As purveyors of the Compost and Height website/label and untiring makers of things, Patrick Farmer and Sarah Hughes have high profiles of late, and this little disc won't do anything to diminish that. With Farmer on turntables and electronics, Hughes playing chorded zither, Kilymis on electronics and Cornford with his amplified piano, this quartet tackles John Cage's "four6" and a pair of short improvisations. Their usual stock in trade is a mostly quiet carpet of crackle, hum and fizz, often mimicking natural sounds, as in the first few minutes of the first untitled improvisation which sound much like rain on a flat surface. Squeaking and ominous rumbling then accumulate and threaten to get out of control. There's a definite feeling of chaos just beyond, as hums grow and divide and electric pops intrude, which are peeled away to reveal a skipping, skittering plasticity with an electronic pulse with odd bell-like sounds. It's often difficult to imagine how these sounds are being made, and that's half the fun.
The second improvisation has an odd metallic cloud hanging in it, and a wall of squeak and wail gives way to a quiet chord with low bass hum and delicate feedback. Way underneath I can hear birds. The changes then come a bit too quickly to describe in detail. There's an awful lot going on and things happen very quickly. Textures appear, shift and rub against each other in a myriad of ways. Sonic surprises and an occasional LOUD crash or bang keep the attention from wandering.
Lastly they work with one of John Cage's "number pieces". These late compositions were all written in a similar way, with timed brackets indicating when and for how long a sound is to be played. Each player gets to choose what sounds they will be using and where they will enter and exit within their allotted times. There is usually a time limit to these pieces, and many players have chosen to present them as loops, repeating the structure a set number of times. I believe that is what's happening here as well, as events seem to repeat over time, but shift slightly in relation to each other. Overall, this piece is a bit more subdued, with events following one after another over a bed of birdsong and occasional quiet voices. Spare piano notes hover and turn into quiet feedback, crackles like fire arise and dissipate, and odd metal brushings hang about in the corners. On headphones this is a feast of detail. No wonder it's made so many people's 2011 'best of' lists.
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