BIOSYSTEM Incus 24
John Stevens / percussion, cornet, Nigel Coombes / violin, Roger Smith / acoustic guitar, Colin Wood / cello.
Recorded: June 28, 1977.
Biosystem finds the SME operating in an area that is seemingly a magnification of the possibilities implied in the massive Plus – Equals by the Spontaneous Music Orchestra (A Records 003). Generally operating in a low-volume area (i.e. the percussion is never over-bearing, and the three strings are un-amplified), the music rushes along in areas, takes some sinuous, twisting turns, and slows down regally, as if to catch its breath, operating in self-styled narrow confines yet always pulsating and pushing out at its structures; a music that expands and contracts simultaneously.
The two longest tracks (“Biosystem” and “Replanted”) are evidence of the processes going on. The playing is very intense, and in some cases (namely Smith and Coombes) borders on the relentless. Stevens’ drum work is superb throughout, working to fill things in in many areas, and achieving a “lead” voice in certain spots. Coombes’ beautifully lyric playing seems completely appropriate to the proceedings, while Smith’s guitar work is very percussive, co-existing with Stevens in an intertwining way. Wood strikes me as a balancing factor to the other three, employing intelligent alternations between arco and pizzicato styles.
The shorter tracks have more of a decided “chamber music” feel to them. “Mystery,” for example, is extremely dense, the quartet taking on orchestral proportions; a “bunched” feeling, but never claustrophobic. “Saved By The Bell,” on the other hand, shows strong rhythmic roots.
Biosystem, then, is at once very different and very similar to previous SME efforts: different in personnel, instruments, and thus timbre; similar in intent, dedication, exploration. Aside from a slight mixing imbalance (Coombes seems slightly to the rear), the record is exquisite, with a great deal of care apparent in its creation.
Charles K. Noyes, 1978