Review: Alex Cunningham – Knell (Fort Evil Fruit, Feb 28)

Violinist and collage artist Alex Cunningham’s Fiddle, a short tape that came out last year on Personal Archives, is one of the highlights of modern solo improvisation. Cunningham attacks, slices, hits, blows into his instrument, using an approach unrestricted by formal conventions to explore the full breadth of its sonic capabilities, much in the same way Polly Bradfield did on her sole LP Solo Violin ImprovisationsBut whereas in Bradfield’s music, the violin and its sharp, grating timbres were very much placed in silence and space, Cunningham’s visceral exploitations are extremely loud and uncomfortably close, even on the more patient pieces that comprise Knell, his newest release. By the time the ersatz, percussive textures of “The River Took Your Child” emerge, an instrument so closely associated with conventional beauty has been abused, ripped apart, deconstructed before our very eyes, its battered body yielding bow slurs that twist and turn like winding back-country roads, forceful scrapes in which you can almost smell the resin flaking off onto the strings, mysterious rustling textures that don’t seem to be produced by a violin at all… and that’s the third track! Of all the more adventurous experiments on Knell, “Piece for F-Hole and Breath” is perhaps the most unique, paying tribute to the extended breath techniques used by musicians such as Greg Kelley and Bhob Rainey, and introduces an area that Cunningham states he plans to work with further. In my opinion this is worth grabbing for the cover art alone (made, as with all of his other releases, by Cunningham himself), but you also get to hear some of the most singular contemporary music being made with a standard instrument.

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