David Somló: Movement

Somlo.

CD and download

Originally I thought that this great release from Hungarian guitarist David Somló came out in January 2014. I have no idea why I thought that, but it gave me an intro for this review when I was struggling to get one together. In fact it came out in January 2015, so please accept my apologies for any temporal disorientation you may have experienced. Suffice to say this is a cracker of an album and well worth spending your time on.

Movement’s sub-title could be The Power of Four. Somló tells me it was recorded across four nights in Budapest, in four different abandoned outdoor spaces, using four different recording devices (digital stereo recorder, cassette, Dictaphone, mobile phone). I’m not sure whether there was any occult significance to this choice of number or whether it was just a pleasing symmetry. But the approach works, giving a depth and texture to the work that might well be missing from studio recordings.

Early sections are brittle and busy, with melodies flying out from a prickly cloud of notes. The playing circles round in the mid-range, exploring variations of hammer-on sequences, with higher tones seemingly hurled out in centrifugal force. The hectic tempo slows as the piece progresses, Somló’s guitar lines unfurling into brambly tendrils, cutting low, slow arcs that seem to hang suspended in the air. At around 7:40 there’s a shift to a more free-improv style, the metallic clangs and wavering harmonics given  a harsher tinge by the low fidelity of the recording. This comes to a head at about 9:20, with repeated broken chords and ghostly reverberations working themselves up into more anxious flurries.

Listening to this album is very much like accompanying Somló on an extended perambulation around a deserted city. At times it feels like we’re eavesdropping in a practice session at the same time – similar gestures and motifs reappear and then evolve into something new, instinctively rather than by design. At 20:00 you can hear Somló’s footsteps as he wanders around, playing and singing along to his plaintive picking.

Then, with the end in sight, humanity makes an appearance. Tannoy announcements, traffic noise and the hubbub of humanity seems to wash into the reverberant space, externalising what seemed up until now to be a journey inwards. Yet here the playing is subdued, dissonant, a contrast to the rippling eddies of just a few minutes before. Rather than embracing his human colleagues, Somló seems to draw inwards, fading into the background with a few simple, atonal phrases. Meanwhile the world carries on around him, the guitar lost the overwhelming rush of everyday mundanity.

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Order Movement from David Somlo’s Bandcamp page.

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