Playing: Simon Balestrazzi & Nicola Quiriconi, A Spirale w/ Chris Cogburn

Wednesday 21 August 2019

I’m listening to people playing instruments, making music. In these cases, they’re playing with their instruments, the verb used in the sense of exploration. Making music like this becomes largely a question of taste, of value judgements. It risks a dead end, making sounds that are pleasant but eschewing the potential for discovery and meaning. The temptation to recline into the comfortably tasteful is tempered by working with unfamiliar instruments, which won’t conform so readily to your expectations. Licheni is a relatively brief suite of pieces by Simon Balestrazzi and Nicola Quiriconi. Balestrazzi works with “objects and self built little instruments” while Quiriconi uses contact microphones and voice. The pieces are intricate and detailed without being fussy, maintaining a quiet consistency in sound like a protracted close-up, unflinchingly intimate. Acoustic and electronic merge, as does subtle uses of voice woven into the sound. Both musicians show a firm control over their media, allowing it to lead them into new areas of sound while also restraining it in the service of compositional development.

The duo A Spirale (Maurizio Argenziano on electric guitar, Mario Gabola on “feedback sax”) are joined by percussionist Chris Cogburn on Autocannibalism. The form is similar to Licheni: a similar suite of seven sections of similar dimensions, but the instruments present other difficulties. Jazz allergics like me will be relived to learn there is no noodling going on here; Autocannibalism is an extended study in feedback. Guitar and saxophone merge in sustained tones ranging from smooth to abrasvie, with a heavier emphasis on the choppy side as abetted by the percussion. It’s easy to describe things as sounding ‘organic’ and assume qualities of complexity and coherence, but the struggles of playing in such a way become clearer here, when listened to closely. The easily available range of feedback sounds is limited, requiring skill, invention and, again, taste to keep things interesting without the musicians repeating themselves. There’s less detail and depth than Licheni, but both albums offer a comparable musical experience, executed in different media. In both, it’s not clear if the sections are excerpts from a larger performance or otherwise assembled from various takes.