Back in October, I saw Jason Lescalleet put on a show with Graham Lambkin at Café Oto in Dalston. Aside from the self-imposed setup restrictions, the gig was totally unscripted; both artists shuffled their selection of mics, tape reel, and bubble wrap to develop a combined resonance that would be devilishly strenuous to replicate, should anyone ever feel the need to try. The performers seldom looked at each other, but their integrated output remained so extraordinarily tight. They knew exactly what vibes they wanted to create, and they tactfully pursued the ebb and flow of their chosen collaborator in lacing a beautiful and daring blend of electronic improv. The entire experience was a treat, a wonderful demonstration of how unidentified energy bounces between musicians as they ruffle their crushing fusion in the land of the free.
In spite of my tinted sense of elation, it was apparent that three attributes solidified the show:
1. Spontaneity: the willingness to take reflexive risks in front a crowd. This led to a spirited application of effects and bewildering aural combinations.
2. Partnership: the performers’ ideas were interdependent and existed in a purely sonic realm. Each was enraptured by how the other’s music was connected with his own, and this drove the work forward into uncharted territory, spurring the spontaneity.
3. Tools: the equipment these guys allowed themselves access to was pretty outrageous. The effectiveness of points 1 and 2 were then increased because of what was at stake (so much more could have gone “wrong” with a microphone wrapped in a plastic bag).
Improvisation demands precision in a setting shrouded by the very nature of uncertainty. When the music is hinged on experimental forms of instrumentation and expressed through the reflexes of a duo, the consequences are by no means less limited than they might otherwise be, which is why the artistic relationship between Lescalleet and Lambkin plays paramount to their joint capability. Although Giuseppe Ielasi and Kassel Jaeger operate in similar spheres, Parallel / Grayscale is their first collaborative effort to date, and it binds two separate performances by the artists operating as a pair. Despite their accomplishments as solo musicians, the value of this partnership remains intrinsic to their success at being able to read one another in the midst of spontaneous production, without looking over their shoulder.
Ielasi has played a pivotal role in breaking new ground for Italy’s experimental scene, particularly in his technical mastery for Milan-based Alga Marghen recordings and in establishing his highly acclaimed Senufo Editions. Kassel Jaeger has released three full-lengths through Senufo, while the record at hand constitutes his second album for Editions Mego; he is also a sound engineer for the Parisian electro-acoustic investigation unit Groupe De Recherches Musicales. Although the former has a considerably broader background in free guitar and impromptu audio, the prospect of such practitioners coming together for a double-sided LP carries gargantuan cachet. Parallel / Grayscale combines the work of two live sessions; the first of which took place in Paris around October 2011 and had more of an analogue focus; the second was captured in Oreno, in June 2012, and was dominated by the use of laptops. Both performances allowed for the pinnacle attributes that made the Café Oto show such a charmer. Where the divergence lies is in how the material has been treated.
You will have noticed the calendar gap between both recording and release, indicating the approximate amount of time spent meshing these pieces together. This does of course make the project only part improv — an unconventional semi — and though it never claimed to be more than that, it does seem a pity when taking into account the artists’ backgrounds. However, it also makes a great deal of sense given Ielasi’s decision to move in the direction of remixing, reprocessing, and controlled documentation. Spontaneity is therefore difficult to measure, but both tracks share a compact catalog of chapters, which are clearly identifiable and allow for a menagerie of entry points into what might otherwise be considered a tricky score. Where cautious drones leak into scattered mechanical whirring and spasmodic bleepage, the angle of either live set becomes awkward to pin down. The treated material also binds conflicting deposits of tools used for both sessions, causing analogue fragments to bleed directly into laptop choreography — a salient listen with a schizophrenic bent.
The resulting methodological combo remains pegged to any immediate reactions that occurred during the initial performances. In the context of Lambkin and Lescalleet’s effort, that would have been demarcated by trundling tape loops embedded within a cacophony of choral drone and abrasive crackle. Ielisi and Jaeger’s world is much more refined, guided by its own robotic mechanisms. An infatuation for harsh reverberation and rough treatments scattered across ambient planes, the album’s mood embodies the degradation of spoiled engines or tired rotation blades, all of which come couched in the artists’ abundant appreciation for their original recordings. None of this really matters though, for even if the energy that existed in the throes of each performance had been laid to waste and forgotten forever, every record or concert is an experience after all, just as any other.