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Sonic Imagination

MIKE WHEELER listens to Horses Brawl


A band that cites Kathryn Tickell and Cecilia Bartoli among its influences has to be worth hearing. Horses Brawl comprises Laura Cannell -- recorders, fiddle and (though not on this occasion, sadly) crumhorn -- and Adrian Lever, guitar (Assembly Rooms, Derby, UK, 12 June 2009). Together they roam the overlap area between mediaeval and Renaissance music on the one hand and folk music on the other, picking up whatever takes their fancy, putting their material together in unexpected combinations, and seeing what emerges.

Mixing and matching composed music from Renaissance Spain and Italy, English folk dance tunes and traditional music from as far afield as Bulgaria and Bolivia, they blend these disparate elements to the point where it is sometimes not easy to hear where one stops and the other takes over.

Horses Brawl - Laura Cannell and Adrian Lever
Horses Brawl - Laura Cannell and Adrian Lever

Anything and everything can be grist to their mill. In Pase El Agua they bounce a courtly love song from Renaissance Spain off a traditional tune which Adrian Lever brought back from a recent visit to Bulgaria. Landini's Ecco la Primavera is paired up with the English tune, The Bonny Miller. Another Bulgarian tune is blended with the second soprano part of Ludwig Senfl's motet Ave Rosa Sine Spinis.

All this is fascinating enough. But what makes the results so exciting and refreshing is the pair's virtuosity and sonic imagination. Laura Cannell doesn't just switch between treble and descant recorder, she occasionally plays both at the same time. On the violin she uses both a baroque and a modern bow, she mutes the lower two strings only to produce a hurdy-gurdy effect, and she plays the instrument guitar-style, using a plectrum. Adrian Lever's guitar-playing can be hauntingly subtle, or rhythmically incisive, with ear-deceiving percussion sounds, and he produces some magically resonant drone effects using Laura's violin bow.

And I bet you didn't know that you can use an Oyster Card as a guitar mute.

Copyright © 18 June 2009 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK











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