DBA Recommends: Bass Clef
Bass Clef was once described to me by a friend not usually known for his generosity of spirit as a ‘real artist’. In a world where everything from brazen commercialism to obscurantist noodling qualifies as art, the idea of what a ‘real’ artist might look like is elusive. I’m inclined to agree with the sentiment though. Ralph Cumbers is a man who has created an idealogical weld between rave and experimental music via his compositions almost as a challenge to his own abilities. At times it has been an obstacle, some might say. He hasn’t always found an audience receptive to his work, and his unerring commitment to disparate strands of influence has proved confounding to some. In recent years though his palette has become more focussed and, not least via his unmissable Open Hand Real Flames show which airs on NTS monthly, his message has become more refined. The results are simply breathtaking.
Orezero as a whole sits somewhere between classic GRM long note experimentalism and the eccentric renaissance work of Carlo Gesualdo. The obvious intersection between those two eras is the interest in the organ style additive layering of tones, and it’s a soundworld which is perfectly suited to the deliberate, raw energy of Bass Clef’s music. On One Tree Island, for example, the strings which line the flanks of the stereo image sound like they might come from a Farfisa or a Mellotron emulator. They provide the perfect accompaniment to the central harmonies, neither hi-fi nor lo-fi but completely avoidant of that dichotomy, inhabiting a non-space which syphons sounds before it has even touched the real world.
Drums do feature on the LP, but whereas in his early work Bass Clef deployed percussion to power his grooves and drive his rhythms, here the digital congas become more like the strum of a mandolin or a lute. They feel more solemn, more grave, and yet still tense and stepping. This new poise, neither in fifth gear or first but finding pockets to explore in between, suits Cumbers well. On the supremely titled Slowcrowflow it even provides a window through which his love of rave can be observed via euphoric M1 piano stabs, unexpected but somehow also perfectly fitting. By this point the listener is somewhere between the famous lake location of John Martyn’s Small Hours and the BBC Radiophonic Lab, brilliantly disoriented in an age where real escape is harder and harder to come by.
Orezero exists on cassette and digital formats presently. It doesn’t matter that no vinyl is available – the format isn’t best suited to the rich overtones of works like this, but perhaps somebody will think to preserve it on wax nevertheless. If wax construes some sort of magical everlasting presence on a piece of music then this, more than almost any other, deserves it.