Review: Phil Minton - A Doughnut's End

Phil Minton - A Doughnut's EndA Doughnut’s End begins with a melody sung through a series of wretches. “Ah-eh-ah-oh! Eh-oh!” Every component of Minton’s voice introduces itself: the lungs ejecting air in curt bursts, the throat contracting around each phoneme and squashing it into a slither, the mouth dousing vowels in a patter of saliva. Even the breaths in between – urgent dry heaves, reloading the lungs with just enough air to get by – feel sonically considered. They are not an absence of voice, but an internal counter-instrument; a ghostly requite to Minton’s squelching song (never is this clearer than the blustery respiratory solo of “Still Breathing”). What quickly becomes evident is that he knows the process of vocalisation like he knows his own home. Like a guitarist with an FX rack, each element of the process is tweaked with precision and technical understanding. That’s why he’s able to produce those incredible harmonised wheezes at the start of “Breaking News”, in which his voice rifts into two separate strands that dance in and out of eachother; Minton in duet with a phantom female soprano.

There is a primal urgency to many of these pieces. His vowel choices often tend toward those associated with fear and overwhelming disgust (“aaah”, “uuurgh”), while those sudden flurries of staccato are like the clipped cries for help from someone amidst asphyxiation. Minton himself has noted that this album is less optimistic than his work of forty years ago, and beyond being an exploration of vocal flexibility and improvisational impulse, A Doughnut’s End feels like a bitter and exasperated open letter to the world around him. It’s a wobbling whimper of the wounded (“Grandish”), a gruff vomit of rejection (“Is It Safe?”) and an acrobatic scramble for identity beneath an authority that tries to crush it (“I Was There When It Happened”). Age has brought with it a certain slack. Things flap and billow a bit more than they used to, which Minton accentuates in the formation of starker, more striking vocal shapes – unstable vibratos, phlegmy belching baritones. What if it isn’t volume and clear articulation that renders a voice audible amongst the masses, but visceral wordless eccentricity?