Shards and plucks, shivers and graceful sweeps; ‘Live at Artacts 12’ by Barrel is a soaring jungle of sound. The group are a trio of Alison Blunt (violin), Ivor Kallin (viola), and Hannah Marshall (cello).
Barrel are a stunning chamber group, their music entirely liquid, swirling and pooling in odd pockets, sonic labyrinths manifesting unexpectedly and resolved suddenly, changes of direction like the slicing of musical Gordian knots, seemingly intractable tangles whipped into straight racing lines. But oh, those tangles... they expand and contract like a living breathing sentient wave, peaks and troughs smashed into cross hatched confusion, slopes jagged and pixelated. A surreal and spring loaded ensemble, their hive-mind conjuring skills are amazing in ability and gripping in output, they drag you along on a circuitous ride. At times evoking the winding of flaming ropes, the hiss of pre-digital television static, a haunted opera house, the fluttering of hundreds of tiny fibrous wings, they move from moment to moment in a blur of activity; bursts of silence detonating small spaces in their churning wake. Barrel make haunting and beautiful music, at times maddeningly complex, at others lithe and elegant. The sheer strangeness of it all is astonishing, it resembles a groaning wooden ship floundering against cellophane rocks in a choppy sea of sighing taut wires, officers bellowing wordless commands from the bridge, gusts of wind fluttering its tattered sails.
Catch them live if you can, a performance earlier this year at Boat-Ting was, for me, one of the live highlights of 2013 so far, an awesome display of improvisation every bit matched by this fantastic album.
Read more about Barrel here.