Instrumentarium: a wondrous tropical tapestry inquiring into the techniques of dub

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Boris Hegenbart with 19 Artists, Instrumentarium, Monotype Records, CD mono055 (2012?)

What a wondrous tapestry of soundscapes the digital experimenter Boris Hegenbart stitches here with help from nineteen musicians representing a range of abstract experimental and improvisational music styles. The album is meant to be Hegenbart’s inquiry into the methods and techniques of composing dub music but his results don’t sound very dubby apart from the syncopated rhythms in some tracks. The majority of the 18 tracks on offer (one track features two guest musicians) are at least 3 minutes in length and all come well within 6 minutes so most of them don’t have a lot of time to develop but instead stay more or less as exercises in rhythm looping (as in track 3 with Stephan Mathieu on drums). Although there’s an emotional coolness throughout the album, on the whole it seems quite friendly and benign in approach; I think of it as a community of slightly remote people, minding their own business and respectful of the privacy of others, until such time when someone is in an emergency and needs help, and everyone pitches in to assist without hesitation and needs no thanks to know the recipient appreciates the aid.

Some instruments benefit from Hegenbart’s dissection of the original music samples: the banjo gets a stretchy work-out that almost turns the instrument into a koto on track 4. The night ambience of chirruping insects on that track becomes incredibly spooky. Most musicians featured choose to play guitar or drums; on the other hand Oren Ambarchi couldn’t make up his mind which to play so he ends up playing everything in sight including an organ and on top of it all does some singing (track 10) – now that is really indecisive! On track 6, Bernhard Gunter plays an electric cellotar which sounds like the kind of keyboard guitar-shaped object I’ve seen in videos where the kooky Kazakh Borat tries to channel his hero Freddie Mercury but actually generates some very nice tones and tunes in the time it has.

Though most tracks lack a distinctive personality that might be associated with the source material and their owners which is a bit of drawback, a few are stand-outs with regard to having an identity: the aforementioned track 4 with David Grubbs on banjo, track 6 and track 8 (Fred Frith on guitar), to name a few. Ambarchi’s track does sound quite dubby in sound and rhythm and there is a wild and wacky edge to the blurred singing over the tropical music. Marc Weiser’s guitar piece (track 11) is turned into something very hypnotic and Martin Brandlmayr’s drums contribution (track 12) is a beautiful and seductive piece that threatens to go quite haywire at times.

Overall this album is a pleasant listening experience with sometimes very beguiling and seductive music suggestive of laid-back holiday tropical beach ambience and open-air discos. Haven’t had much of that warm summer experience lately with all the heavy winter rain that’s been falling over the past few days …

Contact: Monotype Records

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