One day, I hope, the story will be written. The story of the group IST and its relationship to the birth of the music that subsequently became variously known as ‘New London Silence’ or ‘Lower Case Improv’ (and yes, I use those upper case letters intentionally).
Perhaps the learned critics (who seem very rarely to actually ask the musicians) will tell us just what our place is in this history. Certainly we were not the first - Rhodri and Mark were much influenced by Radu Malfatti and Phil Durrant (among others) at this time (or so it seemed to me), but we were among the first. From my own personal point of view, playing this new kind of provocatively distilled music seemed like a coherently radical response to the expansive intensity of groups such as Hession/Wilkinson/Fell and Descension. I have always had a certain sinful pride in the breadth of my discography at this time, and looking back I’m still impressed by the fact that at one period I was simultaneously playing with Descension and IST.
These two groups have more in common than their radical diversity, however. Perhaps more than any other groups in which I’ve participated, each performance by these ensembles seemed to represent a kind of manifesto - a real challenging of the ways a certain number of our audience might have of thinking about music, and what it should be. But whilst Descension’s discography amounts to one appallingly-recorded and long out-of-print CD, we are fortunate that IST was much better documented on numerous occasions.
It’s only fair to point out that IST didn’t begin with the purity it later developed. The very early recordings released on the 'Anagrams To Avoid' LP show a group still wedded to the music of free, unrestrained activity. But the chemical processes resulting from the combining of Rhodri and Mark didn’t take long to come to fruition (my act of introducing Rhodri to Mark and vice versa might one day merit me a footnote in someone's thesis).
One such ‘manifesto’ performance was our appearance at Berlin’s Total Music Meeting in 2001. Perhaps it is difficult for some people now to understand the significance of a group such as ours playing at the Total Music Meeting at that time. I don’t intend to write this history now either, but from a free/improvised music point of view Berlin in 2001 was far from the place it is now - a chapter in the history of free music was drawing to a close, but for the moment the old ways of doing things still reigned supreme.
We played the music you will hear on this recording - and not for the first time caused quite a stir. In particular, a younger generation of Berlin musicians seemed to feel the musical permafrost cracking. The response of the audience at the end of our set - those who had stayed - gives some flavour of the impact of this performance.
Of course, this is all somewhat of a storm in a teacup. We didn’t change the world, perhaps we didn’t even change the Berlin musical world. But we did play a short but exceptional set; the music is here to hear, the rest you can decide for yourself.
Simon H. Fell [May 2013]
released June 14, 2013
Rhodri Davies: harp
Mark Wastell: violoncello
Simon H. Fell: double bass
2001 (32 mins.) in metal box
© Confront 2013
full track listing:
1. Punkt Und Linie [31:35]
IST discography: istmusic.bandcamp.com
---------- press quotes ----------
“Vintage Ist. Wastell, Davies and Fell squat in the cracks of time, the structure simply stopping when the ideas do: no abrupt reboots, no emotionally wrought outbursts. Emerging out of the introductory rumblings, Fell projects a single plucked note with a field of resonance that is pure Scott LaFaro. But that’s where music ends. The rest is delicately tiered layers of sound, irrational mechanisms breaking and throwing the structure back into the unknown. I’m a fan.” Philip Clark THE WIRE
« Lorsqu’il m’a envoyé cet album, Simon H Fell m’avait signalé qu’il aimait participé à des expériences musicales les plus extrêmes, parmi les quelles ce trio IST labellisé alors « London New Silence ». Il citait aussi le quatuor Descension avec le guitariste noise destroy Stefan Jaworzyn et le trio HWF, coupable lui d’un album intitulé The Horrors of Darmstadt sur le label Shock du même Jaworzyn. Leur Bogey’s enregistré il y a 20 ans est devenu un classique de la transe « free » jusqu’auboutisto- brötzmaniaque intelligente. La musique du cédé Berlin est l’intégrale d’un concert qui fit date dans l’évolution de la mouvance « réductionniste » berlinoise et partagea le public de manière presque schismatique. Le titre Point et Ligne se réfère à l’épure sèche qu’évoque cette musique à l’espace (de silences) qui vibre entre chaque point et chaque ligne. Cela dit, cela reste ludique et imprévisible. Les musiciens ne jouent pas au hasard, mais chacun suit une logique, réagit à l’écoute en anticipant ou retenant un geste sonore. Différents niveaux d’activité et de dynamique se conjuguent avec une belle précision et une véritable intension. Des événements sonores surgissent de la vibration d’objets dans les cordes de la harpe ou de frottements d’archets diversifiés. Des pizzicatos au bord du silence ou un coup bref mezzoforte suivi d’un frottement non mesuré ou d’une harmonique éthérée rentrent dans un jeu subtil de contrastes et de correspondances. La qualité du silence qui les entourent ou les séparent et les infimes nuances d’un jeu à peine audible (16ème et 17ème minutes) concourent à souligner les caractéristiques du son acoustique. Leur univers se déplace vers un dénouement « complexe » stylisé à la vingtième minute comme si l’interaction de l’improvisation libre (l’école Phil Wachsmann, John Russell, Radu Malfatti des années 80) était disséquée, toute exubérance écarté. Certains sons semblent être électroniques mais sont produits acoustiquement : par exemple, un doigt humide frotte la surface de la caisse de résonance d’un instrument avec un bruit strident. Un excellent enregistrement très représentatif d’un état d’esprit et de l’évolution de la scène britannique et internationale. Aussi, cet album est plus qu’un document, car ces artistes ont le talent nécessaire pour sublimer leur direction musicale et atteindre un niveau de plaisir d’écoute véritable et répété. » Jean Michel Van Schouwburg ORYNX
“An interesting balance-point between sparsely occupied and loosely filled space, resulting in a kind of forward lilt that's very captivating. The volume ranges from quiet to a medium range and the musicians, particularly Fell and Wastell, do a fair amount of pizzicato and otherwise percussive playing that harkens back to the jazzish (if several times removed) work of players like Guy, Kowald et. al., though certainly pared back a good deal. To the extent one can distinguish, not always the easiest of tasks, Davies appears to be pressing onward, or downward, with the most persistence, into the reductionist sphere. The flow is knobby, those wonderful, wooden knars connected by the most diaphanous of tissues - often quite spellbinding and I'm impressed by the apparent quietude of the audience here, given the nature of the event - and the performance feels complete, the duration expertly judged.” Brian Olewnick JUST OUTSIDE
“The setting seems to bring out a sterling focus as the three plumb a collective timbral investigation. The first section draws on a give and take between percussive groaning bass, wispy arco cello, and the damped attack and abrasions of harp, stretching the intrinsic elements of their instruments with a sense of tensile concentration. But as the improvisation unfolds, it morphs from contrapuntal angularity to confluent planes of gesture and textural detail. Skittering micro-lines, ratcheted semaphores, and scrubbed activity play off each other, building active densities without falling into the all-to-often requisite rise in dynamics. It is this reciprocated balance that carries through the performance, which culminates in a keenly detailed web of spontaneous invention.” Michael Rosenstein POINT OF DEPARTURE
A WIRE record of the year 2013
“The delicate, barely-there sounds of the trio seem commonplace now, and it’s easy to forget that this music had emerged as a part of a “new” fin de siècle so to speak, and was hardly well-established or embraced on the improvisational scene. The 30 minute performance is met with stunning applause, thicker and more vibrant than what one typically encounters after a free improv performance. But as Fell remarks in the liner notes, the “musical permafrost” was cracking, a stasis was being interrupted. If the raison d’etre of improvisation remained unchanged, musicians’ attitudes towards their own practice and their relationship to each other were undergoing revisions. Hearing Berlin in 2013, that familiar vitality is there, the egoless openness that fuels so much current improvisation and collaboration, and that we perhaps now take for granted.” Dan Sorrells THE FREE JAZZ COLLECTIVE