Blage 3 (Mikroton) is the part-result of an installation and performance piece curated by pianist/composer Simon James Phillips: a double CD presenting two long extracts from one long, uninterrupted improvisation.
Playing alongside Philips are two colleagues from Berlin’s Splitter Orchestra, trumpeter Liz Allbee and double bassist Werner Dafeldecker, BJ Nilsen on electronics, guitarist Arthur Rother, and The Necks’ Tony Buck on percussion.
Both The Necks and Dafeldecker’s group Polwechsel provide useful and apposite touchstones for this music as all three projects focus on slowly unfolding structures, albeit with varying degrees of subtlety and implacable intent.
The performance took place in the centre of a large dance studio with an audience, who had no idea how long it would last, admitted only once the work had begun and free to come and go.
The performance lasted five hours, of which this album presents two long excerpts, each with its own character. Any audible evidence of the audience has been carefully excised.
The first hour-long excerpt begins with a warm, hazy strumming of processed piano and combined harmonics, turning on a diminuendo through which more lyrically arpeggiated pianism emerges in counterpoint to individuated electronic drones and an ominous underlying rumble of percussion and bowed bass. Through overlapping movements, those bass reverberations operate in counterpoint to queasy, high-frequency tones until both fade, yielding again to Philips’ pianism.
Fluctuations in the balance of power between inputs produce a tension between the music’s lulling and discomposing aspects. It holds the ear.
Philips’ playing, rippling over collaged drones, has a hypnotic mellifluousness that’s reminiscent at times of Charlemagne Palestine’s ‘strumming music’ but twenty two minutes in, and Tony Buck’s rainforest shakers and vibrating snare drum herald a darkening of mood, with Rother’s guitar abstractly dark-hued against bowed contrabass and harmonious grains and pulses of electronic texture. As always, the piano seems to draw the music onward, exerting a calming influence, but as electronic textures fade away Buck’s percussion becomes dominant, establishing a restive tension between pulse and abstraction.
Allbee’s trumpet is now clearly audible for the first time, binding the music with strenuous sustains, shaping melody, but sounding clarion only when Rother chimes in with a simple guitar motif. Still, there’s an inevitable slip back into abstraction, with Allbee heard only in occasional clucks and smears amid a constellation of electro-acoustic microsound, all bolstered by washes of cymbal and irregular contact static. From here, there’s a slow but sure wending of convergences to a subtly-drawn conclusion.
This is restless music, characterised by a constant tension between the acoustic, purely electronic and/or electro-acoustic facets of an always-recombinant ensemble sound. The second, 43-minute long excerpt is more tightly structured.
It begins with what sounds like interior field recordings of external weather, concomitantly creaky foley sounds, and a long, mellifluous and increasingly hypnotic piano solo, under which Buck slowly develops a rolling, rhythmic tattoo. Phillips’ rapid, looping note series recall Lubomyr Melnyk’s ‘continuous music’, but it’s Buck’s percussion that continues as pianism gives way to ambient harmonics.
Buck turns to peripheral percussion to emphasise texture over pulse, then patterns cymbals over thickening drones—BJ Nilsen meanwhile summoning long threads of muzzy but penetrating audio and a thin skein of tanpura-llke sound—before again breaking into rolling tympanic thunder. But then there’s a turning of the tides, and those processes are reversed, with Nilsen’s drones again predominant, reverberating loudly while Buck whips up a surf of cymbals, but all drawing ineluctably back to stillness and silence.
Liz Allbee trumpet; Tony Buck drums and percussion; Werner Dafeldecker double bass; BJ Nilsen electronics; Arthur Rother guitar; Simon James Phillips piano.
Buy Blage 3 direct from Mikroton.