Tagged: percussion

Contusion

On Zashomon (HYBRIDA 06), we’ve got an exciting team-up between Miguel A. García and Japanese player Seijiro Murayama. Seijiro used to be the drummer in Absolut Null Punkt (or A.N.P.) in the 1980s, performing with the ferocious guitar monster K.K. Null, to produce some memorable LPs of experimental rock noise. He’s also performed with Keiji Haino, Fred Frith, and Tom Cora, and more recently teamed up with contemporary French improvisers and composers, including Jean-Luc Guionnet, Eric La Casa, Stéphane Rives, and Eric Cordier. Zashomon plays as a continuous 40-minute piece, although the track titles indicate a four-part structure to the work, including the intriguing third episode ‘One Perjury’…both players credit themselves with “electro acoustic composition”, and in places it does feel quite pre-arranged; the work is full of carefully managed changes and shifts in tone, allowing for quieter events to contrast with the continual stretched of rich electric drone-noise.

Early on there’s a fantastic piece of interplay between drums, synths quietly pulsating and buzzing, and what may be an electric guitar plucking occasional notes; the dynamics here are astounding, real moments of tension and vast gaps of white space in the puzzling music. After the duo settle for a slightly less bold exploration of textures and drones, but there’s still a lot of air and space in the music (especially compared with García’s default position which is to try and occupy as much space as possible), and there’s a taut mystery in the air. Murayama shows his mettle; he has that iron discipline that allows a musician to create a stern, unwavering sound, and keep the emotional register carefully in check. Consequently, his minimal percussion stabs ring out like hailstones on a wintry day, and his alien voice – a bullfrog’s murmur slowed down to the rate of a creeping snail – add a terrifying dimension to the record. At times, García is almost relegated to the position of an admiring acolyte kneeling before the feet of this high priest of minimal improvisation.

The bulk of the record presents a close-up and intimate study of…something, perhaps the craggy face of a lost tribesman or the details of an ancient monument, but it ends with about ten minutes of glorious release which creates a near-epiphany; off-centred drumming, an eerie but uplifting layered noise which may be erupting from the clouds like mutated thunder, and twisted vocal whoops from the Japanese half of the act. A very strong combination and collaboration, packed with strikingly original sounds and bold playing. Limited to 99 copies. From 19th September 2016.

The Purge: Anarchy

Fine blast of art-noise with a punky edge from the Peter Aaron / Brian Chase Duo, an American pair of seasoned players who only met up a few years ago in 2013. On the same occasion as their first live outing, they also booked a recording session at an old church in Hudson NY and recorded Purges (PUBLIC EYESORE 134), an intensive set of vigourous music created by means of guitar, drums and electronics. The longer tracks with names like ‘Space’, ‘Rolling’ and ‘Swirl’ are more easy to locate in the improv-exploratory noise zones, and they are sandwiched in between the numbered ‘Purge’ blasts, which are short punky guitar explosions usually around a minute in length – clearly the players intending to “purge” themselves of all bodily poisons with a voiding, puking action.

It’s impressive to hear this much confidence and swagger on a debut, but the pair have long histories; Peter Aaron, from Cincinnati but known in New York and New Jersey, was the guitarist and singer with punk band The Chrome Cranks in the 1990s, whose records are described elsewhere as “Garage Rock” and are hopefully edgy and nasty affairs of angrified electric bombardment. Chrome Cranks were pretty successful, with eight albums, lots of tours, and an MTV appearance. Aaron was also in Sand In The Face, who made one hardcore punk LP in 1986. As for Brian Chase, he’s the drummer with Yeah Yeah Yeahs (New York alt-rock band since 2000), and has duetted with Alan Licht, Andrea Parkins, and made an experimental drumming-drone record for Pogus Productions. I’d like to think that it’s these credentials that make Purges such a compelling listen, a thrilling combination of raw punk attack with ideas about sound art and improvisation…the label is equally enthused, emphasising the loud volume of their sets, and the “rare uncanny telepathy” that the two share, enabling them to set up and start playing without any fussing over sound checks and balancing levels.

The digipak sleeve includes a photo of the boys in action, confirming once again you can always trust a guitarist who wears a suit. The front cover may look a bit of a mess, but it’s an image of a broken lightbulb (a motif picked up on the other artworks) which, along with the acidic colours of the printing, does much to suggest the violent power of this music. Very good. From 21st September 2016.

Long Lunch Break

Yannis Kyriakides
Lunch Music
NETHERLANDS UNSOUNDS 55u CD (2016)

Writing in 1971 about William Burroughs’ then-latest book The Wild Boys, reviewer Albert Kazin 1 could easily have been anticipating this novel collaboration – almost five decades on – between Cypriot electroacoustician Yannis Kyriakides, Dutch percussionists-for-hire Slagwerk Den Haag and ‘contemporary vocal specialists’ Silbersee, when he remarked that Burroughs ‘gets astral kicks by composing in blocks, scenes, repetitive and identical memories galvanizing themselves into violent fantasies, the wild mixing of pictures, words, the echoes of popular speech’. In fact, he might as well have written this very review.

Though based on Naked Lunch’s dense and confounding narrative fugue, in Lunch Music Kyriakides has taken stock of the many ‘straight’ accommodations of Burroughs’ work over the years and sent them packing: no samples set to trip-hop nor dour thespian recitals here: ‘Smell Down Death’ signals this fact by mulching WSB’s dry croak into a queasy quicksand in the opening minutes, from which state it never quite recovers. He follows suit with the text, filleting all ‘rational’ syntax into words, syllables and vibrations in a ‘polyphony of voices’ that’s expected to approximate a reading of the book. In a pleasing convergence of scientific method and artistic inspiration, this digital arbitration was achieved by applying a frequency analysis algorithm to the text to determine its most commonly used nouns. No prizes then for predicting that lexical items like ‘boy’, ‘ass’, ‘cock’ and ‘death’ form the book’s rhythmic foundation and thus that of what we hear.

‘Words, horrid isolate words, those symbols of our enslavement, are replaced by the a-b-c of man’s perception of simultaneous factors–the ability to drink up the “scanning pattern”.’

Silbersee, like a well-lubricated (soft) machine, regurgitates this as grammarless glossolalia with a honeyed bounce to their vascular lyricism; chewing on words with the gusto of nightmarish Beach Boys on Groundhog Day. Their repetition of solitary words annuls all connotation and supersedes much of Slagwerk Den Haag’s physical percussion, as in ‘Boy’, where the eunuch mantra-fying of said signifier magnifies the grotesque comedy of the subject. ‘But repetition, that fatally boring element in Burroughs’s “cut-ups,” turns the coupling into an obsessive primal scene that never varies in its details’.

Compounding such in(s)anity, ‘La La La Terminal State’ closes the set as the heat closes in: the moribund choir locked in a loop of unlovely ‘La’s while a world driven mad by insectoid whirring and kosmiche ascension squeals to a stop; while mumbles of WSB-as-godhead make one last attempt to corrupt corporeality. Along the way, electroacoustic processing is pitted against Kalahari work songs; radiant radio static rains from open windows onto chattering street urchins; shotgunned spraycans reform in reverse time. Any part of this corroded tableaux might have been spliced into a Moroccan marketplace in Naked Lunch – the chaos is discomfiting, but reassuringly authentic.

In the spirit of reverent desecration, Kyriakides spears the mutant barbershop crooning with snippets of ‘50s pop hits like The Brothers Four’s ‘Greenfields’, which dissolves and devolves likewise into a vomitous assemblage of fruitless plucking and digital churn. Kazin diagnosed what is ‘essentially a reverie in which different items suddenly get animated with a marvelously unexpectable profusion and disorder. Anything can get into it, lead its own life for a while, get swooshed around with everything else’. As if part of a throbbing organism with the connectivity of Interzone’s gelatinous membrane walls, the voices speak ‘through one another’ in one glutinous mass: words within words within words – a vehicular pile-up process Kyriakides terms ‘mediumship and possession’.

To outward appearances, such shamanism is a messy business, where qualitative distinctions become indistinguishable ‘…like the embroidery of a cruel dream’. Naked Lunch is an uncomfortable read at the best of times, and Kyriakides is due kudos for neither concealing this fact nor reducing his interpretation to a linear event, as did David Cronenberg’s film adaptation. Whether for legal reasons or those of reverence though, his decision not to name the project directly after its subject does suggest a lack of conviction in his methods, which are experimental at least by the standards of others who’ve burrowed into the same works. By filching the master’s methodology – ‘inserting one scene into another, turning one scene into another’ – and remixing the text as a collage of suprasegmental sound, Kyriakides cuts to the novel’s filthy heart the way others haven’t.

  1. This and all subsequent quotations are taken from the same review.

Rooms For Improvement

Ingar Zach
Le Stanze
NORWAY SOFA MUSIC SOFA552 CD (2016)

A new name for me, but tucked beneath the surface of several SP reviews is Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach: an active figure on the European free music scene, though perhaps more at home among the contemplative Hubro school than vikings like Lasse Marhaug. He even racked up a couple of Derek Bailey collaborations in the early noughties, which is hardly anyone’s front page news I imagine, though it is his improvisor status that surprises most: a couple of listens into Le Stanze and I had him down as a considered, post-classical composer, not someone with a couple of Derek Bailey collaborations under their belt.

The truth lies somewhere between. The post-Gruppo d’improvvisazione(…) slither n’ scrape shenanigans that open Le Stanze maintain a haunting presence throughout, serving as a ‘spontaneous’, space-carving foil for the more ‘constructed’ sections in which percussion and electronics respectively stimulate and depress the music’s blood-flow. Perfect case in point is the galloping fit of percussion that drives halfway through ‘Il Battito Del Vichingo’: a skin-tingling, almost mechanical alignment of racing kickdrum and metallic shower that blows away the blues brought on by the dour intro, but which obligingly returns to the same after some low flying electronics have passed by. This sudden snap back to listlessness is mystifying, but we are compensated with a ‘Teo Macero moment’ beforehand, when the pounding rhythm is yanked from beneath the aviationary drone, briefly leaving us airborne.

Such dynamic extremes are representative of the varied compositional approaches brought to bear on the tools at hand, and of the potential ambivalence experienced in their alternation. For instance, while the chilling pulsations of ‘L’inno Dell’ Oscurità’ gradually acquire an arresting, almost coital momentum over the minutes, the closer – ‘È Solitudine’ – is more evidently an exploratory process; applying what sounds like an electric motor to various resonant surfaces and monitoring the resulting tonality. Neither Merzbow nor Dumitrescu, this voice of the concealed realms is by no means dull (and might even prompt a nervous jerk or two from the listener), but in isolation its purpose is less easily justified than that of certain earlier sections. Which hints at an opportunity missed: to blend the disparate and to promote cohesion between unpartitioned forces. As improvisation, this is fascinating. As composition, baffling. As hybrid, difficult to place.

Skate Mutie from the Fifth Dimension

Impressive record by one-man American powerhouse Matt Weston on his four-track release Skate For The Lie (7272music#009). I was interested enough to browse his back catalogue, much of which seems to consist of self-released items on his own 7272 Music label, and without hearing them I do have the impression that Skate For The Lie is just a tiny glimpse into what this fellow is capable of. He credits himself with just percussion and electronics, but there seems to be so much more going on in just these four short tracks, many more instruments at work. On ‘You’ve Got That Song’ he sounds like an entire band, performing some wayward brand of outer-space funk-rock noise. There’s also the intense over-crowded explosions on ‘The Old Man With The Burning Eyes’, where it’s like about two or three punk rock bands having a friendly punch-up in a sweaty basement. Real energy music, and “maximal” in a way that I enjoy tremendously, by which I mean there’s no time wasted with wispy nuances of drone and fiddly digital manipulations.

What exactly is Matt Weston doing? I’m not sure. This particular release, we are told, “features multiple realisations of architectural site-specific electroacoustic notation”, a sentence that begs at least three pointed questions. Notation? I’m prepared to believe he’s a composer of some sort, but this stuff comes across as so spontaneous, so very much of the moment, that it’s not immediately obvious to me at what point he pauses to look at the music score. Admittedly, ‘Tarrings and Featherings’, a stark piece of restrained but strong drumming, resembles avant-garde percussion music in places, but there’s also a lot of hearty scrape-and-bang malarkey that would terrify most classical timpani players. ‘This Machine Kills LRAD’ is even more stark, but has bursts and eruptions of electronic noise that you could use to dig up half the pavements of Manhattan. If that’s Matt Weston’s notion of “electroacoustic”, I’ve no complaints, but it’s a long way from INA-GRM, Clyde. As to the claims about being site-specific and having some connection to architecture, I’m at a loss to explain, but one does feel a certain grandiosity in these hefty, industrial-ish, man-sized blocks of noise and sound, as if one were being overshadowed by the tower blocks of New York. He doesn’t mess about and he gets straight to the point.

If we put aside these abstracted ideas about music, we should also note this album “explores themes of loss and defiance”, which may refer to some personal crisis in the life of this Chicago-born musician who currently lives in Albany. The title, and Jeremy Kennedy’s cover art, remain a little obscure, but I could say the same about many of the other intriguing titles in his catalogue, such as Kidnapping Denials or The Last Of The Six Cylinders. I do like a musician who evidently dreams of being mistaken for Herman Melville one day. Lest you think Weston is some undiscovered lone genius, in fact he’s got friendly collaborators by the dozen – there are ample instances of his collaborative work with other bands, singers, improvisers, rockers, jazzers, and avantists of all stripe, a resume of which would probably leave you feeling quite sick. Two regular gigs to look out for are Arthur Brooks Ensemble V, and Arc Pair, a duo with drummer Amanda Kraus. Many thanks to Matt for sending this. There’s also a cassette edition available as Tape Drift Records TD76. From 3rd August 2016.

Past Tense

Pluperfect (EH? AURAL REPOSITORY EH? 87) is a team-up between two American improvisers, Ben Bennett and John Collins McCormick; I see that Bennett has made one record for this label before, 2014’s Tangle with Jack Wright, and his drumming work has surfaced on cassettes and CDRs since around 2008. Can’t find out much about McCormick, although he may be as much of a video artist as he is a sound maker. Here, he plays his laptop and an amplified drum to do battle with Bennett’s percussion and “membranes” set-up. Two lengthy and insufferable sets veer between aimless, meandery doodling and intense, sometimes rather harsh, explosive sounds; both drums and electronics shriek and scream, spitting out painful ear-damaging statements. When the noisy portions interrupt the proceedings, it’s hard to see the logic behind it; by which I mean that neither improviser has any clear idea about what they wish to say, or what their intentions may be. There’s also a crippling lack of rapport between the two, adding to the cold and listless feel of the set. It was recorded in Marlboro College in Vermont in 2015. From 25 July 2016.

Sleep Disorder

Daniel Wyche is a Chicago guitar player and improviser who takes his task very seriously, determined to “explore the relationships between forms of resonance, overtones and noise”. He’s been doing it through extended techniques, guitar preparations, and using an effects console that would probably make even Keiji Haino sick. More recently, Wyche has turned to the methods of multi-channel playback, and something to do with the “spatialisation” of sound, something that works better in some performance places than it does in others. Some of these ambitions may or may not be represented on Our Severed Sleep (EH? AUDIO REPOSITORY EH?86), where he lets rip with the help of Ryan Packard, the drummer from Fonema Consort and Skeletons. Two lengthy improvisations pour forth, over 18 minutes apiece; a full-on noise assault eventually kicks in, some minutes after undetermined noodling about and hesitant stabs. There are some nice unkempt and dirty sounds on here, but for all their thrashing and hammering, the duo can’t seem to generate much actual energy. Their strenuous efforts go round in circles, like a dismal whirlpool, leaving no lasting effect on the listener. Wyche isn’t really playing the guitar enough for my liking; 40% of this album is just loud feedback put through filters and left to drone in an angry manner. Conversely, Packard plays the drums too much, blindly smashing his way through unadventurous riffs. While Our Severed Sleep may appeal to fans of avant-rock noise, it’s also too mannered and over-intellectualised to really make that visceral, gut-level connection one would tend to seek. Grandiose titles like ‘I Give My Language To More Than History’ don’t help matters either, I regret to say. From 25 July 2016.

Drift Studies

Last heard from duo FvRTvR in 2012 with their Gobi Wow record (noted here), and their new vinyl utterance Following Shapes To The Edge Of A Drift (DISCOMBOBULATE BOB009) shows the team of Fritz Welch and Guido Henneböhl are still working their unique furrow of disconnected percussive and electronic noise. As Fritz Welch projects go, I tend to find this one preferable to With Lumps, his side project with Neil Davidson which produces music bordering on the unlistenable, in the best possible way of course. At least FvRTvR sound like they’re having some fun, or a good whole-hearted discussion over a brew or two, rather than contemplating the general deterioration of the universe with crestfallen expressions.

Not a single moment on this white vinyl pressing flies by that isn’t filled with unexpected pleasures, and unpredictable aural swoop attacks – particularly from Henneböhl, the German half of the act, who is evidently more kestrel than man, using oscillators for wings. Welch’s task, which he engages with manfully, involves a certain amount of heft and sweat, and is more akin to punching rivets into the side of a hull than conventional “music” as, say, Les Percussions De Strasbourg would define it. A restless and slightly angrified mood abounds for duration of this spiky and turgid album, and you should start to feel itchy and active after just ten mins of spinnage.

The cover art conveys precisely the right degree of sleaze, mystery, and surrealism in equal measures. There is something quite surreal about most of Fritz Welch’s music, as though he seems determined to remould everything we think we understand about life, then tear it apart with his kneading hands, pressing it all together into a large gobbet of insanity. From 7 April 2016.

A Sense Of Depth

Spuren (HIDDENBELL RECORDS 009) is a very good solo percussion record from Christian Wolfarth, released in Zurich on his own Hiddenbell Records. This player has appeared in not a few collaborative settings, for both modernist composition and free improvisation, and given what we hear on Spuren it’s not surprising to me that he’s worked with Jason Kahn. We’ve also heard Wolfarth in these pages in slightly more conventional jazzy settings, such as on The Holistic Worlds of Wintsch Weber Wolfarth and Thieves Left That Behind.

Wolfarth’s achievement here is mainly to do with the sound he makes, the timbres and the textures, all of which are arranged and performed so as to maximise contrasts – various grains and weaves of drum sound rubbing up against each other like so many fabric swatches in a choice tailor’s workshop. He’s not after mad disjunctures of sound, and the total effect is wholesome and integrated, creating a very satisfying continual ever-changing rumble across two sides. The accretion of sounds is intended, I believe, to have a certain effect to do with creating an illusion of depth, a sense of perspective. It’s not the same thing as recording engineers strive to create when they speak of “spatialising” the mix; here, its more like a very sophisticated kind of magic-eye painting, applying principles from abstract art.

Another way to look at this cross-patching effect is to read his sleeve notes, short five-line paras of concise text (much like an abstract poem) which might describe the either process of creation or the finished work itself, and allude to the works of Stan Brakhage, the underground film-maker to whom so many musicians are in thrall. If you think of Brakhage’s work as continual overlays of contrasting textures, the connection with this drumming record seems plausible. “Flecks become shards become blocks” is one striking phrase that describes this accumulation of detail; “The surface is variegated and open to the incidental” is another. Wolfarth has two specific Brakhage films in mind, one of them the famed Mothlight where Stan glued wings of moths directly onto celluloid in his pursuit of shining light through layers of semi-opacity.

At one level, this may sound like a recipe for formal process art with no discernible listening pleasure, but Wolfarth is a consummate craftsman, restricting himself to a deliberately limited range of possible sounds and performing them with rigid concentration. Through these means, he achieves sublimation very effectively, and after five minutes in I was utterly mesmerised by the stark intensity of this work, its gentle but insistent core of meaning. From 5 May 2016.

Setting Stones

Finding much to enjoy while listening to the new David Toop, which carries the title of Entities Inertias Faint Beings (ROOM40 RM475). A strange and mysterious mix of music, percussion and voice, fragmented and suspended in a soup of crackly white noise. One might take it as a kind of personal journey through a fog of sound and music, where recognisable shapes or figures sometimes appear through the windscreen ahead of us. The sleeve notes probably explain how this record came to be, but I remain in ignorance, because I refuse to read them. I should point out that David Toop can be a brilliant writer and thinker. I’m dimly aware that he’s gone through at least one personal crisis with music, not being able to listen to it any more and preferring instead to simply listen to silence, and this record – the first thing he’s released in about ten years – may or may not be connected to this state of affairs. My plan in this instance is simply to listen to the record and leave aside the verbal contextualising for another day. From 15 June 2016.