Album review

ELDA – ‘Collaborations 2020-2022’

ELDA – Collaborations 2020-2022

(7CD EP box set(*). Album review/ feature by AJ Dehany)

NB also: Tour Dates imminent / listed below

Collaborations 2020-2022 is a warm reminder of a moment when something genuinely new happened in the music. The global improvised music scene was forced indoors by the pandemic, and responded by creating the most unifying period in its history. What choice was there? Home concert streams kept everybody together, howsoever far apart even within our own postcodes. Musical innovators became technological savants, and the results of their experiments remain cogent as a vindication of the enabling facility of technology. 

ELDA (not to be confused with Emilia Martensson’s ELDA Trio) is the duo of Birmingham-based musicians: pianist Andrew Woodhead and trumpeter Aaron Diaz, a pair we first met in this 2019 LJN interview. Aaron Diaz is a 2020 Sound and Music Seed Award recipient, and Andrew Woodhead is a prolific presence on the site you’re reading whom I first interviewed as co-organiser with Sarah Farmer of the Ideas of Noise festival in Birmingham where he debuted his large-scale (dare I say symphonic) work Pendulums which was recorded, released and warmly reviewed live and on record

The seven-disc box set Collaborations 2020-2022 collects together collaborations made during lockdown’s unifying period, created via a mixture of means and methods (and methodologies), from reworked live recordings through to simultaneous recordings via JackTrip and Sonobus software, and instances of file-sharing back-and-forths. Musically, it traces a palpable ongoing development in the music which has seen accomplished players of many of your favourite acoustic instruments get the chance to expand their sonic palette and means of inspiration and creation through electronics and technology. 

If you’re down on digital and you struggle with streaming, think inside the box. We’re all used to digital releases now, but I’m old enough to have bought an album on the strength of its cover or packaging, and that’s nothing compared to ELDA’s limited-run hand-assembled wooden box designed by Sarah Farmer and carved out on Vlad Costache’s CNC machine. It’s the stocking-filler of the season. I was intimidated until I realised it was only seven discs of EP length, which feels more manageable. By way of comparison, the Miles Davis Bitches Brew box set is only four discs and most of that’s just Pharaoah’s Dance and a surprising amount of sitar.

Each disc is an absorbing journey in itself, but where to start? The whole box set is a remarkably consistent listen. It is at once abstract and heavy metal. For a recap of the ELDA duo’s command and establishment of their own sound, start at disc five, with Diaz’s trumpet in simpatico with Woodhead’s complex electronics laying out the groundwork. The first disc’s single twenty-three minute live improvisation with Georgia Denham shows some sense of humour with Woodhead as a pianist inviting Georgia Denham who is listed in a British Museum Collection feature as a “piano-less composer” which isn’t such a big deal for us in this scene perhaps, if you think about the very deliberate theme in ‘free music’ of piano-less groups (the Braxton / Threadgill concert at the recent London Jazz Festival was a critical smash and reminded us of this whole trope). The trio with Faye McCalman produces three shorter pieces again without conventional shape with the Tyneside composer’s own double practice of accomplished woodwind soloist and emerging electro-acoustic multimedia artist. Guitarist Anton Hunter’s exhaustive sonic extrapolations from the old electric six-string directs his trio set, while the quartet with bass player Chris Mapp and organist Sam Wooster is a terrifically dark highlight that speaks to a group familiar with each other enough to explore atmosphere. John Derek Bishop’s contribution is similarly intense. On the final disc, Meesha Fones’ use of spoken word provides a sense of completion that rounds off the exploratory sense of the whole seven-disc set.

Pure improvisation is a negotiation between completeness (you play, you finish, and that’s it) and incompleteness (you play, you finish, and that’s it). A seven disc box set would seem as complete a statement as an artist could make, and yet a set of improvised work must necessarily be a statement of incompleteness. The box is the key. You can watch the CNC cutting machine go at it in ELDA’s overly exciting video (above) and see the computer aided design with  the letters being physically cut out by the machine. It’s the same when we experience these highly inorganic means of composition/recording over the internet or completely created in the box (different box) from editing files sent back and forth. That process becomes a CD. The music goes out into the air or into your ears in a physicalisation of the digital source. A book isn’t a book until you read it. A book, when it’s not being read, is a coaster.

In a touch of sheer class, the digital edition of the ELDA box set has a bonus track made with samples of the CNC Router machine at Digwood that made the boxes for the CDs. At the Birmingham gig on their forthcoming tour their virtual guest will include these samples as a participant. It’s a typical example of Andrew Woodhead’s astounding ‘mission creep’ – these disparate collaborations became a box set which is now a tour taking in venues across the country (see listing below). He can’t just make sound, there’s always a concept, a pool of collaborators, a scene, a community, a unifying period, and, in this case, a gorgeous wooden box, and a sense that no matter how massive a statement he make – from the scope and scale of the Ideas of Sound festival as a barometer of the Birmingham sound and beyond, to the Pendulums project, to the collaborations of the ELDA box set – that these are still somehow beginnings, and that it’s about to get a lot weirder. Andrew Woodhead is an accomplished pianist and composer, but admits “I find myself increasingly drawn more to the “art”/”sound” end of the spectrum in what I do these days…”

What does it all mean? There’s a joke about how we think about the development of the practice of artists like Picasso moving from figuration to experimental forms: a poor art critic is working for a wage in one of those restaurants where Picasso would hand over a cheque at the end of the meal, and where the restaurateur would never cash the cheque because the signature was worth more than the meal. Our critic scrutinises the signature, one of many Picasso signatures after many meals in many restaurants, and pronounces “Yes, you can clearly see the drift towards abstraction…” 

AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff.

LINK: ELDA on bandcamp

(*) 7x CD box set in hand finished wooden box designed and manufactured by Digwood. Artwork, Graphic Design and Box Cover design by Sarah Farmer. Hand numbered, each Edition is strictly limited.

ELDA Collaborations Tour dates:

11 December – ft. Faye MacCalman

The Globe, 11 Railway St, Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 7AD Promoted by Jazz North East

12 December – ft. Anton Hunter

Fuel Cafe Bar, 448 Wilmslow Rd, Manchester, M20 3BW. Promoted by The Noise Upstairs

15th December – ft. Georgia Denham

The Blue Moon, 2 Norfolk St, Cambridge, CB1 2LF. Promoted by Cambridge Electronic Music

16 December – ft. CNC Routing/Music Collaboration with Digwood

Pan-Pan, 25D Floodgate St, Birmingham, B5 5SL

17 December – ft. Dan Nicholls

Finch Cafe, 12 Sidworth St, London, E8 3SD

Categories: Album review

Leave a Reply