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Cranes & Freighters
butcher, edwards, robair
Phipps Hall, HCMF 2012

Severine Ballon - cello | Frédéric Blondy - piano
John Butcher - saxophones | John Edwards - double bass
Sebastian Lexer - electronics | Elaine Mitchener -voice | Edward Perraud - drums

Cranes and Freighters was formed to perform at the 2012 Huddersfield Contemporay Music Festival.
Two pieces were commisioned by HCMF - my own Isola and Blondy's Interwoven Tides.

In Genoa there's a floating structure made up of many old barges once used around the port. They are chained together and make an extraordinary sound as they slowly move and rub against each other. It's a public place to sit, but one which forces you to pay attention to sound. Two years ago, whilst I was recording it I noticed that the location was named Piazza Luciano Berio.

In "Isola" I use aspects of this shifting ground's sound to create a sonic and structural underpinning for the group. I also liked the image of those linked objects with their different histories now interacting together with group effect. Most of the musicians in "Cranes and Freighters" usually play their own music, developed through improvisation in countless settings around the world.

"Isola" is concerned with the strains, stresses, compatibilities and surprises likely when you rub together the power of imposed structure and external ideas, and the power of allowing people to make their own decisions. Improvisation is best when it creates its form in the moment due to its own internal logic. Two sections - for piano, cello, voice and electronics and, later, saxophone, bass, and percussion function this way. Slightly labouring the Piazza parallel, they let the outside world enter in. The music that encloses them is organised through conventional notation, the pre-recorded playback (revealed in different ways through frequency filtering), and instructions and timings that share and blur the responsibilities for making a coherent whole.
John Butcher

To compose for high level improvisers is always a hard challenge of balance. What should be written and what should be let to the musician's own creativity. The first danger would be to be only fascinated by the fantastic richness of sounds and textures each musician is able to produce through all the extended technics he discovered during his many years of practice, experimentation and meetings. Because the first quality of an improviser is not his ability to be a sounds generator but his listening skills, i.e. its ability to do the right thing at the right moment according to what he hears.

The writing is then to create the context, the necessary conditions for the development of an idea. Deeply influenced by my work inside the quintet Hubbub over the last thirteen years and from the more recent collaboration with the orchestra ONCEIM, this composition aims to develop the resultants phenomenon. How the combination of several sources gives rise to a material that is not limited to the simple addition of these but generates a stratum (the resultant) in which the sources are lost. This echoes undoubtedly with French spectral music but we may hear also specific effects from electronic music : distortion, dephasing, loops, ... and sequences where the involvement of each individual musician is more solicited.
Frédéric Blondy