swing reviews

Their music is hard-edged (emphasised here by a crisp studio production), nervous improvisation, held together by an oblique textural logic and resolutely un-groovy rhythmic figures… Obermayer bridges the gap between Marks’ skittering drum work and Casswell’s heavily overdriven scrapings and twangings, combining abstract metallic chirps with brief, dissonant chordal interjections, and leavening the whole with unexpected orchestral samples. With its stop-start dynamic and dry sound-world, this record doesn’t yield its sonic pleasures to the casual listener…but there’s a wealth of ideas, and an intuitive sense of stucture which only emerges with repeated listening. It’s unusual, inventive, and definitely worth persisting with.

THEO LORENC, Resonance, May 2002

Immediate fracas. We were suddenly in a huge factory where metallic blows resounded and clashed syphonically, huge precise yet ungraspable… a pure structure of rhythm and high volume, the sound we were plunged into was very timbral. The guitar was used like a percussion instrument, attacked with a bottleneck against the pickups, the electronics colouring the blows… BARK! dissolve the opposition between rhythm and timbre. Each blow cuts through the timbre, which does not exist elsewhere as a reservoir from which we can draw rhythms – a powerful and radical intuitive discovery… These precise and massive sounds, these well-defined and weighed volumes, give BARK! their identity.

PHILIPPE ALEN, Improjazz, July-August 2001

A wonderful album of crunch ‘n’ roll, as Manchester drumming -legend Phillip Marks leads Rex Casswell (electric guitar), best known for his tenure in Stock,Hausen & Walkman, and Paul Obermayer (sampler) through some entertaining and very original music. They’ve managed to inject the rhythmic humour of Thelonious Monk into all the abraded textures favoured in post-rock and electronica, vanquishing its tendencies towards Enoesque pretension with ribald physical beats. Casswell is an astonishingly original guitarist, reconstituting the instrument from pick-up to amplifier. His beautifully-judged architectonics provide a cool spritzer to the others’ heat, as well as providing a bridge between the actuality of the drums and the virtuality of the sampler. Obermayer disdains the use of off-the-peg samples which plague much trendy electronica. He uses his sampler to bring tiny sounds into audible range. The resulting timbres are like microscopic slides in the hands of a master surrealist. Swing sans nostalgia achieves electrified materialism. Short track timings add to the decisive feel. Historic!

BEN WATSON, Music Choice, July 2001

No, despite the album title BARK! is not a slightly-behind-the-trend 40s jive revival band. It’s a British improvising electro-acoustic trio that works with the typical assortment of whirrs, clicks, clatters and hums, but layers and loads these abstract sounds into curious, surprising, satisfying designs. There’s a playfulness and wit to this music that’s rare in improv – intimate micro-details jostle with noisy scribbled lines and hazy clusters for elbowroom (meshes), congeal into musique mechanique with an off-kilter lilt (swing), and dovetail with jigsaw-puzzle precision (nobody’s sweetheart). When the three overstretch their brittle material aiming for big effects (Grus) the results can be thick and numbing, but for the most part their vigilant timing and pinpoint placement of details prevail – percussionist Phillip Marks’s contribution is especially noteworthy for its finely-calibrated understatement.

ART LANGE, Pulse! Magazine, June 2001

…Casswell and Marks have made BARK! a trio by adding electronic and sampler expert Paul Obermayer, who is also one-half of the electronic music formation FURT…The session works so well because these precise improvisations reflect the same reality that allowed the album to be entitled Swing without a Count Basie or Benny Goodman lick to be heard. BARK! ‘swings’ in its own 21st century European way and Obermayer’s instrument – for it’s as an instrument, not an effect that it’s treated – helps define the basic concept… From beginning to end, each track flows seamlessly into the next, as foreground quickly becomes background and vice versa. Few other acoustic improvising ensembles have integrated electronics so thoughtfully into a presentation.

KEN WAXMAN, jazzweekly.com, May 2001

…60 minutes of inspired improvisation… BARK! are light on their feet, keeping improvisations in a constant state of flux… just when there’s something to hold on to, it veers off to generate new gestures and textures. The cumulative effect of their rapid chopping and changing is best felt on the longer tracks, which allow more time to grasp what’s going on and to appreciate how BARK! continually regenerate their tiny, obsessive blocks of sound.

PHILIP CLARK, The Wire, May 2001

By carefully stockpiling samples with contrasting sonic perspectives, Obermayer constucts a kind of sonic cubism, where the instrument’s ability to evoke sound spaces is put into overdrive, producing not illusion but something wildly rugged and exhilarating. Phillip Marks likewise draws attention to the nuts and bolts of his technique, though here the effect is utterly zany – if he’s playing an irrational metre, he’ll count the rests with his drumstick, producing a visual guide to his bizarre beats. Casswell’s guitar playing also follows this insistence on clarity, producing planes of feedback where each move is deliberate and graphic. BARK! play a music which explains itself…

BEN WATSON, Signal to Noise,spring 2001

Marks transforms nervous tics and twitches into a whole creative aesthetic… The sudden starts, and almost instantaneous revisions, the exasperated scattering of the cutlery drawer into the air, unexpected bombs and random scratchings… [Rex Casswell] provides texture, rhythm and the odd tune… Paul Obermayer on electronics pulls the band towards abstraction. The results, on the basis of an extraordinary album…are compelling. Using the tools of improv, BARK! have developed an urban argot which is as contemporary as techno, and manifestly more human.

MIKE BUTLER, City Life (Manchester), December 1999