This following on from her previous CDs Ann and Bea, is naturally enough the third in a series of recordings by the very able Matthews – who’s highly valued as a free violinist in improvising circles. However the Ann and Bea CDs (so I have read) actually feature progressively less violin playing and by the time we check in here at stage Cècile, thereís very little of it at all! Instead Matthews plays the self appointed role of a “live convertor on the case”, performing extensive live reprocessing of sounds, no doubt using the LiSa (live sampling) software which she has made all her very own. Interesting that Phil Durrant is another UK improv violinist who is also heavily into live processing (of himself and others playing), and equally interesting that Kaffe Matthews has her own voice, entirely distinct from his. It’s the artist behind the paintbrush that counts, not the paintbrush – even when that paintbrush is a sumptuous electronic tool like this one.
In three long suites (recorded in London, Oslo and Chicago) Matthews delivers an unfailingly excellent and intense barrage of simply beautiful noisy music. It can be a devastating rush of closely edited noises to form a continuous tornado wind of sound, or a softly crackling passage of static. Some of it is as fast as a jet plane, some is slow and weird, like some bespectacled intellectual worrying away at an algebra problem. Perhaps we should be stressing the live / real time aspect of the work, rather than stressing the electronic-ness of it, because it’s in her quick thinking and intuitive moments that Matthews truly shines as a gifted and hard-working creator. If you ask me, any buffoon can tinker with their material in a studio until it achieves that overcooked perfection they so desire, but it takes real guts to take on the forces of unprocessed noise and wrestle with them live, in the amphitheatre surrounded by sweaty grunts (indeed it seems that often the noise of the audience themselves also get sampled into the warp and woof of the music), and this plucky musician manages to pin the opponent to the mat more than once. And itís not simply testosterone-driven feedback-feasting, much as I love that scene too! Matthews is turning in real craft, every jolting explosion and manic loop qualifies as a fully embroidered, triple fired, hand painted work of art.
In Resonance magazine (vol 6 no 2) Matthews enthused about her lovely toy, the LiSa device and all the peripherals associated with it. The software was designed in an Amsterdam studio by Frank Baldè and the great Michel Waisvisz, he whose “crackle board” turns up on a Derek Bailey LP and who played a strange monophonic synth with Steve Lacy (and others) in 1974 (see the CD Emanem 4024).
The possibilities this technology opens up inspire Kaffe Matthews: As a process for making new music as we end the 20th century, this seems an optimistic path to be taking. A whole music, that plays in sound but makes pictures, that crossers borders, that is rich and new, is active and involving, not mere spectacle; that is made through the place and the people there and then. Now, this seems something worth doing.
And is it worth hearing too? In spades!!!