On Sei Ritornelli, the recent CD by the 300 Basses, Alfredo Costa Monteiro and two other improvisers extracted an impressively diverse array of sounds whilst each played an accordion. Here Monteiro, Ferran Fages and Angharad Davies accomplish the opposite; to extract highly consonant sounds from utterly dissimilar instruments. Monteiro and Fages, a couple of Barcelona residents who have performed together as Cremaster since 2000, play electro-acoustic devices (springs, walky-talky, and contact microphones attached to small items), feedback mixing board, and electric guitar. Davies, a Welsh woman who has been based in London for the past decade, plays acoustic violin. But the layered sounds on “Embrun,” the first of three quarter hour-long tracks on Pluie Fine (the titles all refer to drizzle), are so well matched that it’s a distraction to try and separate them. That high pure tone you hear might be electronic, or it might be bow against strings; that descending moan combines string and electronic tones so closely, they’re inseparable. If you’ve wondered what “electro-acoustic” means, here you have it laid out for you.
The sources of the sounds aren’t necessarily as important here as what the sounds do. “Embrun” and “Bruine” are studies in how closely clustered sounds can complement or disrupt each other by setting up interactions — beating tones or implied sounds generated by the sounding of two adjacent ones — so that it often sounds like more than three people are playing, even though what each person plays is pretty simple. In fact, long passages of “Bruine” sound quite like a satellite singing with a sawmill, their songs stitched together by subliminal Morse code transmissions. “Crachin” has the widest disparity of sounds; the violin threads a thin sheet of high frequencies in between thick blankets of static hiss and protesting metal. Most likely these sounds were generated spontaneously, that is, without a score, and this is the sort of record that gets labeled “improv” simply because it sounds complex and tune-free.
But this is not free improvisation. Cremaster and Davies sent the music back and forth between Spain and England, sharing ideas and assembling the music over the course of 22 months. If you prize improvisational methods over results, this approach might sound like cheating, but the outcome speaks for itself. This is tough and involving music, fat-free and full of surprise.