Since its beginnings in 2014 as a fairly straightforward free improvising duo, the saxaphone and turntables partnership of Colin Webster and Graham Dunning has ended up someplace much weirder. ‘Estigate’, their debut release, was satisfyingly arid, the jolting scuffs of Dunning’s decks and dubplate setup meeting Webster’s arsenal of controlled squeaks and extended technique-derived clicks and gasps head on. Like a pair of courtly rhinos locked in a territorial dispute, each was cognizant of the other’s space while being equally unwilling to give over so much as an inch of their own country. ‘Invertebrata’, from the same year, deepened their engagement without departing from the template too much, although Dunning’s replacement of turntable with Walkman added chiaroscuro to the crackle and hum of his interventions.
It’s probably coincidence, but since then a few releases deploying similar approaches have come to my attention. Gudinni Cortina spread a patina of scratchy rumbles around Cristian Alvear’s restrained guitar in their take on Mark So’s ‘…And Suddenly From This There Came Some Horrid Music’, their airy, dusty work embodying the desolation of So’s graphic and text score in an act of strange audio mimesis. And as Lopness, Bruno Silva and Pedro Lopes matched turntablist reduction with audio processing to create pieces combining physical heft with abstract mystery. Unsurprising, then, that for their third release the pair would want to explore different territory, and ‘Oval’, their outing on David McLean’s Tombed Visions label, was an odder, more rancorous beast than their previous outings. Here, the usual free improv tug of war was replaced with sedimentary accretions peppered with guttural drones, grainy layers of gristly burr punctuated with piercing horn cries. The sound is sometimes cavernous, other times suffocating, and there’s a widescreen feel throughout that’s rare in duo recordings of this ilk.
It’s been a strange journey, and by the time we arrive at ‘Most Of What Follows Is True’, Dunning and Webster have drifted off the map, arriving at a faraway shore where, although the scenery may look familiar, everything is different. It’s spacier than ‘Oval’, with Dunning’s dubplates and spring reverb adding mysterious tonal clouds to the duo’s low-key sonic palette. Each player’s contributions are still discernable – check out Webster’s agonized sax hoots on ‘How Much of the World Is True’, or his sustained Garbarek-in-the-beehive calls on ‘There Is No Why’ – but the telepathy is such that they could be two sides of the same brain, operating in concert. The closing ‘Templet’ resembles those early ‘Estigate’ days the most, Webster’s mouthy clucks wiggling through Dunning’s dubplate crackle – although in comparison to the measured empathy on display here, that debut seems almost impossibly frenetic.
Another sign of the duo’s confidence is their willingness to hand over their material to various third parties. A companion release to ‘Most Of What Follows Is True’ sees six different artists have a crack at remixing cuts from the album, pulling, prodding and stretching them into new forms. Generally, the invitees strike a satisfying balance, indulging their own interests while staying (quite) faithful to the material. So, John Macedo squishes ‘Pyramid Inverted’ through a bunch of modular synth patches, sieving out an array of glassy throbs and staticky grumble that suggests a possible incarnation as a live trio. Macedo’s occasional sparring partner Phil Julian offers up a gimlet-eyed reurbishment of ‘How Much Of The Word Is True’, splicing Webster’s horn into an infinite yowl and buffing Dunning’s echo-scapes into something not far from the tough futurism of his own ‘Relay’.
Steph Horak’s reversioning of ‘Pitch’ is the biggest departure from the source material, Horack pumping a corrupted laptop’s worth of malware into the original to create a monstrous digital scree. Shelly Knotts also deserves honourable mention for her trippy shuffle of ‘Through The Hub’, splicing the original’s abstract organized sound into clockwork, medicated techno. Best of all, however, is Tom Mudd’s take on ‘Templet’. On first listen, it doesn’t seem like he’s done very much at all, but it takes only a couple more spins to realise the opposite is true. Mudd gathers up the track’s constituent elements and recasts them into a spooky web speckled with gleaming dust, full of cosmic pulsations that occasionally erupt into hollow puffs and gassy bursts. Floaty and abrasive, it’s a woozy mind boggler.