John Wall/Mark Durgan
CD (E139)

Digital version available from

Six untitled pieces compiled from improvisations
recorded 2–3 July 2011 at Utterpsalm studio.

The sound sample is an unused excerpt from the
second recording session which took place on 14–
15 September 2011 at Mark Durgan’s studio in
Bristol. Edited by Mark Durgan.

John Wall
Computer-generated sounds
Severe editing

Mark Durgan
Modular and pressure-sensitive synthesizer

Mastered by Jacques Beloeil

Edition of 250 copies
Out of print

See also
Edwards/Sanders/Wall (E217)
John Wall/Alex Rodgers (E193)
John Wall/Alex Rodgers (E178)
John Wall/Alex Rodgers (E114)

“A powerful start for a gratifyingly simpatico pairing”
The Wire

Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The Parable of the Blind (1568)


On these six untitled pieces, Durgan has been issued
with a modular synth, but any predilection he may
have had for creating a blistering screech assault has
been quashed by the iron control of Wall. Or has it?
Minimal as this music may be, the compacted strength
of a thousand noise firebrands still ticks away at its
mechanical heart. Wall may be doing everything in his
power to bleed away the rich colours from each inhuman
tone, but as many seated behind the mixing desk have
learned, you can’t keep a maverick down for long. Which
brings us to the additional credit Wall has taken on the
record, that of ‘severe editing’. One can imagine what
this methodology involves, not only a ruthless and
focussed effort of selection in order to reduce hours of
music to a single powerful blip of concentrated juice-
iness, but also carrying out the activity with a stern
countenance and furrowed brow, thereby presenting
the very image of severity. I’m all for it. If I had my way
John Wall would be appointed as a sort of musical censor
in this country, cutting down overlong contemporary
electronica albums to a fraction of their current length.
In fact, why stop there? If he could encode his method
into a computer script in some way, it could come
bundled with each new installation of Audacity or Max-
MSP, and automatically curtail the music at source.
That would teach a few people a thing or two!

Ed Pinsent at The Sound Projector

I expected this duo’s debut to be a lot harsher than
it actually is, which probably says more about me
than either John Wall or Mark Durgan. The impression
partly derives from Durgan’s work as Putrefier and his
involvement in the reformation line-up of The New
Blockaders: and partly from Wall’s sporadic live perform-
ances in London over the past few years, typically last-
ing no longer than 15 minutes and involving abrasive
sprays of calibrated, acutely complex digital noise. It’s
certainly not without some caustic passages; indeed
it’s more notable for its discipline and restraint — Wall
and Durgan limit themselves to a relatively narrow
dynamic in terms of sound selection and volume and
activity levels, yet locate a wealth of diversity within it.
It’s a pleasant surprise to discover how well-matched
Wall and Durgan are as a duo. Considering their contrast-
ing backgrounds and approaches, their respective
vocabularies mesh very successfully, yet retain a healthy
amount of contrast and tension. Durgan’s contributions,
generated from modular and pressure-sensitive synth-
esizer, develop the vocabulary which began to emerge
on his 2009 PAN album Ploughing Furrows From Rotten
Burrows: thick, relatively slow-moving sounds —
concrete-style slaps, oscillating granular pitches and
crude percussive blurts which hint at looping patterns.
Wall uses a computer, which presumably allows him to
move and react more quickly. Consequently his playing
is more volatile and diffuse, deploying fraying frequencies
and jittery, sibilant textures, which evolve rapidly into
detailed fractal-like clusters; or glassy surfaces ruptured
by bursts of tonal splintering and structural disintegration.
The album’s incident-packed six tracks — the 34 minute
running time fairly zips by — are compiled from improv-
isations recorded last July. And, given that neither is
primarily known as an improvisor, the duo’s interaction
is impressively accomplished. Wall is the more dominant
voice on the opening track (all are untitled), and Durgan
on the second. From there the balance of power slides
back and forth, sometimes precipitously but always equit-
ably. It’s often hard to tell who's doing what or how much
is in real time or not — in the sleevenotes Wall is credited
with “severe editing” (to my knowledge, he’s never ever
been credited with “mild editing”). His excisions seem
more evident on the album’s second half, in particular
its labyrinthine fourth and fifth tracks, which continually
shift focus and perspective. Regardless of how the music
was created, or how much reconstruction was involved,
this is a powerful start for a gratifyingly simpatico pairing.

Nick Cain in The Wire

As with last year’s album with Alex Rodgers, the music
presented to us here is much more immediate and raw
than what seasoned Wall fans will remember from his
early solo works. He has combined his sound very nicely
with Durgan’s to the point that often its hard to tell which
of the pair created which sound. It all sounds free and
thoroughly improvised, even though that may not entirely
be the case. What it isn’t though, and I am pleased to be
able to say this, is overly noisy and busy. There is a lot of
space in there where the music is allowed to breath, and
while some parts do involve rapidly tumbling scribbles and
synthesised flourishes there is plenty of definition to the
music, with sections standing apart from others and the
familiar Wall-esque sense of structure and compositional
integrity flowing throughout. Durgan’s sounds are the
perfect foil for Wall, similar in many ways and yet with an
analogue quality and warmth that sets them apart from
the harsher glitch of the computer. At times the two seem
to burst into little flare-ups of activity, but each time this
happens a passage of quietly brooding non-calm follows.
I refuse to use the word calm to describe these little spaces
in the music because there probably isn’t another word less
fitting for music involving John Wall, who performs like a
coiled spring and sees his music as anything but soothing
or beautiful. The six tracks here ooze tension. The quieter,
more spacious sections of the second untitled piece feels
like it is pushing hard at the air surrounding the speakers,
not making a huge amount of sound, but forcing the spaces
in the music into all kinds of charged torsion. Spend enough
time with it, involving yourself fully in it and it doesn’t do
your stress levels any favours. The music here is borne out
of improvisation, and the traces of it are very clear to see,
but this no wildly tossed about set of improv workouts.
This music has been tightly and carefully arranged.

Richard Pinnell at The Watchful Ear