Electric guitars etc.: Gavin Bryars with Sergio Sorrentino, Pauline Oliveros with Reynols (also Monique Buzzarté)

Saturday 31 December 2022

The listening pile grew big while working on my own stuff, so I almost overlooked these three little nuggets of Gavin Bryars’ work for electric guitar. It’s not a complete overview of his work for the instrument, but it makes for a piquant EP. The guitarist is Sergio Sorrentino, whom Bryars has worked with before but not in a solo capacity. The opening and closing tracks were recorded live at the AngelicA festival and sound remarkably close and clear. Catalogue is a duet for piano and electric guitar Bryars wrote for Derek Bailey way back in 1965. The indeterminate musical language is of its time, but Bryars and Sorrentino work together to make the piece speak clearly, with fresh colours and a sense of balance that keeps the pointillistic texture intriguing. The two join forces again for a take on The Squirrel and the Ricketty-Racketty Bridge, the 1971 piece for guitarists ‘walking’ their fingers up and down the fretboards of two instruments at once and which the nerds who read this blog probably remember from one of the indifferently-pressed LPs Brian Eno put out in the Seventies. This version is cleaner, letting more of the anticipated inadvertent details to be heard and so giving it interest beyond its initial quirkiness. It’s also much shorter, which will either help you focus on the music or prevent you from immersing in the ambience. I haven’t kept up with Bryars’ recent compositions, so it’s good to hear Burroughs II, a work from 2014. This is a studio recording Sorrentino made shortly before the Angelica gig, multitracking himself on six electric guitars and two electric basses. The melodic work is typical of later Bryars – stymied late romantic decadence, out of whack, never quite at peace with itself – but not as cosy as I expected, set against strummed chords at a gallop. It’s striking but at four minutes it feels like a fragment, a sketch for something more resolved.

A couple of years back I got into a recording of the telematic duet from 2009 between Pauline Oliveros in New York and Alan Courtis in Buenos Aires. Their adeptness at using the long-distance jam session for mutual inspiration and provocation is less of a surprise when you learn that this was not their first rodeo. Half a Dove in New York, Half a Dove in Buenos Aires is a mixdown of another online intercontinental gig, held ten years earlier. (The mind boggles at the effort needed to get an “improvisation NetCast” running effectively in the days of 56k modems.) On this occasion, Oliveros with her just intonation accordion is joined by trombonist extraordinnaire Monique Buzzarté, while in the southern hemisphere Courtis is playing with his band Reynols. Oliveros and Reynols had a shared feeling for sound and while this earlier outing is less convulsive, none of the assembled musos are afraid to lead (or push) the others to greater extremes when the moment seems right. Oliveros and Buzzarté lay down drones rich with overtones, which Reynols thicken out with guitars and electronics until somewhere around the middle of Side 1 a jet fighter takes off. By Side 2 you start thinking this a Reynols gig with added instrumental colour, only to hear the brass and reeds come surging back for the rest of the disc, wailing and keening in a strange tonality which the electronics match with distorted harmony. Shamefully, Buzzarté doesn’t get a namecheck on the front cover.