Large groups present a particular set of logistical and artistic challenges for experimental musicks of all stripes. The flat structures of free improvisation, so crucial in allowing for individual expression and dynamic interconnections, that work so well in smaller groups tends towards aimless bloat when more people get involved. Direction can help, although the idea of a ‘leader’ steering the ‘band’ in the ‘right’ direction is antithetical to the egalitarian principles that are so important to its practitioners. Elsewhere, too, quantity doesn’t always mean quality – compositions that feel obliged to use everyone in the room (or every sonic fragment collected during the research phase) often have an over-egged flavour, the try-hard nerviness a turnoff. Less is more. Even when you’ve got more to play with.
There are, of course, a variety of ways to deal with these issues, and things get easier if you abandon free improv purism. And if you’re not wedded to having everyone on stage (or in the studio) at the same time, even better. Shaun Blezard, the Cumbrian-based artist behind the ‘free flowing collective of improvising musicians’ Some Some Unicorn, uses digital technology to help put the pieces of his puzzle together. Blezard assembled an evolving cast of around 50 musicians at studio sessions in Salford, London, Lancaster and Ulverston, and then stitched the results together to form Unicornucopia. Minimal overdubs mean that the sound is still fresh – although different musicians were recorded playing live together at each studio date, it sounds like a single, extended jamboree – and the benign smoke and mirrors approach gives the album a pleasing hyper-real unity. It helps that the musicians involve understand what’s required and, in general, get with the project to push it in the right direction. There is a general drift towards tranquility, with cuts like Echoed Feelings twining wafting horns around discrete piano plonks and starry twinkles, and things tend to work best at their most droney. Compliance Unit is an early, groaning highlight, and the cosmic folk of By The Thyme (Some Some) sews bass skronk and bass thwacks nicely into its eerie lullaby. But, on the whole I could have done with a few more sharp elbows to nudge my meditations towards harsher climes. – Pops Margree – We Need No Swords
A tapestry full of nuances and details
Some Some Unicorn is a project led by Shaun Blezard, an English composer and improviser with a special interest for digital technology.
Some Some Unicorn started as an online collective project of improvisers and other artists. In 2014 they debuted with ‘Some Some Unicorn and The Golden Periphery’ on Clutter Music, Blezard’s own label. This first release came into being by collaboration via the Internet. After this first release the project became a live event of 8 up to 14 musicians, focused on free improvisation and ambient drones.
‘Unicornucopia’, the second release, counts ten improvisations played by over fifty musicians, recorded on four occasions in different line ups. No wonder a wide variety of instruments is used here, making the music very colourful. Afterwards Blezard mixed everything. No idea how intensive this mixing was, co-creating what we hear on the cd.
Yes, it is difficult to grasp what is happening. Sections of improvised music feel like slightly moving entities, drifting in the air. Music that moves like a smell that fills the air. A kind of jazz that evidently is influenced by ambient textures and drones. To use another metaphor, the music is like a tapestry full of nuances and details, somehow making up a coherent whole. Fascinating stuff! Music with a message too: “That’s how communities work best. Mutual respect and listening to each other. Working together.” – Dolf Mulder – Vital Weekly
Jazz’s outermost fringes
Some Some Unicorn is the brainchild of Shaun Blezard, a bandleader on jazz’s outermost fringes. The project represents his singular vision for the tricky execution of big band improvisation. This is music both earnest and playful, clashing together drones, snatches of poignant half-melody, skronking horns, dexterous synths and signal processing into densely layered, complex atmospheres. Heard together, this is one hot, noisy, musical mess that the late Sun Ra would have loved. – Mat Smith – Electronic Sound
Improvisational ambient jazz drone is exactly as esoteric as you would imagine.
‘Sometimes awkward and uncomfortable, other times completely compelling, this second release from noise collective Some Some Unicorn is an even more ambitious project than their first.
Led by Furness-based Hugs Bison and Clutter composer Shaun Blezard, Unicorn has evolved from an online collaboration, into a formidable live performance, and now this quite unbelievable studio recording that features more than 50 performers. Shaun references the Alex Cline Ensemble, Talk Talk, Spontaneous Music Ensemble and The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble as touching points for the collective’s jazz and ambient drone sounds – or for the more mainstream comparison, think the “between” bits on a Mars Volta album.
Where this album, Unicornucopia, differs from the 2014 debut is that the tracks are mostly shorter, a little jazzier, and feel a little more spontaneous. The result of a crowdfunding campaign, it is the result of a handful of studio sessions in Salford, London, Lancaster and Ulverston, rather than the previous way of working, which saw those involved sending ideas back and forth via the internet.
Over the 10 tracks, you still get random outbursts of brass and discordant piano, but there is less of a sense that performers are just doing their own thing, and instead picking up off the vibes of the others. The poetry that became the centre-point for much of the first release has been replaced by both male and female singing, and even beatboxing on the noteworthy Dreams of Other Peoples track.
It’s hard to know the intentions and ideas that the musicians went in with, and also difficult to pin down as everyone will hear things differently when there’s so much going on. For me, some parts could replace the soundtrack of a Michael Palin documentary exploring an African market place, or a Tom and Jerry chase scene. Others will no doubt hear none of that among the guitar noodling, the expansive electronics, and the sax freak-outs that so readily punctuate this release.’ – Karl Steel – Cumbria Live
Jazzy, Difficult, Free
‘Modern, beautiful, jazzy, difficult, free; it’s pretty hard to pin down exactly what Some Some Unicorn are. All I know is, I love what they do and I am looking forward to delving into their new album’ – Ben Gaunt – The Sampler
Free Jazz/Jazzy Noise
‘This album is the first one I listened to completely since I’ve left Hamburg. It was sent to me by my friends Kath & Mike Tyldesly who added the wonderful Dada-sound to the All To Nah single. They’re two from over fifty musicians who took part in the four sessions which finally led to this album. They enriched the improvisation project “Some Some Unicorns” about electronics and alto sax in contributing to the songs “Sustained Peace”, “Compliance Unit”, A Simple Shrug” and “Library of Liberties”. All in all the album became a total work of art that I would describe as very free jazz in some parts and as jazzy noise in other parts. I thank you a lot for the transmission. I’m looking forward to new pieces by “Some Some Unicorns” and/or Gidouille already!’ – AllToNah Macht Blau!
‘Shaun Blezard’s uber-collective Some Some Unicorn are to follow up their dreamlike drone debut, Some Some Unicorn & The Golden Periphery, with Unicornucopia, a far jazzier set that revels in passages of dexterous linguistic lobotomising and rousing improvisation’ – Jazzwise
Some Some Unicorn and The Golden Periphery
This album is the great result of an experiment in improvisation. Thirty musicians contributed their free improvisations through the web, without any briefings or requests, in a just-play-what-you-want manner. The result is a great, inspiring ambience but it could also initiate a mind-movie in your brain if it hits you at the right moment. – Raimond Fischbach – Weekendprog
Enter the world of Some Some Unicorn…
‘We’re overjoyed to be hosting the brilliant Some Some Unicorn this year. They’re a thrilling concept, excellently executed, so excitingly unique and they’ll be with us in April.
‘Some Some Unicorn is improvisation on a grand scale, a community-at-a-distance of 30+ musicians, is self-described as “big band free drone”, and stems from a contemplation of the difference between composition and improvisation.
Sounds pretty good so far.
In the words of SSU mastermind (ringmaster? guru? chief unicorn?) Shaun Blezard, “Are you a composer if you improvise?” He decided to cut that particular Gordian knot by composing an album using improvisations by various artists (for the full list see the SSU website under the heading “Members”).
Back to Shaun, “I recorded a couple of hours worth of improvisational ‘sketches’ on an iPad which were uploaded to the cloud and an open call went out for others to work with the material, playing along or playing with it. This completed part one, twelve tracks of dense work that was put out again for ‘overdubs’. When I got the second versions back the hard work began of getting an album that was coherent and still featured everyone.”
In other words, this may be a ‘big band’ but each contributor is creating in at least semi-isolation.
The music is haunting, occasionally disturbing, often transcendent, even blissful…
…the pointillistic piano intro of Memories In A Frame, leading into a rather eerie constantly shifting soundscape that contains hints of Blade Runner… the abstract ambience and noise of The Problem With Contempt, hinting at classical and jazz flavours… the poetry of The Dawning Of Chimes (including the “some some unicorn” reference)… the moans and distant doom guitars of A Haunting Song Of Thirst… the electronic glitches and squirts of Putting An End To All… and is that a harpsichord freely improvising on Inventing New Hope?
The sounds oscillate (sometimes literally) between noise, tuneful fragments, delicate melodies, questing ambience, social commentary, and so on but the whole thing hangs together as a single and coherent aural journey, practically cinematic, a tribute to large-scale creativity and the editing skills of Mr Blezard.
Some Some Unicorn have recently played a few gigs in the UK, featuring Shaun plus a revolving cadre of improvisers, depending on availability as much as anything. Recent online hints suggest more live gigs are in the offing, including a foreign jaunt – stay tuned, I sense they’re not to be missed…’ Dave Foxall – A Jazz Noise
Communal music experiment harnesses potential of new technology
‘A case of music-making catching up with the way we live day to day in an electronic age perhaps New Voices composer Shaun Blezard who has performed with Matthew Bourne, Ryoko Akama, Anton Hunter, and Mick Beck among other collaborators over the years has just released what he terms “an experiment in communal music” using new tablet and touch screen technology as a kind of tabula rasa for others in his freshly sourced community of collaborators to add their own music to.
Morphing with a flourish to incorporate their input the remarkably titled social media-inspired Some Some Unicorn and The Golden Periphery (Clutter Music) his album involves 30 musicians and artists including Aardvark, Martin Archer, Jamie Barnes, Steve Wharton, Hannah White and the Unicornian SSU Choir of Hope. Blezard comments on his website: “I wanted to marry my solo electronic work as Clutter with the improv world in a way that doesn’t dilute either but makes something that builds on the other.”
His method initially was to record four hours of solo improvisations using an iPad, whittling these down to tracks and uploading these to Dropbox and Google Drive putting the call out for people to play along. The Cumbria-based composer says: “Some remixed the work, others processed it, others had long email conversations about what to do. Others just played.’ Stephen Graham – Merlbank
Big Band Drone Experiment Gets Debut Release
‘First things first, this isn’t an album in the conventional sense. Throw it on at a party and you’ll not get people nodding along. Stick Some Some Unicorn and The Golden Periphery on in your car and you might wonder if there’s a problem with the engine.
The opener, for example, features what sounds like a lawnmower race or a light aircraft humming along throughout. Sometimes you’re rudely interrupted by what sounds like an alarm or the choppy whirr of a helicopter blade. This is “big band drone” – it isn’t designed to knock the latest Taylor Swift track off the top of the charts.
Featuring more than 20 musicians and sound artists, the idea is a complex one – none of them were in the same room at the same time. Laid over sound “sketches” created by Hugs Bison and Clutter main man Shaun Blezard, each performer sent in their own musical ideas via email without hearing what any of the others had contributed.
So over the nine tracks – the majority of which are eight or nine minutes long – you hear agitated brass, discordant piano and various clattering beats and melodic strings, all doing their own thing. Cumbrian Ann Wilson reads on four of the tracks, her strong accent and descriptive, sometimes fantastical poems a highlight, adding yet another thought-provoking element to the record.’ Karl Steel – Cumbria Live