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If, Bwana and Trio Scordatura - E (and sometimes why)

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Artist: If, Bwana and Trio Scordatura

Album: E (and sometimes why)

Label: Pogus

Review date: May. 24, 2012

In 2010, If Bwana (a.k.a. Al Margolis) released Assemble.Age, on which samples of the Amsterdam-based Trio Scordatura can be heard. Now, he enters into full-on collaborative mode with those masters of microtonal/spectral music with this two-disc set, as fine an introduction to the disorderly but precise world of If Bwana as could be desired.

Margolis emerged from the grittily experimental early 1980s underground tape culture, and his music has maintained a stubborn refusal to be pigeonholed. As Dan Warburton points out in his review of Assemble.Age, his work might have made the staggeringly diverse Nurse With Wound list if he’d been around five years earlier. All that said, and despite the always unpredictable mixture of improvisation and composition that guides much of his output, there is a certain ineluctability in the placement of each sound that is difficult to equate with the multifarious timbres on offer. A clarity of purpose emerges amidst the relative mayhem. The title piece, nearly 15 minutes long, is a case in point, as minimalist textures support gradual timbral saturation and harmonic diversity in slow micropolyphonic dance. Even more post-Ligetian is “All for Alf(run),” consisting entirely of vocals, or vocal samples. Both of these fairly lengthy explorations thrive on microtones, which transform their harmonic language, ridding it of any cliché, fitting perfectly Trio Scordatura’s aesthetic and sometimes beating their way toward Alvin Lucier’s now-ubiquitous language in the process.

In a totally different world is what I hear as the album’s tour de force, the 20-minute “The Tempest, Fuggit.” Anyone who remembers those fantastically surreal John Oswald and Paul Haines collaborations will have an idea of what to expect. Here, Margolis dismembers Shakespeare, but this is a much darker world, one whose evil is never assuaged by translucent electronic textures and bright sibilants. Words like “Hope,” “Both” and “Hither” are given special prominence through repetition and a forward mix as the piece unfolds along paths charted by Michael Peters’s stunning reading. The music evokes similar legions. It is difficult to reconcile the Webern-esque pointilisms from strings atop slowly serpentine keyboards and flutes (just to cite one example), but they work. More than that, they seem absolutely natural, rocky outgrowths that mirror the ever-evolving consonants and vowels Peters lets fly.

As with that 2010 collaboration, it is impossible to tell with any certainty where If Bwana ends and Trio Scordatura begins, thus the “If/and/By.” Identities merge as completely as genres. The lo-fi turning of pages on “Tempest” give the music a DIY feel, but all else resembles what Partch might have done with musique concrete. In the end, it is the openness and fluidity of Margolis’s vision that has allowed this radical music into being.

By Marc Medwin

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