FURT, the electronics duo of Richard Barrett and Paul Obermayer, have strong links with Evan Parker, having recorded for the saxophonist’s psi Records label, also having been incorporated into his Electroacoustic Ensemble. (They feature on the Electroacoustic Ensemble’s Hasselt album of 2010, and were one of the “pre-existing musical structures” contributing to his Set piece, released the same year.
I also know Barrett as a composer, who occasionally works with the Elision ensemble to realise such complex works as Dark Matter; scored for an ensemble of 19 performers, which was recorded for NMC in 2012 (I reviewed it here).
spukhafte Fernwirkung features FURT operating both as a duo and as host organism: The electro-acoustic fORCH octet, or FURT Orchestra, features FURT as composer/musicians working with improvisors Phil Minton and Ute Wassermann (voices), Lori Freedman (clarinets), John Butcher (saxophones), Rhodri Davies (harps) and Paul Lovens (percussion).
The two pieces on this album were both commissioned for the 2012 Donaueschingen Festival. The fORCH performance, which takes the album title “spukhafte Fernwirkung“, is a live recording from that date. A shorter, duo piece, “Hmyz”, was prepared for the same occasion, but is included here in a studio-recorded version.
Furt’s sleeve notes describe “spukhafte Fernwirkung” as: “A structure based on time proportions, which evolves from juxtaposed duos through overlapping trios to alternating quartets (with) suggestions for organising relationships between ‘solo’ and ‘accompaniment’.” The “compositional input” of all concerned is duly acknowledged, and FURT fold “processed sound materials”, recorded during rehearsals, back into the performance. “Hmyz” was recorded on the last day of rehearsal, and likewise incorporates elements of live performances by the fORCH improvisers.
Loven’s percussion and Davies’ harp are in focus at the start of “spukhafte Fernwirkung”. Both sound scrapes and suspended resonances rather than anything more sonorous, preparing the way for the non-verbal phonology of Minton and Wassermann. Their remarkable contortions of paralinguistic breath sounds, all non-verbal, but rich in emotion, are picked up effortlessly by Freedman and Butcher. The imperfectly mirrored chirp and flutter of the latter’s reeds evoke the jittery display of brightly-plumaged birds of paradise.
Barrett and Obermayer are last in, introducing the characteristic liquid whorl of their processed electronics, and the musical overlapping begins around eight minutes in, when the vocalists re-enter, cleaving to the roundedness of the electronics tones, soon followed by the reeds. The instrumental pairs continue to operate in tandem, and the constant re-composition of sound serves to hook and re-hook the listener’s attention: a musical game of bait-and-switch.
The performance gets abrasively frenetic in its eleventh minute, heated by percussive frictions, but it settles again immediately. The instrumental pairing and re/cycling of combinations encourages all performers constantly to reevaluate relationships, both within partnerships and in relation to other units of organisation.
Fifteen minutes in, when the twinned reeds essay a throaty, disputative ‘solo’, FURT’s electronics flock with them, and interject sampled reed sounds for another level of complexity.
The composition’s organisation is masterful, but it’s the improv sensitivities of its interpreters – vivid characters, all – that brings it so energetically to life. Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart (cf. Minton’s stridulations from Butcher’s), but for the most part the instrumental combinations are readily identifiable.
This is focused music-making, not a montage of extended-technique sonics, and it channels the same energy as most compelling acoustic improv. I can’t think of another recording in which the input and effects of electronic and acoustic musicians are on quite such an equal footing.
“Hmyz” (17:35) sees the FURT duo operating alone. It’s “spukhafte Fernwirkung” redux: a liquid concentration of similar sonic inputs, output as a succession of tumbling, droplet-like electronic glitches. Heard directly after the octet piece it’s attention-grabbingly bright in contrast, sonically shiny and bold-contoured.
Still, there’s an organic quality to it. Without disguising the electronic nature of the music’s innumerable tweaks and cutbacks, FURT’s sounds evoke those of idiophones (specifically water bowls), Balinese gamelan and mechanical instruments, even when not making similar source sounds overtly apparent. So it seduces the listener’s attention with fleetingly recognisable organic inputs, before deluging it with detailed derivations.
I’ve been intrigued by FURT’s music in the past, but I enjoy it best when it’s combined with other sounds from a broader palette, as it is here. It can come across as abstrusely cerebral sometimes, albeit playfully so, but “spukhafte Fernwirkung” is the best possible riposte to that idea.
Richard Barrett electronics; Paul Obermayer electronics; Phil Minton voice; Ute Wassermann voice; Lori Freedman clarinets; John Butcher saxophones; Rhodri Davies harps; Paul Lovens percussion.
Spring Heel Jack with Pat Thomas, Alex Ward and Paul Lytton – Live in Antwerp.
Alan Wilkinson, Pat Thomas, Steve Noble, John Coxon – The Founder Effect I – III.
Richard Barrett – Dark Matter + Richard Barrett and Han-earl Park – Numbers + Han-earl Park – io 0.0.1 beta++.
Furt – Sense + Richard Barrett – Adrift (Psi) + Grutronic – Essex Foam Party (2010. Written for The Jazz Mann).
Evan Parker – Set (2010. Written for The Jazz Mann).
Buy spukhafte Fernwirkung direct from Treader.