Graham Dunning and Colin Webster-OVAL: Album Review

OVAL cover art

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Free improvisation and electronic drone music are logical artistic partners.  Both lie somewhere within the idea of long term development with little structure other than basic thematic progression.  On Oval, a new tape off of the Tombed Visions label in Manchester UK, electronic sound artist Graham Dunning and baritone saxophonist Colin Webster trade ideas, each taking their usual genre placement to its very fringe, offering a minimalist piece that inspires intrigue from the very start with ominous silence growing more and more anxious as the tape presses forward.  Throughout the project, each musician does well to model their sound off of the musical styling of the other making for a united duet.  Perhaps this becomes a bit of a limitation as the second song feels a bit more arduous than the second, the sounds again developing within the same exact sphere, rather than exploring the possibility of juxtaposition.  Nonetheless the musicality reigns true, texture becoming an ever-important subject matter.

Opening with surface noise, the project first uses anticipation as a medium for inspiring focus from the observer; breathy saxophone melodies match the static electronic texture with angular bass lines passing underneath.  The piece slowly gains more traction with the saxophone finding louder and louder vibrations, building upon the starting point established by the initial breath attacks.  Towards the middle of the track the static electronics clear up a bit, a clear drone sound accompanying the distressed saxophone lines instead, providing contrast as the piece presses forward with even more ominous stretches of silence.  Clear drones lead the piece out, a dark wall of sound helping to find some level of resolution by the piece’s end.  On the second track of the album, some similar developments occur within a slightly different take on aesthetic.  Again, breath noises spill out of Webster’s sax, but this time the accompanying electronics attempt to achieve a matching tonality with fluttering sound effects.  As this piece moves forward there is a bit more of a dive into emptiness, a considerable amount of time spent dwelling on the clicking of saxophone keys and the popping of electronic noises, ending with final sketches echoing off into the void.

When it comes to constructing a musical relationship, sometimes having too much in common can be a bit of a hindrance, which somewhat comes into play on this project.  Rather than providing instances of push and pull, Webster and Dunning spend most of the tape matching each other’s musical conception.  This results in an interesting exploration into the textural common ground between extended saxophone techniques and electronic sound effects, but the pair may have been able to create more contrast by emphasizing tension between each other’s sound, thus making the tape a bit more capturing throughout.

As far as development goes, the two are masters.  The initial ideas on the project manifest themselves in the large scale thematic points that follow, making for a lot of cohesion.  Each sound is earned from long periods of repetition with variations building upon one another amassing tense walls of sound.  Overall, the piece works well, perhaps a bit more could be done in terms of contrast, but the tape is certainly worth a listen nonetheless.

-Donovan Burtan

The two musicians clearly have a knack for minimalism.  A bit more give and take could’ve made the project a bit more interesting, but the end result comes together quite well. 7/10


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