I will be the first to admit that I approached this album with equal amounts of fear and excitement. Each and every one of the names I knew were people who have shaped my notion of what music could be. It was when I counted all the names involved that I truly began to worry. I should have known better, but in imagining these eight together, a creeping dread emerged of how disappointed I would be were I not completely bowled over. And so this record sat on my shelf for well over a week. Two items on the back cover finally persuaded me to take the plunge. The first was the list of each player's role in the performance:
Paul Burwell: percussion; Hugh Davies: live electronics; Max Eastley: self-designed automatic instruments and other small home-made instruments; Paul Lovens: percussion & singing saw; Paul Lytton: percussion & live electronics; Annabel Nicolson: charcoal, sparks, branches, twigs, fire, pine needles, draughts, smoke; Evan Parker: saxophones, etc.; David Toop: flute, alto flute, bass recorder, piccolo, home-made & found instruments.The second was Evan Parker's note: "The music on this record has been selected from tapes of a thirteen hour concert given at the London Musicians' Collective from July 29 - 30 1978, as part of David Toop's Music/Context Festival. Our original intention had been to play for a whole day." Knowing then that the group had the restraint to conclude the performance nearly halfway to its intended duration, that many of the instruments were of such a delicate nature, my curiosity surged enough to finally warrant a listen.
The performance captured moves slowly and carefully, more an ongoing sound environment than the caterwauling group blow out that one might expect from an ensemble this size. The confluence of acoustic and electronic instruments, as well as traditional and home-made, is seamless and captivating, with each timbre and texture carving out its own space in the recording all the while blurring a clear notion of who did what. Many of the players aim for the higher registers, delivering long, unfurling tones, some steady and others warbling, that hang in the room before sinking into the next. Meanwhile, an underbed of clanging, percussive activity scatters below, a punctuating hit emerging here and there but never escalating to a full rumble. The sum is immersive without ever being overbearing. The performance is not presented chronologically; the only indication when each section occurred over the 13 hours is an out of sequence numbering of each excerpt, the first constituting the album's second side.
I do not regret prolonging my first listen, as my informed expectations helped to create a mental image of the record's happenings. Perhaps owing to the planned length of the performance, there is a patience and commitment to the ideas that translates well in the recording, with an implicit satisfactory nod each time the group moves on. In fact, in the brief account of the performance in Toop's Ocean of Sound, he attributes the premature conclusion of the date to "running into a wall of exhaustion and an overwhelming feeling that there was nothing more to add. In hindsight, I think there were too many distractions and too many players."
& in .flac 1 & 2
David Toop's London Musicians' Collective archive
Clive Bell's compiled musings on the London Musicians' Collective