Thursday, 11 September 2014

ODG029 : Beaker / Beaker

ODG029 : Beaker / Beaker

Beaker, saxophonist Alec Harper and electronic musician Tyler Gilmore, is a cross-continental collaboration between two performer/composers steeped in 21st century chamber music, improvisation, and experimental electronic music.  This debut EP was assembled upon a series of textural improvisations. The duo found themselves shifting between complex drones and distortion-heavy beat tracks, and within this dynamic Beaker found it's sound; a combination of uniquely textural improvisation and beat-based composition.
Tyler Gilmore is a composer, electronic musician, and recording engineer. He has worked with Cuong Vu, Jenny Hval, Ted Reichman, Matt Wilson, Anthony Coleman, Ron Miles, Ken Filiano, John Fedchock, and many others. He has recorded two albums with his ensemble Ninth and Lincoln, including Static Line. In addition, he has composed for projects with Small Dream Ada, vocalist Clare WheelerBeaker, and Chav with Kevin Abdella. He won the 2009 ASCAP/Columbia College Commission in Honor of Hank Jones and won the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer’s Award in 2008, 2009, and 2010. His music has been reviewed in DownBeat and performed internationally by groups including Jon Faddis’s Chicago Jazz Ensemble, the New England Conservatory Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, Bobby Watson and The UMKC Concert Jazz Ensemble, The University of Northern Colorado Jazz Band I, The Playground Ensemble, The Henry Mancini Institute Overture Orchestra, and others. His work is published by UNC Jazz Press and Minor Ninth Music. Tyler grew up in rural Wyoming, attended the University of Northern Colorado and the New England Conservatory, and is now based in Brooklyn, NY.
Alec Harper is a freelance saxophonist and teacher based in London. He graduated in 2012 with a First Class BMus (Hons) in Jazz Performance from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Alec recently returned from Boston USA where he spent a year studying at New England Conservatory. Alec's teachers include Jerry Bergonzi, Donny McCaslin, Jason Moran, Stan Sulzman and Mark Hanslip. Alec has been involved in the London jazz scene for some years now, performing with his own quartet and as a sideman at many venues including The Vortex, The Spice Of Life, Charlie Wrights and Olivers Jazz Bar. He also had extensive performance experience at Guildhall, including slots in the London Jazz Festival with the Guildhall Big Band, and concerts with the Southbank Sinfonia.

A nice review  by Joe Stoddart in London Jazz News here:
"Beaker is a collaboration between Brooklyn-based composer and electronic musician Tyler Gilmore and London-based saxophonist Alec Harper. Their debut EP is "assembled upon a series of textural improvisations," with eight tracks either called ‘Improv’ or ‘Song.’ It begins with the emphasis largely on the electronic side in the ambient soundscapes on Improv 1 and Improv 2, before Harper takes on more of a central role on Song 1 in which, as with the other ‘Song’ contributions, there is a shift towards a slightly more beat-orientated approach under a mixture of melodious and exploratary saxophone sounds.
I would strongly recommend listening to the whole EP as one piece of music but for me Song 2 provides the highlight of the record. A sparse, lurching beat provides the background for intermittent lush chords under saxophone textures before disappearing through delay and reverb into silence.Overall, the record is a successful starting point for the duo, giving a good impression of the pair’s sound and musical objectives."

A full focus in Sandy Brown jazz webzine here:
"The Beaker project is experimental improvisation. One of our reviewers, Steve Day, and Alec Harper consider the EP that has emerged from the Beaker project.
Alec Harper: Tyler and I formed a strong connection whilst playing together at New England Conservatory in Boston where we were both studying for a Masters degree. We are both influenced by experimental improvised music both acoustic and electric. We are also very interested in electronic groups like Sigur Ross that write songs with an often long feel with rich lush harmony and a soundscape feel. 
Steve Day: I only listened to this through twice.  The first time just listening, the second time writing these words and giving it another hearing. This sounds similar to Precision Electro-Acoustics by David Novak and James Fei (Maestros) who were coming out of Brooklyn, New York way back in 2001.  Perhaps it’s in the water in that part of the world.  Beaker, a cupful. I wonder whether Alec Harper wants us to review the process or the result?  What we’ve got is some interesting white noise masking reeds blowing an approximation, maybe melody, certainly music.  But it is not straightforward in any sense at all.  The process is computerised cut-up.  In the 1960’s The Beat poets cut up paper, this is cut up sound. John Cage cut up both.
Alec Harper: In terms of a concept there wasn't really one. Not a concrete one at least. The process of improvisation is what brought us together. Myself on saxophone with all sorts of extended techniques (including playing the horn with no mouthpiece like a trumpet as featured on a lot of the EP). Tyler had sounds patched into a midi keyboard and also used many effects to manipulate or add to my sound, reverb, loops, harmonisers and other techniques and he also works with feedback loops to add layers to the improvisation. We certainly didn't have a vision to create anything completely original or unique and don't believe we have done that, but we want to be true to who we are and feel we had a strong sound together with very similar intentions of direction. It never felt hard to work together! 
Steve Day: Beaker is all improvisation despite the tracks being numbered and divided between Song and Improv.  It’s built on layers.  We relate to the horn because it has pitch and key.  There are beats produced by electronic oscillation and we are asked to relate to harmony which is dissonance. Track four, Improv 3 is treated saxophone manipulation with all the current accoutrements of the electro playground; there’s a keyboard, distorted and frayed.  What is the difference in the naming of ‘Song’ and ‘Improv’ here?  I can’t hear any change in the process.  I don’t think it matters.  The result is momentarily experimental.  ‘Song’ assumes melodic elements, but here most of it is abstracted by noise.  Of course, noise can be worth listening to......
Alec Harper:  We started the recording process by simply recording long improvisations together. These tended to be quite long! We then went about choosing sections that we liked, passages that leapt out at us. Some of these sections appear on the record exactly as we recorded them and are labeled Improv 1/2/3 etc. We also took some short sections of improv and deconstructed them, sometimes created loops and added beats and then recorded more saxophone over the top in the form of melodies (like on Song 1). These tracks were all labelled 'Song' as they weren't purely improvised. 
Steve Day: Track six, Improv 4 is rhythm via controlled static. Track seven, Song 1.5 one long stretched note with interference. Track eight, Improv 5 A bent multi-note final with more electronic dissonant ‘harmonies’.
Alec Harper: Putting the EP together was very interesting. We wanted to create one long piece and thought an EP would be a good place to start. We tried to put the different tracks together so the EP would flow and could be listened to in one go but there are a couple of tracks, like Song 2 for instance, which could perhaps be singled out and listened to on their own. 
Steve Day: Look, I listened to this recording in a safe warm place.  I was not under pressure nor was I tense.  Had I been in a less positive environment my reaction would probably have been quite different.  As it was, I heard an experiment but not what I would call a breakthrough.  Beaker, better than no Beaker but others have drunk from this cup before.  No reason for Gilmore and Harper not to crackle and pop.  So what now?  You can’t really do it again, or can you? 
Alec Harper: We recently performed an EP launch in Brooklyn NY which was great fun and reflected on the EP sound and process with some 'Songs' from the EP performed live (not playing along with the tracks but building them live and playing the melodies with them) and then improvisations that were done there and then. This EP has a mixture of improvisations and beat based songs and we would like to explore both of those ideas more now perhaps creating an album of just songs or just a long improvisation. Who knows but this was our starting point. 
Alec Harper: With regards to listeners for this album we would like anyone to be able to hear it. I feel the fact there are a few tracks (labelled 'Song' with a more beat orientated approach) mean that it could potentially appeal to people who aren't so used to hearing dense textural improvisations but it is probably an experimental album and not something that would feature at Ronnie Scott's for instance. I think it needs to be listened to with open ears and an open mind and not put in any genre but just received so not trying to latch on to melodies too much or thinking about what is happening but just trying to experience it in a sort of meditative way. It perhaps isn't the best train music but then some people have said they listen to it on the way to work so everyone is different. "

Digital release only on the 12th of September 2014.

Track listing:

1: Improv 1
2: Improv 2
3: Song 1
4: Improv 3
5: Song 2
6: Improv 4
7: Song 1.5
8: Improv 5

A nice video from Song 2:

And on Bandcamp:

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