Coppice: Holes/Tract

18/10/2012

Coppice, Holes/Tract

Released on the UK label Consumer Waste,  Holes/Tract was composed and recorded in late 2009/early 2010 by Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer who go by the name of Coppice.

The artists write of their work thus:

Holes/Tract documents the origin of a sound palette of bellows and electronics – the formation of our collaboration as Coppice. The four compositions highlight the widely dimensional sonic range of a strictly narrow instrumentation: shruti box/acoustic filters and modified boombox/tape loops.

So what we have here is a very tightly focused approach to music made with a carefully chosen and simple blend of acoustic and electronic instruments. A palette has been developed, flexible enough to merit a full length album, yet restricted enough, in the main, to offer the listener a very original, unique and recognisable sound world.

Before commenting on the music I have to say, in very simple and personal terms, that I find their work inspiring – hard to pigeonhole, contemporary without playing to fashionable idioms, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable.  A good dig around their website is thoroughly recommended, if only to speculate on the range of influences brought to bear on the duo’s work.

Agate [11:36]

Some artists work uniquely with raw field recordings, some with the processed versions. Others add dashes of recorded sound here and there for various reasons, musical and otherwise. Coppice, with their selected instruments, however, manage to make music that sounds like field recordings, a practice which adds another layer of  complexity to the ‘what is music’ debate. Agate in particular sounds for all the world like some of the textile mills that I’ve been recording of late. I have no doubt that many recordists will recognise the sounds of (apparent) small industrial processes. But then one could reasonably argue that what we have here is indeed a cottage industry defined by the grit, crackles, blasts, whirrs and whines of machinery and mechanisms in motion. This onomatopoeic world is a world of agency and of physical labour.

There’s a palpable intensity to the work. Instead of measurable change in the larger structure, we have a focus on small variations in texture and density. There is no attempt to make ‘beautiful’ music in the conventional sense of, say, evoking emotional sweeps by means of dynamic gestures. Any post production is well hidden. Everything seems to be the result of performed or initiated sonic processes, lending a sense of immediacy to the music.

Mild Grey Lustre [5:28]

This piece is characterised by its strong formal arrangement: four finely shaped passages framed by periods of rest as the bellows draw breath. Always in motion, each of the main passages exhibits a blend of electronic textures with what I’d call organic sounds, human activated sounds of uncertain provenance.

Scour [16:21]

Scour has more of the purr, hiss, whine and whirr of the first piece, along with crickety jungle sounds, some delicious passages of indeterminate foutering and a range of breathy sounds, presumably part of the bellows and reed mechanisms.

There are lengthy periods of what might at first be taken for relatively gentle activity, offering fine contrast with more obvious industrial processes. But these passages are as deceiving as they are clever. Whilst offering genuine contrast (a long period of apparently nothing much more than a ticking sound) a closer listen reveals a hive of small industry, as if something’s being repaired or prepared in the lab. Certain passages remind me of some field recordings I captured recently of horses in their night stables – some fidgeting and the odd snort, then silence, then more of the same.

Brim [15:26]

Brim begins with a long drone which turns out to be rather complex if you listen closely for the harmonics and other ‘noise’ in the signal. One might be forgiven for drawing parallels with the darkness and austerity of a medieval processional, sackbuts and shawms in full voice. The processional is accompanied by the beating and wind of bellows which eventually give way to  more recognisable dynamically filtered instrumental timbres – those of  a (cleverly amplified) sruti box. As the texture becomes ever denser, and richer, interesting morphologies emerge in the combinations, becoming quasi-orchestral, like an ensemble of bowed zithers with electronic overtones. The piece ends on a very long decrescendo, one third of the total duration of the piece.

On a technical note, the track has been very well equalised. I say this because the region around 2kHz has been kept prominent in the mix, without stripping the enamel off your teeth – not an easy task.

Brim stands apart from the other three pieces. A different approach seems to be at work here, no less successful, but which risks compromising the integrity of the album, considering the nature of the other three pieces.

Finally, to complete my reading of this work, I would consider the duo’s overall approach as a following-on from the work of Harry Partch and others like him, whether conscious or not, and of course setting aside obsessions with tuning systems. Holes/Tract succeeds in contributing a dash of meaningful originality to the ever expanding field of new experimental music.

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