Clive Bell/Sylvia Hallett The Geographers

Bell’s liner notes conjure up the humorous image of the two musicians as characters out of Master and Commander, searching for the exotic while maintaining stiff upper lips. Bell freely uses the word "exotic” in these notes, as both himself and Hallett use instruments from around the world and around the corner for their sonic value rather than the musical traditions associated with them. Hallett gooses these noises further with gentle electronic processing — mostly just sample and hold delays, but well deployed overall. Bell’s most interesting noisemaker is the Thai pi saw whose wounded-animal cry sounds alien no matter how he plays it. Hallett takes on bowed, scraped and stringed stuff, most notably the bowed bicycle wheel that can sound like a subway rounding a bend or a tuned saw, depending on what she’s doing with it. Overall, fourth-world type atmospheres are created with lots of room to contemplate the uniqueness of the sounds. Both musicians have great ability to get the most out of what they’re playing and leave plenty of space for each other. Bell’s melodic bent is also appreciated in such a context, giving shape to what could degenerate into random combinations of instruments. The Geographers is a gently satisfying release, equally successful as free improv and as indefinable exotica. (Emanem)