Fred Frith Accidental Review

Album. Released 27 January 2003.  

BBC Review

Avant axe hero Fred Frith mixes indeterminacy, noisy guitar and baroque prettiness in...

Bill Tilland 2002

Written as a dance piece and recorded in December 1995 and January 1996, this collection of eleven tracks celebrates Frith's compositional and conceptual genius as much as his chops.

Playing all instruments (keyboards, guitars, violin) himself, and adding bits of vocal weirdness, sampling and processing, Frith favours odd sonic textures and combinations and subtle rhythmic variation rather than any display of virtuosity or even conventional playing.

Speaking of this dance commission, Frith has indicated that he set out to incorporate random events, i.e., accidents, into the compositions (hence the title), but the chance elements are always integrated into the overall concept or shape of the various selections, and there is nothing careless about Frith's results.

A number of sonic themes emerge as the music on this CD unfolds. Perhaps the most striking and consistent thread is Frith's use of short melodic progressions made up of harsh metallic shards, bursts and slashes of distorted and/or detuned guitar, particularly in "hit and run," "their blood is black and yellow" and "incoming."

These sounds are often fascinating in and of themselves, but are ultimately even more fascinating for the way they seemingly change order and duration each time around. Frith is a far more aggressive composer than Morton Feldman, and superficially not at all the same, but he has borrowed Feldman's trick of altering repetitive elements almost subliminally, so that the listener never gets lost, but is also never quite sure of his or her bearings.

On other tracks, and sometimes in conjunction with the slashing guitar progressions, Frith uses "random radio tuning" or sampled recordings of
demonstrations, and the stuttering, sputtering texts seem to be struggling for coherence as the listener tries to incorporate them into their larger musical frameworks. The short "gatto nero" is a particularly effective example of order trying to evolve out of chaos, and Frith adds a rather jaunty violin accompaniment during the last half of the piece, almost as if providing encouragement.

On several other tracks, Frith uses a kind of vocalese, i.e., mouth noises, in the manner of Jaap Blonk or Phil Minton (one of these tracks, "absinthe memories," is even dedicated to Minton), producing an uninterrupted series of hisses, pops, clicks, gargles, gasps, wheezes and snorts which suggest both a pure appreciation of sound shapes and textures, and a struggle for articulation and meaning.Too much of this might have turned into an endurance contest for the listener, but it works well in the overall mix.

Frith also makes good use of ambient, somewhat sepulchral organ drones throughout (usually in combination with other elements), and he throws the listener a substantial curve on "fooled again" (maybe that's the point of the song title?) which is an unexpectedly gorgeous Baroque-flavored composition played by what sounds like treated reverb guitar and/or violin.

It's fairly standard practice for dance companies to commission "new music" composers to write (and sometimes perform) material for dance performances, and nearly all such work has moments of purely musical interest. But none that I can remember leaves such a strong overall impression as this one. Accidental is a real tribute to Frith's imaginative faculties.

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