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Okkyung Lee & Phil Minton: Anicca

John Eyles By

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Following previous Dancing Wayang releases from the duo of John Edwards and Chris Corsano, and a solo release from Mats Gustaffson (with another from Peter Evans in preparation), the label continues its successful series of freely improvised music with this first recorded meeting of vocalist Phil Minton and cellist Okkyung Lee, recorded at Eastcote Studios in May 2009. As always with the label's releases, Anicca is released as a limited edition on 180gram vinyl, in a beautiful, hand screen-printed, wraparound cover—this one based on an intricate paper cut by Lee herself.

Lee and Minton are both highly distinctive stylists—each instantly recognizable within seconds of hearing a few notes from them—so it is fascinating to listen to the ways in which they manage to coexist without either compromising their uniqueness. So in among his singing, Minton moans, groans and jabbers, producing a shifting kaleidoscope of voices from a repertoire that seems to be ever expanding. Someone on a bus producing some of his sounds—faraway screaming, demonic whispering, gurgling, dog-like yowling—might rightly cause concern, but to hear the sounds in safety is to be endlessly intrigued. (As Christian Marclay's sleeve note concludes, "Beware, this is scary stuff.")

Lee has a repertoire of sounds almost as diverse and personal as Minton's, hers ranging from sustained drones at the lowest frequencies the cello can produce through swooping glissandi, tapping and scraping all over the fret board, to surprisingly gentle bowed melodic passages.

The reality of their playing together is that Lee and Minton do far more than merely coexist. Throughout, they subtly shift their playing in order to be compatible with each other but, in that process, neither is drawn away from their core repertoire of sounds. The end results contain some remarkably sympathetic passages: on "Mu ah" (all the tracks are titled in Lee's native Korean) they play an effective section combining sustained low-frequency glissandi with that faraway screaming sound; on "Mu kyung" Lee gently bows melodic passages, to which Minton almost sings along in half-formed words and phrases that have no literal meaning but plenty of emotional and psychological meaning, sounding like an oh-so-human cry for help.

Anicca creates its own self-contained universe in which Lee and Minton are totally compatible and inextricably bound to each other. It is so successful that listening to either of the pair solo afterwards gives the strong impression that something is missing—the other one. A stunning achievement.

Track Listing: Mu ah; Mu kyung; Mu byun; Mu jin.

Personnel: Okkyung Lee: cello; Phil Minton: voice.

Title: Anicca | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Dancing Wayang


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