What the fuck is going on? Whatever it is, from the opening broken-down ice cream van tinkles and paint can batterings of side A’s bbooiinngg through to the final falsetto croons of its companion piece ripizdets, it’s clear that this duo recording from avant-mischief-maker Laurie Tompkins and bassist Otto Willberg isn’t your typical free improv record. Scratch that, Yes, Indeed isn’t your typical modern free improv record with its often-too-courteous reciprocal listening and maybe-too-cautious strategies. Its unhinged cacophony harks back to those outlaw improv records, (Machine Gun, Topography of the Lungs, that Bailey & Bennick album on Incus)- when recording sessions were an excuse to deploy the most challenging techniques in the most obtuse way possible and things were only a circular breath away from a punch up.
Not that Yes, indeed is a backward looking homage, you understand. In their channelling of riotous disorder Tompkins and Willberg flip the bird to anyone and everyone, chops or no chops, from titans of free music to enthusiastic reviewers with their overegged prose. Its lo-fi splendour – did someone forget to take the digital recorder out of their pocket? – charts several meetings in Stockholm and Oslo back in May of this year. The ragbag cacophony piles canine hollers and guttural, frenzied exhalations atop atonal casiotone stabs, percussive scrunches and a whole heap of grubby bangs and booms. There’s even a nice whistling duet (it’s about a third of the way through side A, if you’re interested). Occasionally, fragments of double bass elbow their way out of the general blur – a stuttering series of arco sweeps, reminiscent of practice-room Vivaldi at the start of ripizdets is preceded by a dunderheaded one-note thrash towards the end of bbooiinngg, its idiotic stasis emphasised by parallel vocal line that seems only repeat TEA TEA TEA TEA TEA TEA. Yes, I think we’ll all going to need some liquid refreshment after this.
The sonic assault of Yes, indeed isn’t a total surprise. Tompkins explores similar terrain on his solo album for Slip, Heat, War, Sweat, Law, tearing Heaven 17’s At The Height of the Fighting into ragged chunks of sonic goo. And in Otto Willberg, he seems to have found an instinctive collaborator. I’ve generally come across the bassist in more jazz-oriented combinations, with David Birchall, Rogier Smal, Sam Andraea, Colin Webster and many others. But but he seems to have adapted admirably to this fervent, babblistic environment, matching Tompkins yowl for yowl on ripizdets and generally acting as an equal partner in this malarkey.
So why doesn’t it sound shit? It does, kind of, but that’s the point. It’s not that Tompkins and Willberg have freed themselves from all existing musical idioms to create their anarchic, rubble-strewn row. They have – but, more importantly, having broken the vessels, they’re free to pick at the debris left in the wake of the shattering, creating a rough collage from the rubbish and hinting at new forms emerging from the wreckage. That’s why, for all Yes, indeed’s aggression, it feels like a cathartic process, therapeutic even. The duo has broken through, somehow, their primal screams signalling a way out of the labyrinth of consumption and decline in which we’re all trapped, blazing a trail along the piss-yellow, broken-brick road out of the maze to a new life among the ruins.