Wire writer and all-round sound-explorer Clive Bell presents a suite of compositions for the shakuhachi, a variety of Japanese flute with a particularly rich reedy sound. Bell’s interactions with the instrument, clearly borne out of many years’ playing experience, reach deeply into the extended potential of the flute, producing some remarkable sounds. Asakusa Follies is released by Cuspeditions.
7/10 Robin Staff review, 12 July 2017
This blows. It involves a person called Clive Bell blowing the shakuhachi flute. Now that I have been crude and ruined serious discourse, we can begin thinking about how it sounds. ‘Asakusa Follies’ is a minimalist record that attempts to bring improvisation as close to you as it can, demolishing the idea that you’re listening to a recording through the sheer sparsity and closeness of its sound. Alone with his instrument and a total lack of instruction, your ears are left with little more than the instrument and his physical movements upon it, offering you the chance to hear every mouth movement and tonal quiver.
Focusing variably on different tones, volumes and registers, the record becomes something of a showcase for his improvisations on the flute, as well as pi-saw and free reed flutes. Bell’s breaths produce wispy near-silences on opener “Ultramodern Variety” but the combination of pi-saws is harmonic and plurative on “The Red Sash Society”, the double-tracked improvisations sounding conversational. His breath can have both gentility and strength, with “The Scarlet Gang” straining for louder frequencies between sudden, dramatic drops that suggest stamina to be its own form of pantomime -- the less breath you can muster, the more tension you can develop.
It’s a record of chance and failure; it will appeal to people who want to hear musicality exist from nothing. Its raw and immediate investigation of instruments will appeal to fans of Laura Cannell -- among other artists reckoning with instruments that aren’t entirely theirs to control.
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- Asakusa Follies by Clive Bell
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