Idea Fire Company – The Island of Taste

26/08/2011

Idea Fire Company, The Island of Taste

Swill Radio 026

Just when you think you’re on top of things, you realise you’ve missed something important that’s been around for a long time. I’ve only ever heard mention of the Idea Fire Company somewhere at the periphery of my little world. But from the quantity, and indeed quality, of the releases: vinyl, cd and moving image on dvd, I wish I’d investigated further. These are artists of substance.

Just a few days ago Scott Foust very kindly sent me a selection of the work of Idea Fire Company for review. This is the first, chosen at random from the works on vinyl, cd and dvd that he sent.

First I have to mention the beautiful cover art with the elegant envelope inside containing printed cards, again beautifully designed and illustrated. Why does this all make me so happy about vinyl? Perhaps size does matter.

The cards offer us a thought-provoking polemical essay, an analysis of taste and the use of social and personal time, an exhortation to seek and to practise creativity outside of what’s given us by the system. Debord and Baudrillard would seem to be behind the critique of spectacle frequently mentioned and there are shades of other neo-Marxist ideas, all of which make perfect sense, unless of course you have a vested interest in the other side of the equation. All of which presumably has to do with the music. As I’m always loath to try to unearth politics from music, unless it’s protest songs, I’ll presume that it’s the conditions surrounding the making of music that is under examination, perhaps even the intentions. There’s plenty more here.

First time through, although I enjoyed the music, I wasn’t sure why this should be. Everything seemed to be reasonably straightforward. But once I took the broomstick from out of my a*se, dropped my prejudices and stopped listening like a bigoted Puritan, many things became clear. First and foremost, by way of a kind of sideways abstract comparison with, say, the efforts of students or inexperienced musicians, this came over as well wrought music, everything in its right place, thoroughly original in concept and execution (I’m struggling to find comparisons) and seemingly effortless.

A quick run through some of the tracks:-

Land Ho! for piano, tapes, hydrotronics (?), loops and fork offers us a taste of field recordings, repetitive, then obviously looped, accompanied by a bell sound. Many of the initial sounds and (compositional or improvisational?) approaches in this first track set the tone for subsequent offerings.

The Island of Taste presents field recordings with birds, a two chord repetitive piano harmonic figure in contrary motion, occasionally varied and arpeggiated, far more ‘intense’ than some of the indie pop stuff (‘achingly bittersweet’, etc) that you get posing as ‘new’ music. Passages of rushing enveloped sound, possibly white noise generated from a synth played by Frans de Waard of a previous review (small world), push towards a blend of the hypnotic and the filmic, but always clever enough to maintain integrity. It’s very hard not to find this enjoyable, even for Miserablists like myself.

Over on side B, Bitter Victories is dominated by a fundamental tone created by a swept squarewave with a touch of vibrato, harmonics peeling off and sustaining. I used to love creating these sounds when I had a Doepfer system which I sold to buy a mac – how stupid was I? It’s like an instrumental rendition of a Tuvan throat singer.

Lost Victories for piano/radio is such a strong piece with its excellent use of radio. You’d hardly know it was a radio at all. The accompanying piano pedal hints at a chamber music approach to the instrumentation. I was delighted at the surprise of the two instruments working so well together. I’d like to know more about their pre-compositional strategies – do they just get together in the studio and go for it with a few loose ideas or is there more form and shape to the preparations? Maybe I’ll find out for the next review.

Heroes of the Last Barricade (obvious allusions to Revolution and uprising in the title) for three female voices, loops, tapes and materials comes over as a beautiful work for field recordings and three part chorus. It doesn’t strike me as ‘organised’ (if that’s the right word) enough to be chorally composed, but it is organised enough to convey a sense of conviction. The voices slip in and out of consonance/dissonance with their simple harmony. Like seals or perhaps even sirens singing gently for a few seconds, then a hint of electronic timbre, then very recognisable female voices – great listening.

What we have here are textures, contrasts, colours, orchestration, combinations, mainly visual analogies, but you get the drift. However, after many enjoyable auditions I came to the conclusion that the strength of the music lay in what wasn’t there, which probably doesn’t make much sense if you haven’t heard the music. What I’m saying is that there’s this enticing tension in the music in which you’re constantly listening to find what lies deeper inside the music. All you know is that it’s there – something like the light in the fridge scenario.

But I’ll stop trying to look for comparisons. The music stands well on its own terms – Idea Fire Company are on to something very unique here.

The players are:-

Scott Faust

Meara O’Reilly

Jessi Leigh Swenson

Karla Borecky

Frans de Waard

Dr Timothy Shortell

Graham Lambkin

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