VA AA LR · It Just Ain’t Flapping

VA AA LR · It Just Ain’t Flapping

VA AA LR is the London-based trio of Vasco Alves, Adam Asnan and Louie Rice. Their fearless experimentalism has previously seen them tackle instrumentation as variable as compressed CO2, distress flares and a Citroën. Here, while the tools are in more traditional electronics territory, the music is anything but. From a heap of pulsating speaker cones, whirring dictaphones and a virtuosic cameo by Stevie Wonder the trio forge a gently clattering morass that seems to continually reiterate itself as it develops, ever threatening to collapse into a heap of household waste and bass, but always kept afloat by the lightest of touches.


One of the more exciting trios of improvisers, in this reviewer’s very humble opinion, is that of Vasco Alves, Adam Asnan and Louie Rice, better known as VA AA LR. It took a while before I was really into their music, but more and more I see what they are doing (or believe to see so) and more and more I like their work. In August last year they recorded these eight new pieces and further explore their excursion into the world of live electronic music. To that end they have a whole range of material at their disposal: the unstable nature of broken contact microphones attached to anything that resonates, radio waves and microwaves, static crackles and hiss, to the humming of radiators and broken loud speakers. This is all played with great care and style, like exploring the quality of specific sounds, in relation to other specific sounds. Last time around, in Vital Weekly 873, I compared them to Dutch trio BMB con, who were all about the conceptual end of live electro-acoustic music, here I am more thinking along the lines of Kapotte Muziek: it's more about the quality of small, amplified sounds – yes, you may drag John Cage’s ‘Cartridge Music’ in here as well – to interact with each other and make up some highly dynamic electro-acoustic music – all created on the spot. But it’s not like these sounds are played in a random way: sometimes they actually do make up something that we would/could a ‘song’, such as the looped qualities of the (untitled) opening piece. Quite dark actually, and not as noise based as you sometimes expect things to be. Music of some fine concentration. I’d be interested in seeing these guys in concert.

Finally! Hallelujah! Eureka! Top Horn! An album I can truly enjoy for no reason at all. It just ain’t flapping is at its very best, which really is a height to summit, a geography of misleading proportion. With eyes shut you could be listening for miles, with eyes open, what’s heard remains entrenched underneath the listening foot. There is so much here to play with, and I’ll keep coming back to it until it’s even more raggedy-ass than it already is. Though I have to ask, what’s the point of trying to describe this album whilst I’m enjoying it so much? I feel the question, in a way, is the best description I can proffer. As the CD hops from the speaker cones into the room I ask you to picture the marks on my jubilant face as I encounter over and over such a frisky and unique trio of artists that leave me thinking, fuck, I need to recover my sense of urgency.

When last we left Mssrs. Vasco Alves, Adam Asnan and Louie Rice, they were sending off distress flares, wielding fire extinguishers and other assorted hardware. I don’t recall if I summoned the ghost of Voice Crack on that occasion but they’re lingering about now in the sense that the sounds seem often to derive from some variation of “cracked electronics” and commonly contain at least a smidgen of buried pulse. That said, I enjoy this trio’s music more in that there’s less a feeling of the spectacular and more of just going about their business with an intelligent inquisitiveness and a finer idea of space. Maybe think: the nephews of the Bohman Brothers. Descriptors are pretty useless. Yes, there’s a Stevie Wonder capture along the way, but it’s just one element submerged among hundreds. The point, for me, is the flow, the obvious imagination in effect, the avoidance of too many cliches (hey, everyone hits some…), the evocation of a real space in which fascinating things occur for 36 minutes in an array of colors, most of them rusty. That’s enough. A really strong recording – check it out.

It Just Ain’t Flapping is the second new release from UK label Consumer Waste, alongside the recently reviewed Flourish by Nick Hennies. It comes courtesy of VA AA LR, an established trio comprised of London-based Vasco Alves, Adam Asnan, and Louie Rice (no points for guessing how the name of the group was derived). Comprised of eight mostly short tracks, and clocking in at just over 36 minutes, the record is brief and to the point, which actually comes across as somewhat refreshing in an age where the tendency to test the limits of listeners’ endurance is widespread. Succinctness in conveying one’s musical ideas is a skill that is often overlooked in experimental music, but these three aren’t afraid of demonstrating their aptitude in this regard.

Many times here I got the sense that the musicians were having an enormous amount of fun playing with various sound-emitting objects: in the track composed entirely of tap-dancing static pops, for example, or when snippets from a pop song are thrown into the sonic mixing bowl. At other times an impression of intense studiousness prevailed. But perhaps the most interesting moments were the ones where I couldn’t tell whether the trio were serious or joking, such as with the whooping ‘siren’ in the closing piece. At such points the line between earnestness and dry humour became hard, if not impossible to draw — whoever said that art can’t be both serious and entertaining at the same time could do with giving It Just Ain’t Flapping a good listen.

What I couldn’t really detect was a sense of three distinct individuals working together, a sort of collaborative to-and-fro, which is perhaps inevitable given how the sounds on the album were made. Or perhaps it stems from my lack of familiarity with these musicians’ previous work; maybe over the course of several recordings and performances a sense of individual technique or style can be discerned. At any rate, this is not so important, and doesn’t detract from a fine, thoughtful, entertaining, meticulous, and fun album — another great addition to the Consumer Waste catalogue.

VA AA LR est un nom de groupe derrière lequel se cachent trois musiciens expérimentaux basés à Londres : Vasco Alves, Adam Asnan, et Louis Rice. Tous les trois utilisent des radios, des outils analogiques,des bandes, jouent sur les phénomènes électromagnétiques et les ondes statiques, sur des sons enregistrés et amplifiés, etc. Leur musique semble surgir des scènes expérimentales les plus radicales de Corée, Nouvelle-Zélande et Australie, ou américaine (qui en gros pourrait ravir les fans de Graham Lambkin, Hong Chulki, ou Matt Earle).

Une musique abstraite et abrasive, dure, rocailleuse et très aventureuse. Il s'agit de huit courtes pièces très certainement complètement improvisées : des miniatures qui se ressemblent et composées de sonorités réductionnistes, une musique assez calme qui présente quelques ruptures surprenantes, en utilisant des textures de musique concrète proche du glicth et du lo-fi, sur des formes héritières de l'eai et du réductionnisme. Ça couine, grince, percute, siffle, c'est assez statique mais sans que l'on sache où l'on va, ni d'où ça vient. Une musique franchement expérimentale qui semble tenter d'extraire toutes formes de références musicales (tant au niveau de la forme que du contenu). Un trio qui navigue en somme sur des territoires osés et créatifs, qui explorent le son de manière interne et granuleuse. Du bon travail.

OK. Put this all together and what have you got? What would normally be a ‘what if’ becomes a ‘look see’ as these three chaps have put a tasty smorgasbord together as VA AA LR on their very professional looking CD It Just Ain’t Flapping. Mission statement: whiffle-bud earphone action finds tiny scrunching in one lug and machine-like fripping in the other.

Over eight brief and untitled tracks magnified metal and environmental recordings rub up against rubbery electronic loucheness as insect radios get de-tuned and hauled behind a smog-trawler. As ever, the art in this kind of group collage is the way it’s all put together. These carefully minced sounds melt and drip like a finger-painting picture traced on the window of a condensation drenched bus window. While the reels turn you get a gentle phasing; a smidge of clarity and then a jammy smear of opaque ‘wooahhh’ in that lopsided 1000-year-egg kind of way.

You want examples, yeah?

- Dr Who’s coffee pot splutters on ‘8’ almost drowning out the slo-mo rave synth.
- Text book examples of close-miked clicks, rattles and raps played alongside Heath Robinson cackles all over ‘2’ and ‘3’.
- Little Stevie Wonder gets a look in on ‘6’ with a malfunctioning videodisc cracking through Chariots of Fire as he solders bad-tempered joints (badly).
- The tugboat/trawler chugs out the harbour vibrating the dock and smaller vessels dangerously on ‘5’ while Silver Beatles jidder the mandibles.

…but it’s ‘4’ that pumps me up hard; a scant 1 min 56 seconds of percussive black hiss…slow steam escaping from a Tudor chimney.

Hey Nonny Nonny!