Wendy Atkinson digs deep

TRACKS by Bob Turner

It’s been said that what one considers to be “good” music is music that speaks to one’s set of biases drawn from one’s personal history and relationship with music and aesthetics, all of which shapes a response to – and an evaluation of – a specific work. The world of ‘new’ or ‘experimental’ music can be challenging – not only for composers and musicians, but also for the listener who must work towards actually hearing and not just listening to the music. There is much that tweaks and speaks to my particular set of biases when contemplating this third release by the multifaceted bassist/composer, Wendy Atkinson.

 

The Last Fret, currently making the rounds on the “airwaves,” is a 15-track (in digital+CD format) album conceived, produced and executed by Atkinson with minimal reliance on digital signal processing. Her instrument of choice, whether electric or acoustic, provides solid ground for her multi-track bass-sound-sourced compositions. It is rather rare to so successfully place at “centre stage” an instrument usually relegated to a supporting role.

A skilled infusion of field recordings, found sound and spoken-word, together with electronic bow and toy piano experimentation, gives layered texture to her work. This instinctive artist appears to have delved deeply into the self to mine components for her unique collages of ambient soundscapes.

It is interesting to note that Atkinson’s relationship with music is rooted in folk music dating back to early childhood days starring her ukulele-playing mother singing the popular folk songs of the 1960s with her daughters. Memories of that era are recounted on Ukulele Shock, as is the shock-moment when Atkinson learned it was not her mother who wrote Blowin’ in the Wind.

In the multi-track piece Clips, Atkinson devised bass loops as bed-tracks for her bass solo and also attached paper clips directly to the bass strings so as to transform her instrument into a prepared bass. Musically speaking, I found Something Overheard to be a wistful and engaging linear composition that embraces sounds emanating from a child’s electronic toy keyboard, a found-treasure from a local thrift shop that also makes an appearance in 16 Hours of Daylight.

Three compositions on the album feature guitarist David Lester, her frequent collaborator who also filmed the video of Atkinson’s Hebron Birds. The subdued voice of the composer, contrasted with the vocal expressions of animated and spirited young girls, is embedded in such a way as to elegantly enhance the tone of the bass-based composition.

The work is a thoughtful musing on the contradictions of life in occupied West Bank, a juxtaposition of a spontaneous experience of being surrounded by innocent, inquisitive children in a Hebron street that is just like the streets “where right-wing extremists throw rocks at Palestinian children on their way to school.”

I look forward to the next project envisioned by the accomplished Ms. Atkinson.

Highly recommended.

 

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