Michael Cutting – STILLS

Michael Cutting - STILLS, reel film projector with a heap of tape against a black background.

The clunk with which Michael Cutting’s “STILLS” begins is an instantly recognisable sound for most people who are either above a certain age, or enjoying playing with audiovisual equipment older than they are: it’s the sound of a finger-sized metal or plastic button being pressed and mechanically engaging some kind of playback process. In this case, judging by album images and also by how it sounds, the button likely belongs to a modified cassette player, projector, or some other tape- or film-playing device with spinning wheels and other moving parts. Cutting is one half of Kinder Meccano (the other half being Vitalija Glovackyte), and the interest in DIY, modified, and adapted electronics spills over from that project into his solo work. “STILLS” is more focused, however, involving mostly manipulations of tape playback.

That clunk is followed by quiet; then gentle, swirling tones, ringing in timbre, looping, rhythmically tumbling round and over one another. It’s a concoction at once strange and familiar, soothing and anxious at the same time. The next piece’s uptempo, almost jazzy syncopated chords roll to halt, then start up again, joined by rough, sharp-edged tones. The pace then relents for a while, with gently screeching pitches over ambiguous warm chords, before a bass drop leads to quivering guitar rhythms. That slight jazzy tinge returns later on in the album, this time in hushed long notes from what sound like muted trumpets, quiet chimes with building hum, beep, and crackle.

Cutting’s use of melody — plaintive, jaunty, occasionally drifting off-key — perfectly suits the nature of his tape-based ‘instruments’, with their inherent flaws, uncertainties, and means of making sound. It is almost as if he seeks to give voice to the personalities of devices such as old tape decks and reel projectors, or at least project a certain character onto them. Take the rapid flurries of cheerful melody in the piece ‘SLATE’, for example, which eventually fade, stumble, and finally give way to slow, slightly sad chords: with a bit of imagination, one hears the mood swings of a playful mechanical child. “STILLS” is full of such attractive contrasts of melody, harmony, and rhythm, made all the more compelling by the ways in which they incorporate the material nature of the machines and processes that produce them. The album ends, back where it began, with the clunk of a button.

Michael Cutting

ONO

“STILLS” is released on 1 June 2018.

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