Benedict Taylor & Anton Mobin: Stow Phasing

Raw Tonk CD

Highly strung, frenetic free improv from viola player Taylor and object wrangler Mobin on this bristlingly fine release from Colin Webster’s Raw Tonk records.

The overarching aesthetic is a kind of Bohman-Brothers-meets-The Sinking of the Titanic, geed up by a fistful (or two) of espresso, Taylor’s wild arco and woody pizzicato swooping across the rocky landscape of Mobin’s metallic plinks and gritty scrapes like an eagle recce’ing the lunar landscape for any moon-dwelling morsels to devour.

The duo channel a nervous energy into their improvisations and the vibrations emanating from the eight pieces here are the sonic equivalent of some long lost expressionist painting, although, in general, the mood is playful , if somewhat manic, rather than angst-ridden.

They keep the pace up throughout, with a wild and whirling set of tracks that occasionally – for example in the echoing clangs and wheezes of Ligne De Sui – make me feel like I’m being tossed around in some dustbowl whirlwind as all manner of everyday detritus clangs and shakes as it is buoyed up in the tumult.

Despite the wild differences in their instrumentation, Taylor and Mobin lock together effortlessly. Taylor, although he is capable of deploying the usual vocabulary of extended techniques deployed by free improv players, also refuses to banish melodicism from his playing, which adds colour and depth to the duo’s improvisations.

On Evermore Bound, he veers from short, tightly controlled judders that mark out a series of undulating chords to a series of unhinged squiggles that swirl and loop in the air.

In Pas Le Moindre his strokes are more restrained yet they have an definite flourish, as if they are soundtracking some dude in a long white shirt drinking his way around Italy, before the insouciance gradually vanishes to be replaced with a furtive scrabbling and rubbing of the strings.

On the album’s final track, Zithony, his abrupt switches between styles are so tightly executed they almost seem like samples, cut together in post-production, rather than being played live as presumably happened.

Mobin’s craggy soundscapes are a perfect foil for this, as freewheeling in their own way as Taylor’s exuberance. The album’s release notes credit him with Zither and the rather enigmatic ‘Prepared Chambers’, a combination that gives him a wide variety of sonic possibilities to mess with.

I was lucky enough to see the duo perform earlier this year and I can confirm that at least part of the prepared chambers set up is a series of stretched rubber bands in a small wooden box, which are then mic’d up. When plucked or struck, these then give a wonderfully dubby twang – an amazingly spacey sound for such a humble device.

This gives many of the pieces on Stow Phasing their gritty, echoing backdrop, as on the album’s opener, Poursuite, where Tobin marshals a sonic array that sounds like birdcage being rattled, a bag of stones being thrown down some stairs, a miniature double bass being plucked and a series of alarm clocks going off – all at once.

With Stow Phasing, Taylor and Mobin have coaxed another branch of the ever growing free improv tree into being. It’s well worth checking out.


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