From the off, there are several interesting things of note about this release, so I’ll start at the bottom. Just think of it like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, with the label at the bottom and the music at the top.

Not Applicable is not so much a record label, as a framework for producing music (I know that that, by definition, is what a label is, but bear with me). It is a label insofar as it is a tool for music to be transferred from the domain of the people creating it, into the domain of the listener. A monetary transaction may, or may not occur to enable this.

However, since its conception in 2002, the label has acted more as a way of documenting audio and visual collaborations between a collective of influential musicians, artists and film makers. This documentation comes in the form of performances, CD’s, DVD’s, installations and on the web.

Another key nugget is just how many of the releases are collaborative (the majority of them) and improvised. To me, this means there can be a level of fluidity present in what the label produces that the traditional framework could not, by design, attain. In other words, the polyamoury within the collective means that new ways of working and creating music are found because the same formula between the same people is not overused.

Any road, the current release I’m reviewing is ‘Long Division’, a ‘suite for autonomous electronics’ performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival and again at NK in Berlin as part of the NA Festival. The release is a collection of recordings from both of those live actions.

The musicians performing on the recording are Tom Arthurs (Trumpet, Flugelhorn), Ollie Bown (Autonomous Electronics), Lothar Ohlmeier (Clarinet, Bass Clarinet) and Isambard Kroustaliov (Autonomous Electronics).

Before delving into the whys and wherefores of the record, I feel I should offer a disclaimer of sorts about my personal feelings of live and improvised recordings. To me, much as the outcome of the music depends largely on the in-the-moment headspace and feeling of the musicians, the enjoyment of the recording can depend largely on the in-the-moment headspace of the listener. Suffice to say, there are times when listening to this album I have been bowled over by its instrumental symbiosis, and times when I have wanted to stick a pencil through my eardrums so that I may never hear anything like it again. Such is life.

All that aside, the first thing that struck me was the relationship between the two types of instrumentation on display. At times, they represented polar opposites – the electronics of Bown and Kroustaliov providing juddering static crackles, and the brass and woodwind of Arthurs and Ohlmeier its counterpoint. This is especially apparent on track two, where Ohlmeier’s Clarinet runs long, fluid, breathy passages over a mixture of squelches and digital wind.

And then, as the pieces develop, the line between the organic and the synthetic is blurred. What sound like distorted field recordings become an otherworldly imitation of an organic environment, while Arthurs and Ohlmeier evoke strangled, glottal spasms from their instruments. This is where, to me, the beauty lies in this set of recordings – when preconceived ideas of what roles certain instruments should play are challenged to the extent that you’re not even sure what instrument is what. It feels as though they are reveling in the lack of limitations improvisation presents to them as a musician.

Interesting that may be, and surely the basis of many-a music undergrad’s dissertation, but there still remains whether or not Long Division is an enjoyable listen. Certainly it is challenging, and often thought provoking, but there are many moments in its 50-minute running time where the bursts of improvisational inspiration are outweighed by passages that feel like filler.

Luckily, these are rescued by passages where the interplay between electronic and organic is positively hand-in-glove, an essential relationship.

‘Long Division’ is due to be played Monday 30th January at King’s Place, London. If you are interested in improvisation, I urge you to go along, as Long Division is almost a blueprint for everything it can be – both good and bad.

This is a Black Vase review. Have a read of the column here.