The Sealed Knot are the trio of Burkhard Beins, Rhodri Davies and Mark Wastell. Without getting up from my seat to check I think I am right in saying they had released four albums before this one over what must now be a decade of playing together, albeit it infrequently. In fact, this new recording, suitably titled and we disappear was recorded at one of the group’s last concerts playing together back in early 2007. A couple of days after this recording, which was made in Switzerland I caught the group play what was their last gig together, over in Dublin. I wrote about that one here. The good news is that they are set to reform in January for a gig organised by Simon at Café Oto in London. The new group will see all three musicians playing either slightly or dramatically different instrumentation, so maybe this album will be the last chance we have to hear the trio as we have come to know them. In 2007, The Sealed Knot were probably the last exponent of the acoustic end of the so-called New London Silence group of musicians that rose into people’s attentions at the turn of the millennium. Later groups involving the same musicians included electronic elements, often with Wastell utilising his amplified textures, but like IST, Assumed Possibilities or Quatuor Accorde before them the ‘Knot relied heavily on the simple acoustic possibilities of the instrumentation to hand, and the close understanding between the trio.
Back in 2007 Beins played percussion, Davies harp (though electronic accompaniments, particularly eBows were a firm part of his set-up then) and Wastell double bass, an instrument he didn’t play anywhere near enough in my opinion. The Sealed Knot, by this stage were a ridiculously tight unit. The timing of the group, the understanding between its members was incredible, maybe as good as I have ever heard. Perhaps as a result of this symbiotic relationship the music they made had begun to rest heavily on rhythms and circular patterns, one member of the group repeating a sound and the others clicking into place with it, helping the music revolve in small interlocking circles. Sorry for the highly personal childhood flashback here, but at this stage the group reminded me of Freddy Phillips backing group for the opening titles of Trumpton.
and we disappear captures a characteristically sprightly performance from the group. The music contains little silence but plenty of space and delicacy. Although much more happens, and changes in shape and form come far more quickly I often think of Morton Feldman’s compositions when listening to this group at this point in their existence. There are the same irregular rhythms, the same attention to the quality of sounds and the way they decay, and that chamber music feel of acoustic instruments intertwining via simple systems to create little fragments of subtle beauty. Oddly though I am also reminded of techno music often as I listen to this recording. There are plenty of moments when a sound, or combination of sounds are left to run, usually in some kind of cyclical pattern, only for a further sound to suddenly be added to the musical system, like an 808 bass drum suddenly kicking in on an acid house track. That is how tight, yet excitingly sudden the music feels. On occasions there are new, more surprising elements added in. Davies’ use of the eBow brings something new compared to previous albums. One particular extended heavy tone takes the music off somewhere else, but his sudden cessation of its use clicks the music straight into a new rhythmic circle, the response of the musicians to the sudden removal of this sound really quite remarkable.
If you know the music of The Sealed Knot, if you purchased Live at the Red Hedgehog, the preceding album that was recorded just a few months before this new disc then you know what to expect from the group. There is little on and we disappear that we have not heard from them before, but that matters not. Great music is great music, and when a trio develop the degree of understanding apparent on this CD then I can lap this stuff up all day. However it is easy to see why the group chose to lay off playing together for a while after this last string of concerts though, and why the reformed group will play with very different instrumentation. All three of these musicians are renowned for constant change, and for not resting on their musical laurels. Perhaps as the group got tighter, and the music of The Sealed Knot became more recognisable things just got too easy for them, and rather than slip into a routine of regular appearances on the European festival circuit doing much the same thing each time it felt right to break things off and follow other threads for a while. While I support this move entirely it does no harm in my opinion to have this recording of the group in full flight spinning in my CD player right now. and we disappear is everything we expect it to be, gorgeously attractive, acutely sharp and a fantastic example of what can be achieved through the close interpersonal understanding between improvising musicians. A fine release indeed. Looking forward to what happens next.”
– Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear
burkhard beins percussion and objects
rhodri davies pedal harp and e-bow
mark wastell double bass, bow & beaters
If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to the RSS feed!