Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre
Matt Milton - violin
Léo Dumont - percussion
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.
mprovisations are but snapshots of work in progress, one looks forward to hearing how the three might grow together over time.
The meeting between percussionist Léo Dumont and violinist Matt Milton is hyper-focused on timbral nuance and activity. Reynell reports that “they played incredibly quietly at the concert and were pretty much inaudible to anyone in the audience sitting further back than the first two rows.” Throughout their thirty-minute improvisation, there's a restless energy constructed from finely abraded textures. While the dynamics may be restrained, the level of detailed motion is anything but: Milton’s dry arco moves from scuffed and sawed overtones to pattering, percussive drizzle to splintered harmonics. Leveraging the vibrational qualities of snare drum, floor tom, and cymbal, Dumont coaxes out flutters, groans, crinkles, and pops from the bowed, rubbed, and scratched surfaces. The two immediately sync into an arc of galvanized action. Avoiding broad gestures, they drive each other with constantly shifting currents of meticulously constructed detail. The two build a tensile energy broken by carefully placed pools of stasis. Their careful listening is exemplified by the way the piece finally resolves in waves of breath-like whooshes and looped scrapes that drift in to silence.
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
“As an adjunct to his Another Timbre label, producer Simon Reynell has begun to release recordings on his Byways sub-label. These are live performances, issued to help provide a general documentation of the state of improvisation in England, making no special claims as to "greatness" or "importance", more like snapshots of a scene.
Which, of course, doesn't preclude finding some very fine items and "Scrub" is one such. Dumont (on percussion) and Milton (violin) abide in a quiet, though very active mode. The music stays in the area initially circumscribed, investigating intently, scratching away like furious termites for some 20 minutes before an "alarm bell" sound ushers in a second phase of gentle cymbal washes and softly plucked then more harshly sawn violin. This in turn settles into a small bed of muted bells, barely-there drones and assorted chatter. I found the performance to get more engaging as it progressed, always a good thing, ending succinctly after about a half hour. That's it, no more, no less. Knowing the background of the release, one tends to place oneself in the position of audience member for the set as opposed to listening to an "official" release. This listener would have left the venue quite satisfied. Strong recording.” - Brian Olewnick, The Squid’s Ear
“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.
French percussionist Leo Dumont features for the second time here in a duo with violinist Matt Milton. Refreshingly, in contrast to the other three releases of the series, there are no electronics present here—a comparative rarity these days. Their absence gives the instruments a sense of freedom that they seem to relish. At just over half an hour, this is the briefest of these four releases but its quality makes up for the lack of quantity. Starting tentatively and quietly, scratching, scraping and droning, the violin and percussion very gradually become more outgoing as the piece progresses, giving it an engaging drama that draws the listener into the encounter. “ - John Eyles, All About Jazz
“A 30-minute live set for percussion and violin. Initially, the players act through
micro-infusions of minuscule components within a larger system of coarse liverishness,
a rather nervous attitude identified by the piercing insensitiveness of over-acute
string harmonics and threadbare uneasiness. It doesn’t take much for things to become
constant: aural nuisances exchanged with mild-mannered rubbing (at times bizarrely
sounding as a gentle insufflation), unsympathetic abrasiveness enhanced by a nimble
manufacturing of instantaneous oxidization, also attributing an element of dingy
imperturbability to the general mood. The captious exploration of the inside mechanisms
of a single unit characterizes both musicians’ method for large parts of this music,
turning an evident inhospitableness into its best quality. After a while, even the
most cynical listener is swallowed by those tiny vortexes, the whole informed by
a treasured penuriousness of bombast. “Meagre” is beautiful, “toneless” is charming,
“uncertain” revealing utter confidence in a vision which is perceived as unique,
although that’s not really so. The final part introduces an almost ritual semblance,
a sensible restraint defined by stretched sounds highlighted by well-audible echoes
from the external world. As it happens with the bulk of Simon Reynell’s releases,
one might or might not be able to appreciate a weak-looking nudeness, yet there’s
undeniable substance in those protruding bones. “ - Massimo Ricci, Temporary