Evan Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble has served, in some parts, as a stamp of authenticity for the burgeoning world of laptop improv. The group has grown in size and significance and even (in a different configuration) brought Roscoe Mitchell — one who would seem to be committed to non-electronic exploration — into the mix.
With Set, Parker rounds another turn, crafting a structured improvisation tailored for a pool of players selected from those recent efforts. The piece was originally commissioned for the 2003 Donaueschinger Musiktage festival and, six years later, supplemented with 10 minutes of additional material for a recorded artifact. Such a process and product isn't rare: a festival invitation results in the summoning of a larger ensemble than regular gigging affords, and a set of perimeters within which the group (perhaps with little time to practice) will perform is established. The fact that this is Evan Parker, however, a man very concerned with process, and that five of the eight players he called upon work exclusively in electronics together point to a bold initiative.
And indeed it is. It's dizzying, dreamlike. It's not revolutionary, but it's a fascinating stab at desegregating the electro and acoustic schools. At center is Parker's longstanding trio with bassist Barry Guy and percussionist Paul Lytton (the latter of who's use of electronic objects as sound-making devices already begins to blur the borders). Alongside from that trio is the duo Furt (Richard Barrett and Paul Obermayer), who were called upon to add to their palette of sound sources previous recordings of Parker's trio for the occasion. The third level consists of three other electronicists, all of whom have worked also worked with Parker in previous ventures, and all of whom have specified names for their techniques: Lawrence Casserly (signal process instrument); Walter Prati (live processing) and Marco Vecchi (sound projection). This third set of players processes the sounds made before them, creating smoke, mirrors, three bands and an octet.
The result is three layers of sound, or levels perhaps. The familiarity of sax and bass are hardly central, as Parker's quick soprano flutters and Guy's low arco bass easily submerge in the bath, while Lytton is willfully obscured between acoustic and electronic realms. Any of them at any time might be (and all three at points are) döppelganged back into the mix by any of the processors, echoing themselves or recurring as past recordings. But the Parker Trio and its associated apparitions are, of course, only a part of the setting. Resounding through are far less embodied sounds, beeps, chirps, woofs and groans. If all of this sounds busy, well, it isn't terribly so. What it still comes down to is a group of talented improvisers who know each other and play together well. If indeed there is an argument being made in the music (and it's likely there's not), this may well be it.
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