Tom Wheatley’s Round Trip is described as “an imaginary journey for double bass”.
For those who haven’t seen Wheatley performing, this potentially requires some explanation. For those who have, the journey through the limitless sonorities, textures and possibilities that he can manifest from his instrument will be all too familiar – scratches, hissing sounds, the sound of strings, scraped and subjected to intense pressure, noises that you cannot reconcile with an instrument that ordinarily seems to lend itself to ponderous, languid playing.
Wheatley is a master of using the whole instrument in his exploration of sound. Nothing is off limits. Nothing is sacred. Anything that can produce a sound is legitimate and accepted. I saw him perform once with such intensity that by the end the horsehair of his bow was detached, flailing, pathetic and thwarted; he had exploited the strings so close to the very limits of their elasticity that I thought they might snap; his performance was so physical and determined that if he had smashed the wood body against the gallery wall and played among the splinters it would have felt utterly logical.
You can imagine some of that technique being used to coax the myriad sounds that can be heard across Round Trip – frantic / frenetic; quiet / intricate; creaking / whining; droning / murky. At around the twenty-two minute mark, Wheatley creates a squall of bleats and stuttering sounds that feel like they must have been played on a sax, its performer bent double and pushing every last breath through the horn with wild abandon. I was not remotely surprised to be told that it was still Wheatley and his bass.
On Round Trip, he is accompanied by nothing more than location sounds. Birds tweet, chirp and trill melodically; pedestrians chatter; a lone dog barks; traffic can be heard far off in the distance; a delivery truck reverses nearby. Tune into that and you hear the cacophony of daily existence; a dramatic, disquieting, vibrant tapestry of ceaseless, beautiful noise. Heard in that context, Wheatley’s investigative playing here acts as an allegory for life’s quintessential, wonderful restlessness.
Round Trip by Tom Wheatley is released July 29 2020 by TAKUROKU. TAKUROKU is the download imprint of Café Oto in Dalston, London. Buy Round Trip at the TAKUROKU website here.
Words: Mat Smith
(c) 2020 Further.