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+minus - L’Écoute Libéré

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Artist: +minus

Album: L’Écoute Libéré

Label: Esquilo

Review date: Jun. 12, 2006

From the Esquilo label out of Portugal comes the third release of the +minus trio (Mark Wastell, Graham Halliwell and Bernhard Guenter). +minus originally referred to the trio’s process of improvising on previous recordings by Guenter. Here, each of the three tracks reworks material by a respective member.

The essential instrumentation is bowed prayer bowls, tam tam, saxophone feedback and Guenter’s invention, the cellotar, a five-stringed baritone guitar played with a cello bow, its buzz and drone reminiscent of the Indian sarangi or the vina. The collective sound is contemplative without treacle or new-age gauziness. It is music of the floating world, attuned to precise spatial placement of its elements, rewarding acute listening with subtle and balanced dynamics.

Wastell’s “Lone Star” is beautifully shaped and controlled tam tam resonances, clouds of subtle but distinct timbral changes in the caressed, rubbed and struck gongs, pierced by Halliwell’s saxophone feedback. The piece’s duration is 20 minutes, but an illusory suspension of time would have you imagine otherwise.

Guenter’s “Metis” uses a live performance of +minus from 2004 as a basis track, augmented by Guenter’s bamboo flute and the highest pitches of his blues harp (!). The cellotar sings a cantabile of brief melody amid the chime and toll of singing bowls, while strings of feedback whistle, suspended in the air.

Halliwell’s contribution, “L’coute reduite,” uses the Guenter composition “Redshift” as a steady state foundation for his sound sculpture of grain and grit. Keening saxophone feedback floats over electronic rustle and thrum. This is the track that throws a little sand in +minus’ evanescent soundworld.

Even alerted to the methodology of how these tracks were assembled, the striking effect here is of real-time, interdependent and highly attuned improvisation.

By Jesse Goin

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