Andy Moor / Genevieve Murphy (duo) and Thermal (John Butcher / Andy Moor / Thomas Lehn)
(Cafe Oto, 9 June 2023; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)
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This Cafe Oto evening was, foremost, a 60th birthday celebration for Andy Moor, best known as the uncompromising, maverick guitarist in the Dutch, post-punk band The Ex with whom he has been a solid anchor for over 30 years. The gig also marked twenty plus years of performances for the improvising trio, Thermal, comprising Moor with experimenting saxophonist John Butcher and analogue synth maestro, Thomas Lehn, and coincided with the issue of their new CD, Ice in a Hot World (link), a live recording made 20 years after their initial performance in a disused train station in Brussels.
Moor, based in Amsterdam, is also co-founder of the Unsounds music label and has contributed his unique playing style to a myriad of cross-genre, left-field musical collaborations.
Introduced by Cafe Oto’s Jackson as being 60 years and eleven months, Moor’s first set was a series of five duets with Scottish artist / poet / singer Genevieve Murphy, also based in Amsterdam, performing well-rehearsed pieces based around her unnerving texts which hover perilously close to the border between a dream state and highly personal, disarmingly articulated nightmares.
Moor was the perfect foil to Murphy’s voiced scenarios, throwing in metallic bends and distortions, hammering the bass strings while, on The One I Feed, Murphy added her own sonic input by working with a continuous stream of tape which she pulled from a music cassette. Moor hit the guitar with a chisel, and ran it over the strings while Murphy, in her narrative centred on an imaginary episode where she was shot in the head, asked “Is it really bad enough?”
Gently fashioned vocals with an acoustic feel were countered by raw, grainy guitar sequences. The premise of the lilting rhythm of Skin was situated in a nether land where “She goes out at night where shadows bark.” Murphy then told of her beloved, but troubled grandmother who “taught me to blether”, leading on to the disarmingly macabre Tartan, another tale of shooting, this time carried out by the narrator and set in a bar room. Murphy, fittingly, took to the bagpipes and also a small accordion, to round off the set with Moor in intense fashion.
Moor returned after the break to take his place centre stage with Butcher to the left and Lehn to his right to launch into Thermal’s blistering improvised set, spikey, tense, aggravated, yet measured throughout, and to counter expectations, occasionally softly spoken. Lehn, incidentally, had only just arrived, after an 8 hour delay at Vienna airport, so it was straight in to the driving seat from the off.
It was with the softest of breaths that Butcher, on soprano sax, began, moving on to sustained vibrato, with echoes, sharp spits and clicks and dog hearing-range high notes, to pave the way for Moor’s taut wrenchings of strings and Lehn’s exponentially frenetic finger work on his analogue synth.
In this highly active conversation, Butcher played with sounds at the mouthpiece, even adding flute-like timbres, yet would flip to tenor sax and imbue the sequence with smatterings of melodic phrasing. Moor worried stroked and and battered his guitar, at times with chisel and wire brush, jamming the chisel between the strings and scouring the guitar body with the brush, yet also lightly skimmed its neck in search of delicate discourse, whilst clanging, clinging and twanging along the way.
Lehn, on his analogue EMS Synthi AKS, as he was able to let me know (KS standing for keyboard sequencer), flew with a dynamic manipulation of the array of wired patch pins in and out of the matrix to fill out the soundscape, adding depth, space and incidental rhythms, conjuring spontaneous micro-samples and sounds from the outfield to blend with the input from Moor and Butcher.
That melding of sonic sensibilities is the key to the essence of Thermal. When asked about Thermal’s modus operandi, Butcher confirmed to me that they start with a blank canvas and draw on the depths of experience and the history and memories of their performances together. “[There is] certainly no musical plan or discussion beforehand.” He added that “Andy (Moor) comes from quite a different musical background” and “is very experienced at improvising” even though he may not come to it “with the idea of playing ‘improvised music’, which leads us in to hearing things more as ‘pieces’ in the way you might play a series of songs. That said, we’re very much reacting in the moment and seeing where it takes us.”
And this phenomenal feat of invention ended as it began with the near silence of breath. A momentous anniversary celebration by all accounts.
LINKS : John Butcher’s website