issue February 2005

Mark Francombe has a well heeled reputation for experimental electronic and improvised music. Moving from his native UK to Norway in 1997 he settled in Oslo where he has since become a mainstay of the cities improvised electronic music scene as well as running his own label Synch Non Synch. A founding member and guitarist of the 1980's UK indie band the Cranes his musical lineage is wide & varied which is conspicuous in his new release Ear, Nose & Throat.

Released this time on Oslo based Synesthetic Recordings Ear, Nose & Throat is a cinematic journey of manipulated guitar improvisations, sampled, filtered and processed into a soundtrack that is both melodic and mesmerising. Looping riffs build and morph into multiple layers and textures creating a rich audio imagery that given recent microsound debates I wont make too much of but if one is to see sound as colour or image then this music is definitely a candidate. The press release eludes to Eno / Fripp's 'No Pussyfooting' and I would definitely add Ennio Morricone to this comparison if only to illustrate it's diversity. Each of the 4 tracks that make up this album have a distinct coherence but what really intrigues is the multiplicity of voices created from the one guitar and a bunch of FX. Screeching feedback to reversed reverberating guitar, often organ like in it's breathiness and timbre coupled with rhythmic snippets cut up and sequenced in a wry nod to glitch but ultimately not. The originality in Francombes palette of sound is also due in part to his modified baritone guitar pitched between a standard and bass guitar allowing for an enhanced lower end, giving the recording a real dynamic frequency depth and balance.

Tongue Lip Cheek & Chin
Synch Non Synch
synch non synch 06

Apparently made up of recordings that didn't make the Ear, Nose & Throat cut this group of tracks is far more than a just a sequel. To my ears it has less finesse but is in many ways all the more exciting for it. You still have the multiple loops and layers of Ear, Nose & Throat but with a much darker, more cerebral edge. Cut from the same block there are many similarities between the two releases but perhaps without thinking Francombe has let go a bit on this and it really does work as an separate album in it's own right. There are also some added analogue signal manipulations, piano and pads thrown in which lends it an interesting variation to it's sister release. Think dry desert landscapes or perhaps icy glaciers being in Norway but it contains all the audio pictorial references needed for a vivid blackout experience. Track 1 [ Tongue ] is my pick of the bunch with a definite electro feel it moves along on chopped white noise rhythm gradually dropping the beats for layers of melodic entwined guitar writhing into sculpted abstract noise workouts. This track features on this editions new net release Explorations in Sound Selection 1 (artwork included) free to download with the edition.

THE WIRE  Adventures in modern music
issue March 2006
Outer Limits Section
Reviewed by Keith Moliné

Ex-Cranes guitarist Mark Francombe wonders if he should release exerything he records. On the evidence of the massively varying quality of these five albums, that would be an unwise course. Icons of Kipple is an inconsequential installation piece based around looped voices and advertisments. Badgered features some interesting signal processing and FX action applied to some rather pedestrian guitar playing. Too often Francombe relies on looping and layering simple pentatonic figures in a style that recalls the longueurs of Steve Hillage's New Age echo suites. The far superior The most fearless animal in the world (which according to the sleevenotes is the honey badger - what is it with the badgers?) contains similar lapses, but for the most part its loop pieces work extremely well. Francombe likes big, bold sounds such as some decidedly Edgar Froese-like patches from his Roland guitar synth, and he's partial to mashing things up with gaudy delay feedback.
Ear Nose and Throat is better still, sustaining its focus on the excellent longer pieces and providing a real winner with its breezy opener in a surprisingly funky 'Tom Waits with an echoplex' style. Its companion album, Tongue Lip CHeek and Chin, almost matches it in quality, though it's let down by a lengthy second track on which Francombe really does overegg the pudding. It is extraordinary how he is able to create such an enormous sound alone and straight to disc, but too much of it has an excess of neat effects and a paucity of good music.