Here’s a sentence one won’t encounter too often: “Richard Sanderson has produced another album of melodeon improvisations.” In general, we don’t hear many combinations of diatonic button accordion and electronics. That simply means that it’s rare. But for air button aficionados (there must be a few!) this may be the ultimate modern recording, an set swiftly followed by a remix collection. It’s obviously a labor of love, as Sanderson worked on the album “on Friday afternoons when the housework was done and before the kids came home from school.” Forget asking, “how was your day at school?” Dad obviously had the more interesting day.
The clearly experimental album veers from gossamer-thin pieces in which the air seems heavier than the notes (“Keening”) and more fully-fledged works integrating field recordings and light drones. The best selections offer some unusual combinations of sound: blowing, creaking, crunching, echoing. “Shade” seems like a duet between wind and breath, as if the melodeon were left outside in a gale. “The Wold Shadow” and “Separating Circle” incorporate the crackle of a vintage gramophone, with songs attempting to burst through the static. “Fort Two/Electric Toothbrush/Quartz” unfolds in three distinct parts like an avant-garde “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Best is the moody closer “Velux Doppler”, which sounds like the work of an artist attempting to milk sound from a soggy instrument.
Sanderson invited artists to adopt his source material however they sought fit, with one provision: each track had to be exactly two minutes long. Button Box is the result, an amazing 46 tracks from sources as close as a next door neighbor to as far away as distant continents, from virtual unknowns to Lee Noyes and Linear Bells. As one might expect, the collection is vastly uneven, yet endlessly fascinating. In the hands of Dead Voices on air, “Stalactite” (only two minutes long to begin with) becomes the thicker “Stalagmite”, while Kate Denny changes it to the percussively odd “Stalacbite”, with heavy breathing. Weatherglass creates an ambient piece with “Rubato Tins”, while skitter goes in the opposite direction and makes everything sound abrasive. Mick Scrivens adds piano; Peter Marsh adds a beat (partially taken from the clock sample in “Shade”); Kendo adds real drums; K.A. Laidy adds a monologue; Clive Pearman adds a banjo; Steven Ball sings. At times the air buttons seem to have gotten lost in the couch, but everyone seems to be having a blast. There’s enough here for every taste: ambient, drone, rhythm, singer-songwriter. (And not just straight singing; some very unusual inflections are on display.) It’s fun to think of Sanderson’s reaction when all of these remixes started coming in. Together, the albums create a fascinating pair, one that deserves to be repackaged in a physical set with actual buttons. The melodeon isn’t a common instrument, but this album may help to increase awareness. It’s not just for parents on Friday afternoons. (Richard Allen)