CLIVE BELL Cretan pipes, harmonica, khene, pi saw, shakuhachi, stereo
goathorns, whirling bat drum
SYLVIA HALLETT anklung, bicycle wheel, electronics, mbira, sarangi, saw, viola, violin, voice
1 - SHRUGGING INTO SPRING - 9:01
2 - FLYING ON THE LANDING - 5:56
3 - WITH THE BOOK PROPPED AGAINST THE HORSE'S MANE - 5:48
4 - THE WEALD - 12:48
5 - BIRTHMARKS - 1:08
6 - TANTAMOUNT - 6:46
7 - THE SWEET POTATO FESTIVAL AT FUDOMAE - 7:20
8 - NOTES TO THE MILKMAN - 2:57
9 - ROLLS OVER THE PLAIN - 4:31
10 - LOVE FOR SHALE - 4:57
Digital studio recordings made in London
by Steve Lowe - 2004 July 13
Total time 65:08
All previously unissued
My appetite for the exotic was first tweaked not so much by geography as by Ancient Greek, which my school was unnaturally keen on promoting. Later a visit to Greece confirmed there were no Ancient Greeks left there, and it took me a few years to realise that their nearest equivalents (connoisseurs of theatre, temples and poetry) were to be found in Japan. Living in Tokyo I learned to play the Japanese flute (shakuhachi). Later still I went to Thailand and was captivated by the khene mouth organ, an instrument supposedly played by country bumpkins, though it accompanies sophisticated jousts of sung poetry. The pi saw, also from Thailand, is a free-reed flute normally played in consorts.
Sylvia's exoticism is from a different source. The sarangi is an Indian fiddle with 35 sympathetic strings sitting amongst its three bowed strings; these latter are stopped with the backs of the fingers just above the cuticle. Her amplified bicycle wheel is also bowed, as is the saw, which cost £2.49 at Wickes.
CLIVE BELL (2004)
"For the last two decades, since their time together in the trio British Summertime Ends, Clive Bell and Sylvia Hallett have forged a strong working relationship. They've made music for theatre and dance, radio documentaries and dramas, and released a handful of solo CDs, but their best work is as an improvising duo. Why? Their soundworlds mesh effortlessly and they complement each other beautifully. Moreover, they adhere to no particular school or style of improvisation, so the range of their musical explorations is unusually wide - world-wide, in fact. But the music of the East is of particular importance to both of them.
The pieces by Bell and Hallett on FREEDOM OF THE CITY 2004: SMALL GROUPS were one of the best reasons for buying that set, and they served as an excellent appetite-wetter for this full-length studio session. THE GEOGRAPHERS is generally less busy and more meditative than the tracks from Freedom of the City, but it's every bit as good. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say that it's the most successful recording that either of them has made. There's a marvellous moment mid-way through The Weald in which gossamer threads of sound are carried back and forth on breezes so gentle that all sense of human agency is lost and we feel we could almost be listening to an ethnographic field recording of some kind. A delicate balance is struck between making the instruments sound and letting them sound, and when a genuine field recording (the cry of a Japanese seller of baked sweet potatoes) is heard at the close of Love for Shale it seems entirely appropriate, just another part of the proceedings. Throughout much of the CD the music is airy and light, like kite calligraphy. By way of contrast, Tantamount, which emerges out of throbbing dissonances created by Hallett on bowed bicycle wheel and the dull roars and trumpetings of Bell's stereo goathorns, is dense and grindingly industrial for much of its length, relieved only during its final moments by a few low, vocal sounds on shakuhachi. No one else is making music quite like this, so natural it seems effortless, and such a pleasure to listen to."
BRIAN MARLEY - THE WIRE 2005
"Regularly performing as a duo on the London improvising scene, Bell and Hallett's pervading atmosphere is one of suspended meditation, sustained for over an hour with some extremely varied and resourceful spontaneity. Hallett utilises electronics on most of these improvisations, harnessing the forces of the pair's real-time acoustic events, and warping them into loops that often fulfil the roles of dronescape or environmental ambience.
As Shrugging Into Spring opens, the pair sound like cranes splashing around in a Japanese water garden. Hallett's saw is bowed in sympathy with Bell's fluttering shakuhachi at the start of The Weald, blending high tones together, making unnerving vibrations quiver around the listener's space (and ears). Hallett spreads clicks and pocks around the distance, and when her viola cuts in towards the close, it's a frightening jar to the calm contemplation. She'll also use real-time lock-repeat effects on her bowed phrases, making them end in a reversed stutter. Bell likes to rattle his whirling bat drum, and he also relishes the raspy prospect of his stereo goat-horns. When Hallett bows her mounted bicycle wheel, it sounds uncannily similar to her viola or sarangi, but just a touch rougher. These elements are combined on Tantamount, whilst Hallett conjures up a loop with an annoying fire klaxon quality. This is their least meditational moment.
This excellent album is filled with the sounds and textures of a hardcore ethnographic field recording, but delivered with the vocabulary of free improvisation. This makes the duo's music sound very different to that of virtually any improvising group in existence. A sense of melody and linear development exists, but these pieces always sound enquiring, unpredictable and completely open to adventure."
MARTIN LONGLEY - BBC 2005
"Elements and fragments of folk music from Asia, Africa, Greece, the Middle East and the Pacific Rim work their way into these improvisations. At times, either of these humans can sound like someone from centuries ago who found s/he could make 'cool sounds' by blowing through or striking something. THE GEOGRAPHERS is, quite simply, a disc of rare, mysterious beauty."
MARK KERESMAN - JAZZ REVIEW 2005
"I'm convinced that Emanem - that staunch supporter and purveyor of what has loosely been dubbed 'British Improvised Music' - has no one on its roster quite like multi-instrumentalists and exoticians Sylvia Hallett and Clive Bell. Hallett's sonically adventurous WHITE FOG exudes austerity and innocence, its sensitive directness matched by a sarcastically and cynically chilly vibe throughout. Bell's similarly deep-seeded humour is equalled only by his penchant for ceaseless sonic exploration, both on releases like the collaborative SLEEP IT OFF and in his numerous discs with Jah Wobble, among many other ventures. Both Bell and Hallett are insistent on penetrating each instant with whatever sonic and emotive possibility seems most appropriate to the moment - certainly nothing new in that - but THE GEOGRAPHERS blends musicality with intense but subdued experimentation that is satisfying and wittily surprising.
Shrugging into Spring's very first gesture is quietly shocking; little yicks and clicks, the latter from Bell's whirling bat drum and Hallett's melodic anklung, immediately dispel any notions of overarching seriousness without the least hint of frivolity. Bell's pi saw entrance complements beautifully the anklung's spring-rain delicacy, presenting the first of many serenely meditative moments over the disc's 65 minutes. Gone is any busyness apparent in the duo's 2004 FREEDOM OF THE CITY set) in favour of the quieter, more spacious aesthetic evident in Hallett and Bell's other recent projects.
Even when a pulse is present, as in the aptly named and tantalizingly punchy Birthmarks, the sounds come in constantly morphing and dynamically shifting plucked and tapped clusters, Hallett's strummed violin highlighting and counterpointing another bat drum appearance. On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Weald opens with a starkly introspective duet of Bell's shakuhachi and Hallett's bowed saw, the track's opening fifth going wonderfully out of tune before becoming a sweeter sixth and finally dissolving into a gently multiphonic blur.
It would be a disservice, however, to posit that The THE GEOGRAPHERS is all sweetness and light. Tantamount is disconcertingly dissonant at best, frighteningly industrial at worst, Hallett's bowed bicycle wheel, heavily effected, and Bell's Wobble-dubbed modified bag-pipe contraption known as 'stereo goathorns' evoking nothing so much as a piper gone mad near one of Throbbing Gristle's decrepit post-civilisation factories. Here, fear does not result from volume; rather, for once on this disc, space is all but absent, to remarkable effect.
Such distractions are momentary, however, and the disc ends with an equally startling but endlessly entertaining field recording of a Japanese potato hawker selling his wares in a quiet evening street. It's a wonderful moment, such earthy epiphanies being equally well encapsulated by Bell's frankly amusing liners. Like the music, they somehow present his narrative as a connected series of tableaux, topping off a first-rate listening experience."
MARC MEDWIN - ONE FINAL NOTE 2005
"For the most part, Emanem's catalogue defines British Free Improvisation in its various incarnations, but a few of its releases are even more unclassifiable than usual. Sylvia Hallett's WHITE FOG was one. Mike Adcock and Clive Bell's SLEEP IT OFF was another. And now Bell and Hallett's duo project THE GEOGRAPHERS adds a third opus to this line of highly creative exotic-tinged free improv. Bell plays an array of flutes and free reed instruments, from harmonica and shakuhachi to the Thai khene and the Cretan pipes. Hallett relies on her trusty bowed bicycle wheel and electronics, but also adds mbira, sarangi and singing saw to this considerable sound palette. Recorded at Gateway Studios two months after the 2004 FREEDOM OF THE CITY Festival, THE GEOGRAPHERS is free improv¹s answer to World Fusion. Bell and Hallett approach their instruments as both sound-makers and historically rich instruments, and they approach improvisation as both a mean of communication or exchange and a form of instant songwriting. The latter word is the only one suitable to describe the immediacy of these mostly short pieces. Despite the unusual, foreign sounds comprising them and their improvised nature, they strike a primal chord in the listener. They move, their melodies yearning, pleading for open-mindedness toward listening, toward other cultures, and perhaps most of all toward the inner child. Highly recommended, especially to fans of traditional Far-Eastern folk music looking for an entry point into free improvisation."
FRANÇOIS COUTURE - ALL-MUSIC GUIDE 2005
"I suspect that a blindfolded listener dropped anywhere into this album would be unlikely to identify it as a product of the London improvising community. Guesses would most probably centre around ethnographic field recordings made way out east, rather than recordings made in Gateway Studios by two Brits.
Clive Bell and Sylvia Hallett have very different histories but are highly compatible. He favours exotic wind instruments, which he studied extensively in Japan and Thailand. She does use such instruments as the sarangi (a 35-string bowed Indian fiddle) and anklung (a tuned Indonesian bamboo shaker), but is just as likely to play a bicycle wheel or a cheap saw bought at her local hardware shop. They share a propensity for quiet understatement and space in their music that gives it a reflective, even meditative quality. Sometimes this is explicit, as on the closer, Love for Shale, more generally, it pervades the entire album. As a result, this album is an accessible and easy-on-the-ear entry point to improvised music.
THE GEOGRAPHERS may be the album's seriously jokey title, but it is too mundane a description of Bell & Hallett; better would be 'the adventurers' or 'the explorers' - such is the breadth of their horizons."
JOHN EYLES - ALL ABOUT JAZZ 2005
"THE GEOGRAPHERS is more frankly exotic, even delicate, than their concert set. With the Book Propped Against the Horse's Mane, for khene and bicycle wheel, could accompany the spiritual scene of some martial arts epic. But all is not incense and sweet spice; Tantamount, for example, builds to an exhilarating, cacophonous crescendo of spinning wheels and overtone-belching goathorns. I hope someone books these two on the world music festival circuit - they could unstuff a few Guatemalan print hoodies."
BILL MEYER - SIGNAL TO NOISE 2005
"Droplets of hallucinogen reiterations take fantasies by the hand, cold-shouldering any possible machination designed to keep emotions at bay; instruments from ancient cultures as well as cheap department stores are played without scumbling their edges, in a gradual departure from pure sound artistry to the inspection of remote cavities, in search of those small discarded treasures that - appearances be damned - are giant steps for the refinement of the act of listening. While Hallett's haunting ceremonials sound like they were born after a blow on a magic powder causing twilight fever and deceptive fancies, her mastery of bowed instruments and perfectly disposed looping traps is what this wonderful music needs to be promoted to the top rank of improvisatory sensitiveness. Bell could not be a better companion for this highly reminiscent connection of memories and instinct, as the imprinting he puts on all the duets is decisive, given his thorough command of shakuhachi, pi saw, khene and the likes: it's a perfect 50-50 concoction of gracefully balanced miniature dreams that every once in a while make a proposal for recanalising fear and anguish into a single course of placid joy."
MASSIMO RICCI - TOUCHING EXTREMES 2005
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