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tim hodgkinson | pragma

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Tim Hodgkinson

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Recommended Records TH1

Multi-instrumentalist Tim Hodgkinson has long proved a slippery customer to taxonomists: a free improviser who composes and who used to play in a legendary, if not quite famous, rock band. The days of Henry Cow long behind him, it’s good to see Hodgkinson is still improvising, still studying anthropology, and still writing music.

The rock influence certainly seems to remain, particularly in the pulse-based rhythms which keep on emerging in these five chamber compositions supplemented by a tape piece. Hodgkinson uses ostinato-like figures to build textures over which melodic, rhythmic and timbral material sits. Mostly, this material is interesting; sometimes, as in the piano part near the start of “Black Death and Errors in Construction”, it can turn unexpectedly from foreground into background. Indeed, this ambiguity between the two functions is a strength which is explored in some pieces more than others, and nowhere does Hodgkinson leave the solo/accompaniment paradigm completely behind.

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His note-choices are determined by neither tonality nor serialism. Indeed, at times they seemed impressionistic, even Debussian, particularly in his piano writing. Sometimes these gestures turn into a kind of schlock Hollywood modernism (strong echoes of those “shower scene” chords from Psycho, even) but this doesn’t happen too often. Sometimes, as in the organ writing in “Mala; Elated”, his use of harmony is extremely thoughtful and effective.

Structurally, the pieces have an episodic quality, though at their best the transitions between their sections are smooth and organic. A becomes B becomes C becomes D. This linear form is a risk, however. The “becoming” sections inevitably feel more accomplished, more satisfying; but the process could go on indefinitely. Further, iof this process of evolution should become less than compelling, the music invariable fails and it will be difficult to win over the listener again. Hodgkinson meets the challenge admirably, but he doesn’t do it without a few glitches.

The tape piece — “Shhh” — is a collage of found and composed sounds, almost entirely vocal and often interestingly distorted by lo-fi analogue recording methods. With its long silences or near-silences punctuated by frenetic activity, this could have been a lost piece from Berio’s Coro. Of course, the odd burst of industrial static or over studio manipulation tells you that this is something from the 1990s, and that’s a strength too. Richard Cochrane