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Lol Coxhill & Morgan Fisher, "Slow Music"

Slow MusicI can hardly think of anything better for Aguirre to have reissued on vinyl than Morgan Fisher's collaboration with Lol Coxhill, originally released in1980 on Fisher's short-lived Pipe label. More than four decades later Slow Music is a rare phenomenon: a masterpiece which truly sounds like one. It remains an ambient landmark, an elemental work of art and imagination, and a painstaking labor of love.


Coxhill started out in standard jazz, Fisher in popular music, but from these fairly conventional points, both set about making creative leaps to develop their talents, and vice versa. Fisher quickly went into and out of such disparate groups as Third Ear Band and Mott the Hoople before his penchant for experimentation led—via Miniatures (his 1980 collection of 51 one minute tracks by everyone from Gavin Bryars, XTC, and Penguin Cafe Orchestra, to Ivor Cutler, Robert Wyatt, and The Damned)—to his own radically experimental music. Coxhill accelerated into his distinctly wild yet restrained style of saxophone playing, bringing him into contact with future members of the legendary Hatfield & The North, Kevin Ayers, Shirley Collins, Derek Bailey, and many others, in addition to acting roles on stage and screen. The pair worked together for the first time one year before Slow Music when Coxhill came into the studio for Fisher's Hybrid Kids, ostensibly a collection of various mutant art-punk groups, all of whom were in fact Morgan Fisher in disguise.

With his own studio and a distribution deal from Cherry Red records in the bag, Fisher set out to create something different, something we might now see in a similar vein as a few of the 1970s releases on the Obscure label: ambient, post-rock, improvisatory, studio-as-instrument, modern classical. Given the time period, synthesizers would have been the obvious choice of instrument upon which to base his first ambient exploration, but Fisher opted for a more radical component: Coxhill's saxophone. The result was a great example of "musical sausage-making," as in the success of the end product relying on the quality of the ingredients. Of course, Fisher's working ideas and processes were also quite extraordinary. Take the opening track "Que En Paz Descanse," for example. He has casually described this mesmerizingly mournful classic as "a bit like a Mexican funeral march," which is really selling it short. The raw material is Coxhill performing Handel's "Largo" which Fisher recycles through tape delays, VCS3 filters and octave shifts to create an unforgettable piece. This track, and the final title piece are the undisputed highlights of Slow Music.

The entire album is a fascinating exercise in uncategorizable tape collaging minimalism, with overdubs, layers, and loops done to create passages of both hypnotic beauty and gob-smackingly clever sound manipulation. Coxhill's instrument is transformed to where it remains sonorous and timbral, yet rarely sounds like a saxophone. There are two tiny pieces on the record, one sounding very much like the reversal of the other, which makes sense given they are called "Flotsam" and "Jetsam." I like to imagine that Fisher took those titles from J.R.R.Tolkien, but that is probably unlikely and doesn't actually matter in the slightest.

The title track, "Slow Music/Pretty Little Girl," is 26 minutes of bliss based upon the melody of the final three or so minutes—where Lol Coxhill sings "Pretty Little Girl" as if accompanied by distant church bells. With guitar, bass, piano and voice, Morgan Fisher recorded his own piano, guitar, bass and vocal versions of that simple tune. He then spent weeks cutting approximately 5 mm of tape off from the start of each note, by hand, looping each melodic phrase, and recording these loops as new tracks which he then manipulated with tape delays. This seminal work has been cited as an important influence by several other artists, not least Haruomi Hosono.

Slow Music was reissued on vinyl in 2020. Lol Coxhill, subject of the documentary Frog Dance, passed away in 2012 at the age of 79 after a long illness. Morgan Fisher lives in Japan where—amongst other things—he hosts artist salons, exhibits his abstract photography called Light Art, and has composed music for television commercials and for the anime/live action film Twilight of The Cockroaches.

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