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Hugh Davies on Another Timbre

John Eyles By

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Another Timbre label proprietor, Simon Reynell, observed in early 2008 that as regarded future CD releases of music by the late Hugh Davies, he would just pick out the tribute disc. And rather than simply issue old recordings of Davies' music, he decided to do something more contemporary. So on For Hugh Davies, three improvisers for whom Davies was a major influence—Mark Wastell, Lee Patterson and Adam Bohman—improvise along to old recordings of Davies playing cello.

Hugh Davies

Performances 1969-1977

Another Timbre

2008

In keeping with its adventurous approach, Another Timbre actually put out two complementary releases, one a CD, the other a CD-R. Taken together, they make a fine tribute to Hugh Davies, the musician, composer, researcher, electronic pioneer and instrument inventor who died at the start of 2005, aged 61. This limited edition CD-R serves two useful purposes.

Firstly, it brings six unissued vintage Davies performances into circulation—five solos plus a duet with Richard Orton. As with anything in Davies' (woefully small) discography, the pieces are endlessly intriguing. His ability to conjure a dazzling array of sounds from the most unpromising of sources is simply stunning. If one imagines what sounds might be produced from springs, bowed diaphragms or egg and vegetable slicers, the imaginings are likely to be pale shadows of the actual sounds. More importantly, these are not just "sounds"; this is no freak show. The sounds are combined into coherent musical statements that are engaging in their own right. After only a few minutes of wonder at the sounds themselves, one becomes entranced by the music, so that the sources become of secondary interest and importance.

Hugh Davies + Adam Bohman + Lee Patterson + Mark Wastell

For Hugh Davies

Another Timbre

2008

Secondly, the CD-R allows us to hear in isolation the source materials that were used as the stimuli for Bohman, Patterson and Wastell on this CD proper. The music from the CD-R was played to them, they improvised around it, and the resulting music forms the CD. In their different ways, Bohman, Patterson and Wastell all owe a huge debt to Davies; their music would be vastly different without his pioneering work, hence their participation in this tribute.

The most striking thing about this CD is that Davies' own playing remains central to the music. The other three players work out from his performance and expand the soundscape, but the agenda is clearly set by Davies' own playing. The end result is more akin to a remix of a solo album than to a quartet performance. Only on the closing track, "For Hugh Davies," on which the three improvise without Davies' music as a stimulus, do they come out of his shadow, producing a taut, focussed piece. It is indicative of how ahead of his time Davies was that the new piece sounds no more contemporary than anything that precedes it.

As an experimental way of paying tribute to a musician, this must be judged a great success. Doubtless, Davies himself would have heartily approved of the experiment.

It is meaningless to compare these two releases trying to decide which is "better." Both are essential. They complement one another, each throwing light on the other, making the whole greater than the sum of the two.

Tracks and Personnel

Performances 1969-1977

Tracks: Music for 2 springs (1977); music for 3 springs (1977); solo at Ronnie Scott's (1975?); music for bowed diaphragms (1973); salad (for egg & vegetable slicers) (1977); shozyg I & II—duo with Richard Orton (1969).

Personnel: Hugh Davies: springs, bowed diaphragm, shozyg; Richard Orton: shozyg.

For Hugh Davies

Tracks: 2 springs + 3; 3 springs + 3; invented instruments + 2; bowed diaphragms + 1; bowed diaphragms + 3; for Hugh Davies.

Personnel: Hugh Davies: invented instruments; Adam Bohman: prepared balalaika, amplified objects; Lee Patterson: amplified objects; Mark Wastell: cello.


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