cd cécile – Will Montgomery – The Wire, July 1999

These striking sonic disturbances from Kaffe Matthews were recorded in London, Chicago and Oslo. Place matters, of course. As does time– real-time, an article of faith in her work, which is about exploring the situated moment. The specifications of the event are unknowable to the armchair listener, as very little is carried over to the recording but the aura. Yet it works. Matthews’s strategically placed mics pick up stray bits of sound, which are mixed in with her treated violin. Noise is funnelled into spectacular shapes, with almost every sound source quickly processed beyond recognition (there is less discernible violin here than in the past).

The first piece, recorded in London, is a tremendous stretch of aural sandpaper, a spool of scratched and fuzzy noises with ghostly tones occasionally discernible in the background. Though she foregrounds her violin playing for a brief coda, it comes only after she has chopped up and twisted her phrases.

The Chicago piece begins with treated bits of conversation. Almost immediately the clicks and sibilants of speech are whirled into a vortex of lowering sound with Matthews tossing in loops for good measure. Again, it is robust and hard-edged. Slowly a rich sound sculpture emerges, passing through sharply characterised episodes — in one particularly great moment, the piece morphs into Techno-inflected bumping. Perhaps her looping makes this one so approachable. Regardless, the roughness of some of her sounds doesn’t preclude them congealing into a deeply satisfying peripheral rhythm. It’s particularly noticeable in the Oslo piece, where a dreamy pulse is set alongside more eccentric patterns.

Matthews’s music suggests an inexhaustible range of sound, channeled with an apparently unerring — or should that read a productively erring? — touch. The choices she makes about, say, timbre and loop duration keep her multiplying possibilities just within check. A snatch of sound becomes Pandora’s box in seconds, yet the CD never sounds like a randomly tossed noise salad. Moment by full moment, it’s a thrill from beginning to end.

by Will Montgomery
The Wire
July, 1999