Sunday, 11 March 2012

BABs - Diving Bells (and the art of sound processing)

Part One :

Here's a recent arrival (if only electronically) on my laptop, sent on to me by Olie Brice. BABs stands for Olie Brice (double bass), Jammes Allsopp (bass clarinet) and Alex Bonney (laptop), although not in that particular order ..... as the old saying goes.

Alex Bonney has never popped up on my blog (as yet), although I wrote a review for Splice over on Free Jazz blog late last year. That record mixed sound manipulation techniques by Pierre Alexandre Tremblay someone who's already a respected electro acoustic composer. That record mixed live and processed sound also, although in a melodic direction, using electronic processing as an accompanying instrument rather than a central point of sound control.

On Diving Bells, BABs uses sound manipulation as it's main reference. Bassist Olie Brice and reed-man (this time on bass clarinet only) James Allsopp rise to the challenge of providing extra material for Alex Bonney to work with. Among the looping sounds and clicks there's the cry of bass clarinet, spittled mouthpieces, detuned bass strings, hit bass strings, and didgeridoo like shrieks to name but a few. They manage to keep the whole thing up in the air wonderfully well, finding new angles to add which all end up in the melting pot of sounds. Of course when computers step in it's often difficult to really know who's doing what - a little like Woody Allen's remark in Radio Days about ventriloquists on the radio. But to a certain extent that's not important, the best thing to do is to sit back and just let the sound mixtures wash over you.

Kelp Forest Embraces (Track 3).

It's important to point out that the laptop, and it's prominent role, never means the album becomes totally abstract. The added interplay of acoustic instruments constantly reminds you that this is live communication between musicians, not some abstract sound painting. From the opening 'Fatal Nest Egg' with noises which echo up as if from a dungeon, to the closing 'Becalmed .... finally' with sparse use of bass clarinet and bowed double-bass talking like two ships in the fog, BABs work with all stops pulled out. In fact I often found myself wondering whether this is what Northern European Aboriginal music could sound like?  The album has 5 tracks and is 35 minutes long. The two longest pieces tracks 1 and 5 - both 11 minutes - bookending three short pieces.

In conclusion although this doesn't have any 'tunes' on it that you may wish to dance to, it is another record confirming the influence of noise and electro-acoustics on the world of pop, jazz and improvised music. It is a long way from Bjork's experiments in pop meets Max/MSP, but goes to show that this musical art form is here to stay and becoming more acceptable and so visible on the live music circuit on a daily basis. Laptops were once a thing of a small minority when talking about instruments, whereas within recent years no concert program of any worth would dare to ignore musicians and their groups who use this machine as an instrument. If you enjoy discovering new areas of music, then don't shy away from trying this one ...... just remember to listen with the lights on!

A Gavilan Computer (1983). Considered to be the first 'working' laptop, or was it the Osborne 1 (I'll have to look it up later)? The first laptop was designed by William Moggridge in 1979 called the Grid Compass.
Part Two :

It's difficult (*) to write about this record without adding a few words about the art of 'the Laptop meets live instruments'. I always enjoy hearing music that uses live and processed sound. As a Pure Data nerd I love seeing, or hearing I suppose, what other sound manipulators come up with when trying to combine the live with the processed. It's an area which is still in full evolution, and so open to new possibilities. When thinking of successful projects using the two areas (live and processed sound) it's difficult to make recommendations, much of the music covers such wide areas from very new age style sound to abstract noise. One could site a few contenders such as Supersilent and eventually Food (featuring Thomas Stronen and Iain Ballemy). Both have made major inroads using a combination of improvisation, live instruments and processed sounds, however Supersilent is probably a little more 'noise' orientated. Evan Parker's Electro Acoustic Ensemble is probably a good example and also one of the most interesting and successful projects to have combined the two areas ... at the present time that is. I should also point out one shouldn't confuse Laptop impro with serious Electro Acoustic composition (see below for a few names to look for), which works in a different sphere altogether.

As already mentioned, and less jazz/impro orientated, is Bjork who seems to have embraced this medium to the point of releasing (if I understood correctly) an album with iPad apps on it. The idea being that the person who buys the album can play with the applications used to make the music as they wish. Those responsible for helping Bjork develop her music in this field are Matmos. Matmos, comprised of Martin Schmidt and Drew Daniels have been making experimental music albums for many years which combine electronica, sound manipulation and live instruments. Their music is extremely accessible without making any concessions to their art form. Albums such as Civil War, A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure (which used sound samples of aesthetic plastic surgery tools at work!) combine many genres of music from rock, jazz, folk and dance. A few other artists with a little more improvisational direction to their work are Christian Fennesz, Ikue Mori, DJ Olive and Michael Moser - just a couple of names that come to mind when thinking about the laptop as an improvising instrument. 

For all those interested read this excellent article from The New Music Box which maps out the development of music, the computer (and the laptop), in a much more detailed way than my short article. Of course if you read this article and have some suggestions I'd be most interested to hear/read about them. Much of this musical art form is difficult to find when searching the net. As you can imagine typing the word 'laptop' into Google won't get you very far, and even adding the words music or jazz tend to lead nowhere. Anyhow, if your interested by this little taster of an article ..... get looking as there's a lot of very interesting new sounds to discover out there!

*= Not exactly true, I just enjoy writing a little about the subject. It also helps for those who are starting to discover this area of music. Of course, for those interested to look further there is a whole field of music which ranges from the abstract to the melodic which can be found if you start looking up names such as Pierre Schaeffer, Stockhausen, Dieter Kaufmann (one of my favourites), Babbit, Berio, Varese and the list goes on. There are plenty of modern composers working in this field - Pierre-Alexandre Tremblay, Monty Adkins, Dennis Smalley, Suk Jun Kim (to name but four) - with the easy access to computer programs and audio recording programs such as Logic or Pro-Tools universities have plenty of young students and teachers all now becoming very adept in developing this area. See labels such as audiobulb, electrocd, or empreintes digitales for more ideas!  There's a lot to discover, so be patient and more importantly very curious.

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