Deep Listening Band - Great Howl at Town Haul [Important Records - 2012]
Great Howl at Town Haul commemorates experimental composer, performer and inventor of the Deep Listening practice Pauline Oliveros' 80th birthday by presenting recordings from her band's weeklong residency at Town Hall Seattle in January 2011. But it is a bittersweet commemoration as it also captures David Gamper's final performance with the Deep Listening Band (DLB) as he died about eight months later from heart disease. He joined DLB in 1991, helping to develop their Expanded Instrument System that uniquely contributes to improvisational performances by feeding back some of the live sounds, often in a modified way, to create a further dimension for players to react to and play with.
For the Town Hall Seattle residency a further dimension was achieved through working with Michael McCrea of DXArts, the Digital Arts wing of the University of Washington, to create an ambisonic environment using speakers that surrounded both the players and their audience to spatialise their output. While such an ambitious and rich effect cannot be achieved by this CD's stereo reproduction of highlights from the event, Stuart Dempster, the third member of this trio noted that McCrea had somehow managed to retain "hints of this in these recordings". Although your headphones or speakers might not seem to be recreating this three-dimensional effect, they will serve an exquisitely detailed recording of all the many other dimensions created by these master improvisors in full effect.
The disk opens with a 15 minute extract where conches, a didjeridu, trombone, piano and flutes stir and emerge fitfully to form a jungle of sounds waking to greet a new day. The individual sounds soar, flutter, and eventually find confluence with Oliveros' justly tuned accordion to become more like a river of tones and textures that naturally navigates the listener through an unpredictable, but fascinating new environment.
The second track captures the trio incorporating unspecified "toys" and "small sounds" with trombone and accordion. The speckled noises and notes dance and fidget, at times furiously so, to suggest a large field of chattering insects. By the midway point this has evolved into terrifying swarms whose awesome effect must have been quadrupled by the multi-channel performance system.
Toys stay on stage for the third excerpt, and this time they're revealed to be Sing-a-Ma-Jigs, Fisher-Price dolls who produce notes when squeezed. So while Gamper's piano and flute, Oliveros' accordion and Dempster's trombone shimmer and shine together, extended by the Expanded Instrument System, bright squeaks begin to chatter in their dappling light. Later the toys take centre stage, each member dropping their other instruments to play with the toys resulting in a comical cartoon improv jam.
The final track returns to the more adult ensemble of the opening track, where the unspecified "little instruments" shower down with increasing freneticism as deep, long trombone tones attempt to drown them with a growing sense of foreboding. The storm eventually calms to drift on a sea of extended notes from all players, their communion forming a deceptively sluggish ocean of hidden dangers described by a beautifully buoyant piano followed by the setting sun of Oliveros' accordion.
This milestone residency was so productive that further excerpts can be found on three other recent releases: Octagonal Polyphony (also released by Important Records) and Needle Drop Jungle (on Taiga Records). On the evidence of this Russell Cuzner