One of the most welcome life-hacks of recent times has been the proliferation of live streaming. Whatever the shortcomings of the medium, it has offered artists a much needed outlet for their work. Yet streaming is not the only technological solution embraced by creatives: just witness the sheer number of albums recorded by artists working separately in different locations. The ingenuity must be applauded, but you might wonder if remote collaboration can ever be a viable approach for artists working in that most intimate and spontaneous of formats, the improvised duo?
Well, if you’ve ever heard Derek Bailey and Han Bennink’s two-part Post Improvisation series from the late 90s you’ll know that it can.
These days the exchange of sound files no longer requires audio cassettes or a trip to the post office, but for their first ever collaboration Samo Šalamon and François Houle have essentially followed Bailey and Bennink’s blueprint. Each artist laid down six tracks for the other to improvise on, Šalamon in Slovenia and Houle in Canada, and the final tracks were then mastered by Houle. Šalomon sticks exclusively to acoustic guitar, an intelligent choice given the relative sonic weight of Houle’s clarinet, and the only effects used are the artists’ own extended techniques.
With each piece taking its mildly cryptic title from the poetry of Mary Oliver, a sense of what lies beneath is suggested. The opening Secret Pools, for example, is quietly reflective, a gentle exchange that barely hints at the energy that is unleashed on more extrovert outings like the pointillistic Garden Of Dust. Houle is at his fluid best on Roots And Seeds, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that he was playing flute on the ghostly Common Sense Mutters. Both the title track and the closing Longing Leaving Staying have a more composerly feel, the latter carrying a forlorn sense of isolation and longing that seems perfectly emblematic of our times.
All told, Unobservable Mysteries is a searching, well-paced and musically varied collection, Šalamon and Houle’s natural compatibility suggesting that a post-lockdown tour is an absolute must!
Secret Pools; Roots And Seeds; Common Sense Mutters; Cradles; Garden Of Dust; Island Of Shade; Hum And Sway; The Black Planks; Jug Of Breath; Unobservable Mysteries; The Wanderings Of Water; Longing Leaving Staying (59.15)
Šalamon (g); Houle (cl). Maribor, Slovenia and Vancouver, Canada. Mixed in Canada in December 2020.