CONFRONT RECORDINGS : Your Reminiscences

As part of the ongoing Twentieth Anniversary celebrations, I thought it would be interesting to send out an open invitation asking folks to submit reminisences about how Confront has impacted on their listening habits; how you found the label, first purchases, highlights, lowlights, introduction to new artists, annoyances, recommendations, albums that changed your life, albums you played once and never again, Confront concerts you attended, suggestions for the future, your own personal reviews ….. anything you like, Confront related - the good, the bad and the ugly. Any length, brief or in-depth.

 

Send your responses to markwastell@btinternet.com

GABRIEL PAIUK (ARGENTINA)

On pre-widespread internet times, in the year 2000, I found some obscure information on a printed catalogue about a group of London-based musicians and slowly got to know and love their work. A written letter, by post, to Mark Wastell established a very valuable contact and I could get to buy a copy of “Assumed Possibilities”. This became for me a go-to-record for several years and a considerable influence for me and a group of musicians working around like-minded intuitions and resonances in Argentina. A couple of months ago I found my copy.

 

DAVID ASHLEY PEARSON (UK)

When I think of Confront I think of Sound323. I think back to visiting the shop for the first time in 2007; I was in London for a university interview (I got in!) and thought I'd give the shop a visit after seeing adverts in the back of Wire magazine. I carefully leafed the CD racks, I could only afford to buy one thing and I went for Lawrence English's 'For Varying Degrees of Winter' (still a favourite) but the experience of being in the shop itself was what was most transformative.

Behind the desk was a friendly and talkative chap who didn't have any issues with me just browsing for an hour or so and just soaking it all in. My musical taste was expanding with every month, I'd investigate artists I'd see in Wire such as Matmos, Faust and This Heat but nothing was perhaps more ear opening then that first visit to Sound 323. I thought I understood minimalist music through listening to Tony Conrad and Phill Niblock but playing in the background of Sound323 was this incredibly intense yet delicate music that I just couldn't get my head around... it was somehow more minimal than Niblock yet also so much quieter! Mark explained that what we were listening to was himself in a duo, I think he said he was playing cello. The music was slow and textural and reminded me of looking through a grain focuser - a device that is used when developing black and white photographs to make sure the print is as sharp as possible - I felt like I wasn't seeing the whole picture but what I was seeing was pin sharp and complex. That experience really opened my ears and made me think of music, sound and silence as being all one and the same thing; that day put all sound on a level playing field, something that was incredibly liberating to my 19 year old self.

 

I'd move to London in the September and would visit the shop whenever I could. I learnt about the improvised music scene that was so strong back then and would buy Confront releases as a gateway into this unorthodox music. These days I feel somewhat disconnected geographically and philosophically from Confront having moved to Glasgow last year, but that's okay... I'm happy Confront is still able to keep afloat and I can dip my toes back into its world every now and then.

 

PEDRO CHAMBEL (PORTUGAL)

Confront helped me to understand and stay abreast of the new trends that have been consolidated in improvised and experimental music with the dawn of the new century. New praxis were created, new approaches to the instruments were being practiced, new ways of making music and even of listening emerged. The conversations that I had with Mark Wastell and the releases of his label helped me to know and understand all that. I also realized that somehow I too wanted to be part of it.

 

PAUL KHIMASIA MORGAN (UK)

My first exposure to Confront was with the cds lodi by IST and cwymp y dŵr ar ganol dydd by Traw & Rhodri Davies which I purchased directly from Mark in his Sound 323 store in Highgate.  Mark’s shop and the label are welded together in my mind.  I was fortunate in that I could visit Sound 323 fairly regularly whenever I was visiting family in north London.  I miss that shop.  I’ve spent a good portion of my life combing the racks in record shops of all types, sometimes in the unlikeliest parts of the world, and Sound 323 was probably my favourite.  Sunny afternoons exiting Highgate Tube under the trees; crossing the stationary traffic of the A1; ringing the shop doorbell.  As I acquired more and more Confront releases over time, simultaneously things started to happen.  I organised a concert in Brighton for Nos Phillipe whose beautiful Shh… Camille was the seventh release on the Confront Collectors Series, and later for The Sealed Knot whose performance in 2010 in the humble environs of a room above a rock bar in Brighton remains one of the greatest in my own concert-going history, let alone a coup for the newly-formed Aural Detritus.  Confront probably helped make me refine my listening habits around that time.  I’m still trying to amass the full catalogue as funds allow.  Confront constantly surprises; not least with the recent David Sylvian disc Playing The Schoolhouse which for the teenage Japan obsessive I used to be, is a delight.

- Paul Khimasia Morgan, musician, curator Aural Detritus Concert Series

 

RAYMOND TANGEN

180gr good vinyl pressing WITH high res download would be a really sexy product. Thanks for great label and recordings.

IAN BRIGHTON (UK)

There are only a handful of people who do more than just turn up and play at a gig and Mark Wastell is one of them, alongside the likes of John Russell, Trevor Taylor and a few others. People who have dedicated a large part of their lives into putting on improvised music concerts for others to enjoy. From the early days of the Muicians Co-Operative, the different collectives, John Stevens, Maggie Nicholls and Philipp Wachsmann's West Square improvised music workshops it is good to see people like Mark who have picked up the banner and continued to run with it generating opportunities for others to be heard in concert and on CD. Keep going

JEAN-MICHAEL VAN SCHOUBURG (BELGIUM)

My Confront Records early days ……… The first time I heard of Mark Wastell was from his collaboration with Trevor Taylor ‘s Avant Magazine and the FMR CD-label & mailservice  (Future Music Records). Their very first Compact Disc was also one of the very first free improvised music CD ever issued in 1988, Eleven Years From Yesterday with violonist Phil Wachsmann, cellist Marcio Mattos, guitarist Ian Brighton, percussionnist Trevor Taylor and pianist Pete Jacobsen. Phil, Marcio, Ian and Trevor had a longstanding musical relationship since around 1973 : Phil and Ian played in the legendary Incus 12 Balance album and in Tony Oxley ‘s February Papers / Incus 18. This quartet performed recently at Café Oto in 2016, but they never managed to make a recording until 1988. The next CD, with one or two of these musicians, which came to my attention was Icarus on FMR Records. It was Phil Wachsmann, singer Carol Ann Jackson, bass player Roger Curphy, Trevor Taylor and a young newcomer on cello, Mark Wastell who was also working as writer and interviewer in Avant. The second evidence of Mark’s activity was a track issued in one of Avant Magazine ‘s CD Gift, a sort of anthology of artists linked with the magazine and FMR : there were a John Russell track, an Eddie Prévost track and a trio with pianist Veryan Weston, Mark Wastell on cello and Robin Musgrove, one of the drummers of the John Stevens’s Little Theatre Club era. So, reading avidly the listings of CD’s in sale at FMR/ Avant, I noticed a new label, 2:13 Records, managed by younger artists from Berlin and London. So I ordered Nunc, a German quartet, with Burkhard Beins, percussion, Martin Pfleiderer, soprano and tenor sax, Michael Renkel, guitar and Wolfgang Ritthof, voice. I learned from the cover that 2 :13 Music label was operated by John Bissett in London and Burkhard Beins in Berlin and from Avant that the name of the label came from a Church clock blocked on 2 :13 and located in the St Michael & All Angels Church where Mark, Rhodri and others organized and performed free improvised music gigs. This NUNC quartet sounded quite radical, more so than most of FMP recent productions or even Incus duos with Derek Bailey. At the time I heard just one great trio on FMP called Comité Imaginaire by Holz für Europa with Wolfgang Fuchs, Hans Koch and Peter Van Bergen and that’s it ! I bought this cd in the Mole Jazz shop on Gray’s Inn Road along with Dada Da of Phil Minton and Roger Turner, the very first recording of improvised music recorded by Martin Davidson himself, following Martin’s return in London and just before the launch of the newly digital Emanemlabel which changed the face of British  recorded free improvised music in the late nineties and 2000’s. So it was a strong second wave of bigger interest in « the » music  since it growed in the mid seventies with Evan, Derek, Lol, AMM, John, Trevor, Rutherford, Lytton, Oxley, McGregor, Moholo, Ossie, Maggie, Phil and Phil and Roger ! Strangely, I bought these two cd’s the same day when I saw Mark Wastell in the flesh for the first time in the Red Rose. Roger Turner and John Russell were on the bill on a Mopomso gig but Roger’s fly from touring abroad was late and Mark brought him kindly with his car at the last minute. Since then, I knew that Mark, one of the few new young players of his generation, behave at the service of the community. Avant published also an ad for the UK tour of Phil Durrant, Burkhard Beins, Michael Renkel and a fourth artist, perhaps Rhodri Davies and it was something fresh in the air. 

 

So next time, I read that a new CD was out on Mark Wastell’s imprint, Confront Records with the number Front 05. It was  Assumed Possibilities with Chris Burn, piano,  Rhodri Davies, harp, Phil Durrant, violin and Mark Wastell cello recorded in 1998. A cheap white cardboard digipack with the black and  white cover – text only pasted on it and treasuring quite spaced and raw sounds from alternative techniques’ instrumental manœuvres : restraint, exploratory, challenging. Chris played the innards,  Rhodri ‘s sounds seemed coming from a strange machine and Phil was more extreme than with his tenure in the trio with John Russell and John Butcher. The listening requested more concentration and  close listening than many recordings of the older generation. So I tried to get other recordings of Confront but they were already sold out. So I found Ghost Notes of the IST trio on Bruce’s Fingers/BF28 with both Mark, Rhodri and bassist Simon H Fell with compositions for improvisers. And also All Angels on EDO with Rhodri, his sister Angarhad Davies on violin and cellist Nikos Veliotis, as the Cranc trio. This latter album sounded absolutely great and retrospectively like the last « classical » free improvisation recording from these players ever, before they shifted to new aesthetics. Also of interest and bought from FMR, two new 2 :13 Music issues :  the manifesto of the future Berlin Reductionnism: Möwen & Moos (2 :13 Music cd 008/009 ltd edition of 150 1999) and Odyn Galch, music for Harp and Guitar (2 :13CD010) by Rhodri Davies and guitarist John Bissett, to this day still the responsible of 2 :13 Music. Möwen & Moos is a very spaced and subdued duo music, litterally scratching lightly the surfaces of the instruments, by  Activity Center, the duo of percussionnist Burkhard Beins and guitarist Michael Renkel. The artwork paper packaging was very much complicated to unfold !  Just after this, there was the Raducalisation of Mr Malfatti and the acknowledgment of the work, ethics and practice of AMM’s Eddie Prévost and Keith Rowe by younger players and listeners. Suddenly many people played closer to silence and drones.  

 

And from then I got the feeling that this nucleus of players become a real new wave in the field of improvisation, specially when I ordered and listened to the first The Sealed Knot, 21 :11 of new music by a new trio with Burkhard Beins, Rhodri Davies and Mark Wastell, reference number Front 06 on Confront and recorded at All Angels the 14th april 2000. This sounds like another world inside the improvised galaxy and the resonant acoustics of the church wasn't foreign with the idiosyncracies of the music. I loved this recording a lot because of his soft noise aesthetic and the great use of silence or playing on the border of silence. The harmonics of Rhodri's harp, his bowing on the strings with resonant objects, the small sounds and high metallic hits of Burkhard, his use of the bow and Mark Wastell restraint on the cello. My friend Tim Fletcher had recorded this concert as he did very kindly with other gigs in these recordings mentionned here. 

 

So, an earlier recording of IST of 1995 went issued on vinyle by the U.S. label SIWA,  launching the then microcosmic interest in new vinyles in the digital sea. This lp, Anagrams To Avoid, was recorded at Soundworld in Chelmsford, the premises of FMR/Avant. I swapped this item later on around 2007 against a part of my share from the sales of my CD with John Russell and Jean Demey, Mercelis Concert. Sound 323 sold at least ten numbers. Then, I attended many  Freedom Of The City festivals in London and caught Mark's performances. Firstly in 2001, the Quatuor Accorde (Phil Durrant, Mark Wastell, Charlotte Hug and Tony Wren) and the Chris Burn Ensemble with John Butcher, Mark Wastell, John Russell, Chris Burn piano & percussion, Matt Hutchinson on synthesizer & electronics. This set went in the Horizontal White CD on Emanem, the only totally free improvised Chris Burn Ensemble recording. All these guys plus Phil Durrant, Rhodri, Axel Dörner, Marcio Mattos and Jim Denley were  playing in a great CBE's Navigations Cd on Acta. The Quatuor Accorde had a nice issue on Emanem, Angel Gate and later Emanem issued a great anthology double cd with All Angels' performances of solos and duos with Butcher, Prévost, Tomlinson, Sanders, Turner, Beresford, Fabienne Audéoud, Matt Hutchinson, Oren Marshall and Veryan Weston at the church organ (All Angels 1999-2001 Emanem 4209). These performances sounded often in the musical spirit of their organizers, Rhodri Davies and Mark Wastell.

 

The following year, 2002, in the same FOTC, performed a nice duet of Mark Wastell and his dear friend trumpet player Matt Davis. Very restrained music on the border of silence with few movements and zero agitation. I had just listened to Mute Correspondance, a great album of Matt Davis with dancer Rosa Muñoz, being Front 007 (although the formers were numbered 05, 06) with a very creative translucid packaging/cover sleeve with notes. Matt Davis told me that, for himself, the duo of Veryan Weston and Trevor Watts played the greatest music in the FOTC 2002. Other 2001 recordings of note to be issued was Surface Plane of Beins/Davies/Wastell on Meniscus which sounded a bit like electronic music with lots of semi silent sequences, for myself I tagged this as soft noise, as it focused on timbres, textures and light strokes rather than pitch, pulse and motion. And of couse Incus issued a new Company double CD, Company in Marseille (Incus 44) with no one else than the whole IST trio : Rhodri, Mark and Simon with Derek Bailey  and tap dancer Will Gaines ! This edition of Company even performed with John Zorn in NYC (see also IST New York featuring John Zorn CCS 40). The IST trio is also featured in one track in the a/l/l CD Audiology 11 Groups In Berlin Total Music Meeting 2001 and their whole concert was found later in IST Berlin ccs 13. This concert marked a white stone in the evolution of the Berlin avant scene.

 

For myself, one of the pinnacles of such period/time for my feelings and imagination was the quartet issued by « confront recordings london preservation series » under the reference FRONT 10 (the first zero of James Bond’s 007 vanished !) with only 30 minutes of music ofRhodri Davies, Matt Davis, Mark Wastell and a great flutist, Alessandra Rombola. Such short time of playing takes its source with the fact that any London gig is always a three-act-bill since John Stevens and Trevor Watts invited Derek Bailey to share evening dates in the LTC as a soloist improviser in order that there would be at least one listener or two in case of nobody showed up which was very often. I suppose, as Mark wrote me years later, that the copy of this FRONT 10 I got was a bootleg and by now the sound is actually damaged . 

 

Unfortunately, I missed a Confront limited edition cd by the trio Matt Davis/ Phil Durrant / Mark Wastell issued in 50 copies (recorded 2000 at All Angels and reissued now as ccs 24). And I don't find back the first Confront solo of Nikos Veliotis, beta (letter B in greek) as front 08, but managed to get two Cd'r of Texturizer of NK & Coti K. from Nikos himself. At the time I become a good customer of Mark Wastell's shop Sound 323 at 323 Highgate. I bought from him the very heavy Charlie Patton Revenant Box and other items. When Mark operated Sound 323, Confront shifted to a regular CD company with austere digipacks. This new Confront policy was launched by Trem as Confront 11, a great solo of Rhodri Davies recorded in 2001, which expressed the new esthetic. A real tremendous sound experience. There was also an interesting silent and almost Raduesque solo of Nikos Veliotis, Radial as Confront 13and a very silent Foldings by Tetuzi Akiyama, Toshimaru Nakamura, Taku Sugimoto and Mark Wastell with the number Confront 12. So, then, I knew how was New Silence !

 

In 2003, FOTC had the trio IST on the bill, with Simon, Rhodri and Mark (I made the picture which is in the  CD Conway Hall on Confront) and their music was more restrained than on Ghost Notes. Sort of small sound events which waited each other to happen. I was staying at Veryan Weston’s home (as i did the other years) and VW told me about the « London New Silence » speaking also about a sort of schism inside the music community. The year before, the Assumed Possibilities quartet  recorded his second cd for the italian label Rossbin with the title Still Point, meaning perhaps « not yet London New Silence » ! Anyway, this is an excellent music in the style of the Davies/ Wastell /Durrant team on the moment of their radical shift. Beautiful "soft" noise music with a lot of nuances and details on the limit of silence. Two years later,  were issued the Confront Collectors Series cd's in convenient coloured plastic case. The word "Case" makes me think that this music was also tagged as lower case. In 2005, while I was performing in London with John Russell, Mark made me very kindly a gift of unwanted object, CCS1, a new sound departure of the IST trio recorded in 2004. Oh yes , I have to note also that during this time, Mark played the double bass (even dedicating one piece to John Entwhistle), the tam-tam, and amplified textures. So were the early Confront days…