Helen Papaioannou is nothing if not productive. A composer whose works have been performed by Nieuw Ensemble, Ensemble neoN, the LSO and the Royal Northern Sinfonia, among many other luminaries in the realm of boundary-pushing classical music, she has also formed a part of some of the UK’s best fringe noisemakers and improvisers down the years. An alto and baritone saxophonist, her squawks and honks can be heard across releases by bands like Beauty Pageant, Hokkett, PONPON and, most recently, Garlic Hug with Alessandro Altavilla. But far from spreading herself too thinly, Papaioannou seems to embrace and master each and every left turn she makes; her newest project, a solo endeavour by the name of Kar Pouzi, brings synths into the mix and intertwines them so deftly with the familiar bellows of her horn that each develops an almost symbiotic reliance on the other to progress.
Alternating between flat-out noise, Ikedan micro-glitch and the almost inaudible, Red Sprite journeys through four tracks of call-and-response virtuosity that rewards the same kind of patience and close attention Papaioannou clearly lavished upon the album’s creation. If the opening track’s air horn blare is designed to alarm the listener to attention, it performs a similar task on the synths by practically knocking the door down to elicit recognition. Quiet and tentative, the first obvious evidence of the synths’ presence arrives well after halfway into “Red Sprite I,” peeping a head into the gaps the staccato sax leaves in it’s increasingly frantic wake. From here, they’re coaxed into the light to join the party, never again to play subordinate, and they perform as much of a role in dictating the remaining tracks’ passage as their more forthright opposition. By the time “Red Sprite III” has droned into the snarling “Gabbazanzara,” in fact, the synths are grinding out a danse macabre and the horn, if indeed that is the horn, has been plunged beneath a syrupy mass of static, barely able to produce a parp.
Red Sprite is available via Leeds label don’t drone alone and you can stream the masterfully constructed “Red Sprite II” below: