Solos and others: India Gailey, Leslie Ting

Friday 1 March 2024

Think I’m the wrong type of person to be listening to these records, so assume the following comes from a grumpy old man who has fallen out of touch with the times. It’s these two new releases from People Places Records, each the work of a solo string player. Problematica is cellist India Gailey’s follow up to 2022’s to you through, this time exclusively made of works commissioned for her. Gailey also sings on a number of pieces, in a close-miked untrained voice with a slight catch that imparts wistful disingenuousness. The use of electronics, such as reverb, multitracking, more reverb, sampling, or just an extra touch of reverb, appear on each track. The songs (as that’s pretty much what they are) veer towards watered-down pop music, matched with the fashionable school of poetry that places a selection of overloaded words with as little supporting syntax as possible to deflect from the poet’s precarity of thought. Welcome relief from all the slipperiness comes in Joseph Glaser’s Joinery, an undulating mesh of quietly brittle cello sounds, where the electronics expand upon the acoustical rather than glaze them and Gailey’s sweet singing adds an unsettling touch, preventing the listener from settling into a fixed perspective for once. Another bright spot is Fjóla Evans’s Universal Veil, which uses multitracking to create more textural interest than simply thickening things out and gives Gailey foreground melodies with something to say beyond providing a vehicle for technological effects.

Violinist and composer Leslie Ting has put together a curious collection of pieces under the title What Brings You In. It’s all part of some larger project apparently to do with therapy, but throughout the accompanying booklet the role therapy plays in this record is couched in vague enough terms to ironically suggest it’s avoiding self-interrogation on the subject. There is a somewhat loose, free-ranging feel for exploration in some pieces, particularly Ting’s improvisation with percussionist Germaine Liu and Rose Bolton’s composition for violin and electronics Beholding. The latter piece starts modern-electroacoustically enough and tries on a few conventional tropes but by the end of it, as Ting pirouettes about on some lively little descending sequences, you realise you’ve been kept guessing the whole time. Why the album opens with Ting and Liu playing a small excerpt from Linda Catlin Smith’s sprawling Dirt Road is a mystery, even as the composer herself is brought into the conversation in the booklet about the record’s conceptual foundation. All I can get from it is that music is therapeutic, which… well, yeah. We’re also informed that the sound of sand is “intimate” – a more contentious proposition. Liu’s improvisation with a heavily amplified sandbox really does sound cool, and about as confessional as Xenakis. It’s a fondly accepted thought that art can make the personal relatable, yet here it paradoxically conforms to people greatest suspicion about therapy, that it makes common experience the exclusive property of the individual.