untitled

CD-R, 61 minutes

01 alto saxophone (1:26)
02 radio breath (32:19)
03 blood (27:34)

mark anthony whiteford: alto saxophone, radios, voice, percussion, electronics
recorded december 2008 (track 2), april 2009 (track 3) & september 2009 (track 1)

‘Zariba’ contains three solo pieces recorded at three different times, between December 2008 and September 2009. The first, and most recent, is a short, haunting alto saxophone solo; this is followed by the much longer piece ‘Radio Breath’, from 2008, in which the alto combines with two radios and miscellaneous other sound-producing devices. The greater length, and the employment of radios, means that less ‘control’ can be exercised: radios allow ‘unwanted’ sounds to suddenly enter the sound space and force reaction; they don’t allow the musician to rest easy. Case in point: at one point some cheesy R & B song comes on the radio, and, in reaction to this, the overall sound is raised up a notch, the intensity increases in reaction, radio static crescendos to drown out the song. Is this the destruction of the sounds of ‘human warmth and tenderness’ at the hands of faceless white noise? Or is it the effacing of the ever-present sound of the commercial, of product, by the random, those sounds which escapes marketisation? (Just imagine: ‘Top of the White Noise Pops, 2009!’)

What this piece really brings home to me, then, is how radio is a device with a really subversive potential which we don’t notice half the time. And even if we do notice it, and do attempt to use it in freely improvised contexts, it can become a tool too-easily reached-for, a cliché even: ‘ooo, randomness desired, I’ll just switch me radio on and maybe we’ll get some classical music or the football scores.’ But its use here illustrates just how effective it can be in agitating and prompting textural change and unpredictability. And it says something about the emptiness of the modern consumerist spectacle, reflecting and defying it at the same time.

The alto saxophone playing is similarly untied to set patterns, set modes of activity, escaping any association with jazz. Indeed, at times, the long, loud and breathy notes, held over the flexibility of a modulating radio texture, make it sound like it’s not an alto at all. Rather than a ‘duet’ for ‘human’ alto saxophone over ‘inhuman’ (random, only partially-controlled radios), everything meshes, everything merges. What also strikes me about this piece is the concentration: the focus on just one sound or set of sounds, the absence of any feeling that one has to go all over the place to say something meaningful.

Finally, a piece recorded after the much-publicized protests at the G20 London Summit of April 2009. As the cynical, or just the realists, might have expected, the contrast between media reportage of the behaviour of police and protestors differed sharply from eye-witness reports of what actually happened: as always, the ‘official story’ sanctions and legitimises certain actions by certain parties, while delegitimising and distorting the behaviour of those who have to face the consequences of those actions (i.e. those who are beaten with police batons, ‘kettled’ into police cordons, and otherwise intimidated and abused). The one case which the media did pick up on – because it could hardly avoid it – was the death of Ian Tomlinson, but what happened over the entire summit should be cause for concern – for those who care to pay any attention…In any case, while ‘Blood’ arises from certain political considerations, and from very personal reactions to being caught up in G20, it is by no means simple ‘agitprop’. Perfectly capturing the mood of a certain moment, in what I think is a very raw and affecting way, it is nonetheless not overriden by programmatic considerations. Rather, it is what it is, because it was made that way, because it had to be that way. As one could also say of all three pieces on this album.

David Grundy
October 2009

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