David Moss: Time Stories
Without question, improvisation is the founding principle behind all forms of music. It is doubtless that the very first music to be made by an individual human being was either an improvised vocal or an improvised, albeit makeshift, percussive. Perhaps it was both simultaneously. Or perhaps it was in duet.
Given these considerations, improvising vocalist/percussionist David Moss could be listened to as having returned music making to its most primitive on his latest release Time Stories (Intakt).
It must be pointed out that 'primitive' should decidedly not be confused with 'crude and ignorant'. Instead, it is intended to refer to the most basic, fundamental, and core elements of music making, although these elements may be manifested in untamed and uninhibited forms.
While David Moss has been involved with numerous projects over his 25 year career (of which the best known are his works with Fred Frith, Tom Cora, and John Zorn), which have encompassed many different styles and approaches, he has consistently demonstrated a distinct preference for performing in the improvised duet scenario. Time Stories both continues that trend and in many ways encapsulates it as each of the tracks on this recording is a duet. The performers who were invited to participate, based upon enjoyable collaboration over the past 5 years, are vocalists Phil Minton, Catherine Jauniaux, and Koichi Makigami, keyboardist Heiner Goebbels, turntable artist Christian Marclay, sampler/turntable artist Frank Schulte, and 'sound' artist Hans Peter Kuhn.
The music runs the gamut from amusing to baffling, carousing to deranged, and exhilarating to frightening. Nowhere is this variety better demonstrated than on the vocal duets, which comprise 15 of the recording's 22 tracks. On these pieces, the vocalists create nearly every imaginable sound that can be made by a human (many of which would seem to tickle or cause excruciating pain to the maker). Screeches, groans, clucks, giggles, snorts, shouts, and croaks are but a few of the sounds that appear here. But TIME STORIES is not merely a clowning exhibition of vocal virtuosity taken to extreme. Although humor is clearly intentional (e.g., '16 Abstract Tons' evokes the image of an accidental duet between a chanting Buddhist monk conducting an auction as a yodeling mountain climber slips and slides down a cliffside while 'Shadowmen' could be an attempt at vocal harmonization between two drunken magicians) an equal number of tracks are haunting and mysterious (e.g., 'Kalimba Loop' in which Mr. Moss accompanies Ms. Jauniaux with moody percussion and 'Specific Tongue' which sounds like an ancient storyteller narrating/singing a tale while backed by the insistent rhythm of a mouth harp).
But in this reviewers opinion, the most effective tracks are those found in the temporal center of the disc, under the collective title of 'Location of Memory', and which respectively feature Messrs. Goebbels, Kuhn, and Schulte. In the latter instance, 'Nachtst'ck', Mr. Goebbels took 20 minutes of improvisations with Mr. Moss and subsequently transformed it into a new, seemingly composed piece for piano, voice, percussion, and electronic sound. Pleasant on the surface but with a deceptive and unsettling undercurrent. For the second, 'Aha, D'j' Vu, Wunderbar', Mr. Kuhn accepted a half hour of raw, improvised material from Mr. Moss with which he evolved a concise and provocative sound structure. Highly reminiscent of classic electroacoustic compositions in that the original material has been rendered all but unrecognizable as 'natural' in origin but nevertheless maintains the musical essence of the original. In the former instance, 'Daily Life', Mr. Schulte's use of electronics coupled with Mr. Moss low droning moans creates a surreal and ominous soundscape. For each of these works, it could be imagined that Mr. Moss has not returned music to its most primitive roots but has in fact brought the roots abruptly into the present.
In conclusion, Time Stories is clearly not an easy listen and will prove to be a challenge, albeit an enjoyable one, for even the hardiest fan of pure improvisation. But given this recording, what remains curious and surprising to this reviewer is why improvised instrumental music, even at it's most dissonant and harsh, is given more ready acceptance than improvised vocal music. Since musicologists suggest that the creative impetus for 'singing' and 'playing' arise from two different parts of the brain, it could easily be suggested that the 'listening to and perceiving' of vocal and instrumental music also arises from two different parts. In this case, the adventurous listener is urged to make use of that different part of his or her brain, and to seek out David Moss Time Stories.