Flock |cs234









“Rite” eases into existence so gently, you’re barely aware it has a beginning. It sort of covertly manifests itself—suddenly, there’s a great deal of activity, and it’s not so clear just when the transition from “nothing” to “something” took place. This is how we come into the first long track on Flock, Great Waitress’ follow-up to their 2011 debut, Lucid. For the next thirty-odd minutes, we are confronted with the unusual trio of Magda Mayas’ formidable extended/prepared piano, Laura Altman’s clarinet, and Monica Brooks’ accordion.

Flock is in keeping with Stef’s coinage from his Lucid review: “silenscape. ” Great Waitress is clearly aligned with the temperament and approach associated with labels like Creative Sources, Another Timbre, Edition Wandelweiser, etc. Why we associate these types of music so strongly with silence is a multivalent question. Surely, some do feature a great deal of silence; but others, like Flock, are actually quite “noisy.” John Cage’s fabled trip into the anechoic chamber taught us that no silence is absolute, and as creatures that are never free of immersion in sound, our notion of “silence” is more complicated and nuanced than the mere absence of sound.

Here, it may have something to do with an ambiguity of gesture, the act that seems to “say something.” Throughout Flock, musical gesture is often obscured, thwarting the idea of improvisation as a conversation. There’s a sense in which a track like “Rite” isn’t assertive in the way we expect, that the lines of communication between musicians can’t be made explicit to the listener. Our ears strain for the causal relationships in music: “here I am performing a discrete and intentional action, and here is the resulting sound.” An album like Flock throws cause and effect into question.

What is experienced, then, is a move from discrete to discreet: a shift from a distinct, discontinuous quantity of sounds to the considered production of a sustained quality of sound. What I feel when listening to Flock is a function of this continually refined and redefined character of sound. It is not patterns or structures that deliver me over a clearly-plotted path from one point to another, but a vague sense of movement that rafts me through a hazy, unbounded environment. Silence is evoked by the very delicate, ephemeral state of the performance, one the musicians work carefully and diligently to sustain (or better yet—not to disturb). At any moment this fragile state—this audible silence—could be shattered or dissipated by the slightest disruption (or the wrong kind of gesture). In this sense, Stef hit the nail on the head: “your personal volume and sound could harm what you hear.”
A quick note on the accordion: Brooks’ contribution is unusual—and ingenious—in that people don’t often capitalize on the accordion’s ability to create drones. Throughout, Brooks works by sustaining single notes or chords rather than creating unbroken chains of rapid melody. The result is rather orchestral—there’s a complex depth that calls to mind a large string section, and the upper reaches of the accordion’s timbre meld fluidly into Altman’s tempered clarinet.

In the end, Flock creates an uncanny listening experience. The results don’t sound random or without some “greater” governing order or logic, but they also can’t be easily pinned to human agency. For this reason, it’s both exciting and unsettling: we know that these three musicians created what we hear, that it is a direct product of their considerable talent, and yet we are haunted by a sense that there’s some other element at work, something we won’t ever be able to unmask. This isn’t to suggest some mystical or divine hand was lent to Great Waitress—it is solely the work of three impressive musicians—only that the result of their collaboration transcends our ability as listeners to fully grasp how everything comes together just so. And so it is. Dan Sorrells (The Free Jazz Collective)

Having not listened to their debut – 2011′s Lucid on Jim Denley’s Splitrec (for sure it’s there, somewhere, in the growingly ominous piles) – it was authentic pleasure for me to enjoy this concisely intense second chapter by three musicians who don’t like wasting time with enthusiastic idealism, Flock depicting trajectories dictated by the will of getting to the (luminous) point without stopping too much to contemplate the surrounding landscapes. For the large part of about 36 minutes, its constructions seem to respect a subdivision of roles according to which Altman is the “edge” and Mayas furnishes the perspective’s depths, with Brooks acting as a connective element across a timbral palette ranging from hyper-acute wind partials, impressive string bowing and soul-enriching resonances from the obscure meanders of the piano’s internal mechanisms, occasionally improved by the accordion’s penchant to droning, and by additional percussive hues.

Numerous splendid instants of concentrated asymmetry are scattered along the way. In the shorter track “Sownder”, Mayas starts totally immersed in a Tilbury-esque dilatory sequence of thin chords, Altman and Brooks intent in instigating a kind of interaction where the collective sonic organism transmits signals of disquiet while retaining a brooding essence. Indeed the whole album is pervaded by a sort of perturbed tranquility in which the single instrumental voices remain intelligible, never really subsiding even when it would look so. For Great Waitress the aspect of dramatization is not necessary, as they sensibly build a gradualness made of confident, but not ostentatious pronunciations devoid of typical climaxes. Coalescing over their due course, those somewhat introvert sentences recalibrate aspects of our conscious response to given inputs that may have been previously disturbed by adulterating factors. As one gets captivated by irregular rhythms and unsentimental noises, a sense of gracefulness materializes; a skilled assemblage of the acoustic constituents ultimately defines the record’s quality in a healthier variation on what was once (doltishly) called “reductionism”. Massimo Ricci (touching Extremes)

Finally, there is Flock [cs234] by the trio Great Waitress. These two long tracks are densely layered with long overlapping drones on accordion (Monica Brooks) and clarinet (Laura Altman) lying over the staccato interventions of prepared piano (Magda Mayas). The dynamics are generally robust, while the instruments’ individual timbres run toward the acute. Daniel Barbireo (Percorsi Musicali)

An improvisation trio consisting of Laura Altman on clarinet, Monica Brooks on accordion, and Magda Mayas on piano. Yes, three women – still a rare feat in free improvisation. Great Waitress features two long pieces of 27 and 10 minutes. Lots of textural playing, extended techniques, delicate forays, and waiting. Unhurried music whose rewards will come for the patient listener only. Not phenomenal, but fairly successful. François Couture (Monsieur Delire)

Embedded in the genre, which for lack of more precise identification is usually classified as reductionist, the multinational Great Waitress trio creates a program that is knotty as well as enticing. Overall the two improvisations here meld mesmerizing textures and time dislocation to play havoc with structure. However while common definitions of compositional order and instrumental conventions are put aside for collegial interface, there’s never a question that sounds are flowing chromatically or any loss of musical individuality
Organized in 2009, the trio combined the probing playing of Berlin-based pianist Magda Mayas, who has worked with the likes of saxophonist John Butcher and drummer Tony Buck, with an existing duo that had evolved from Sydney Australia’s Splinter Orchestra. Clarinetist Laura Altman is a composer with an interest in Balkan and electro-acoustic music, while accordionist Monica Brooks also composes for multiple computers as well as performing with such Aussie improv heavy hitters as vibist Dale Gorfinkel and flutist Jim Denley.
Although the textures that make up this Flock contain no computer processing, there are times that a combination of Mayas’ soundboard echoes and Brooks’ tremolo quivers join to create a solid ostinato. Meanwhile on “Rite” internal string scratches, pressurized tones forced through the clarinet and squeeze box whistles add enough grain to the surface so that the resulting interface doesn’t come across as a monolith. In fact, eventually the crackles, whistles and wheezes swell to a crescendo then dissolve slowly as if air is being let out of several balloons. Elsewhere, quaking timbres that are equal parts ringing key clanks, wet clarinet vibrations and treble accordion squeezes confirm instrumental identity on “Sownder”. More conventionally musical, the piece allows the three players to harmonize, with at one point the pianist’s string striking and chording making an individual impression until it too turns to pseudo-oscillations before the ending.
More sounds that create their own sonic definitions, the menu proffered by these Waitresses may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it certainly fascinates in novelty and experimentation, Ken Waxman (JazzWord)

My personal favorite out of this bunch of releases, a hitherto unknown (to me) trio, wonderfully named, comprised of Laura Altman (clarinet), Monica Brooks (accordion) and Magda Mayas (piano). Mayas' piano (inside and out) forms a strong spine around which Altman's ghostly clarinet and Brooks' quavering accordion wind. The first of two works, "Rites", is a sinuous, brooding piece, the trio presenting a wide palette of generally consonant sounds, one or two usually holding long lines, the other(s) wrapping themselves around the tones, slowly expanding outward, Mayas' plucked strings often evoking a koto. The other track, "Sownder", is sparer, more ethereal but equally strong, layers of high, ringing pitches beautifully placed. A fine recording, don't let it slip through. Hope to hear more from this trio. Brian Olewnick (Just Outside)

A sort of nightmarish sleepwalking that sound like tunneling by means of feeble whistles, sinister squeaking and frequencies which seems to dig metallic surfaces and gettting more and more amplified during their tortuous journey in the matter opens the interesting listening experience, which got painstakingly offered by Great Waitress, a trio of female improvisors consisting of Laura Altman (clarinet), Monica Brooks (accordion) and Magda Mayas (prepared piano), an ensemble of women - a rather unusual line-up in this field of music - that built two long-lasting tracks where they cross a wide set of extended techniques, bizarre dynamics and oblique sonic transitions in the beginning of 2013 in two different locations in Sidney. The first track, "Rite", that reaches more and more piercing sonorities and almost stunning minute hypnotic sonic fracking from the above-described tuning where amplification and impressive reverberations played an important role, got recorded by Jon Hunter at Paddington Uniting Church in January 2013, while the second track "Sownder", whose cavernous beginning let listeners figure out the quaking ways these performers follow to harmonize themselves as well as the disorienting oscillations that seal their perpetual tuning little by little, got recorded by Jim Denley at Glebe Cafe Church in February 2013. You are going to get easily ear-humped by this great waitress... Vito Camarretta (Chain DLK)

Flock is the second release from Great Waitress, their follow-up to Lucid which was released in 2011 on the Australian Splitrec label. Great Waitress consists of Berlin-based pianist Magda Mayas plus the Australian duo of Laura Altman on clarinet and Monica Brooks on accordion. Like its predecessor, Flockwas recorded in Australia. Compared to the five studio-recorded tracks on Lucid, where the twenty-minute title track stood out for its sense of drama, Flockcontains just two tracks, one twenty-seven minutes long, the other ten. Both are dramatic and atmospheric, having been recorded live at two different churches in Sydney in January and February 2013.
From the start of the longer opening track, “Rite”, Flock is recognisably that from Great Waitress, as their sound from before remains here. Frequently, the sounds produced by the threesome are not immediately identifiable as originating from piano, clarinet or accordion, many of them having more in common with electronically-generated tones. Of the three instruments, Mayas’s piano is identifiable most often, as she adopts her trademark individual playing methods which extract sounds from every part of her instrument, inside and out, including striking the frame to produce characteristic bell-like chimes. As before, she is the dominant player, giving the trio its distinctive sound. In the soundscape produced by the three, Atman’s clarinet comes a close second to the piano, repeatedly producing sustained single notes that ring out and command attention. On “Rite”, the accordion is less evident, maybe being masked by the other two, but on the second track, “Sownder”, Brooks comes into her own and the accordion sets the tone from the start.
However, this is not a competition between the three players for the listeners’ attention but a three-way collective enterprise. The music they produce is the sum total of all their contributions? at any moment the input from any of them can significantly alter its course or reshape it. The end results are the consequence of the entire process we hear at work, not of some pre-determined plan. At times the music they arrive at has the angular, jangling qualities of the incidental music to a foreign-language horror movie, but soon enough it can morph into something more laid back and chilled out. The trio do not seem to have planned to deliberately break or bend rules but, instead, to have chosen to follow their instincts, thus inventing their own rules with no obvious antecedents. Fortunately, the only rule they consistently obey is to constantly listen to one another and react appropriately... But what the hell — it works! John Eyles (The Squid’s Ear)