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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Evan Parker ElectroAcoustic Septet – Seven (Victo, 2015) ****½

By Martin Schray

It was Cecil Taylor who once said that the compositional process begins with the selection of the players. In an allusion to Taylor Evan Parker stated that his art of composition consisted in choosing the right people and asking them to improvise. He also meant that the resulting music arose from this sequence of decisions and that his art of composition consisted in choosing the right people. And with Ned Rothenberg (clarinets, shakuhachi), Peter Evans (trumpets), George Lewis (trombone, electronics), Okkyung Lee (cello), Ikue Mori (electronics) and Sam Pluta (electronics) he chose the perfect musicians for his ElectroAcoustic Septet, which was invited to the 2014 Victoriaville Festival.

In the field of electro-acoustic contributions to improvised music Evan Parker is a pioneer. At a very early stage he has included electronics and processing in his music, e.g. with his long time companion Paul Lytton on Collective Calls (Urban) (Two Microphones) (Incus, 1972). His interest in sound processing led to the foundation of the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble in 1992, from their first album Towards the Margins (ECM, 1997) up to Hasselt (Psi, 2012), when the ensemble was expanded to 14 musicians (at their latest concerts there were even 18).

For Seven Parker has reduced the band members for his project drastically, and he has chosen musicians mainly working in the US (often based in New York) with whom he has had a history. With Evans and Pluta he played in Rocket Science, he released a great trio CD with Lee and Evans, worked in a duo with Ned Rothenberg, and his cooperation with George Lewis is history (From Saxophone and Trombone, Incus, 1980). He has even joined Ikue Mori on Near Nadir.

However, even fans of Parker sometimes have difficulties with his electronic excursions because they think that the part of “real” instruments, its warmth, the organic flow, and the authentic sound is underrepresented. But then again there is a perfect balance between the acoustic instruments and sound processing (Parker doesn’t like the term “electronics”) in his electro-acoustic ensembles because the processors manipulate and treat pre-recorded and live material – it’s rather a transformation of sound.

The music on Seven sounds as if you were in the middle of a huge and crowded insectarium, with bees, dragonflies, ants, bumblebees, spiders, butterflies and mosquitoes, all grotesquely amplified. The result is a whirlwind of fizzling, gabbling and buzzing – it’s a strange drone. There are ostinato parts, small solos are interspersed, even far eastern elements are integrated (Rothenberg’s shakuhachi), and Parker is able to use his trademark, circular breathing, in a very effective and natural way, so that it becomes a perfect part of the interaction, the density of sound, and the overall consistency.

Seven is beautiful noise par excellence, a marvelous piece of art, a successful communication, something you can get lost in endlessly. Just splendid.

Watch Mr Parker talk about and play with the ElectroAcoustic Septet here: Roulette TV: EVAN PARKER from Roulette Intermedium.

You can buy it from Instantjazz.  


Paolo said...

I really appreciated this album. In any case, my favorite Parker's excursion in electronic and sound processing remains "C-section" with John Wiese.

Dan S. said...

I need to spend more time with this album. When I heard some sound clips when it was first released, it didn't really sound like I'd imagined it would. I always have trepidations about Ikue Mori--to my ear, it sounds like she's been using the same two or three sounds for years now.

On another note, it's wonderful to see Ned Rothernberg back in action! There was a time after his accident I worried he might not ever be able to play again.

Colin Green said...

Parker has been interested for some time in the notion of “feedback” as he mentions in the Roulette interview. In the early days with Lytton, he was limited to responding to cassette recordings of earlier performances. As far as electronics go, things went quiet until the ElectroAcoustic Ensemble, by which stage computing power had become much more advanced.

I’ve not been entirely convinced by some of the results, however and it’s a concept that works better with fewer musicians. As hinted at by Parker, with larger ensembles there’s a sort of sensory overload so that notwithstanding the enormous processing power on tap, it can often end up sounding like an undifferentiated ambient halo around the musicians, and not much more. I doubt that was the intention.

Although at times there’s a point to not being able to distinguish between “natural” and modified sounds, on other occasions I’m sure that one is supposed to be able to tell one from the other. Obviously, the musicians themselves can do this, and to a large extent so can the audience with visual clues. The problem comes with listening to an audio recording. I’ve repeatedly struggled to distinguish, and feel that I’m losing out in not being able to properly hear acoustic to electronic transformation. Things are rather easier with the smaller group.