The Sealed Knot: Twenty

I’m never more conscious of the claim (made by Frank Zappa, if memory serves) that writing about music is like dancing about architecture as I am when trying to review music like this.

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If you like this sort of thing (which I do) you’ll love this. Confront Recordings (M. Wastell prop.) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and continues to maintain the high standard of improvised music it releases, not least in the Core series.

This live performance happened just a couple of weeks before the estimable Café Oto had to close in compliance with anti-Covid restrictions. For much of its duration the music has such a quiet, introspective quality that an audience might seem an intrusion, but the customers at Café Oto are an attentive bunch, not given to the incessant chatter and glass-clinking that is the norm in many venues. As I know from my own modest experience with an improvising trio, that very attentiveness can help shape the music as much as whooping enthusiasm for a virtuosic break.

The early stages of Twenty centre on long, resonant, often low-register tones and quiet rustlings in the undergrowth. Textures thicken and intensify through subtle shiftings of emphasis. More and more detail accumulates throughout the performance but it never seems obtrusively busy or cluttered, even during a couple of relatively agitated sections. 

I’m never more conscious of the claim (made by Frank Zappa, if memory serves) that writing about music is like dancing about architecture as I am when trying to review music like this. It’s possible to describe it in detail, event by event, or give a sweeping overall summary that might apply to a whole genre, but conveying exactly what is unique and valuable about a particular performance can seem especially difficult: a resort to visual images and parallels not only falls foul of Zappa’s strictures regarding describing one medium through the terminology of another but is highly subjective.

However, this improvisation induces me to hear-see astral transformations, celestial aurora, avian murmurations, landscapes that are somehow simultaneously forbidding and seductive, or to simply fantasise about being at the gig. It will sound-look different to you. You just have to listen.

Discography
Twenty (56.18)
Rhodri Davies (amplified lap harp); Mark Wastell (tam tams, gongs, Nepalese singing bowls); Burkhard Beins (amplified pc). Café Oto, Dalston, London, 2 March 2020.
Confront Core CORE 17