Martin Archer / 88 Enemies

Discus: 10CD

Martin Archer: electric piano, sampling, composition

88 Enemies is a composition for electric piano and electronics. Much of the time, the former dominates, justifying Archer’s claim that the piece’s eight movements often sound “almost like contemporary piano music”. The relationship between the two sound-sources is, however, subjected to a number of variations. In “Vol. storm“, the electronics subtly accentuate and extend the piano without ever dominating; on “High Pass” there is virtually no piano, while the electronics seem to have been dispensed with entirely on “Louder, Faster and Forever“. “MF-FM” uncharacteristically uses a dislocated groove which sounds like an Autechre cast-off, morphing it into a series of spoken word samples. Overall, the tension and dynamic between piano and electronics are well-handled.

freenoise1.jpgThe writing for the piano sounds like, but isn’t, academic serialism. Archer does not have much to say in terms of pitch relationships — dissonant groupings dominate, but at no point do recurring motifs really develop (there are a few repetitions). Instead, it is rhythmic units which recur and lend structure to each piece; this, and an apparent general indebtedness, gives the work a whiff of Messiaen. The problem is that Archer’s rhythms are mostly so lumpen and uninvolving as to leave the listener wondering at what point the actual idea of the piece is going to emerge. If these were improvisations, that would be unfortunate; in compositions, it is inexcusable.

It’s unclear why Archer chose to write pianisticially in the way that he has here — it is certainly not his strong suit. It would be unfair simply to claim that he is good at making noises but not at making music; his musical voice just happens to come through much more clearly in the more expressionistic, open-ended forms provided by electronics. If his strengths are electronics, timbral detail and use of space, however, 88 Enemies is dominated by piano, rhythmically structured and predominantly dense and busy. Occasionally the music does catch fire, but not as often as it should given a strong basic idea and Archer’s manifest ability to carry off the technical side. Richard Cochrane

Martin Archer on Discus