A Doughnut in Both Hands
Emanem / 4025
Phil Minton /voice
Minton’s voice is a rich baritone tortured by horrible nightmares; a singing Goya consumed by something unspeakable. So what’s odd is that there’s no sense of darkness about this music. It’s not meant to remind you of a body in extremis, gurgling and crying out and roaring with pain, it just does. Seeing him performing live is akin to watching a medium in a sideshow seance, as he rocks back and forth on a stool, tossing his head as if unable to get comfy and seeming in constant danger of falling over entirely and being consumed by some kind of spasm which creeps out of his lungs and slowly along his limbs. Then, quite casually, he’ll reach out for his pint and smile at someone in the audience.
Minton’s techniques are too many and various to categorise. There’s everything here from overtone singing of the most exotic kinds right through yodelling to childish or animalistic noises. “Wood Song Two” somehow sums him up; the deep, gurgling voice of a child impersonating some kind of ogre employed in the services of a lovely, probably composed melody. Some of these effects are funny, some frightening, but all are very musical.
If Minton played a saxophone, it would be easier to listen to his music. It’s the fact that the voice is being so roundly abused that’s disturbing, because these extreme sounds are associated with non-musical situations, with screams and death rattles, the sore-throat singing of drunks and the babbling of lunatics. That detracts, but it adds something too. It detracts because it’s impossible to focus “purely” on the music. What it adds is the reason for that distraction. Minton’s music, unlike so much free improvisation, is about something. What, exactly, is a big question, but his appropriation of the sounds of madness and, above all, suffering for the purposes of making joyously liberated music is at its centre.
Whatever Minton means as a performance artist — if anything — he’s a musical force to be reckoned with. This writer admits to preferring the slightly more conventional earlier (1975) tracks on this disc than those from the early 1980s, which show a much more extreme figure emerging, but that more extreme figure is what Phil Minton, really, is all about. Perhaps most successful of all are the two performances of Lou Glandfield’s lovely and hilarious “Psalm of Evolution”. They’re accomplished, funny, scary, disturbing performances which sum up much of what the singer does, if only with a fraction of the techniques he has available. Richard Cochrane