Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: Toward the Margins (ECM New Series 1612)


Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble
Toward the Margins

Evan Parker soprano saxophone
Barry Guy double-bass
Paul Lytton percussion, live-electronics
Philipp Wachsmann violin, viola, live electronics, sound processing
Walter Prati live electronics, sound processing
Marco Vecchi live electronics, sound processing
Recorded May 1996, Gateway Studios, Surrey
Engineer: Steve Lowe
Produced by Steve Lake

What’s given:
If ECM had a musical attic, it would sound like Toward the Margins. Not to imply that the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble’s debut is filled with unwanted or forgotten things, but that it exists toward the margins of a human life, its shed skins stacked like boxes above our heads, waiting for a breath to blow the dust away. Parker has been with ECM almost since the beginning, having first appeared on The Music Improvisation Company and subsequently on Gavin Bryars’s After the Requiem, among others. An abiding interest in electronics as an improvisational medium led him to the present project, which draws from disparate disciplines bonded by an infatigable spirit of sound production.

What’s taken away:
Grating strings first clear out the rafters, shafting like light from behind a broken cloud. Parker’s soprano scratches gently at their back. Grumblings and sampled ether flutter and churn, tripping down sand-covered stairs like a creature covered with feet, so that it is always standing no matter how it lands. Compartmentalized echoes share their cubicles with shallow utterances of deeper assignments. Barry Guy’s double bass ties its strings into a tangle of self-awareness as Parker trembles within his own computer-augmented aftershocks. Like a flock of geese in overdrive, he burns in the upper atmosphere before he dares dream of land. Melody is but an afterthought to the sputtering multitudes, caught in the welcoming stare of an unwanted stranger. The overall sound is subdued yet robust. It inhabits the crawlspace of our dreams. The haunting final track lingers in our bones, long after the silence comes, animating a body whose only fear is cogency.

What’s left behind:
Parker is the rare musician who treats improvisation as composition—not so much an offering to the aleatoric gods as a vocabulary articulating its real-time derivations. His saxophonic work is high but far from mighty. He listens more than he plays, as the musicians faithfully tune themselves to a radio signal only they can hear. Washes of precipitation and other climatic changes stipple these aural landscapes, leaving Andy Goldsworthy-like rain shadows in their wake. Sometimes he rolls through rough detours, kicking up sparks and gravel; other times he hovers like an appraising insect, every note a kaleidoscopic cell unfolded into the whole of its vision. As the title makes unabashedly clear, this is an asymptotic experience with nowhere to hide but our ears, and there it burrows, hibernating until the next thaw.

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