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THERMAL | LANGHAM RESEARCH CENTRE AND JOHN BUTCHER

«Ice In A Hot World»
UNSOUNDS, 78U
«Six Hands at an Open Door»
PERSISTENCE OF SOUND, PS009

Thermal is the free improvisation trio of idiosyncratic sax player John Butcher, The Ex’ guitarist Andy Moor (and the head of the Unsounds label) and vintage analog synth wizard Thomas Lehn. Thermal was formed in 2001 as these three imaginative musicians who come from different musical backgrounds wanted to evolve along their personal routes to meet in free improvisations. The trio released its debut, self-titled album in 2003, and twenty years later its follow-up, Ice In A Hot World, that was recorded at AJMI in Avignon, France, in February 2020.

The dynamics of Thermal focus on spontaneous risk-taking and intuition and offers urgent, subtle and explosive sonic collisions of the distinct voices that betray all expectations. The tenor and soprano saxes with Butcher’s extended breathing techniques and his playing with feedback and extreme acoustics often transform these instruments into wind machines. The highly inventive usage of the vintage analog synth that often sounds like an unworldly noise machine and the jangled guitar lines of Moor. Twenty years of working together, and in other formats, turned Thermal into a powerful and intrepid unit, always searching for uncompromising, mysterious and unchartered sonic frontiers. Quite often it is difficult to know who produces which sounds, as most of Thermal’s sounds are unconventional and arresting and the trio weaves them into haunting textures, developed with their own accord and their own inner logic. But sometimes it surprises with a fleeting, lyrical but distorted melody like the one Butcher articulates in «Autumn Fireflies». The last, title piece even takes Thermal into a twisted dervish dance before taking its interplay into a magnificent meltdown. Hopefully, we will not have to age in another twenty years before we may enjoy the third album of this great trio.

The experimental British Langham Research Centre (LRC) came together in 2003 with the purpose of using a studio as their instrument: a studio with microphones and also, crucially, several ¼” tape machines. From the start, they were interested in manipulating sound on tape and in focusing on one sound source, or a small number of sounds. LRC is known for its performances of versions of 20th-century classic electronic repertoire by John Cage, Alvin Lucier and Christian Wolff. Still, during rehearsals LRC often spends time improvising, galvanizing and being encouraged by groups like AMM and MEV.

LRC works as a duo, trio, or quartet, and creates music using resources and ideas that, until recently, were considered obsolete, redundant and outdated. In Six Hands at an Open, LRC’s collaboration with the innovative John Butcher, LRC’s Iain Chambers (who is also the founder of the Persistence of Sound label) and Robert Worby use cassette machines, oscillators, shortwave radio and amplified small sounds while improvising with Butcher. He thinks that his performance with LRC is similar to tape-splicing and finds a direct, tactile connection between the idiosyncratic acoustic qualities of his sax playing and the concrète or electronic soundworlds.

Six Hands at an Open offers six distinct pieces that investigate the elusive and challenging interplay between the acoustic saxophone and the vintage, concrète and manipulated sounds. The brief «Giddy Liberty» attempts to make sense of such sonic collisions. Butcher, with delicate and precise breathing and whispering sounds, steers wisely the extended «A Structural Creaking» through otherworldly concrète obstacles, alien sonic streams and sudden noises. In the short «Everything is Immanent» LRC pushes for dramatic dynamics while Butcher ops for minimalist, ethereal sounds. «Fancies Are Curled Around These Images» offers how Butcher’s sax abstracts the electronic sonic articulations of LRC and how LRC multiplies Butcher’s extended breathing techniques, in perfect equilibrium. «A Thousand Small Deliberations» imagines a distant and strange landscape with the saxophone attempting to become familiar with its pitfalls. The last extended «Shadows in Place of Logic» flows with its arresting, shapeshifting sounds, guiding LRC and Butcher’s thoughts and actions, and never cease to surprise and delight with its sonic imagination.

Eyal Hareuveni

John Butcher (ts,ss), Andy Moor (el.g), Thomas Lehn (analog synth), Iain Chambers (cassette machines, oscillators, shortwave radio, amplified small sounds), Robert Worby (cassette machines, oscillators, shortwave radio, amplified small sounds)

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