Of Bees and Operas


Bee Reiki – 173CD (2024), Faradena Afifi, Steve Beresford and Paul Khimasia Morgan (Discus Music)
Don’t be afraid – an opera, Gwilly Edmondez, Chris Parfitt (Recordiau Dukes)
Llif(T) #1 and #2, various artists (Recordiau Dukes)

Although I’ve often seen Reiki referred to, I have to admit I’ve never really known much about it, apart from the fact that it’s some sort of therapy and that it’s Japanese. Listening to this album prompted me to find out a little bit more. It is – apologies if you’re better informed than I am – a relaxation technique based on the laying on of hands, which assumes the existence of a “life force energy”. Does it work on bees? I’ve no idea. It’s nice to think that it might.

Who came up with the title of the album and the tracks is not made clear from the album notes. It’s certainly in line with the dry, generous humour I’ve come to associate with Steve Beresford, although the notes do tell us that another of the performers, the vocalist, Faradena Afifi, is a full time T’ai Chi teacher and practitioner, which might have something to do with it. As it happens, though, her contribution was added later. The tracks here began life during the covid lockdowns, with Beresford and fellow-performer Paul Khimasia Morgan attempting to perform together over Zoom. As it says in the notes: “Often the Zoom platform exposed its limitations for processing audio reliably, sometimes distorting … or … adding sonic artefacts, glitches, drop-outs and so forth. Because of this unpredictable behaviour, Steve and Paul began to think of Zoom as a kind of third contributory participant to their sessions.”

If I had to describe the way this music’s put together with one word, that word would be artless. Contributions are always apt and never overstated. My only concern is that the ambience sometimes feels artificial – the way the music is put together means that frenetic kit-drumming can be pushed into the background, for example, in a way that would be impossible if all the musicians were together in one room. This is not necessarily always a bad thing – what one looses in natural ambience one gains in being able to make the impossible possible.

Gwilly Edmondez (aka William Thomas Gustav Edmondes) is a performer who describes his primary aesthetic as Wild Pop, a term which “was initially conceived as a term that avoids using the word ‘improvisation’ to denote musical performance that is neither composed nor rehearsed (made up on the spot) while acknowledging the centrality of pop (a pop sensibility, pop’s aesthetics) to the majority of music as it is most widely consumed.” On this album, Don’t be afraid – an opera, he teams up with Chris Parfitt, a veteran of the Welsh free improvisation scene.

There’s something about opera: it’s come to represent classical music at its most elitist (about as far away from ‘pop’ as you can get), extravagant and, often, frankly strange. It’s often sung in languages unfamiliar to its audiences and even when you translate the words, the plots, once taken out of their musical context, quite often seem laughable. Whatever one thinks of it as a genre, there’s no doubt that it’s roots go back a long way, and that early opera composers were themselves adventurous experimentalists, in search of new ways (or, as they saw it, setting out to rediscover old ways) to dramatise events and emotions with sound. 

It’s interesting that Gwilly Edmondez and Chris Parfitt have chosen to describe what they’ve made as an opera. Both performers make vocal contributions, Edmondez with the addition of a dictaphone, while Parfitt also plays piano, harmonica and objects. Sometimes it verges on sounding like an opera as we know it (as Mr Spock might’ve described it): the improvised textures in the first track (‘Act 1’) almost crystallise  into recitative. Throughout the album, odd phrases float to the surface, commandeered, from what I can tell, for their potential as sound, rhythm and gesture, rather than for any continuity of meaning.

When anyone working in the free improvised/experimental music scene invokes the spectre of opera, it’s hard not to think of Tom Phillips’ Irma, based on random phrases taken from the 1892 novel, A Human Document. It was a spin off, I think, from Phillips’ ‘erasure novel’ based on the same book, A Humument.  Notable versions of Irma have been created by Gavin Bryars and the improvisation group, AMM (see links below). The idea of developing different versions from minimal indications, though, (as is the case with Irma) is miles away from Edmondez’ preferred “Wild Pop” aesthetic,which, as he has explained, sets out “to make definitive performative statements without preconception, planning or rehearsal.”

In the notes on the album, Edmondez describes Don’t be afraid as ‘bonkers’. Who am I to disagree with him? It’s a must listen.

There’s no doubt that the various platforms available on the internet have added a whole new dimension to improvised music. Collaboration no longer requires musicians to be in the same place at the same time. This has been a real, positive boost to the genre. It’s hard enough to get musicians working in more popular, mainstream genres together to perform and, for people making less popular, niche musics, in the past, geography has been a real limiting factor. During the lockdowns, even more improvising musicians turned to this way of working, as in the Alfifi/Beresford/Martin collaboration I began with. However, performing “in the flesh” is still central to what improvising musicians do.  Llif(T), who have recently launched two albums showcasing their work, is a community of improvising musicians who meet regularly in Bangor, North Wales. They’re open to new members and “welcome players of all levels who are interested in exploring new paths to music”.

I like the way free improvised music challenges all our assumptions about what music should be. Of course, a lot of great music requires a great deal of preparation and rehearsal, but capitalism has created a situation where we assume music is performed by elite groups competing to sell us tickets, much as car manufacturers compete to sell us cars. One of the great things about free improvised music is not only that it’s hard to turn it into a commodity but that it flies in the face of the performer/audience divide. The lines between the consumer and the producer can become blurred beyond recognition. It may be an overstatement to say the genre represents what music might’ve been like had Bach, Beethoven and Co. never happened and the modern music industry never existed, but just to consider this idea is an interesting thought-experiment. It’s certainly true that the way it sidesteps commodification and flies in the face of preconceptions about what music is, creates a richly fertile creative space. It’s this space that’s exploited by Llif(T) and groups like them. It would be great if their example inspires musicians in other localities to get together.

There’s a real sense of interpersonal involvement in these recordings, not to mention an ambience you’d struggle to create over the internet. There are moments of real magic. I like, too, the way they tend to leave the recorder on at the end or start it before they begin, capturing something of the chat that obviously goes on around the performances. If I had one criticism, it would be that perhaps they should make their albums shorter. If they halved the number of tracks on each, they could make twice as many and perhaps attract twice as much attention!


Dominic Rivron


Bee Reiki

Don’t be afraid – an opera

Improvisers’ Networks Wales – Llif(T) inclusive community group improvisation:

Llif(T) #1:


Irma (Phillips, Bryars, Fred Orton):

Irma (AMM):





This entry was posted on in homepage and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.