cd ebb+flo – Andrew Culler (Brainwashed)

Kaffe Matthews, “cd eb + flo” AWcd0005-6
Annette Works

CD Eb + Flo marks a number of departures in the work of one of today’s most interesting sound artists. The double-disc is Matthews’ first solo release using theremin as primary sound source, following her retiring of the violin which had formed the core of her excellent first three discs (recently reissued as a trio). The artist’s method remains somewhat constant on Eb + Flo, involving the live sampling and laptop manipulation of sounds created with the theremin and projected via quadraphonic soundsystem throughout a particular room. Matthews sets up a system of microphones in each performance space (five in total for these discs), enabling the pure tones of her instrument to feed back in a manner unique to the architecture of the room. Environment plays the biggest role in the artist’s music and has never been as much of a factor as it is on this release. As with previous recordings, Matthews has placed additional microphones around the room to gather specific pockets of sound, influenced by audience movement, noise from outside etc. However, where on her debut, CD Ann, the artist credited these “hidden” mics with only “the essential wild card,” Eb + Flo is more sympathetic, the blank purity of the sine tones allowing for uncluttered, even languid compositions that seem to evolve with an ear trained, more than ever before, on the details and happenings of a particular space. The release’s double-length is perhaps indicative of new patience and openness in Matthews’ work. The sine tones could not be further from the frayed, “comfortable” strains of her violin, and the individual pieces on Eb + Flo are drastically minimal compared to the warm, droning pile-ups that fill earlier releases. But while these pieces are more demanding, they also maintain a grasp on the ingenuous nature and simple luxury that separates Matthews’ work from many similar-minded artists, such as fellow sine-stress Sachiko M. Several tracks take on a playful air, such as the two pieces that open cd eb, “Long Line Starting” and “Clean Tone Falling,” whose titles seem to poke fun at the solitary pure tones jetting across both in comical animation. Others bearing titles like “Hallo Vera” and “For Mama” echo Matthews’ commitment to keeping personality, and a level of immediacy, in her increasingly abstract style; the latter with its mournful drones and captured bird-songs (via open window?) is particularly subtle and rich with sentiment. Played at a volume high enough to register the intricacies and unique spatial referents of each sound, Eb + Flo manages a unique and fulfilling sound environment, full of movement and mesmerizing activity, and it is an expertly restrained effort as well, allowing the most intimate picture to date, of the artist’s process, her degree of involvement and particular response to what a space might offer, or give back.

Andrew Culler