Alterations: Voila! Enough (2003)
Alterations was a collective of four British improvisers, Steve Beresford, David Toop, Terry Day and Peter Cusack, sparked by the unpredictability of free improvisation and the mixture of seemingly incongruous elements. Formed in 1977 by Cusack, the group reveled in an aura of “productive friction,” with their interactions being both collective and combative. They thrived on unpredictability and a tension that produced three records. Voila Enough!, then, a collection of previously unreleased performances of the group from 1979-1981, is a welcome addition to their sparse discography.
The group’s M.O. was literally a constantly shifting sound blanket to be moved and removed at any given second. Perhaps priding themselves on what David Toop refers to as the breaking of “quite a few of the unspoken rules and articulated theories associated with free improvisation at the time,” the group sought to push the barriers by incorporating a myriad of instruments into its original collective sound. In fact, given the mountain of devices used in their work, one has to wonder whether they are better known for their arsenal than the music they played.
In any event, this collection features the group in performance at four different locations. Compiled and edited by David Toop, the settings include a European festival (Berlin), a British club (Bracknell) and a British Pub (Tilburg). The final track is a combination/remix/edit of two of the group’s performances at the London Musician’s collective. All four performances flow seamlessly from one to another, the only hint of a new setting being a change in the aural balance. The very first sounds heard are of a police siren, a slowly building punk rock groove, prickly guitar and seemingly (although one can never be too sure about who is playing what at anytime) an overdriven guitar being assaulted with a drill or another destructive device.
It is a austere aural experience, especially when compared to the next section, a dreamlike venture where capricious piano sounds open up a sparse landscape for guitars and Euphonium to dance. The fourth part of the Berlin show starts as an in your face smattering of flute, piano and toy instruments, where tinges of beauty creep in via Beresford’s piano, eventually leading to intermittent piano bursts and an unraveling sound collage.
Both of the lengthier tracks, the final part of Berlin and the opening section of Bracknell, capture the essence of this group in performance. A sense of playfulness and invention, mixed with a frustrating, grating desire to piss the others off pervades their terrain. The former includes spooky wah wah bass, avant piano charm, textual flute and insect sounds. The latter, perhaps the most thrilling of the album’s tracks, contains a variety of jarring sounds mixed with cocktail piano, a country piano/guitar groove blasted away by Day’s alto sax and eventually, a '50s guitar sound interspersed with Day’s balloon play. These two tracks certainly give the impression that witnessing this live show must have been a challenging thrill.
The remaining tracks continue to exploit the group’s essence, concluding with Toop’s concoction of quietly irreverent film music and prickly, cinematic jaunts into never-never land. Not everything works, of course, as some tracks say little and others are quite irritating (see “Bracknell 4,” which is nothing more than searing high-pitched frequencies), but isn’t that the point? Certainly, the music can be tough going, but this collective’s irreverent deconstruction and healthy tomfoolery is sure to please unconventional listening tastes.
Track Listing: Berlin 1 / Berlin 2 / Berlin 3 / Berlin 4 / Berlin 5 / Bracknell 1 / Bracknell 2 / Bracknell 3 / Bracknell 4 / Bracknell 5 / Tillburg 1 / Tillburg 2 / Tillburg 3 / Tillburg 4 / LMC Seque
Personnel: David Toop - Fiddle, Flute, Pedal Steel, Bass Guitar, Electric Guitar, Voices, Whistle (Instrument), Engineer, Liner Notes, Rattle, Editing, Bamboo Flute, Selection, Animal Sounds. Steve Beresford - Piano, Drums, Euphonium, Bass Guitar, Sound Effects, Multi Instruments, Rattle, Siren, Microphone, Music Box, Toy Piano, Toy Organ, Toy Organ, Toy Guitar, Toy Instruments Peter Cusack - Clarinet, Guitar (Electric), Engineer, Spanish Guitar, Mastering, Feedback