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Thursday, October 19, 2023

N.O. Moore with James O'Sullivan, Eddie Prévost and Ross Lambert

Eddie Prévost/ N.O. Moore/ James O’Sullivan/ Ross Lambert- CHORD (Shriker Records, 2023) 

James O'Sullivan & N.O. Moore- Time Parts (Ear Shot, 2021) 

James O'Sullivan & N.O. Moore - Repetition Disguises (Scatter Archive, 2023) 

By Stuart Broomer

These three recordings together trace a set of musical relationships. They develop during the Covid lockdown with the tape exchanges of guitarists James O'Sullivan and N.O. Moore, flower with the quartet concert with percussionist Eddie Prévost and guitarist Ross Lambert, then continue with the most recent duet of O’Sullivan and Moore, reflecting the depth of the quartet in the duo.

Back in July 2022, Eddie Prévost played the final AMM concert with Keith Rowe. Rowe (perhaps the most innovative guitarist in 1960’s London when and where the other candidates included Derek Bailey, Jimi Hendrix and John McLaughlin) restricted himself to playing samples and processing equipment. In the previous month, no days specified, Prévost was recording with another band, the quartet heard here on a CD called CHORD, which could be the name of the band as well as the CD title, not out of a fondness for stacked thirds but because of its symmetry of mind. It’s something I’d call lucky listening, a percussionist and three electric guitars playing music that can undermine not just the attribution of instrumentalist but the attribution of instrument.

All of the guitarists present -- N.O. Moore, James O’Sullivan and Ross Lambert -- have been members of Prévost’s long-running improvisation workshops, and that experience may be particularly fortuitous. CHORD doesn’t give away particular organizational clues or cues to identity, but develops instead through sonic tactility and compositional abstraction. Conception and execution blur.

The music is beautiful and in a way that’s hard to describe precisely, though it at times resembles the use of space and texture in the work of the Lisboan guitarist Abdul Moimême, who uses two horizontal guitars and percussion, including steel sheets. Part of what inspires that comparison is the odd concordance between an individual who can play like a group and a group who can play like an individual. Chord might be the most abstract, the most plastic and the most compelling music of the year. On the opening “Accord”, glittering micro-events from amplified guitar strings become, it seems, a kind of audible light, shimmering, vibrating, with a wash of gong or cymbal sound, and an electronic oscillation. Our associations might extend to cultural memories of sci-fi fiction sound, but here there are other traces, other resonances, whether natural or industrial… sunlight reflected on water recalled as a sound, now something like feedback being dialled in, then something suspended between Morse code and chord. As the program unfolds, other trace sounds join in, in a spirit of inquiry, wisps of intervals with shifting volume, a slight rise in volume or a particular silence repeated, becoming a form of echolocation. It has about it the simultaneous airs of the deliberated and the automatic, the ultimate mind meld of collective improvisation in which the emerging result has the ideally reflective pose of a Zen garden.

The ultimate and longest track, “Epiphenomena”, is a miracle of construction -- liquid high notes ringing, delicate electric tones feeding back, metallic percussive scrapes – a gathering, a massing, an overlay of space, an environment, a mind.


The first release of the James O’Sullivan / N.O. Moore duo was Time Parts , a digital-only release recorded in April-May 2020 and released on Bandcamp on Earshots in 2021. Moore’s note describes the duo’s inception just prior to the Covid lockdown and makes some distinctions about the two guitarists’ approaches:

James and I had played a couple of gigs as a duo, the first organised by Earshots. We had a couple more lined up when the world withdrew. We were both keen to carry on, because it seemed that something might develop.

Both of us are interested in the electric guitar as a sound source – a found object, to borrow Keith Rowe’s lend from Marcel Duchamp - but we approach it in different ways. James tends to use controlled volume as a way to explore the sounds of wood and wire; I tend to use effects as a way to explore electricity. Together, a communicated world began to manifest. Could this world survive without us seeing each other?

We decided to keep it going by exchanging recorded improvisations and overdubbing. I think you can hear authentic interaction in the result, despite the fact that we were not reacting to each other in the moment; rather the moment got extended and stretched out – a sort of temporal virtuality.

Nevertheless, the improviser’s art is audibly there, in the moment of decision and act even in response to our recorded selves. We left a message before the tone.

There is, given the circumstances of its making, a high degree of interactivity here, though the interaction might consist in the shifting identification of electronic sound and its frequent resemblance to glass in its liquid state. The physical abstraction of the process can create a duo music of near twins, e.g., the track “When”, the title an abstraction, in which the seams between the two instruments seem continuous and the wire/wood traces are as abstract as the bleeps and interference patterns. “When” is here very specific — its beginnings might be in the score to Forbidden Planet or in “Telstar”, perhaps the first identification of space and the electric guitar. Made possible by the internet, including Bandcamp, the interactive recording and the record have simply moved. “Error” might exist as some by-product of data collection that has provided a music of tactile delight, here tactility figured along with electro-shock. One leans back, nestles in the comfort of the planetarium chair and closes one’s eyes, the guitars too disembodied for one to recall their shapes. The instruments are returned to us with the opening notes of “Framer”.

…and After

Two months following the recording of Chord, and more than two years following the overdubbed duets of Time Parts, the O'Sullivan/ Moore duo recorded Repetition Disguises, a digital and limited CD release with the two musicians in conventional proximity to one another. In my hearing, something particularly remarkable has happened, especially given Moore’s distinction between the relative physicality of O’Sullivan’s approach and the electronic nature of his own. In the early pieces of Repetition Disguises (it’s programmed in order of recording) both instruments are often highly electronic, the particular buzz and grit of wound string and strike of fingerboard less evident. The emphasis on string texture attributed to O’Sullivan becomes more distinct, ironically, in moments of “Unknown Artist”, but there’s continuous variety in this balance throughout the program. In “Envelop”, it’s subtle, the two already coming close to the orchestral quality of Chord, in the balance that I take to be the percussive attack of O’Sullivan and the continuous electronic sounds of Moore. In the extended Phrase Phase, the “guitarness” of both musicians comes forward, while the later “Whoop Structure” sounds like it’s being dialled rather than picked. In the ultimate “Musicae Volitantes”, both musicians contribute to that mercurial effect, that sound of liquid, subtly tinted, glass. Like Chord, It's work of the rarest subtlety, sounds and gestures continually refracted in the developing sonic dialogue.


Alien Welcoming Station said...

Excellent piece of writing about appears to be a compelling release Stu.

Kudos to all,

Donald Brackett