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Phil Mouldycliff, "Written on Water"

cover image This is a mixed bag; there are sections that are incredible and beautiful but unfortunately there is an equal amount of music that is difficult to digest. It sounds like something I should be into, however there is something missing or that I am not getting that is preventing me from fully appreciating this album. Maybe it is the fact that many of these pieces were written and recorded for exhibitions and installations that leaves the music feeling a little empty.

 

ICR

"The Stillness of Chinese Jars" and "Kettleblack" both reflect Mouldycliff's best musical sides. The chiming calm of "The Stillness of Chinese Jars" makes for an exceptionally pretty piece of music. Taking this prettiness and warping it, "Kettleblack" makes for an unsettling and disorientating five minutes. There is a strong sniff of David Lynch-style atmospherics throughout the piece and the sounds conjure up very lucid images; in my mind's eye I can see a very slow shot panning across an empty, rather ordinary but slightly askew room.

The longest piece on Written on Water breaks the spell that Mouldycliff initially casts on the listener. It is hard to pick out what it is exactly that makes "A Speculative Atlas (for David Mitchell)" so hard to listen to. It all sounds a bit clichéd, the sustained notes on the wind instruments and the flurries of piano noodlings bursting in every now and then. One element that I felt did work is the sound of children pushed way back in the mix. The first time I listened to it I did not know whether kids were causing havoc outside or whether it was on the CD.

On the final piece, "Spirit of Place," there are elements both of The Hafler Trio and Nurse With Wound which is not surprising considering the involvement of Colin Potter as producer. This is where Mouldycliff actually shines, even if it is heavily indebted to what other artists have done before. Mouldycliff never reaches the same psychedelic heights as these other artists but it is hard not to slip into a daydream listening to the heady drones of this piece.

Aside from those few pieces where Mouldycliff loses his footing, Writing on Water is an enjoyable but a bit of a journeyman selection of experimentations. When he is at his weakest, he is still at least worth a listen to try and figure out what is not sitting right with me. I feel his music is something I should appreciate but cannot pinpoint the cause of my discomfort while listening. Every year I read Conrad's Heart of Darkness because I do not enjoy it and feel I must. One day it surely will fall into place. I get the same feeling from this album. There is something worth investigating here but there is also some invisible barrier in my way.

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NOBUKAZU TAKEMURA, "SIGN"
This indeed is what it should all be about. Side one has three tracks, two different versions of the title track, "Sign" and another track, "COGWHEEL." As expected from the last release, "Sign" harbors Takemura's love for beauty and the voice, coupled with his ability to hack and chop away at sounds and beats electronically. The real excitement happens when you flip the record over to side two. Now, I set my timer to this one as it looked like it was pressed rather tight (the vinyl that is). Experts have claimed that only about 25 minutes would fit comfortably on one side of a 12" record, played at 33 1/3 RPM, right? The improvisational "jam" that takes place on side two features Chicago friends Bundy K. Brown, John McEntire and Doug McCombs (all from Tortoise and related camps) clocks in just over 35 minutes. Right, that's not a typo! The piece is fantastic and might as well be another one of those songs you always wished would appear on a Tortoise record. It starts off with a wonderful showcase of how all four musicians have a keen sense of improvisation and incredible talent to create cohesive noise with each other. It starts off like a jamming rockish jazzish tune, but then something goes awry, glitchiness ensues in a dreamy audio bath of laptop fuckery with live instruments... I'm getting flashbacks and almost begin dreaming that this could honestly be "Djed 2!" Yes, I'm a fan and I love Tortoise music, but this track simply titled only as "Souvenir in Chicago" is a stunning performance, and it's something you knew these guys could do and hoped they would do, but never actually heard. This record only comes on vinyl and is limited to 2000 copies. Tortoise fans, Takemura fans shouldn't pass this one by, you'll regret it for years to come! And vinyl sure makes for a great stocking stuffer!

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