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Crackle Party
VA AA LR
(Porta 2013)

Review by Chris Whitehead

I remember going to a neighbour’s bonfire party as a kid. Of course it would be safe as it was organised by adults in a decent sized garden where the fire itself would be contained and fireworks would be kept in a big tin and set off from a specially designated paved area. As one of the rockets was being launched from a milk bottle, a mishap occurred: Instead of soaring up into the night sky, it landed on the sloping roof of the house and began to slowly slide down toward the upturned faces of the onlookers. It seemed to take ages before the wayward missile eventually slipped off the edge of the roof and landed on the garden before meeting its bright, spectacular demise in a flower bed.

I recall not feeling completely safe, not knowing exactly what would happen and how people would react. It was very exciting. It was what happens when things seem to be under control, but actually they aren’t. They adhere to no rules other than those of physics, and attempts to fence them off, seal them in or control their movements eventually prove futile.

In between the things we can control and the things we can’t control are things where we have a vague idea of what might happen when we activate them but can’t guarantee any level of accuracy in our predictions. It seems to be this particular category of phenomena that attracts Vasco Alves, Adam Asnan and Louie Rice (VA AA LR). Crackle Party is made up of barely controlled releases of sound, like lifting the lid of a boiling saucepan for a second just to hear the steam escape, or touching two wires together to see what happens. Bzzzt!

The CD comes with three photographs that serve to illustrate the crackle fetish: The first, to coincide with Track One, shows the trio performing live as arms reach into the frame to manipulate unknown objects in the dark. Track Two’s is the violent, incendiary flare of pyrotechnics against a black sky, a bright white plume of smoke rising through a red glow. A fire extinguisher and a pair of industrial rubber gloves illustrate Track Three. These are pretty explicit references to the materials used in the construction of the compositions.

Track One is a walk along a quietly throbbing path of undulating bass beneath an unstable sky which threatens to burst at any moment. Clouds occasionally glow and subside. The air is full of the tension that precedes a storm, so much so that every so often the molecules in the atmosphere actually bristle with energy and instability, but the sky never breaks, the storm never comes.

Track Two begins with a flare of gas or fire that peters out to a series of almost footstep-like crunches of sound. Each discreet element is given room around it to expand into the given space, so even though there are three people creating this music simultaneously, they maintain the decorous idea of not invading each other’s personal space. Sometimes the eruptions of thermic activity sound like planes disappearing into the sky as they reach their allotted vanishing points. Maybe Track Two is a recording of three men lighting fireworks in a field? Maybe the footstep-like crunches are footsteps?

Track Three might involve welding equipment, gas cylinders, fire extinguishers, high pressures and hissing valves. Then again it might not. In any event we seem to be in a workshop as the sounds are distinctly light-industrial. Items are struck or gently tapped and tickled, valves are opened and closed. A bit of treatment through a delay pedal every now and then tightens the wrench and reminds us that we are inside a composition, an artistic construct.

You can approach the music on this disc from any point of view you like, but for me it works best as simply a joyous celebration of a certain type of unrefined, almost uncontrolled sound. No academic attempt to put it into context or to justify the inclusion of one type of fire extinguisher over another is necessary, although of course if deep contemplation of crackly pyrotechnics is your particular cup of tea, beard-stroke away to your heart’s content.

Just like a firework sliding down a roof into a crowd of onlookers, it’s the anticipation of chaos that is delicious, that and the release of energy that illuminates the garden and upsets the adults. Later we had baked potatoes cooked in the embers and we talked about what would have happened if it had landed in someone’s anorak hood.

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[VA AA LR]

VA AA LR website
Vasco Alves website
Adam Asnan website
Louie Rice website
Porta website