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Big Wad Excisions. COPPICE
(Quakebasket Records 2013)

Review by Caity Kerr

Here are some lines from the promotional literature:-

…have now blasted open the gates for them to rip through the status quo of musical law, and help redefine the future of music.

Aiming for an ‘impression of transparency’

All throughout Big Wad Excisions, you can hear music coming into being.

I’d give that one out of three only because I’d like to hear more about the impression of transparency’ which could be an interesting musical project. The rest is unfathomable nonsense, at least that’s my opinion for what it’s worth – if you want people to take your music seriously, then write something serious and meaningful about your music. The caveat is that the musicians possibly didn’t write this themselves. Make of that what you will, but statements like these really belong of the back cover of popular novels. On a brighter note, the music compensates for this unfortunate rhetorical display.

Coppice are a duo – their previous album Holes/Tract, music for pumps, bellows, customized boomboxes and electromagnetics, has been described as hard to pigeonhole and contemporary without playing to fashionable idioms. It would be interesting to consider whether Big Wad Excisions sustains the very high musical standards of the earlier album. The strengths, or strength of this duo has been the art of walking a very fine line between making the very best of severely restricted resources, as in the finest of contemporary instrumental free improvisation, and collapsing into monotony. They spend most of their time walking on the right side of this line, throwing in something of added value in their underlying conceptual approach to music.

So moving from an album like Holes/Tract to a new album, if Coppice don’t choose to stick to what they know best, it would seem as if they have two alternative paths. One would be into some of the aimless and timbrally impoverished music that we find in some (only some) free improvisational circles or sects. The other would be into the more ambient fuzzy world of F*****z and the like where the music sounds like the aural equivalent of masturbating in a bath of lubricating jelly. Big Wad Excisions avoids the first pitfall but at the risk of being harsh I sense that one piece seems to tinker with the machinery of the second. If you listen to the music you’ll see what I mean. They stray uncharacteristically into what I’d call the ‘ambient fuzz’ zone, though the earlier album had one piece which came over as less resourceful or successful than the others for more or less the same reason. Fortunately though for the most part we can listen to the same fine mix of austerity, attention to instrumental detail and (apparent) contrast and blending of concrète, instrumental and electronic sound, to name but some of the attributes that made Holes/Tract such an original offering.

Snuck Keel [5:00] is a tight timbral investigation, dominated by a fast iterative sound with some interesting polyrhythmic investigations in the simple layering of sounds. At times it could be a field recording of a generator, though the detail reveals the underlying human agency. With repeated listening this piece rewards and almost mesmerises the listener at times, though the exercise is simple – you enjoy listening out for changes within a seemingly regular periodic pattern.

Impulses for Elaborated Turbulence (Excised) [2:27] is a wonderful piece – interesting in its brief conceptual plan and execution. We hear static, hisses and electronic glitches. With pauses. Then the baton seems (though I might be wrong) to be handed over to the acoustic instrumentalist, the bellows and reed department, for some delightful puffing and springy sounds. A brilliant and original miniature in many ways.

Sop [16:12] is the one risky track in the album, which wanders into dubious territory. The dominance of the tonal material seems to jar with the austerity and tightness of the rest of their work. This kind of music gets dangerously close to the material which gets appropriated by those untouchable insurance corporations for an animated feel-good tv advertisement.

Hoist Spell [7:14]  has elements of the excellence of the duo’s core strengths mixed in with hints of the dubious peregrinations of the previous track, though to be fair the tonal layers are a little more functional and integrated within the overall piece.

Overall I’d recommend Coppice’s work to anyone interested in new and original music. Their work is often very exciting, occasionally unique and original. I’d say that for two people to realise the strengths and weaknesses of their resources and yet to play most often to their strengths is evidence of excellent musicality and listening skills – what more could you ask for?

[Joseph Kramer: left,  Noé Cuéllar: right.
Photograph: Nathan Keay, 2011 from Coppice’s website]

Coppice website
Quakebasket website