
“Another Timbre has released a series of four discs, focusing on the guitar in contemporary improvised music. One of them is the album 'Corgroc' by Ap'strophe, which is a duo of Ferran Fages on acoustic guitar and Dimitra Lazaridou Chatzigoga on zither. There are two recordings on the album, of the two musicians playing their kind of improvised music. Improvised music is a bit like a fetish, the musicians playing a cacaphony of sounds, but that is a moment in this kind of music that I particularly like. Specially when it's lucid, engaging,intense and fun. Ap'strophe has made a good album, according to that idea for improvisation. It's focused, balanced, with lots of sounds, but only from two sources (the instruments that they are useing). Lots of sounds, hissing, scratching, rumbling and rolling around... It's captivating and it leaves a good impression. It should be a good night out, seeing this live, at a concert.”
Boban Ristevski, Outlands
“The third in Another Timbre’s Guitar Series sees a more obvious engagement with the instrument in its conventional form, as an acoustic, sound-producing body of metal and wood, rather than one shaped by feedback. And yet it is with an electronic microphone drone that things begin. This is probably created through holding an e-bow on one of the strings, though I’m not entirely certain – in any case, what’s produced is a steady, unwavering tone off-set by howling zither scrapes. It’s a fairly aggressive opening, or perhaps seems so because of the context, whereas it might not appear that way if it had found its way into the generally louder Volden/Nakamura collaboration. After five minutes or so, the drone fades away, and Fages strums melancholy chords, repeated and resonating over little pops and clicks, presumably produced by Chatzigoga. And then the track ends: this is something of a surprise, but it adds a nice symmetry and sense of neat formality – an encapsulation in miniature, perhaps, of what the duo intend to explore at greater length during the main section of the disc. Another drone opens the much longer second piece, slightly softer than the first and seeming almost to move through the air as the volume is subtly turned up and down – at once immobile (as emphasised when set against interspersed string-strums) and full of strong rhythmic suggestion. Guitar and zither, generally low-toned and almost hollow-sounding, pluck their way unobtrusively underneath this electronic tone, until, after eleven minutes, the sine wave fades away, to be replaced by creaks, groans and plucks that emerge cautiously from the sudden silence. Fages and Chatzigoga know how to take their time, sticking with an apparently limited palette, not getting in each other’s way: notes may be cut off before they have a chance to resonate, or dribble out into a silent void; for some minutes, one of the players transforms their instrument into a door-hinge that needs oiling; now, with alternating single notes, the atmosphere turns distinctly doleful and ominous, Fages’ guitar monosyllabic, as if letting out single words interspersed with extended, tortuous pauses, Chatzigoga using the zither as a minimalist percussion instrument ; and eventually even this becomes too much, both musicians sitting for a moment in total silence. The music picks itself up again, drags itself across the floor, the concentration now on squealing bowed zither tones, guitar still resonating with a mournful, monosyllabic lower-end. In truth, it’s a somewhat tentative re-start, but it leads into something that caught me completely by surprise. While the other ‘Guitar Series’ discs have moments of emotional pull, there’s nothing quite like the drawn-out melancholy of this section; indeed, ‘melancholy’ is hardly an adequate adjective for the sense of claustrophobic near-torment, of deep despair that’s present – all see-sawing tones, like moaning, crying voices, quiet howls, inexorable whines. This carries on for some fifteen minutes; at a certain point, the howl-scape is joined by another of those electronic tones, this one fluttering like a sedated insect, and initiating a dip in emotional intensity, as chiming hand-bells and mic’d-up finger-taps add a swirling, rhythmic dimension that drags itself out past the disappearance of the electronic tone and into the a final silence. Given the way that the music suddenly develops from subdued textural minimalism to something of genuine, sustained emotional intensity, I find myself rather at a loss as to how to sum up the album’s impression on me, especially as other reviewers seem not to have been so affected. But the fact remains that I was actively disturbed by the music’s unexpected cumulative power and pull – caught off-guard, one might say. This may not strike some people as a recommendation; but ‘Corgroc’ is an unusually compelling recording, one which evolves from being ‘just’ a fine piece of improvisation into something much more: a work of real and remorseless power.”
David Grundy, eartrip magazine
“Those that dislike landscape painting that uses blocks of thick colour should leave the gallery. For if Ap'strophe deliver one thing, it is subtlety, the ellipse, the touch ...
Ferran Fages plays guitar and Dimitra-Lazaridou Chatzigoga zither. How can one do much with plucked or struck strings, attacks on the wooden body of the instrument or the mechanics of metal? Instead we have Spring and Is Like A Perhaps Hand (or should that read "Spring Is Like A Perhaps Hand"?). That is there’s a drone which whistles, and the bizarre play of stretched strings. There are also grindings (the wood) and the movement of plates (the metal). And there’s the effect of your surprise, the whole thing giving you strange sensations that make you wonder whether the duo weren’t surrealistically right after all, and that spring could be like a hand.”
Guillaume Tarche, Le Son du Grisli