Construction, Destruction, Recreation
Newsonic / newsonic10
Destroys New York
Newsonic / newsonic14
Pete Cafarella / accordion, piano, computer, Rafael Cohen / oboe, English horn, computer, Seth Misterka / reeds, computer.
CCM4 are a trio of core members of the Middletown Creative Orchestra. Although some features of that group’s music can be heard in their work, CCM4, unsurprisingly, sound very different from the large group from which they sprang.
“Construction, Destruction, Recreation” is a remarkably gentle record. The opener, “Composition One”, is a lovely, slow-moving dialogue of oboe and accordion accompanied by sine tones and, at other times, a quiet rumbling of digitised distortion. It’s atmospheric and rather anonymous, lilting but never lyrical, a chilly but not unpleasant ambiance which never becomes boring. Towards the end, Misterka’s ascetic alto joins Cohen and Cafarella for a semi-composed section combining polytonality with a bouncing ametrical but simple rhythm in eighth- and sixteenth-notes. It dissolves in turn into a frenzied free-for-all, which feels almost insensitive after the thoughtful tenty minutes which precede it.
The second track, simply entitled “CCM4”, makes heavy use of composition and, like the MCO itself, they seem to favour blocks of dissonant sound. Without the energy and hectic detail of the Orchestra, however, this approach risks being merely loud and unpalatable. The third and longest track, “Wesleyan University”, is more successful for being more varied. While the essentially lumpy style remains, it’s tempered by changing instrumental combinations and strategies. Misterka’s alto, which crops up here in some nice, however brief, solo moments, is far more appealing than the bellowing baritone his sports in “CCM4”, and Cohen’s Cafarella’s piano and accordion keep the pace moving.
Five months after “Wesleyan University” was committed to tape, CCM4 were invited to perform at Braxton’s Tri-Centric Festival in New York. The title of their piece probably indicates a certain frustration at that city’s continuing dominance of the avant garde, its notorious cliquiness and its status as the testing-ground for new, ambitious players. These Connecticut noisemongers are having none of it, as is immediately apparent from the incendiary opening; these repetitive, harsh chords are everything “CCM4” (the piece) tries but fails to be. It’s a promising start.
Although the sleeve notes apologise for the “aural havoc” of the performance, it’s actually a lot less murky and disorganised than one might expect. It helps that the recording is excellent, so that even at their most agonisingly loud, every computer and live acoustic sound can be heard. It’s invigorating and exciting stuff, at the edge of pure noise but certainly not overstepping it; conventional ideas about rhythmic and melodic units flit about beneath what can sound, if you drop into the piece at random, like a metal-shearing works.
Although Seth Misterka’s playing isn’t going to be to everybody’s taste, it’s a very accomplished version of that vocalised, gestural style mastered by Peter Brotzmann. Cafarella, as on the previous recording, is a star, and Cohen’s oboe also adds to the reediness of their ensemble work and provides swirling, fiddly solo lines when required. It’s their interation with their computers, however, which really gives this disc its bite. It’s not all full-on wailing, but when they turn up the volume they really do suck the paint off the walls, which is exactly as it ought to be. Elsewhere, there are quiet interludes, and even moments when one or two of them are playing slow, contemplative stuff while the other goes crazy in the background. This flexibility and openness to possibilities is the trio’s greatest asset.
CCM4 are carving out a very distinctive territory. They are not, really, an improvising band, at least in terms of listening; although they do improvise, there’s precious little by way of solos here. Instead, they seem determined to find a kind of “spontaneous composition” which actually makes sense. On “Construction, Destruction, Recreation”, the result is a rarefied and sometimes overly chilly music. The disc is certainly worthy of a listen, but it’s not always successful. “Destroys New York”, on the other hand, is a more turbulent performance which will be enjoyed by all those with strong constitutions. Richard Cochrane