Improvised music played on viola, prepared chambers and zither. Violas and zithers we all know, but prepared chambers? These are open box constructions made and played by Anton Mobin, a Parisian sound artist (also a self-styled “radio activist”; he hosts an experimental music show on Radio Libertaire), which hold arrangements of objects (preparations) and microphones*. And Mobin also plays the zither, which could also, perhaps, be homemade.
Benedict Taylor, Mobin’s partner here, is a violist, a composer, and the founder of CRAM, a music collective and indie label dedicated to new and improvised music: Transit Check, recorded by Mobin in 2012, is a fine example of his solo work.
Stow | Phasing (Raw Tonk Records) is the duo’s first album, though not their first joint recordings, with previous collaborations including contributions to Mobin’s 2013 cassette work Guests on Tape.
On quick-change tracks like “Poursuite”, Mobin is almost agitated in his soundings, which range from percussive twangs on sprung metal to close-mic’d scrunching of what might be sand or gravel or paper, it’s hard to tell. Taylor is just as busy, matching Mobin’s gritty texturing with nimbly adroit elisions of viscous bowing and pointillist, clustered tweaks and plucks.
Track two, “The Pitching Side” is the album’s longest (12:47) and most spacious. Taylor sounds his viola like an array of preparations, testing the tensility of de-tuned strings with exploratory pings and rubbings, before exploring more conventionally ‘out’ bowing. Meanwhile, amid dubbily echoic thuds and twangs, Mobin produces a close-grained sonic patina that recalls the burning sand on Einsturzende Neubauten’s “Wüste”.
Despite what such a description might imply, both this piece, and the album at length, add up to something much more rewarding than a melange of abstract foley-style soundings. Mobin increasingly focuses on gong-like percussive effects and sympathetic reverberant sustains, while Taylor zeroes in on shards of melodic potential and elaborates them into sonic vignettes with an emotional aesthetic charge, and something of the intimacy of neoromantic folk or chamber music.
Stow | Phasing is, at least, inexhaustibly intriguing. There’s a perpetual tension between the music’s volatility and raw textures on the one hand, and Mobin and Taylor’s musical sensitivity on the other. But the album’s experimentally ‘out’ pieces (“Poursuite” and “Ricochet”) are balanced by others on which either Taylor’s style is more ‘conventional’ (notably the (initially) austerely beautiful “Pas Le Moindre”, the album’s standout track) or Mobin’s preparations suggest other instruments and concomitant rhythms (a thumb piano at the beginning of “Ricochet”, a guimbri on “Evermore Bound”).
Still, only the album’s final piece, “Zithony”, casts Mobin and Taylor in the recognisably mutually supportive roles of percussionist and string soloist. Elsewhere such distinctions are blurred or nonexistent, and the general mood is edgy, its authors’ expressivity terse; nowhere more so than on two short tracks immediately preceding “Zithony”, the compact, abstract “Underlie”, and the airy but rigidly clangourous “Ligne De Suie”.
Benedict Taylor: viola; Anton Mobin: prepared chambers, zither.
Tejero / Serrato / Díaz – Sputnik Trio.