Jos Zwaanenburg is a Dutch flautist with a taste for electronics, improvisation and chance procedures, and each of the composers represented on his new disc has needed to think through how best to present material to this instrumentalist who wants to do more than read notes off the stave.
Efthymios Chatzigiannis’s Broken Mirrors provides a pool of melodic cells which act as a spur for improvisation, sounds which themselves get sucked into the process as they are analysed and diced up electronically, then bounced back at Zwaanenburg as added panels of material upon which to improvise. Stephen Cornford hat-tips Alvin Lucier with Flute Feed , a delicately spun mobile-like structure that wires the flautist’s pick-up signal through the echo-chamber soundboard of a piano, allowing piano frequencies to resonate through the microtonal chess-moves of the flute’s melodic line. Paul Dibley’s Organ Grinder uses the live flautist to activate electronic samples, with specific notes, once sounded, triggering pre-loaded bursts of environmental noise. Each composer decisively overrides the traditional chain of command between composer, performer and listener, and I admire their conceptual boldness.
Does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body? and Has the world changed or have I changed? by Paul Whitty, sibylline experiences anyway, are made more so by the paucity of information carried on the CD sleeve. In lieu of a programme note, Whitty includes a quote from the novel C by British writer Tom McCarthy, and Morrissey fans will notice that both titles are borrowed from Smiths songs. But this is no pop pastiche. If you didn’t already know a flautist was involved, you might presume you were listening to a pure electronic montage.
An email to the composer helped reveal more. Whitty used microphones (contact and ambient) and an array of guitar pedals to treat Zwaanenburg’s improvisations, pulverising, distorting and amplifying the natural grain of the flute to generate viscous noise and grimy industrial sounds – as Whitty explains, he makes a distinction between ‘the sound of players’ contact with their instruments as opposed to the more conventional sound-making actions of the performer’. And brevity is the soul of Whitty. Both pieces compress their material into concise 15-minute structures and the sounds sound frankly outraged at being detained at this composer’s pleasure. They rant and rage and spill all over the structure, puncturing what you presume to be the surface.