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hugh davies performances 1969 - 1977

at-r01    Performances 1969 - 1977

Hugh Davies invented instruments

1. Music for 2 springs (1977)                                    7:52

2. Music for 3 springs (1977)                                  13:04

3. Solo at Ronnie Scott’s (1975)                             24:20

4. Music for bowed diaphraghms (1973)                 10:05

5. Salad (for egg- & vegetable slicers) (1977)          13:54

6. Shozyg I & II - duo with Richard Orton (1969)      8:52

                                                 Total time:            79:24

Youtube extract

To read about Hugh Davies click here

“In conjunction with for hugh davies, Another Timbre has issued a limited edition CD-R of the source tapes Wastell, Bohman, and Patterson utilized in their session.  Culled from the National Sound Archives at the British Library, the set includes five solos recorded in

the mid-’70s and a duo performance with Richard Orton from 1969.  Here, Davies’ raw sonic explorations are laid bare.  One can hear the process of discovery as he plumbs the potentials of his materials.   Without amplification, the scrubbed and chafed details of his

playing would be all but inaudible. But Davies’ approach places an intense focus on the slightest motion or attack.   The low-fi setups make the most of the reverberations and distortion, plying them as yet another element to weave in.  The percussive semaphores

between Davies and Orton show a boisterous energy, providing a nice way to round out the set.  Grab this one while you can...”

                                                                                                             -  Michael Rosenstein, Signal to Noise

“The six pieces, dating from 1969 to 1977, are as raw and crisp as freshly sliced carrots.  The recording is dry, the signal hot, and the music sounds curiously more daring, more modern than the later ensemble pieces.  It could easily pass as the latest offering from a latterday contact mic fiend like Pascal Battus, Ferran Fages or Alfredo Costa Monteiro.

         And that’s the point; though Davies was a major figure in free improv’s early days - the two albums he recorded with the Music Improvisation Company in 1969 and 1970 are indeed “important documents of this formative period of improvised music history”, to quote David Toop’s affectionate obituary tribute to Davies in Wire 252 - his work has never been more relevant than today.  The generation of younger players who see Keith Rowe as the godfather of today’s electroacoustic improvisation would do well to check out Davies’ work...But describing Davies as a live electronics pioneer is somewhat misleading, in that his work was concerned less with transformation than with amplification, in a search to reveal the hidden sonic mystery of everyday objects.  Working as Karlheinz Stockhausen’s assistant in Cologne in the mid-60’s, where he helped produce the composer’s Mikrophonie I (1965), a landmark work in live electronics which sources all its sounds from a huge amplified Paiste tam-tam, was a veritable epiphany for the young Oxford graduate.  Thrilled at the prospect of using contact mics to open up a whole new world of hitherto unexplored sound, he returned to England in 1966 and embarked on a fertile period of experimentation with amplified egg-slicers, metal combs, tins, springs and other “shozygs” (“any instrument - usually amplified - built inside an everyday container, such as book-covers, breadbins, accordion files, radio and TV sets, card tables”), his material and methodology clear precursors of Adam Bohman’s work with Morphogenesis, Lee Patterson’s investigation of microsound and Mark Wastell’s amplified textures.”                            -   Dan Warburton, The Wire


“In keeping with its adventurous approach, Another Timbre has put out two complementary releases, one a CD, the other a CD-R.  Taken together, they make a fine tribute to Hugh Davies, the musician, composer, researcher, electronic pioneer and instrument inventor who died at the start of 2005, aged 61.  The limited edition CD-R serves two useful purposes. Firstly, it brings six unissued vintage Davies performances into circulation--five solos plus a duet with Richard Orton.  As with anything in Davies' (woefully small) discography, the pieces are endlessly intriguing.  His ability to conjure a dazzling array of sounds from the most unpromising of sources is simply stunning.  If one imagines what sounds might be produced from springs, bowed diaphragms or egg and vegetable slicers, the imaginings are likely to be pale shadows of the actual sounds.  More importantly, these are not just "sounds"; this is no freak show.  The sounds are combined into coherent musical statements that are engaging in their own right.  After only a few minutes of wonder at the sounds themselves, one becomes entranced by the music, so that the sources become of secondary interest and importance.

Secondly, the CD-R allows us to hear in isolation the source materials that were used as the stimuli for Bohman, Patterson and Wastell on the CD proper  For Hugh Davies.  The music from the CD-R was played to them, they improvised around it, and the resulting music forms the CD.  In their different ways, Bohman, Patterson and Wastell all owe a huge debt to Davies; their music would be vastly different without his pioneering work, hence their participation in this tribute.  The most striking thing about this CD is that Davies' own playing remains central to the music.  The other three players work out from his performance and expand the soundscape, but the agenda is clearly set by Davies own playing. ...

As an experimental way of paying tribute to a musician, this must be judged a great success. Doubtless, Davies himself would have heartily approved of the experiment. The results are extraordinary.  It is a great CD.   It is meaningless to compare these two releases trying to decide which is "better".  Both are essential.  They complement one another, each throwing light on the other, making the whole greater than the sum of the two.”                                                                                      -  John Eyles, All About Jazz

“English instrument-maker and improviser Hugh Davies (1943-2005), despite a scant recorded legacy, has exercised a notable influence on European free improvisation through both solo work and his presence in ensembles like the Music Improvisation Company and Gentle Fire. The former coupled Davies’ subtonal density with the skittering guitar of Derek Bailey, soprano saxophonist Evan Parker, percussionist Jamie Muir and occasional vocalist Christine Jeffrey. Gentle Fire featured Davies, Richard Orton, Graham Hearn, Stuart Jones, Richard Bernhas and Michael Robinson, and was somewhat of an analog in England to groups like the Sonic Arts Union in the US or Musica Elettronica Viva in Italy. Though often working in a group setting, Davies’ SHOZYG LP on FMP/SAJ (1979) is a prime example of what he could do with his instruments unaccompanied—contact mikes and circuits housed in a box that gives early Sonic Youth a run for their money.

Performances 1969-1977 feature Davies mostly solo on amplified springs, bowed diaphragms, miked egg and vegetable slicers and a SHOZYG duo with Orton. “Music for Two Springs,” recorded in 1977, is resoundingly physical without giving one a sense of the object being played. There is a strong sense of Davies as texturalist, for this isn’t entirely about white-noise; he strokes and coaxes sounds from metal with ribbed, miked sticks and finds a multiplicity of passing rhythms a la Harrison Birtwistle’s “Chronometer.” But unlike tape music, Davies’ instruments—even if one is not in the presence of their fullest expression—are entirely gestural, the composer’s hand swinging in wide arcs as components act in sonic collision. One can feel the striking, twisting, blowing on, and other facets by which the artist works. Yet there’s also a willful sense of drift, of events occurring in time but without an overarching structure beyond instrumental specificity (which is itself frequently abandoned). There is very little sonic repetition, for even if Davies comes across a pattern, it’s usually abandoned quickly enough. For example, “Solo at Ronnie Scott’s” spends its first several minutes in distant twittering and scampering, before erupting into a churning spring assault that at its most sparse, resembles bent, wiry electric guitar chords and even approaches facility befitting the Bailey-esque.

While there’s a great amount of random play at work in Davies’ music, as rigorous as it might seem, Gentle Fire were mostly known for playing other composers’ work—rarely did they “improvise” in the strict sense of the word. Here, Gentle Fire is represented by a brief duo with Richard Orton from 1969, a pairing which overlapped the ensemble’s initial lifespan and which apparently subbed for the full band in some situations and which emphasized freedom. In duet, sounds play off of one another in an electro-acoustic sparring contest, moderately dense scraping, whooshes, plinks and prods that are among the liveliest of the set. Though Davies’ art acquits itself equally in solo and group contexts, it’s decidedly a different beast in each. Even in isolation, Davies’ music is endlessly fascinating, occupying a sound world that creates its own rules and adheres to them with a direction that while hard to follow for the outsider, is nevertheless like nothing else in contemporary music.”                           -   Clifford Allen, Bagatellen

“The loss of British multi-instrumentalist Hugh Davies in 2005 was a huge one. This superb archival release on the fine, fresh Another Timbre label collects some vintage Davies performances from 1969-1977, and it’s stunning how contemporary they sound, not just in the sense that they are non-idiomatic but in their genuine, unpretentious experimentalism. Davies was an inventor of instruments, but not in the Partchian sense as much as an antecedent of Voice Crack. Davies assembled fascinating sound worlds by amplifying springs, saws, kitchen implements, you name it (there’s a glorious piece here for egg- and vegetable-slicers – now that’s DIY punk rock improv right there).

The disc opens with two 1977 improvisations using two and three springs respectively. I just adore this sound, like metallic animals coming to life, protesting their condition with the sounds of whizzing and creaking with a marvellously warm analogue edge. A vivid solo performance from Ronnie Scott’s in 1975 is a 25-minute journey, filled with the sort of small scale deconstructed sounds that are de rigueur to many improv fans today. But even for the vibrant mid-1970s London scene this comes across as quite daring, especially the closing minutes, which sound like some kind of strange motorized vehicle starting in fits.

The quizzical plucking of the 1973 piece for bowed diaphragms doesn’t gel quite as well to my ears. The only duo on this disc, with Richard Orton from 1969, has the pair performing with a “shozyg,” an instrument placed inside an encyclopaedia covering topics “SHO-ZYG.” Like the rest of this music, it’s quirky, singular, and a bit subversive. That’s Davies. “      -  Jason Bivins,  Dusted Magazine

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