By Joe Higham
Here's an interesting recent arrival (if only electronically) from the Loop Collective. BABs stands for Olie Brice (double bass), Jammes Allsopp (bass clarinet) and Alex Bonney (laptop), although not in that particular order ..... as the old saying goes.
Alex Bonney popped up not long ago when I wrote a review for Splice late last year. That record mixed sound manipulation techniques by Pierre Alexandre Tremblay someone who's already a respected electro acoustic composer. That record mixed live and processed sound also, although in a melodic direction, using electronic processing as an accompanying instrument rather than a central point of sound control.
On Diving Bells, BABs uses sound manipulation as it's main reference. Bassist Olie Brice and reed-man (this time on bass clarinet only) James Allsopp rise to the challenge of providing extra material for Alex Bonney to work with via his laptop. Among the looping sounds and clicks there's the cry of bass clarinet, spittled mouthpieces, detuned bass strings, hit bass strings, and didgeridoo like shrieks to name but a few. They manage to keep the whole thing up in the air wonderfully well, finding new angles to add which all end up in the melting pot of sounds. Of course when computers step in it's often difficult to really know who's doing what - a little like Woody Allen's remark in Radio Days about ventriloquists on the radio. But to a certain extent that's not important, the best thing to do is to sit back and just let the sound mixtures wash over you.
It's important to point out that the laptop, and it's prominent role, never means the album becomes totally abstract. The added interplay of acoustic instruments constantly reminds you that this is live communication between musicians, not some abstract sound painting. From the opening 'Fatal Nest Egg' with noises which echo up as if from a dungeon, to the closing 'Becalmed .... finally' with sparse use of bass clarinet and bowed double-bass talking like two ships in the fog, BABs work with all stops pulled out. In fact I often found myself wondering whether this is what Northern European Aboriginal music could sound like? The album has 5 tracks and is 35 minutes long. The two longest pieces tracks 1 and 5 - both 11 minutes - bookending the other three short pieces.
In conclusion although this doesn't have any 'tunes' on it that you may wish to dance to, it is another record confirming the influence of noise and electro-acoustics on the world of pop, jazz and improvised music. It's a long way from Bjork's experiments in pop meets Max/MSP, but goes to show that this musical art form is here to stay and becoming more acceptable and so visible on the live music circuit on a daily basis. Laptops were once a thing of a small minority when talking about instruments, whereas within recent years no concert program of any worth would dare to ignore musicians and their groups who use this machine as an instrument. If you enjoy discovering new areas of music, then don't shy away from trying this one ...... just remember to listen with the lights on!
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