Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre

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at36       Wunderkammern

David Toop   laptop, steel guitar, flutes, percussive devices

Rhodri Davies   harp, ebows, electronics, preparations

Lee Patterson   amplified devices, field recordings

6 tracks totaling 57:40

recorded in London, July 2006

Youtube extract

Reviews of the full set of Silence and After discs, of which Wunderkammern was one, can be read here  (Stuart Broomer in Point of Departure)  and  here  (Julian Cowley in The Wire)

“When starting to review, one first has to play the music, well, obviously of course. Usually that starts with the inspection of the cover, press text, website etc, so that I know what I am hearing and I'll be writing about later on. But this doesn't always happen. Sometimes I just pick random a CD from the pile and start playing it. This happens with the first of these three new titles on Another Timbre, UK's fine house for improvised music. I tried to write down what I heard and found myself writing such words as 'electro-acoustic', 'surface scanning' and 'electronics?', but not any specific instrument. Later on I learned that I was listening to Rhodri Davies (harp, ebow, electronics, preparations), Lee Patterson (amplified devices, field recordings etc.) and David Toop (laptop, steel guitar, flutes, percussive devices). So perhaps my sparse notes weren't far off the mark? They recorded these six improvisations already in 2006 in a studio (not in concert, like many other releases on this label) and they put on display their skills in crafting some extraordinary improvised music. What I especially liked about it is the fact that it sounded so without instruments and so much very like electro-acoustic. Davies' harp as big sounding and resonating object and everybody playing small objects on likewise resonating surfaces. Its a fine mixture of improvised music and electro-acoustics.”                      Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly

“Listening to this CD made me think a little about how improvisation groups seem to work these days, in this country at least. A few musicians will play together, usually in a concert setting at first, enjoy working together, maybe play some more, and somewhere along the line a CD will appear. Sometimes it feels that, once the CD is recorded, the group can stop playing, at least for a while, as if what they were working towards has been completed. Then, if they record a second time at some point in the future, the musicians will take on the title of the first album as the group name. Such is the tradition. Wunderkammern translates roughly I think as “Wonder room” but the word in German seems to relate to some kind of cabinet of curiosities affair, an image that certainly suits the music recorded herein.

So anyway, how does it sound? Well its quite a hard to one to describe really. there is a degree of Buoy in there, a lot of textures and mysterious, hard to attribute sounds. Patterson’s work is possibly the easiest to identify, to me at least as I managed to hear Lee play a great deal around the time this album was recorded. Rhodri Davies plays his electronic hard set-up, so with the exception of the ringing of eBowed strings there isn’t much here that sounds like a harp. David Toop plays a variety of instruments, the primary one listed as laptop, but as flutes, steel guitar and percussive devices also in there his output is perhaps at once the least and most obvious to spot, depending what he has picked up at any one moment in time.

There is a lot of music here. The album lasts the best part of an hour and stretches across six gloriously titled tracks. Nothing really flows as you might expect it to however, though I’m still undecided if this is a good thing or not. The general feel to all of the pieces is a dark, murky one, as a kind of murmured, gloomy detritus sits at along the bottom of each of the tracks, made up of the contributions of all three musicians, as if the sounds had all come to settle behind the more immediate activity, a layer of rich detail and strange, unidentifiable knocks and cracks and fidgeting. The long fourth track here, named In the dead body of the calf are generated bees (they are all like that!) has a strange, disjointed feel to it. In theory everything is there- the slow textured background, the smaller incidental events on top, but this music is hard to penetrate at times as often the sounds we hear do not seem connected to each other, floating around colliding into things rather than merging seamlessly.

Its very much a slow, brooding set of music, so everything seems to unfold gradually and each new sound gets the time to be enjoyed slowly and considered against what is nearby before anything new arrives. Toop provides enough in the way of unusual, non-electronic sound to stop the music becoming too soupy and slow, and while on occasions his flute, guitar etc feel a little too out of place they make for an interesting listen that doesn’t conform to expectations. Wunderkammern then is one that will probably need more than the four or five plays I have been able to give it so far to truly reveal all that it has to offer, but it is certainly an enjoyable, subtle listen by three of the UK’s most mature and skilled exponents of this area of improvised music. “                                     Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear

“Wunderkammern  presents a trio of Rhodri Davies on harp and electronics; Lee Patterson, amplified devices and field recordings; and David Toop on laptop, steel guitar, flutes, and percussion. Recorded in 2006, it’s a fascinating approach to improvisation, deeply involved with materiality and different sets of sounds, and it creates a sufficiently broad field to contain varied approaches. There are instants when Toop plays flute in a way that’s so direct and traditional that it’s possible to associate the sound with an ancient pastoral diversion, even the invention of melody. While that suggests a traditional aesthetic, the three interact with a genuine absence of dogma. Davies plays harp with an electronic e-bow and other extended techniques that push its amplified strings toward the general category of electric string sounds creating a pull between the familiar and the unrecognizable. Lee Patterson’s pre-recorded tapes document the immediate (a beach, a power-line pylon, a refrigerator) as well as the hidden (underwater recordings of plants and insects), while his amplified objects include electric toothbrushes, springs and chemical reactions (see for a video of a Patterson performance by Luke Fowler). The six improvisations have mysterious, evocative titles, e.g., "In the dead body of a calf are generated bees" and "A Salamander lives in the fire which imparts to it a most glorious hue." They’re drawn from alchemical texts, and the metaphor of transmutation of matter is evident throughout. One sound of uncertain identity turns into another in layered degrees of the electronic and the acoustic, ultimately resulting in a music that’s stretched and elongated through time and which seems to transcend the individual and the sense of a unitary space. It’s richly contemplative, dense with meaning and textures, grounded everywhere and nowhere.”

                                                                                                                    Stuart Broomer, Point of Departure

“Patterson's use of field recordings and amplified devices (presumably, those burning and bubbling liquids which he manipulates rather as a professor handles chemicals in a science lab) gives the music a tactile quality amidst the more dominant e-bows and laptop drones that overlap, build up, fade down, move in thickening and thinning cloud masses. Toop's more generally acoustic set-up – he's credited with flutes, steel guitar and percussive devices, as well as the laptop – isn't as fidgety as in the genre-hopping days of Alterations, the group he shared with Steve Beresford, Peter Cusack and Terry Day, but the occasional blown flute tone adds an element to the sound mix that’s more directly traceable to human origin – the sound of breath. In his review of the album for Point of Departure, Stuart Broomer puts it this way: "There are instants when Toop plays flute in a way that’s so direct and traditional that it’s possible to associate the sound with an ancient pastoral diversion, even the invention of melody." It's an attractive proposition, and the

combination of Patterson's labyrinthine rumblings (like being encased in thick masses of earth, crawling with roots and insects and shifting geological movement) with the 'ancient' sound of the flute – the origin of music as imitation of nature (wind, water, air, earth) – and Davies’ less ‘naturally’-based electronics, might be viewed as a union of the most ‘cutting-edge’ musical technology with the most atavistic of suggestions, the most primal and minute of natural processes and settings. Indeed, the track titles (taken from a poem by fifteenth-century alchemist George Ripley,26 amongst other sources) suggest mythology, occult investigations, gnosis: an intersection between magic and science, the new and the old; a cabinet of curiosities (‘wunderkammer’) – a memory theatre in which knowledge is not so much systematised (as it was in the cabinets’ successor, the modern museum) as dramatized, in a bric-a-brac juxtaposition of art, intellectual disciplines and religion. While this alchemical strain is not exactly a ‘sub-text’, a direct thematic parallel with the music herein, some comparisons do suggest themselves– objects changing from one thing into another, as when, say, one sound sets up a drone, others joining, merging with, and eventually subsuming it; and the transformation of base matter (field recordings changing into music, solids dissolving into liquids in Patterson’s glasses). Rather than be too programmatic or extravagantly metaphorical about this, though, it would perhaps be best to take the disc for what it is – a high-quality document of improvised sound. If I had one criticism to make, it would be that the fade-outs on a number of tracks create a sense of disjunction that doesn’t really sit well with the overall workings of the music: compare, for example, the way the first piece disappears just as some particularly interesting interacting sonorities are starting to

emerge, with the longest, twenty-minute track, in which the development of various threads stretches out at what feels a much more natural, breathable length and pace. That’s a fairly minor quibble, however, about what is in general a very strong release.

David Grundy, eartrip magazine

“In every unforced sonic setting, a thin line divides incident and plan. In fact, the best improvisers are usually those who let their behaviour presume an envisaged impression, despite the autonomy granted by the lack of a score. But there are exceptions, of course. It happens, for example, when a group of performers – obviously talented and aurally attuned to the inherent laws of acoustic transformation – gathers without even imagining the outcome. They only trust perception, conscious of something that inevitably will happen and, just as inescapably, lead to a revealing experience or – as in the case of this splendid work – to a series of events that justify someone’s transitory belonging within a given space.

Built upon an array of instruments that includes harp, eBow, preparations, electronics, amplified devices, field recordings, laptop, steel guitar, flutes and percussion, Wunderkammern probes the waters of the narrow sea that exists between mere corporeality and superior discernment. A wealth of “ringing-metal-or-electronic?” nuances seriously affects the mind, courtesy of a dedicated arrangement of concretely resounding matters and intuition. Toop’s ability in blending understated scents of ritualism inside the resonant textures generated by Davies’ harp and Patterson’s applications represents an added value to a stirring concoction of suggestions. Feels like being pervaded by the echoes from hundreds of different pasts, morphed into the failure of directing that emotional burst elsewhere. The memory acts as if flooded by previous experiences, from last week or two hundred years ago. A wonderfully daunting commotion, exalted by the balance between the amplification of tiny details and an all-inclusive sense of isolation.

Treating these six tracks as a contingent harmonization of our impermanence would appear offensive. However, do give them a try also according to that method, playing the CD at adequate volume. The malleability and extreme naturalness of each emission, and the way in which the musicians permeate the room of “positive spirits” through a conscientious openness give the indication of a special kind of authenticity. That which explains the following postulation: if “silence” speaks volumes, the sum of vibration and awe equals Silence.”     Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes

“Wunderkammern, a German term loosely translated as “wonder room,” were an early form of what would become cabinets of curiosities in the Renaissance, taxonomical collections of objects and specimens gathered together for contemplation. Listening to this set of six collectively improvised pieces, one can imagine why Rhodri Davies, Lee Paterson, and David Toop were drawn to the term.
The variegated textures and timbres that emanate from Davies’ harp, electronics, and preparations; Patterson’s amplified mechanical devices and field recordings, and Toop’s laptop, steel guitar, flutes, and percussion, gather in shifting layers and subtle juxtapositions, eschewing arc or conversational interplay. What comes through is the contrast of electronic and acoustic sound, but also the contrast of mechanical rattle and string resonance from harp and guitar or the breathy quaver of flute, the natural decay of acoustic instruments (both amplified and unamplified) and the on-off quality of the electronics, and activity of physical gesture and the sputter and buzz of electronics. There is a distinctive spatial element to the recording as sounds and textures accrue, accentuated even further by the sonic ground Patterson introduces with field recordings. Just as striking is the way that the three think about time and duration; slowly unfolding from the stratification of extended waves with spatters of more gestural elements. Two of the pieces find endings at just over four minutes, three at around 10 minutes, and the immersive “In the dead body of a calf are generated bees” extends for 21 minutes; but in all cases, Davies, Patterson, and Toop extend the improvisations through to conclusive resolution.”

                                                                                                               Michael Rosenstein, Signal to Noise

“Wunderkammern finds Lee Patterson's field recordings and “amplified devices” fermenting mysteriously along with Rhodri Davies's harp and electronics and David Toop's laptop, flute and steel guitar.  There's magic in the secluded spaces of this music, each track an auditory cabinet of curiosities, enigmatic, introspective and strangely glowing.  To me this appears the most yielding and potentially rewarding of the five CDs, but all convey the message that if quiet music runs the risk of indifference, it may also induce a finely tuned capacity for listening.”

                                                                                                                   Julian Cowley, The Wire

“A recording born from the meeting of Davies, Lee Patterson and David Toop. We know Toop’s taste for gamelan music and the atmosphere of that music somehow infiltrates the sounds of the trio:  the plucking of stopped strings,  multiple drones and singing, extensions of instrumental sounds until the instruments become fused - with only the sound of a wooden flute distinguishing itself.  The lullabies here are made by pure oscillations, and the abstracted sounds take on a refined beauty.”                                                                                       Guillaume Belhomme, Le Son du Grisli

“Rhodri Davies, Lee Patterson, David Toop målar upp ett sceneri tillsammans. Ett skådespel helt utan röst. Lee Patterson släpper ut olika slags fältinspelningar i ljudfältet, vilket ger associationer till något jag tror mig känna igen, fast jag vet inte riktigt vad. Därigenom byggs en lätt mystisk stämning upp. Det passar ju ganska väl ihop med Davis elektroniska sagor, sådana han brukar berätta med sin litet lojt lugna elförstärkta harpa.

Stämningarna lyfts fram i titlarna på styckena: "A Salamander lives in the fire, which imparts to it a most glorious hue", "From the ashes springs a seven-pointed flower", "In Ashes lies the Salt of Glory" etc. Detta ger musiken en dov ödesmättad stämning, som de tre fint hanterar i en ganska traditionell kulminationsestetik. Här finns uppladdning, topp och utklingande passager i styckena. De förmår skruva upp förväntningar och känslor så att en ödsligt klingande ton just upplevs som ödslig och laddad, fast den egentligen är en ganska banal överenskommelse hur ödslighet borde låta. Men det är lätt att gå med på vad jag hör.

Och egentligen tar dessa tre musiker spjärn mot John Cages estetik - och föser bort den, de avlägsnar sig från David Tudor, Zen, Nam June Paik och allt ni vill av rabulistiskt avant garde. Nej, här är en trio som vill ta med musiken till moderniserade stämningar före Cage, det är en utveckling av romantiken i modernistiskt renad form. Och det är märkligt hur de lyckas återskapa naturen i musiken; abstraktionen är borta. Och när skivan är slut snurrar mina tankar vidare där jag sitter avslappnad i fåtöljen, det dröjer inte länge förrän jag kommer ihåg Ralf Lundstens musik.

Det är ett intressant fenomen, hur inom bildkonsten en hel skola målare återgår till naturimiterande och mytfyllda bilder. Lika intressant som hur denna suggestiva musik växt fram ur ett landskap som skrubbats rent på onödig gestik. Spännande musikalisk romantisk retro men med samtida medel.”         Thomas Millroth, Sound of Music

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