Lockdown Roundup: Lucy Railton, Melaine Dalibert, James Rushford

Saturday 23 May 2020

Responses to Covid-19 are coming thick and fast now. Quarantined from the wider world, musicians are making music alone, where they can. Cafe Oto, the bold experimental music venue in London, has responded to the enforced downtime by launching Takuroku, a new netlabel dedicated to recordings produced under lockdown. As you might expect, the dominant mood right now is directed by isolation; introspective and melancholy – at least based on the three I’ve listened to so far. (In case I’m seeming more interested in analysis than advocacy, I’d recommend each of these three to the curious.)

Lucy Railton’s Lament in Three Parts adds hidden depths to this emotional state. Her work for solo cello with some additional electronics was improvised on one day in late April, with processing added a couple of days later. The music sounds much more substantial than this description suggests: as an improvisation, it definitely draws upon something that has been stored up for some time. Railton’s recent compositional work has extended beyond her cello into the use of electronics and field recordings. Earlier this year, she presented a sophisticated collaboration with synthesiser pioneer Peter Zinovieff, RFG Inventions for Cello and Computer. Lament distills Railton’s music and moves the focus away from technology: when electronics first appear at the end of the first part, it sounds like amplified bowing adding a further sighing texture to the slow chorale. Part two is a sombre melody that passes almost monophonically for its first half (I’m no expert but it sounds like she’s using Pythagorean intonation). The briefer final part resolves the preceding long line with an otherworldly sheen, the electronics adding just enough to transform the cello into something strange yet still beautiful.

My previous exposure to Melaine Dalibert consists entirely of two solo piano works which I did not like. Un Long Ralentissement is another piano piece, made as a specific response to the pandemic. As before, Dalibert takes an almost obstinately theoretical approach as justification for his carefully placed single tones, but this time it works musically. Preciousness has yielded to tenderness, and the understated rallentando adds a flexibility and flow to this slow music. The process of things slowing down is experienced, not just demonstrated, and there’s a humanising element present in the recording that makes this piece perversely relevant.

I’ve just done James Rushford recently but here’s another solo piece, this time made as a direct result of lockdown. Ouarzazate is a solo performance on a Rhodes electric keyboard. It is thirty-eight goddamn minutes long; almost twice the length of the Railton and Dalibert pieces. The contrast in his approach to the keyboard compared to his organ piece Clerestory is instructive. To work with such a limited timbral palette over such a long, unbroken span of time, you’ve got to be good. Rushford’s playing starts contrapuntally, generously paced enough to open up contemplation yet never lingering, lest momentum be lost to aimless meandering. It keeps the mind guessing with occasional leaps in register and changes in pitch sets, opening up one fork in the path after another.

Lockdown Roundup: James Rushford, Will Guthrie

Sunday 17 May 2020

Musicians everywhere are getting slugged by Covid-19 shutting down venues and travel for months. What can you do? Keep making music. New pieces are going out on Bandcamp, Soundcloud, streaming live on Youtube and wherever. I’ve talked about James Rushford and Will Guthrie each on this site several times before, but not in the capacity as solo composers. Rushford put up two new items on his Bandcamp on 1 May, the second fee-free day on the site this year. Clerestory is a solo organ performance from a gig at Hospitalkirche Stuttgart in 2017. Organ is always impressive, even John Zorn can’t mess it up too badly, but Clerestory is a more enlightening insight into Rushford’s musical thinking. It’s eclectic, but with an attention span that surprises the listener with unexpected connections instead of trying to dazzle with a rollcall of cultural references. Moody ambience yields to imperious bombast; when the sonorites and textures get thornier, the music perversely opens up into something more allusive and enigmatic for the imagination.

Prey Calling started as an installation at MONA FOMA in Tasmania earlier this year. The description of this stereo mixdown is horripilating: “a mashup of vintage synth and whale song, inspired by the story of Greenpeace expeditioners using the Serge modular synthesiser to communicate with humpback whales”. Blessedly, Rushford’s approach is closer to David Tudor’s in Soundings: Ocean Diary than a head shop: a kaleidoscopic array of complex electroacoustic sounds that verge upon whale song, recognising the ocean as a constant flux and not an inert medium. It constantly refreshes itself with the same invention and dynamism as his improvised duets with Joe Talia (see Paper Fault Line for a good, early example).

Percussionist Will Guthrie’s solo piece For Stephane is a bit older, going back to mid-March this year when it was released. I’ve spoken before about his holistic approach to percussion, observing how his performances resemble the curation of an environment of discrete but interrelated objects: an ecological method. This carries over into his work with electronics. For Stephane recalls the gamelan from his Black Truffle release Nist Nah, producing a hazy montage of distant gongs, sustained humming, hissing and rattles, muted recordings and faint radio broadcasts. The fragmented, ephemeral nature of the piece evokes memory, history, curdled nostalgia and remoteness.