Henry Dagg is a veteran British composer, improviser, sound sculptor and builder of experimental musical instruments who formerly worked as a sound engineer for the BBC. His works include the Sharpsichord, a pin barrel harp commissioned for the English Folk Dance and Song Society, and a pair of steel sculptural musical gates for Rochester Independent College. Evan Parker needs no introduction.
Dagg and Parker, both live in Faversham, Kent, improvised together for the first time as part of the Free Range series in Canterbury, Kent, on December 2021. Parker played soprano saxophone, and Henry developed a new electronic instrument called the Stage Cage, to both process Parker’s live sound as well as generate its own sounds. The Stage Cage includes vintage, four valve test-oscillators, a pair of ring modulators, a frequency shifter, a chromatic zither, and a variable tape delay system. Dagg’s main performance interface is a “dynamic router”: a five-key controller, which is the bridge between most of the components of the Stage Cage. Parker says that this apparatus functions as a pre-computing sampler, but was hard to predict what Dagg was going to do with it.
Then Through Now documents this first, live meeting of Dagg and Parker, with a post-production mix and other treatments by Dagg. Parker has played with electronics before, mainly with his own longstanding Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, and electronic music has always been an essential part of his collaborations, but, obviously, never with Dagg nor with his inventive Stage Cage. Parker compared his experience to surfing on Dagg’s giant sine waves, while Dagg said that it was «like a trip through a forest, you’re very unlikely to follow the same route twice, and there will always be unexpected things happening». «I’m trying to do something and then something better happens. It’s a cliché to say, well, if you make a mistake, do it two or three more times, it will sound like part of the piece», Parker concluded.
This 56-minute improvisation demonstrates the fearless sonic imagination of both Parker and Dagg, always searching for unchartered territories and with great attention to detail and a totally free and unpredictable spirit, but their own way of suggesting a cohesive and coherent improvisation. Its arresting atmosphere visits abstract musique concrète, otherworldly, deep-space ambient journeys, and a careful but sometimes subversive and kaleidoscopic investigation of the soprano sax tones and overtones, live and processed ones. Towards the end of this performance, the tape machines were stopped, their reels reversed and set to play. The improvisation from then on was overlaid by a reverse reproduction of what Dagg and Parker had already been performing, with the reverse recording itself also being subjected to various treatments.
This album includes a 20-page booklet with a conversation between Dagg, Parker and the performance artist Karen Christopher.
Henry Dagg (stage cage), Evan Parker (ss)