Gareth Davis & Scanner – Footfalls

Footfalls (Miasmah, November 22) is a collaboration between Gareth Davis and Scanner. The pair present two scenes, loosely inspired by the poets and novelists T.S Elliot and Samuel Beckett and taken from differing sides of the same desolate seaside setting. In the grip of winter, the seaside slants, becoming bleak, and it’s a sharp contrast from an endless summer, with lifeless, empty harbours and thick clumps of seaweed hanging from the crests of cold waves. The water temperature has dropped to that of ice in liquid form. This desolation manifests through a bass clarinet – played by Gareth Davis – and its long, slinking drone stretches the music, causing it to echo through a rainy day and along soggy sand. Tourists don’t see this side of the beach, and the music reflects this.

As ever, Scanner (Robin Rimbaud) provides an impressive range of electronic oscillations and manipulations. Sound waves ride shotgun on their own tides, pulsing and then falling back, bubbling up and receding into nothingness, sometimes bringing the staccato of dashes and dots, and other times shrouding the clarinet’s tone in an electronic-made fog that comes rolling off the ocean, pulsing, glowing. John Carpenter would be proud. The sharp synths that enter seven or so minutes into the eighteen-minute opener ‘Towards The Door’ cut through the electronics, coming out of nowhere and rising up over the cold beach. The wail of a siren. The change in register lifts the music up, even if it’s just a temporary perch, and there’s no forewarning to it, which increases the sense of unease. For the most part, it remains low, stuck in the gloom of an overcast day, dank and grey.

This won’t appear on the postcards when summer season rolls around. Towards the end, the artificial sounds of the sea bleed out, and the authentic sound of the sea’s waves replace the electronic waves via field recordings of the ocean. Although the lapping of the shore is calming and ambient (Eno didn’t create ambient music – nature did), frequently used in meditation and rest, it feels a little cooler here, a little disquieting. The whole piece is mesmerising.

‘Smokefall’ is more voice-oriented, as it repeats and distorts a running phrase. Like some kind of nightmarish mantra, the voice lies in the background, barely audible, a radio signal or a police band picked up by an amplifier and hijacked by accident.

The electronics are more jagged here, providing a scratchy rhythm of their own: we’ve gone past the seafront and now stand beside the cliffs, walking around the top of the promenade for a better view…although it’s still largely the same, a grey, rolling mass covering the entire horizon. Environments affect the mind and its emotional tides, positively, negatively, or nonchalantly, and this bank of water does little to lift the tonal depression. Although the bass clarinet has more of a range and chooses to move around a bit more, it’s still not overly flexible, and the electronics wrap it up, constricting it. In fact, Scanner’s electronics are central to this piece. Although prolific, these two musicians never seem to run out of ideas. Footfalls is another step in the right direction.

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