E139 (Entr'acte) Reviewed

I expected this duo’s debut to be a lot harsher than it actually is, which probably says more about me than either John Wall or Mark Durgan. The impression partly derives from Durgan’s work as Putrefier and his involvement in the reformation line-up of The New Blockaders: and partly from Wall’s sporadic live perform- ances in London over the past few years, typically last- ing no longer than 15 minutes and involving abrasive sprays of calibrated, acutely complex digital noise. It’s certainly not without some caustic passages; indeed it’s more notable for its discipline and restraint — Wall and Durgan limit themselves to a relatively narrow dynamic in terms of sound selection and volume and activity levels, yet locate a wealth of diversity within it. It’s a pleasant surprise to discover how well-matched Wall and Durgan are as a duo. Considering their contrast- ing backgrounds and approaches, their respective vocabularies mesh very successfully, yet retain a healthy amount of contrast and tension. Durgan’s contributions, generated from modular and pressure-sensitive synth- esizer, develop the vocabulary which began to emerge on his 2009 PAN album Ploughing Furrows From Rotten Burrows: thick, relatively slow-moving sounds — concrete-style slaps, oscillating granular pitches and crude percussive blurts which hint at looping patterns. Wall uses a computer, which presumably allows him to move and react more quickly. Consequently his playing is more volatile and diffuse, deploying fraying frequencies and jittery, sibilant textures, which evolve rapidly into detailed fractal-like clusters; or glassy surfaces ruptured by bursts of tonal splintering and structural disintegration. The album’s incident-packed six tracks — the 34 minute running time fairly zips by — are compiled from improv- isations recorded last July. And, given that neither is primarily known as an improvisor, the duo’s interaction is impressively accomplished. Wall is the more dominant voice on the opening track (all are untitled), and Durgan on the second. From there the balance of power slides back and forth, sometimes precipitously but always equit- ably. It’s often hard to tell who's doing what or how much is in real time or not — in the sleevenotes Wall is credited with “severe editing” (to my knowledge, he’s never ever been credited with “mild editing”). His excisions seem more evident on the album’s second half, in particular its labyrinthine fourth and fifth tracks, which continually shift focus and perspective. Regardless of how the music was created, or how much reconstruction was involved, this is a powerful start for a gratifyingly simpatico pairing. review by Nick Cain