Computer / editing /arrangement and composition.
Modular Synthesiser and signal processing
This work was compiled from free improvisations recorded in Utterpsalm studios between 2012-15
Mastering by Jacques Beloeil
Cover Image by Martin Pover
Design by John Wall & Clive Graham.
In collusion with Mark Durgan is Contrapt, a 39-minute sequence of pieces culled from free improvisations the duo made over a three-year period, from 2012 to 2015. In Wall’s case, ‘culled’ would seem to be precisely the right word. i’ll say more about this when discussing the other disc, but the fact that three years’ worth of improvisations can be distilled down into not much more than half an hour says something to the way in which Wall approaches the editing process (in all of Wall’s collaborations, he is responsible for the editing of the material).
There are instances, particularly in Wall’s more recent output, when the different tracks on a disc can feel disconnected from one another, like separately-filmed scenes placed side-by-side to form a movie demarcated by jump-cuts. But not on Contrapt. Here, the seven tracks become segments of a larger, integral whole, cross-referential both specifically (in terms of material) and generally (behaviour and timbral palette). One of the most striking qualities displayed throughout the disc is one of physicality. Electronic music so often sounds like what it is – a stream of 0s and 1s that, whatever their lineage may be, reside within and emerge from the processing circuits of a computer. But throughout Contrapt there’s a vivid sense of objects (whether real or virtual) being wielded, handled, struck and otherwise manipulated, sometimes shape-shifting into tubular noise formations, substituting impacts with turbulence. As ever, the relationship between pitch and noise is a fascinating one. It’s easy to focus on the fragmented, filigree surfaces, or get swept along on the torrential streams of burbling grit and glitter (which i’ve previously likened to ‘alien data’) but within and around them broader sonic events take place. Underlaid low tones appear in the eponymous first segment, distant and ephemeral but present nonetheless, whereas in ‘Rapt’ pitch is used more overtly, forming lovely gliding tones that spiral spontaneously out from the main texture before being absorbed back into it. Sometimes what Durgan and Wall are up to can sound a little self-involved, concerned more with cause than effect; at these times there’s a distinct sense of ‘looking over the shoulder’ of the music in order to seek to connect with it (demonstrating that an avoidance of received notions of musical engagement can militate against as well as liberate). But this is a passing issue on Contrapt, and the more effusive music that typifies the disc – especially the varying forms of regular and irregular pulsation that keep recurring – as well as the abrupt shifts in character that often occur late in a segment (something of a John Wall fingerprint) keep one hooked.
Review by Simon Cummings