The Past Through Tomorrow

We’ve been enjoying practically every release on the Brooklyn label Neither/Nor records. Here today is Oblio (n/n 011), credited to label owner and percussionist Carlo Costa, and I think it might be his first solo item for the label (although he has appeared as band leader more than once). On it, Costa appears to be playing a lot more than just a drum kit, and the notes speak darkly of “an assortment of instruments and objects”, and the more you listen the more you can hear him applying bowing, rubbing and other techniques to gently extract multiple sounds from these objects. What emerges (from Part I) is mysterious howls and squeals, in among ominous footpads from the bass drum and tense rattling from numerous shakers, while tiny xylophones and bowls pick out minimalist melodies. Utterly compelling voyage-into-the-unknown music, a suitable alternative soundtrack for Apocalypse Now’s endless journey upriver. As an earnest of Costa’s skills as a musician, let’s point out that everything was recorded live, no overdubs, in one take and no edits – giving the listener some 37 minutes of genuine “this is this” honesty in music, to use the phrase that Keiji Haino used to print on his album covers.

Costa writes that he has been doing occasional solo sets for the last five years or so, and that he finds the work to be “the most challenging and rewarding playing I have done”. Indeed the sheer effort and craft, and physical exertion, is in evidence on this fine record – but not in a manner that imposes itself on the listener like a lead weight or elephant sitting on your chest…I mean you can’t ignore the very physicality of Christian Vander when he’s locked into a solid 20-minute episode of tubsterising, but you also have to swallow a lot of bombast and ego, neither of which are exhibited by Carlo Costa’s poised stance, his quiet but determined energies. Then you’ve got your Chris Cutler who pushed the drum kit into a pretty far-out zone with his preparations, but sometimes might have overdone it with the metallic debris and objects which rattled like a 20-piece Royal Derby tea set. Costa appears to have found the sweet spot where less is more, where restraint exudes a smouldering force as powerful as any volcano.

It remains to mention the “oblivion” theme of this album. Costa speaks of “memory and its place in music”, reflects on the concept of oblivion and what he calls “the abyss” of the past, and prints historical photographs of ancient civilisations in ruins on the covers. He doesn’t dwell on this fascinating topic, but to me it indicates that he may have developed an integrated view of art and life, one where the “casual gestures of daily life” fit into a larger continuum, and he understands how this is analogous to the creation of improvised music. From 9th November 2018.

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