THE SEALED KNOT: and we disappear - REVIEWS

The Sealed Knot is the trio of Burkhard Beins, Rhodri Davies and Mark Wastell. In the early 2000s the group spanned the two key sites of Reductionist Improv: London and Berlin. The musicians certainly cultivated dialogue between the cities, but, when I interviewed them for The Wire around that time, they were already unhappy with tags such as Reductionism, lowercase improv or 'the New London Silence'. There was a sense that the music was moving too swiftly to be caught by such labels.
It was also, even then, often too abrasive for the various quietist tags to stick. This harder, more outward-facing dimension of their work is strongly apparent in parts of 'and we disappear', a single 40 minute piece recorded live in Switzerland in 2007. While the early work betrayed an interest in contemporary composition - the spaciousness of Feldman, or the textural vocabulary of Lachenmann - the more recent work is drawn to slow development and long tones.
At the heart of the piece is a series of jarring high-pitched tones from Davies, working with an e-bowed harp ((- in fact it's Beins bowing a bell plus a chime -)), and a long answering sequence of bowed double bass from Wastell. Beins provides a sensitive, ever shifting setting for these sounds, housing them in an ambience that moves between recognisable percussion instruments and unidentifiable 'objects'. A feeling of communication through shared spatial and temporal awareness comes to dominate the listening experience. The album doesn't sound like three people engaged in virtuosic explorations of particular instrumental vocabulary. Instead, these are collaborative sound makers, loosely in the tradition of AMM or David Tudor's realisations of John Cage, forging music through whatever means meet the needs of the moment. While electronic music is an influence, it's the joint involvement with the tactile demands of objects and instruments that gives this music it's urgency.
- Will Montgomery, The Wire -

Music performed by Burkhard Beins (percussion, objects), Rhodri Davies (pedal harp, eBow) and Mark Wastell (double bass, bow and beaters). The immediate feeling, as we're listening to the splendidly rich pounding with which this single 38-minute improvisation begins, is that Wastell has replaced the sepulchral nature of the beloved tam-tam by taking advantage of the analogous qualities of the bass which - aptly stimulated via arco and beaters - enhances our will of comparing those stifled hits to sounds that might directly be connected to the vibrational/irrational essence of perception. The most in-your-face aspects of this set are probably represented by the myriads of overlapping cells engendered by Beins through his click-and-scrape abrasive artillery, with which he produces sheer ruggedness, static groundings or lopsided patterns. Davies stands behind glowingly terse materializations of an otherwise uncatchable evanescence, putting the unlimited duration of the bowed pitches at the service of the inherent concept while keeping an eye on an unfathomable harmony, only expressible by musicians in perpetual state of alertness. The paths followed by The Sealed Knot are completely visible, not hiding secrets or dangers, yet one constantly experiences a sense of ignorant frustration, a 'there's much more than this' belief emphasizing their rigorous instrumental interrelation. Obvious disparities turn into a marvellously harmonious corporeality, outward-looking intuitions leading us to a zone where details, names and sources donŐt matter anymore. All we need is closing the eyes and welcoming the sublimation, ultimately lulled by a massive synthesis of auspiciously beneficial symptoms. The conclusive rarefaction - three men pushing gestural nakedness at the forefront in a parallel exhibition of dynamic control, before raising the intensity level for the very last time - is a virtual fusion of the inexistent extremities of an endless cycle.
- Massimo Ricci, Temporary Fault -

The Sealed Knot, the trio of Burkhard Beins, Rhodri Davies, and Mark Wastell, may be one of the definitive groups of the generation of European-based improvisers working at the start of the last decade. (When the group did one of their first tours around 2000, it was billed as "New London Silence meets Berlin Reductionism", as Wastell recalls with a laugh in his interview elsewhere on this site.) Ten years on, and not only have those terms been debated out of existence, but the nascent vocabularies they were attempting to label have been absorbed and reworked by a new generation of musicians. Of the four previously released Sealed Knot recordings, two were ridiculously limited editions and all are long out-of-print. This live recording, from the 2007 Ear We Are Festival in Switzerland, is a consummate example of the refined, spontaneously composed forms the three have mastered, working with a concentrated range of elemental acoustic properties of bowed and scraped cymbals and drum heads, bowed and beaten bass, and harp harmonics and overtones. Beins, Davies, and Wastell construct a entrancing sound structure, and are so synched in to the collective development of the piece that, at times, it almost seems as if they're playing from a score. There's a coursing undercurrent that flows both from the timbral colors of their respective instruments and the way they balance and control attack and sustain. Overtones and harmonic partials cycle against each other to create quavering oscillations, and the use of implied pulse is floated through in mesmerizing shadow waves. They also work with dynamics and volume, building a palpable sonic presence and then exploding it to place discrete gestural events against each other. The trio reconvened in January to celebrate the release of this CD. Let's hope that it doesn't take three years for the results of their recent meetings to make their way out. And that maybe their previous releases will find their way back into print.
- Michael Rosenstein, Paris Transatlantic -

Live in Aktion beim Ear We Are Festival 2007 in Biel, legen mir Burkhard Beins (percussion, objects), Rhodri Davies (pedal harp, ebow) & Mark Wastell (double bass, bow, beater) nahe, ganz Ohr zu sein, wenn sie, schabend, vorsichtig tockend, wie Grillen zirpend und mit kleinen Motörchen ihren Trick des Unsichtbarwerdens vorbereiten. Aua! Da durchsticht mir doch einer glatt die gestellten Lauscher mit spitzem Nadelstich. Ja will er die auffädeln, um sie sich als Trophäe um den Hals zu hängen? Sapperlot! Das Trio geht an sich mit der Sorgsamkeit von Mikrochirurgen (ich hör mich Mikroschurken nuscheln) zu Werk, schabend, flirrend, ebow-dröhnend. Schon so, dass man sich einhören kann in das 'Singen' des Ebows und dickbauchige Timbre des geplonkten Basses oder des brummig gestrichenen zu fein klirrenden Cymbals. Vieles bleibt zwar 'undurchsichtig', was die Spannung aber nicht mindert. Im Gegenteil. Nach 20 Min. ist ein Höhepunkt erreicht. Beins wechselt zu schleifenden Geräuschen, Wastell zu monotonen Basszupfern. Metall sirrt (von Vibrator oder Ventilator leicht touchiert), die Tupfer werden synkopiert, setzen ganz aus. Der Ventilator schnurrt ein Luftloch, die Basstupfer beschleunigen automatenhaft, Beins erzeugt ein rollendes, rieselndes Kreiseln. Dann wieder ein schabendes. Die Bassausschläge werden größer, verstummen. Jetzt nur das Schleifen. Dann plinkt und ratscht es plötzlich drahtig in die Beinahestille - Davies, bisher Mr. X. Beins antwortet mit zartem Ding und Dong und glöckchenhell nachhallendem Pingggggg Pingggggg Pingggggg. Spröde Harfenzupfer dazu und wieder feines Sirren. Dann perkussives Rauschen und heftiges, schrottiges Hantieren, das mehrfach abrupt abreißt für extra feines Gezirp. Fast etwas unvermutet kommt dann der Grinsekatzen-Effekt. Ein letzter Atemzug - und die Drei sind weg.
- Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy -

The Sealed Knot is, perhaps, a real band (...) A highly delicate and refined interaction between three well accomplished players on the scene.
- Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly -

So four more releases from the Another Timbre label then, bringing the total number of discs to appear on Simon Reynell's labour of love close to thirty in just a couple of years. With four or five more planned for early 2010 AT has become the most prolific source of good quality music in no time at all. This new batch includes a release by one of my favourite improvising groups ever, The Sealed Knot. Not a bad way to keep things consistently strong if you ask me...
The 'Knot (as all the cool kids know them) are the trio of Burkhard Beins, Rhodri Davies and Mark Wastell. Without getting up from my seat to check I think I am right in saying they had released four albums before this one over what must now be a decade of playing together, albeit it infrequently. In fact, this new recording, suitably titled and we disappear was recorded at one of the group's last concerts playing together back in early 2007. A couple of days after this recording, which was made in Switzerland I caught the group play what was their last gig together, over in Dublin. I wrote about that one here. The good news is that they are set to reform in January for a gig organised by Simon at Café Oto in London. the new group will see all three musicians playing either slightly or dramatically different instrumentation, so maybe this album will be the last chance we have to hear the trio as we have come to know them. In 2007, The Sealed Knot were probably the last exponent of the acoustic end of the so-called New London Silence group of musicians that rose into people's attentions at the turn of the millenium. Later groups involving the same musicians included electronic elements, often with Wastell utilising his amplified textures, but like IST, Assumed Possibilities or Quatuor Accorde before them the 'Knot relied heavily on the simple acoustic possibilities of the instrumentation to hand, and the close understanding between the trio.
Back in 2007 Beins played percussion, Davies harp (though electronic accompaniments, particularly eBows were a firm part of his set-up then) and Wastell double bass, an instrument he didn't play anywhere near enough in my opinion. The Sealed Knot, by this stage were a ridiculously tight unit. The timing of the group, the understanding between its members was incredible, maybe as good as I have ever heard. Perhaps as a result of this symbiotic relationship the music they made had begun to rest heavily on rhythms and circular patterns, one member of the group repeating a sound and the others clicking into place with it, helping the music revolve in small interlocking circles. Sorry for the highly personal childhood flashback here, but at this stage the group reminded me of Freddy Phillips backing group for the opening titles of Trumpton.
and we disappear captures a characteristically sprightly performance from the group. The music contains little silence but plenty of space and delicacy. Although much more happens, and changes in shape and form come far more quickly I often think of Morton Feldman's compositions when listening to this group at this point in their existence. There are the same irregular rhythms, the same attention to the quality of sounds and the way they decay, and that chamber music feel of acoustic instruments intertwining via simple systems to create little fragments of subtle beauty. Oddly though I am also reminded of techno music often as I listen to this recording. There are plenty of moments when a sound, or combination of sounds are left to run, usually in some kind of cyclical pattern, only for a further sound to suddenly be added to the musical system, like an 808 bass drum suddenly kicking in on an acid house track. That is how tight, yet excitingly sudden the music feels. On occasions there are new, more surprising elements added in. Davies' use of the eBow brings something new compared to previous albums. One particular extended heavy tone takes the music off somewhere else, but his sudden cessation of its use clicks the music straight into a new rhythmic circle, the response of the musicians to the sudden removal of this sound really quite remarkable.
If you know the music of The Sealed Knot, if you purchased Live at the Red Hedgehog, the preceding album that was recorded just a few months before this new disc then you know what to expect from the group. There is little on and we disappear that we have not heard from them before, but that matters not. Great music is great music, and when a trio develop the degree of understanding apparent on this CD then I can lap this stuff up all day. However it is easy to see why the group chose to lay off playing together for a while after this last string of concerts though, and why the reformed group will play with very different instrumentation. All three of these musicians are reknowned for constant change, and for not resting on their musical laurels. Perhaps as the group got tighter, and the music of The Sealed Knot became more recognisable things just got too easy for them, and rather than slip into a routine of regular appearances on the European festival circuit doing much the same thing each time it felt right to break things off and follow other threads for a while. While I support this move entirely it does no harm in my opinion to have this recording of the group in full flight spinning in my CD player right now. and we disappear is everything we expect it to be, gorgeously attractive, acutely sharp and a fantastic example of what can be achieved through the close interpersonal understanding between improvising musicians. A fine release indeed. Looking forward to what happens next.
- Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear -

Moins de quarante minutes enregistrées ˆ Bienne (Suisse) en 2007 : And We Disappear donne une autre fois à entendre Burkhard Beins (percussions, objets), Rhodri Davies (harpe) et Mark Wastell (contrebasse), murmurer ensemble.
En conséquence, nait un monde ou les crépitements valent pour intonation, où les sursauts mesurés anéantissent les aigus percants dans lesquels la rumeur instrumentale avait failli se fondre. Et puis, deux notes tombent de la contrebasse qui convainquent toutes les expressions d'abonder dans leur sens : Beins frotte plus nettement ses percussions ou traine ses objets de peur qu'on ne le remarque, l'archet de Wastell insiste aussi et l'e-bow de Davies chante ses lignes flottantes. L'introduction, endurante, a ainsi laissé place à de plus vigoureux jeux de construction et de résonances. Un coup sec sur le cadre d'un tom, au moment adéquat et que l'on n'attendait pas, fera tout disparaitre.
- Guillaume Belhomme, Le Son Du Grisli -

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