For many, Rhodri Davies is inextricably tied to the New London Silence, a term that seemed useful when it popped up in Clive Bell’s 2005 Wire article about musicians like Davies, his sister Angharad, Mark Wastell, Phil Durrant, and a group of cohorts who converged on Wastell’s Sound 323 shop and small venues around London in the early 2000s. But like most of these things, by the time a music has been named and cataloged, that shorthand is already shaky. Take a listen to Trem his solo recorded back in 2001, and while in general, there is a translucency and space, there is also plenty of abraded kenesis to the playing. By 2005, he and Wastell were moving toward a more vigorous and active sound as evidenced by Live in Melbourne, a recent issue on Mikroton with Davies on low-fi electronics and Wastell on mixing desk, delay pedals, and amplified detritus.
Which brings us to Davies’ new solo release, Wound Response, a slab of hyper-amplified, over-driven and distorted music for lap harp, transducer, contact mics, overdrive, volume pedal, and two amplifiers (pressed on heavy clear vinyl and packaged in a hand-screened cover designed by frequent musical collaborator Paul Abbott with drawings by Jean-Luc Guionnet). The forcefully shredded, doggedly looping patterns on Wound Respond opener “everything at each moment” burst forth with buffeting intensity. The piece dives in directly and caroms off as the phrasing piles up on itself, accelerating and building a mounting sonic mass, finally exploding with a hanging feedback wail. The sound here brings to mind the raw field recordings of African harp and lyre players or the buzzing junkyard mbiras of Konono No. 1, but there are also traces of Welsh folk music, one of Davies’s roots.
That said, there’s nothing derivative about this music. Davies’s command of the eddied phrasing and shimmering walls of amplified feedback and distressed overtones is in evidence throughout as the oversaturated harmonics and salvos of flayed cyclical patterns crash against each other. Each of the 10 compact pieces are a study in the control of velocity, dynamics and the electronic manipulation of decay. Recorded in December 2011 at Morden Tower, a stone structure dating back to 1290 that forms part of the West Walls of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, the production effectively captures the full sonic detail and richness of this music.
Davies’s playing has always been about the focused placement of timbres within the dynamic balance of densities and massing of sound, from the subtle, amplified textures of a group like Sealed Knot with Mark Wastell and Burkhard Beins, to the exploitation of attack, resonance, and decay of his solo work, to the collective exploration of structural forms of composers like Eliane Radigue or those from the Wandelweiser collective. While Wound Respone might appear a bit brash compared to his “Silent” past, this one really just filters his sensibility through in a slightly different lens.