Monday, October 29, 2007

Shelf Life and Fernandes/Horist

The cynic says that you start a record label to publish yourself – and that is often a stimulus to small labels. But usually they grow beyond that, and here are two label bosses whose labels have never really been about themselves – but about their music community

Shelf Life – Bryan Day, Alex Boardman, Joseph Jaros and Jay Schleidt from various States and different groups – started in 2003 (by the first two) and has gradually developed over the years. The instruments include guitars, stringed things, percussion, electronics, reeds, Theremin, sampler, contact mikes etc. In 2006 they spent 2 days a week improvising in Bryan’s Omaha apartment studio to produce 80 hours of material – edited down to 80 minutes for Ductworks (public eyesore pecd107). This is, therefore, quite an unusual improv album. They usually seem to be recorded in a day and we get ebbs and flows, crescendos and noise. The selection of the 13 tracks (titled with some anagrams of ductworks) seems to focus on stasis and mood. The selections are 2-8 minutes long and combine the same range of sounds (scrapes feedback percussion electronics somevoices bowing picking clatter twinkling mellotron-tones) so that without concentrating you don’t notice one piece changing to the next. However they do have different flavours or moods with different elements highlighted or collected. It is therefore some of the more ambient improv I have heard, with a steady subtlety that makes it quite distinct. I found myself warming to this more and more as I replayed it and I am sure it will be a favourite. A fine work. (a strange indicator of the smallness of the world – this comes in a card sleeve printed in the Ukraine)

And from Accretions, Jerks and Creeps by Marcos Fernandes (phonography, electronics) and Bill Horist (guitar, electronics) (, ALP046) which is primarily two tracks from concerts in Japan. In Kobe which supplies three fifths of the album, they were joined by Haco on electronics and voice, while in Osaka Masafumi Ezaki (trumpet), Bunsho Nishikawa (electronics) and Tim Olive (bass) helped out. The two concerts are spacious explorations of the possibilities of the instruments: they only occasionally slip into recognisability. Fernandes had left behind his percussion and provides textures and depths to those emerging from the guitar. My notes read like an abstract poem which follow the music, words scattered over the page – mysterious, ambient, processed occur throughout. The guitar is percussive, tonal, sliding frippish, arpeggios. The density is in flux, at times dropping almost to single sounds at others a nightmarish display, and then again some ambience, but always absorbing. Haco’s most obvious addition is strangled vocals at times throughout Kobe. The phonography is sometimes obvious – the Middle Eastern horn and drums late in Kobe 1 or a tannoy – but it is not always apparent. In Osaka the sound is fuller (not surprisingly) but again swinging between density and more spacious sections. The part played by the members of the ensemble is harder to extract – some possibly blowy trumpet sounds, string scrapes could be either bass or guitar. And electronics is electronics! I am not sure the 2 minute Kobe coda adds anything to what is two strong pieces, but it doesn’t diminish them either. More in-ya-face than Shelf Life, but not too aggressively harsh though its intensity is satisfying.

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