Every few years some people start saying that improvised music has grown stale and is dying. Such prophets of doom should go out more. They could visit Hull – a city which gets as bad a press as improvisation: it too is supposed to be dying and have become a cultural desert. But if you choose the right weekend and can find the right art gallery amidst the city centre’s backstreets, then you might find three men sitting at tables with an assortment of electronic gizmos and general junk in front of them (one even has an old knitting machine…) It’s true that there’s not a great deal to watch as they sit twiddling knobs and switches and scraping this and that, but that’s why there’s a film being projected on the wall behind them – a documentary without its sound, which seems to be about some weird central European guy experimenting with little rockets in an artistic sort of way. And the music the three men make is captivating. It starts hushed and delicate, but switches every so often into a more assertive, even abrasive texture – which might surprise you if you’ve heard these three before. They play for an hour – they kind of have to because that’s how long the film is. But it’s unusually long for an improvisation, and that’s good because you can hear it stretching them, forcing them to open and explore areas that they might not have got to in the safety of a 30 minute set. And as the film’s credits start to roll, the musicians stop, though I can’t work out how they know to, as they don’t turn round and look at the screen. But that’s the end.
Several months later a disc arrives through my door with no label and no note in it. I receive a lot of music through the post, so I’m neither surprised nor particularly curious. But when I play it I am. What is this? It’s really good. And then I remember that Jez said he wanted me to write a few words about Tierce, and I realise that I’ve heard this before. But I’m hooked by now, and I sit through the whole hour again, wishing everything I was sent was this good. As Shakespeare nearly said, “if this music’s dying, then give me excess of it before it shuffles off its mortal coil.” I just wish that other forms of music could die so gracefully, and with such vigour and vitality.
- Simon Reynell (Another Timbre)
review by Richard Pinnell (the watchful ear):
Tierce is an international trio of electroacoustic musicians which has existed since 2007: first Jez riley French (electronics, objects, field-recordings, zither, contact mics, etc..), Daniel Jones on turntables and electronics, and finally, Ivan Palacký on amplified knitting machine (... yes you read that right). The performance that gave rise to the disc Caisson was a single piece lasting an hour at a concert recorded in an art gallery in Hull in November 2010.
So imagine a fairly large box or cabinet ('caisson') of any sort, the important thing being the space that it contains rather than its function. Because space seems essential for these three musicians: the electroacoustic music offered here is a kind of sound design in which the sounds define and individualise the space as they fill it. What sounds then? It's difficult to say; it navigates constantly across DIY electronics, field recordings of all sorts (bells, various background soundscapes, birds etc...) and strange sounds that are unrecognisable. All this is mixed together and merged into a single fluctuating, shifting field, which is both light and corrosive, aggressive and calm. No hierarchy is established between the various sound sources, they all belong to a single stratum. And this stratum carves a space out of time, a space that is created at the same moment as it is inhabited by the music.
Of course, there is a particular form of sonic exploration at work in Caisson; each of the three musicians trace a sound world that is strictly personal, but timbre doesn't seem to be their primary concern. They all seem more interested in the spatial properties and characteristics of the sounds: how will such a noise fill the space?, how will the hearing of some other sound be experienced within the spatial environment? Caisson plays above all with sensory perception ("micro-listening" as Jez riley French says in his interview for Another Timbre), the trio plays with the possibilities of changing our perception (which is auditory in one sense, but also visual, and – why not? - olfactory and taste-based) through a careful listening that evolves in a global environment whose objectivity and solidity are here put in question.
However, despite the tranquility that characterises it, this music is also rather tense, doubtless because of these constant shifts and fluctuations, partly as if any form of stasis was feared, but also because of the often abrasive sounds that are used, which progressively fill the space in an apparently ineluctable process. A space that is filled, but not only by sounds: silence also has a prominent place across the spaces of this piece, a silence so pervasive that it becomes the equal of the sounds with which it interacts. Silences of a frighteningly heavy substance. A music that is above all not static, nor linear, but which evolves across an unstable terrain that is in flux, across spaces that are sometimes saturated with noises, or else with silences, but also across airy regions that would be suitable for meditative contemplation. An approach that flirts with the infinite (time as well as space), so calm and poised that no border would be able to delimit this universe.