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RANDOM TOUCH Duologue/A Box And A Word
Yoken Boy Records(2008)

I'm not sure which of these two related CD's came out first. But if you ever wanted to start a debate about the nature of music then Random Touch is as good a starting point as any. While the band name suggests free form music, there's enough spirited interplay between the distorted guitar of Scott Hammill and explosive drumming and percussion of Christopher Brown on 'Duologue' (Tokenboy Records ***) to suggest there is at the very least a cohesion and union of spirit.

Indeed on the full band version of A Box And A Word (TBR53898) the four piece ensemble playing comes much closer to what is commonly understood to be a composition. Indeed, before venturing into some glorious cacophony and spontaneous ups and downs, 'A Box' opens with 'Floating In a Spiral' which could easily be either early Steve Miller or Man.

But the further Proggy organ inflections to be found on say 'On The Way' and the almost choral/ambient feel of the evocative 'Dancing in Moonlight' soon give way to an edgy, brooding feel of 'Changeable Weather'.

While the core duo make much of the use of spontaneity - the lack of edges, the leap into the void etc there is also the obligatory contextualisation that references influences like Sun Ra, Zappa, Can and King Crimson, but strangely omits people like Henry Keiser, Bill Frizzell and for that matter James 'Blood' Ulmer'. ****

Closer to home the UK music scene has had its own free from practitioners in the shape of the late John Stevens and Elton Dean, Derek Bailey, Fred Frith, Phil Miller, Keith Tippett and countless lesser known jazz luminaries who have all struggled to find a platform for such free spirited improvisation. The contemporary music world it seems remains ever sceptical of freeform work, having precious little by which to judge it by, and Duologue both adds to the prejudices and fiercely fights them by turns.

On the one hand looking at the bigger picture we can enjoy the little musical conversations, the complex interplays, the dense tension building interludes and their subsequent resolution, which provide the dynamics that underpin the project's imaginative playing. On the other hand there are moments when there seems to be a bout of feverish interplay which actually doesn't go anywhere, as in the case on the synth/guitar noodles and percussion of 'Somewhere'.

On the later cut 'Swivelling Down' there is a clear tension building presence of a buzz guitar punctuated by insistent cymbal splashes and busy percussive work, both desperately seeking a way out of a self imposed musical straight jacket. On 'Rooted Tendril' the music does seem to actually pay some heed to the title as the guitar evokes the feeling of spiralling upwards.

By the time of the closing 'Favourable Direction', Random Touch work up a sweat with repeated drones and some post psychedelic guitar that almost suggests a sense of progression. If you take the project as a whole then it offers increased coherence. The spacey guitar and echo reverb of 'Chit Chat' with its clusters of pressed drum rolls and Metal guitar growl is best understood when offset by the following moog sounding (guitar) noodles of the very short but aptly named 'After.'

The juxtaposition of one piece with another is repeated on the band album with the optimism and clarity of 'Resplendent' immediately following the clutter of 'State Flux'. If neither example is planned it must simply be intuitive. There is a core sense of purpose here, a statement about freedom of expression and about exploring 'the outside'. ***

These values and goals are very much present in 'A Box And A Word', though having dabbled with the ethereal, the ambient, the nightmarish and even with Nick Cave territory on the confusing 'Steady Flux (Dear X)', the album dips somewhat with some obscure voiced narratives that sound like third division Zappa. But, hey, as an exercise in simply pushing air molecules and seeing where it takes us, both CD's are an adventurous rollercoaster ride. Random Touch certainly live up to their name and the sparkling little moments of dazzling interplay suggest this two CD project offers more than mere unconnected musical chaos.

Perhaps we'd best leave that question to the philosophers or the likes of Penderecki.

Review by Pete Feenstra

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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