Collaboration and ego can be incredibly tough to balance. If the musicians involved are overly paranoid about sticking out too much, restraint will overshadow the strengths of shared musical creation. On the other side of the spectrum, meetings between improvisers can easily turn into shouting matches with blaring attempts at being noticed eliminating the possibility for a unified musical cohesion. Can four musicians, thrown together before a live audience, manage to sound like a group? Are they even trying to accomplish that?
The title of this release suggests that the individual identities and approaches of the performers are not to be lost in the new context of this ensemble. They easily could have conjured up a new band name. Something a bit shorter, perhaps. However, the title represents the process. Here are four different musicians from three musical groups based in three different countries. Woodpecker Wooliams is the project name of Gemma Williams from the UK. She usually performs with harps and vocals. Golden Cup is Luca Massolin of Italy who has played the mandolin and various electronics all over Europe in addition to running the 8mm label. The other half of this quartet is Anya Kuts and Ivan Afanasyev, a.k.a Love Cult from Russia, and they are also the power behind the Full of Nothing label. Here on this tape they all become a single unit while somehow maintaining their own well-formed artistic continuities. Does it work? Yes, it works pretty well… especially considering that this tape is made up of two live performances. Collaborating is tough. Doing this confidently in front of an audience adds more pressure and a less predictable dynamic.
Side A is from the quartet’s performance in Saransk. Tape distortion and hushed voices skip around behind major key organ tones and the reedy air of a melodica. The sounds are shoved together with loops and live processing causing the occasional glitch pattern or red-lined break-up. Electronic chirps and whistles blend with harmonic, human voices. In the background, there are numerous clicking and whirring machine sounds. It’s almost as if the sounds of the natural world are being forced into the same space as sounds from an office building interior. They are mushed together to form a singular plane of sound. The typing and printing noises are eventually overblown by sounds that provide the images of dry grasses blowing, swing sets that could use oiling and the calls of summer birds. It is quite a victory.
Side B is fairly similar. This second performance is from a show in Saint Petersburg and more prominently features the ensemble’s stringed instruments. The sweeping electronic modulations are still there too. This performance has a looser feel to it, not as connected from the start as the first side was. Here, some of the collisions between natural and synthetic sound bump into each other a bit more awkwardly, with no dominant key or tonal alignment that can hold the piece together. Suddenly, late in the set, a strange chord jumps out in repetition and confidently creates both the pitch and the rhythm for the duration of the side. Collaborators in improvisation need to be bold enough to bring these shapes out and force the other musicians to work around their specified mood, or at least to battle against it with some form of acknowledgement. With that pattern as a cohesive foundation, vocals and tightly plucked strings can fall into place, simmering into a thick soup of reverb for the nodding heads in the room. Percussion comes in late too, but sounds less like a drum than a thin screen-door beating sporadically in the wind. It took much longer to get there than it did in the Saransk set, but that singular motion of noises is eventually achieved in this performance as well. This piece concludes with an interesting, live fade out. The sounds kind of jump up and run away from the listener, leaving a short burst of applause to end the cassette.
B1) Saint Petersburg