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Rhodri Davies / Mark Wastell
Live In Melbourne
MIKROTON CD 10 | 2011

Edition of 500.



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1. Live In Melbourne

Rhodri Davies low-fi live electronics
Mark Wastell mixing desk, digital delay pedal, stereo contact mic, mono contact mic, mini-disc player, cd player, charcoal, ceramic tile, velvet material, light grade sand paper, cardboard, wire wool, bell, singing bowls, bow, beaters, pre-recorded electronics, pre-recorded harmonium

Live in Melbourne represents something exceptionally unique in the on-going musical relationship that exists between Mark Wastell and Rhodri Davies. Not only is it their first — after nearly 20 years of playing together — published duo recording, it also captures the first and subsequently only time that the pair performed together using table-top apparatus and low-fi electronics. In previous (at the point of recording in 2005) and subsequent duo performances Rhodri has always used his harp in one fashion or another. This concert in Melbourne was the one and only occasion he left the harp at home and set up only his electronics. Prior, he had used electronics but always in the company of the harp. By 2005, Mark had been using his “amplified textures” set-up for 3 years and was crafting a personal musical vocabulary from the most obscure sources.

And what of the music? It really does help fill a missing link in the musical development of these two artists. Having first performed with each other (cello and harp) in 1995, originally brought together by bassist Simon Fell to form the trio IST, they quickly established themselves on the London scene. Within months they were recruited by Chris Burn for his Ensemble and Evan Parker for his “with Strings” project. The next few years saw them forge ahead, developing their own language alongside like minded individuals from Europe and further afield. By 2005, both had moved through a number of different group contexts — The Sealed Knot, +minus, CRANC, Derek Bailey’s Company, The Scotch of St. James, Assumed Possibilities, Belaska — alongside personal instrumental changes. The spectre of Reductionism had long been laid to rest and for a number of months that year and a handful of concerts, their music was to change quite radically from that that had preceded it and subsequently what has come after. This recording gives us a rare glimpse into that macro-sound world; it stood alone for a few brief moments …. memories of another, long past but so very important encounter between these strong willed, constantly changing, world class musicians.


Squid's Ear, Paul Serralheiro:
Away from their usual instruments — the harp for Rhodri Davies, the cello for Mark Wastell — these two musicians venture into the land of electronics and abstract sound composition of a kind they are not habitually known for. Filled with static and textural layering, embedded silences and noise, in a filigree weave of sound, Live in Melbourne is one long piece, 37 minutes of electric fun.

Both of these musicians have been on the London contemporary music scene for a while and have played together in various settings, notably a trio with bassist Simon H. Fell, called IST. Although they have specialized in improvisation, electronics have not been central to their approach. So this live recording shows Davies' and Wastell's skills, their ultra-sensitivity to the finest nuance of sound and gradations of silence and exceptionally attentive listening, in a completely different context.

A broad hum from low-fi electronics sweeps like a long wave through the set, while all kinds of intriguing crackles, hisses, and percolations ride atop the evolving electric pulse. This is a musical event that makes for a fantastical aural soundscape, and one finds them self imagining all kinds of narrative sequences, or images evoked by the sounds that are at once concrete in their unique physical presence, yet abstract in their interactivity and non-programmatic nature.

That's the intriguing thing about this kind of music — it is made up of very physical qualities (sound waves), but spurs the imagination in non-predictable ways, at times resembling a series of fragmented bird calls coming through a jungle of static, or a high-pitched long trumpet signal hanging in the air with a vaguely foreboding quality. Then there's the impression of a cricket choir, the wafting of a pure solo flute, the revving of a fan, chiming of a telephone, and all kinds of substratum of effects, with brusque low-volume booms entering alongside ringing modulations, throttling sounds like an outboard motor, and so on and so forth. The overall effect if surprisingly soothing, not unlike what a harp and cellist might concoct.

The passage of time, inevitably, becomes a subject as the sound waves ebb and flow, morph and fade. A slew of objects listed in the album jacket keep one's ears perked as the seconds fly, including charcoal, ceramic tile, velvet material, sand paper, wire wool, singing bowls. Added to the live electronics are prerecorded bites of harmonium, as well as sounds sourced via mini-disc and CD players, along with digital delay pedals and contact mics that pick up all the nuances of textures. The session culminates in a coda of high intensity, provided by the surging power possibilities of the media explored sensitively, making this an intriguing listen.

The Sound Projector, Ed Pinsent:
Improvisation of another kind now from the duo of Rhodri Davies and Mark Wastell. The Welsh harpist Davies is forsaking his usual stringed instrument to manipulate his live electronics set-up on these old-ish (2005) live recordings, from Melbourne (the small English market town, not the Australian city). Mark Wastell likewise has left his tam-tam at home and is electing instead to play lots of close-mic’ed objects, along with his CD player, mixing desk, and electronics equipment. We don’t hear so much of this kind of playing in the improvisation world these days. At one stage there seemed to be a minor upsurge in the incidence of players seizing inert materials like plastic bags or blocks of polystyrene, rubbing them together, and using small contact microphones to amplify the results. Often the results were quite boring, in spite of all that avowed “experimental” activity. Live In Melbourne (MIKROTON RECORDINGS MIKROTON CD 10), I am happy to report, is very successful on the musical front, contains a lot of incident and interesting sounds (no long pauses or pointless silent contemplations), and above all is clear evidence of strong musical skills and an outstanding rapport between the two players. 36 minutes of intense and absorbing abstract micro-shuffling mixed with controlled feedback drones and high-pitched whining sounds. From Russia, this arrived 31 January.

The Watchful Ear, Richard Pinnell:
Tonight some thoughts on a recording that I first heard part of over the sound system in the Sound323 shop about six years ago, but has only just been released now. The recording is a live set by the duo of Rhodri Davies and Mark Wastell named Live in Melbourne. The Melbourne in question is not the one in Australia, but rather the small market town in Derbyshire where the concert documenter David Reid lives. For a couple of years in succession back in the mid-noughties David somehow managed to persuade the purse holders of the town’s annual arts and crafts festival to provide some money to bring improvisers along to play a few concerts. I didn’t attend in 2005 when this recording was made, but I was there the following year and I will long have memories of being at one point the only person in the audience as a bill including the likes of Keith Rowe, Rhodri Davies and Lee Patterson performed to an otherwise empty room apart from occasional moments when members of the local women’s institute, who were holding a cake stall in the adjoining room came in to see what all the noise was about. The music was great though, and hats off to David for making it happen, with this new album a lasting memory of what was achieved in such an unlikely place.
Davies and Wastell were close musical partners for many years. They probably still would be, but Mark Wastell has of late played less and less as he has spent more and more time on non-musical and familial matters. The pair played together in IST, The Sealed Knot, Broken Consort, Chris Burn’s Ensemble, Assumed Possibilities and a variety of other groups. What makes this particular recording interesting however is that it is surprisingly the only existing album that features the pair as a duo. What adds to the intrigue is the instrumentation involved here. The recording comes from a brief fertile time when Rhodri had placed his harp to one side and was exploring lo-fi electronics while Wastell was still utilising a set up that was roughly descended from his amplified textures apparatus from a few years earlier. Its also not really what you might expect from this pair musically. For a duo that had not that much earlier spearheaded what was known as the New London Silence development in improvised music Live in Melbourne will sound surprisingly noisy to many.
The music is actually really great, capturing the close, finely attuned relationship this pair have, even when using what was somewhat unfamiliar instrumentation. Its not always easy to tell who is making which sound. Wastell’s list of instrumentation on the sleeve notes to this new release on the Russian Mikroton label is long, and perhaps only remembered so accurately because David Reid also filmed the concert. Everything from pre-recorded harmonium to ceramic tiles, charcoal, velvet and a CD player are listed, with Davies settling for “low-fi live electronics” to describe what he used. The music then is a rich, dense sea of burbling electronics, heaving tones, scratchy contact miked scrapes and just about everything else in between. The pair seem to build fragile, teetering constructions from all of this that frequently fall apart, often descending into passages of long tone, be it the harmonium recording from early in the disc or Davies’ glowing feedback from later on, only to be slowly built up again, like spider’s webs woven in a storm. Late in the performance things get really quite raucous, the music taking on a violent edge even, partly as a result of the raw, scratchy sounds involved, an element only amplified by the higher volume in use. If the duo are best known for the delicacy of their acoustic work in groups like The Sealed Knot then this recording shows a very different side to their partnership. The subtlety remains, but the palette is very different.
So Live in Melbourne perhaps is a little more than a historical document. Listening to it myself now, even having heard Rhodri and Mark play together many times down the years I found myself surprised by this recording, and if I was given it blind I am not sure that I would have identified both of the musicians. Musically, it completely stands up today. The impact of the album isn’t that far from what we might expect from the noisier end of the found American improv scene today- raw, gritty and uninhibited yet with a precise attention to detail and a wonderful sense of combined interplay. A very nice piece of music indeed then, very much worthy of its belated release and with the potential to spring a few surprises.

Vital Weekly, Frans de Waard:
A work of changes? That is what this seems to me. Normally we find Rhodri Davies behind a harp, and Mark Wastell playing tam-tam, but not on this one. Here Davies gets credit for ‘low-fi live electronics’ and Wastell for mixing desk, digital delay pedal, stereo and mono contact microphone, mini-disc player, CD player, charcoal, ceramic tile, velvet material, light grade sand paper, cardboard, wire wool, bell, singing bowls, beaters, pre-recorded electronics and likewise harmonium. Yes, it sounds different than much of their other work and as such a change perhaps, but its for one not that radically different and secondly a recording from 2005 already. So, all around a release that promises quite a bit, moving out their usual habit. We are not disappointed here. This is a great release. Loud at times, with piercing feedback like sounds, but the acoustics used by Wastell are never far away. They provide that velvet touch in which this sine wave like stuff moves. Vibrant music also, that is never for too long in the same place. A noisy version of electro-acoustic music, moving away from their usual more carefully constructed pieces – this at times (most of the) quite loud and present. Quite an exciting recording, I think. If you are fan of these two men, then you should be in for quite surprise – if what they do is in general too soft, then be sure to check this out. You too will be surprised.

Improv Sphere, Julien Héraud:
Par rapport au duo eRikm/Norbert Möslang, la musique proposée ici par le duo Davies/Wastell est déjà plus surprenante. Première trace publiée de leur collaboration, les deux musiciens quittent leur instrumentarium habituel pour s’adonner à des expérimentations électroacoustiques: tandis que le harpiste Rhodri Davies use de l’électronique lo-fi, le violoncelliste Mark Wastell déploie un large éventail de sources sonores allant des lecteurs CD et MD aux micro-contacts et hauts-parleurs en passant par des céramiques, des cloches et des pré-enregistrements.
Les textures travaillées ici ne ressemblent donc pas à celles qu’ils pouvaient auparavant déployer aux côtés de John Butcher par exemple, mais quand même. La même attention est toujours portée à chaque couleur sonore considérée comme une matière physique à part entière, capable de produire de nouvelles formes de beauté et de poésie, mais également, et surtout, de musique. Plus précisément, ce Live est construit à partir d’une seule pièce continue d’une trentaine de minutes. Pas vraiment un drone, mais tout de même linéaire, cette pièce est composée de plusieurs séquences qui se succèdent, séquences souvent composées de matériaux discrets et subtils, de crépitements légers, de bourdons fantomatiques, de sons sans sources sonores, proches parfois des nouvelles formes d’improvisations électroacoustiques telles que les développent Ryu Hankil ou Richard Kamerman, mais ceci seulement au niveau du matériau sonore, et non au niveau de la structure moins fracturée et plus linéaire que chez ces derniers. Ceci-dit, il y a quand même de nombreuses séquences, mais qui s’enchaînent et se succèdent avec fluidité. Assez inégale à mon goût, cette pièce certainement improvisée a tout de même retenue mon attention pour le puissant crescendo final, cette coda intense et apocalyptique plutôt bouleversante, ainsi que pour de nombreuses textures et la sensibilité du dialogue.
Peut-être inégale, une pièce qui reste cependant riche de contrastes, de reliefs, et de trouvailles sonores et interactives. Riche et innovant, ce Live offre tout de même une musique curieuse et créative.

Just Outside, Brian Olewnick:
A fine recording from 2005 with a harpless (not hapless) Davies on electronics and Wastell wielding numerous materials, contact mics and pre-recorded sounds. It’s a rougher go that you might expect; though the sounds have a sustained aspect to them, the texture is more often granular and harsh than e-bow-edly tonal (though that seeps in from time to time). I was picturing a sled ride over ground only partially covered with snow, the gliding patches giving way to rough and tumble. It might not be an earthshaking session but provides a meaningful piece into the jigsaw of each musician’s career, elaborating on an approach too rarely documented (at least in my experience) for either. A solid, tough performance, recommended.

Le Son Du Grisli, Guillaume Belhomme:
C’est un Live daté du 17 septembre 2005 : in Melbourne Rhodri Davies et Mark Wastell s’attelèrent à des travaux de mesure : dans un de ses plateaux, une balance aurait ainsi accueilli l’électronique lo-fi de Davies ; dans l’autre, le matériel de Wastell : console de mixage, pédales d’effets, micros de tous contacts, lecteurs MD ou CD, cloches, bols chantant, harmoniums et pièces d’électroniques préenregistrés, etc.
Impressionnant, l’attirail trouve son équilibre sur la ligne d’un drone et les perturbations de parasites nombreux que Davies et Wastell froissent avant d’y découper des motifs aux contours saisissants. Sur une courbe, on croirait entendre un souvenir de harpe instantanément mis en musique. Or, ce n’est qu’un premier aigu qui en engendrera d’autres, amenés à renouveler le discours de l’association : ici le goût de métal qui préside à la joute est changé en mitraille ; ailleurs les oscillations tremblent au point de se taire presque.
A la fin de la course, le paysage est diaphane ; on y avait pourtant repéré quelques plages de fusain hors-normes. C’est qu’aux antipodes, les jeux de miroirs de Davies et Wastell auront fait leur œuvre flexueuse : selon l’inclinaison, les réflexions n’ont pas les mêmes effets – de discrètes variations en formidables négatifs.

Soundofmusic, Johan Redin:
Trotjänarna Rhodri Davies och Mark Wastells konsert från Melbourne Festival i Derbyshire för sju år sedan finns nu utgiven på Kurt Liedwarts ryska bolag Mikroton. Davies har lämnat harpan hemma, här handlar det om en live-elektronisk session som involverar allt från mini-disc och cd-spelare till keramikpjäser, sandpapper och förinspelat harmonium. Atmosfären är hundra procent low-fi, sprakande, metallisk, perkussiv och strömmande. Utvecklingen är tämligen klassiskt ackumulerande och slutar i ett sönderbrutet dån som till sist ger efter och förenar sig med tystnaden. Det är aldrig bortkastad tid att lyssna till Davies och Wastells improviserande handlag, men jag ser faktiskt inte riktigt motiveringen till att just denna inspelning från 2005 är utmärkande. I en studio hade nog materialet kommit mer till sin rätt.

Gonzo Circus, Peter Vercauteren:
Experimentele harpmuziek. De woordcombinatie klinkt als een bedreiging, maar toch heeft Davies al bij eerdere gelegenheden onze fijnbesnaarde aandacht kunnen vasthouden. Op deze livecd (Melbourne Festival, 2005) gooit hij het echter over een totaal andere boeg. Zelfs in die mate dat zijn favoriete instrument niet eens het podium haalt, en plaats maakt voor elektronica. Zijn trouwe kompaan Mark Wastell kennen we van de loonlijst van onder andere John Zorn en Lol Coxhill, maar ook hij laat zijn vioolcello thuis. In plaats daarvan improviseren beide heren een dik halfuur met elektronische bewerkingen van de inhoud van ons tuinhuisje: schuurpapier, oud karton houtskool, tegels, maar ook oud ijzer dat bespeeld kan worden met een strijkstok. Voor de zachtere passages noteren we de aanwezigheid van wol en een lap fluweel. Helaas klinkt deze opsomming net iets boeiender dan wat we te horen krijgen op deze gelimiteerde (500) cd. De inputloosheid (denk aan het getik van een vinger tegen een pick-upnaald met de versterker op 10) primeert, en we ervaren voor de duizendste keer een basisbrom die doorkruist wordt met gemanipuleerd geritsel. Gelukkig gaat de laatste minuten alles in het rood, en wordt er ook wat noise geproduceerd. Maar eerlijk gezegd missen we gewoon een harp in dit verhaal.