Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre

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This article by Petr Slabý appeared in the Czech cultural magazine Uni in October 2009

Simon Reynell was a big fan of contemporary classical music as a teenager, during the early seventies of the last century. At that time among his favorites were Stockhausen, Nono, Berio and Cage. Soon, however, free improvisation appeared and he began to buy records on labels such as  Incus, Bead and FMP.  He was particularly attracted to improvisation which was closer to classical music than free jazz, and therefore his favourites were players such as Hugh Davies, Derek Bailey, AMM and the Gruppo di Nuova Consonanza.

Reynell has worked for twenty-five years in British television, the last twelve years as a sound engineer on documentary films.  Until six to eight years ago this job satisfied him and he worked on many interesting programmes.  But with the advent of multi-channel television the situation drastically changed; factual television production became concerned with mass entertainment and filled up with 'reality' tv shows and programmes fronted by celebrities.  While he hasn't entirely abandoned his job, Reynell started to regard it just as a means to earn his living, and began to look for some new creative activity. By a lucky coincidence he inherited some money from an aunt, and at around the same time attended a performance at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival by the Contest of Pleasures trio – British saxophonist John Butcher, French clarinettist Xavier Charles, and German trumpet player Axel Dörner. He was very impressed with the performance and asked if there were any plans to release the recording.  The answer was 'no' and this became a challenge for Simon.  Thus in November 2006 the Another Timbre label was born, the first release being 'Tempestuous', the performance by The Contest of Pleasures, which took place in an old church during a storm which can heard in the quieter passages of the recording.  The CD is a wonderful example of the interplay of three instruments which hang in ethereal unison or just exhale individual tones or chatter like birds. It is a drama full of silences and waves of sonic gusts which recall the work of Arvo Pärt.  

At the beginning Reynell created a list of musicians whose work he wanted to feature on the label.   
One of those leading the British vocal conjurer Phil Minton, and so the second disc on the new label was the concert recording of his performance with the French pianist Sophie Agnel. This is a very subtle album, where Minton sometimes works with breaths, sometimes groans and wails. Agnel concentrates her work on the strings of the instrument and only occasionally touches the keys.    Reynell has also released the second album by Toot, a trio again featuring Minton, but also Thomas Lehn on analogue synthesiser and Axel Dörner once more on trumpet. The disc contains two half-hour performances, one from Esslingen in Germany, and one from Klagenfurt in Austria.  The music requires complete concentration;  individual sounds and tones are pegged here and there, like beads of various shapes and sizes, on silent lines which sometimes touch and resonate together.

A totally different atmosphere is created on 'Midhopestones', a disc named after a small village near Reynell's home town of Sheffield.  As producer Reynell directed five musicians to express themselves creatively in an isolated church remote from civilisation.  Most of the sounds are not what you would normally expect from the instruments, from Minton's voice, through Rhodri Davies' harp, to Michel Doneda's soprano.  The abstracted nature of the music is enhanced by Lee Patterson's use of sound objects and the laptop of Louisa Martin.  The resulting music radiates a feeling of comfort in which the listener can focus without outside influences.   

On the contrary, a nervous minimalism emanates from the London club The Red Rose on a disc by the name of Hum, on which Rhodri Davies again plays, this time alongside Matt Davis's trumpet and electronics, the flautist Samantha Rebello and the Lebanese bass clarinettist Bechir Saade.  Thanks to the latter you can hear trace elements of oriental music, but they are suitably mixed in with the overall sounds of the improvisations.

The quartet of Tom Chant (sax and bass clarinet), Angharad Davies (violin and objects), Benedict Drew (electronics and objects) and John Edwards (bass) met for the first time in May 2006 to play extracts from the graphic score Treatise by Cornelius Cardew.  Since then the group has occasionally met to interpret indeterminate works by famous and less well-known composers.  At the centre of the CD Decentred is a thirty minute version of the late John Cage composition Four 6, in which each of the four musicians have to select twelve sounds which are distributed across the score by a random computer programme that Cage had developed.  The album also contains three duets by Michael Pisaro from his Harmony Series of compositions.  The three duets are inspired by poems by Samuel Beckett and William Bronk.  However the strongest moments are on the two  freely improvised tracks with the great names Activation and Decentring.  

Sometimes groups are started by Reynell, and then develop their own life.  This was the case with the quartet with the iconic saxophonist Evan Parker, surrounded by the gentle sounds of Max Eastley (electroacoustic monochord),  Graham Halliwell (computer and electronics)
and Mark Wastell (tam-tam, metal percussion and harmonium).  Their work A Life Saved By A Spider And Two Doves is a meeting of two generations of improvisers (Eastley as well as Parker being older), and the music clearly shows that free improvisation is timeless.

Simon Reynell is also a big supporter of the improvisation workshops led by the veteran percussionist Eddie Prevost (who is also a member of AMM), and chose various almost unknown players from the workshops for a special edition of four CDR's in the Another timbre Byways series.  (Unfortunately economics dictated that they had to be CDR's rather than full CD's).  The series documents the meetings of some of these young improvisers, again mostly in various churches which Reynell prefers to recording studios both for economic reasons and because they are more authentic environments in which to create music.  On one of these discs the trumpeter Jamie Coleman plays with saxophonist Seymour Wright and Grundik Kasyansky on electronics.  Together they produce an exquisitely refined and structurally rich work 'Control and its Opposites'.    On another of the CDR's Paul Abbott (electronics) plays with percussionist Leo Dumont and cellist Ute Kanngiesser on a finely constructed and concise piece entitled 'Loiter Volcano'.   

Reynell is not exactly an enthusiastic concert-organiser, but nonetheless founded The Unnamed Music Festival when he had to arrange a recording session with the trio of Martin Kuchen, Seymour Wright and Keith Rowe (their trio CD will appear in spring 2010).  The Festival also launched the  'Midhopestones' and 'Decentred' CD's, and took place at Cafe Oto in London, a venue that frequently runs concerts of improvised music.    

Presently the label plans a series of four discs devoted to the possibilities of the piano, which will include a radical realisation of John Cage's Electronic Music for Piano played by pianist John Tilbury and Sebastian Lexer on electronics.  

The founder of Another timbre has said:  “I don't have a clear vision of how improvised and contemporary music will develop.  Times are hard, and for the music industry in particular, so it is especially difficult for musicians trying to earn a living from such a marginal music. But I'm sure that in 20 or 50 years from now there will still be people improvising and experimenting, and I hope that for the next 30 years at least I will follow them and be able to help them. My particular area of interest at the moment is the increasingly fuzzy boundary between improvisation and contemporary classical music, and this is where I want Another Timbre to focus.  But that reflects my personal taste, and is not a manifesto or a demand that others share my particular enthusiasm.”

On the excellent website you can find the entire catalogue, links to interviews with some of the musicians, and Simon's recommendations of the most interesting recordings from other labels.              -     Petr Slabý