Tagged: percussion

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.

Suspended Solids

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We’ve heard Francesco Gregoretti before as part of the group Strongly Imploded, an unusual Italian improv combo; their ranks also include the wonderful _SEC, who did the mastering for Solid Layers, Deafening Shapes (TOXO RECORDS TX06) which is Gregoretti’s solo percussion album. Gregoretti is what we might call an “expanded” or “augmented” drummer. Not settling for the classical drum set, he also plays objects and amplification, thus placing himself in a line of avant-percussionists that surely must include Chris Cutler in the 1980s.

His set-up is described as a “system” here in the press notes, and I can well believe it…his aim is to generate “personal sound worlds”, and the overall effect of Solid Layers is indeed something that surrounds and immerses the listener. Instead of being attacked by percussive stabs and bites like a swarm of hornets, we’re boxed in with heavy blocks of droning, groaning, sub-bass roars and grunts. No wonder ‘Uproar Among The Gods’ is one of his track titles; that track in particular is a portrait of an Olympian rumble, like the opening track to Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland rethought for amplified drums. Matter of fact ‘Uproar Among The Gods’ would make a good title for a Led Zep bio depicting arguments and disagreements within the band. Gregoretti is also pretty hot with bowed cymbals and other metallic moments, which vary and leaven the otherwise “blocky” sensations of this sweaty, 12-rounds with the heavyweight champ album.

SEC_ has also written a sleeve note for the record, in which he points out that Gregoretti is a mathematician, and speculates on the way his music tends to demonstrate the rules of chaos theory. I also find that Gregoretti has played with some of my favourite maverick improvisers, including fellow mad drummer Will Guthrie, Jean-Marc Foussat the Algerian king of the VCS3, and Japanese guitar maestro TeTuzi Akiyama. You can judge a drummer by the company he keeps, they say. I also learn that the group Strongly Imploded is but one offshoot of the mothership group Grizzly Imploded, which has also spawned another combo called Oddly Imploded. I can’t keep up. From 26 June 2016.

The Great Deceiver

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Mammoth Ulthana
Particular Factors
POLAND ZOHAR 118-2 CD (2016)

Mammoth Ulthana are on one hand an electronic music duo (Jacek Doroshenko and Rafał Kołacki) and on the other a fictitious and self-mythologising ‘ancient community that uses the phenomenon of sound as a medium to express a deep connection with nature’. ‘Ah ha’ you archly exclaim, expounding cynically upon every desktop ‘shaman’ with Pro-tools and panpipes to hand, filling the lug-holes of anyone who’ll listen with ephemeral, sub-FSOL atmospherics or Sunburned Hand-style ‘ecstatic’ daubings… ‘Thanks but no thanks’. Actually, those were my thoughts till I gave this CD half a chance, but by and by it has dutifully delivered.

Granted, this is my kneejerk response to anyone who wields the rainstick in overture to ‘shamanism’; its respective cultures and esoteric rituals, especially in the name of entertainment. Westerners talking spiritualism are like pigs discussing Shakespeare, just a good deal less entertaining. At the same time, very tried and tested is the pairing of ‘ancient’ or ‘ethnic’ instruments with computer generated music; such ‘organic’ composition frequently a mishmash of rambling ‘freak folk’ and reassuringly warm, resonant sound fields; something quite distinct from the initiatory trauma that I would imagine precedes a footstep into the spirit realm. And that’s how things begin: agreeably. Inoffensively. Interestingly. With ‘oriental gongs’, ‘ethnic drums’ and singing bowls etc. forming the basis of calming early tracks.

It’s not until about midway through (‘Sove’) that the listener might twig that they’ve been led into a trap, and that the earlier ambience has grown into a more menacing breed of drone; itself but interstitial to the black cauldron brew that subsumes and finally becomes the landscape. At some point we become aware that Doroshenko and Kołacki have capably deposited us into an internal sound world of some description, where the escalating clamour of inverted reality becomes deafening. Once maligned (by yours truly), the ’ethnic’ instrumentation – e.g. the percussion in the dense and darkening ‘Tombs’ – becomes a sinister, ritualistic language; one simultaneously counterfeit and yet quite personal to the musicians involved. Having made it this far, the listener has not choice but to continue their unwitting part in a fine act of deception.

Kitchen Sink Gamelan

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International Novelty Gamelan
Metalophonia
USA MODERN RADIO RECORDS LABEL MRRL 060 10” (2015)

Packaged like a lost 78 from the early 20th century Java; one that might have earned page space in Robert Millis’ sumptuous vinylist’s coffee table fixture Victrola Favourites, and not unlike an old Sun City Girls 10” is this capable amateur’s effort from the five artists/musicians who make up International Novelty Gamelan. Their work is a slightly ramshackle showcase of the gamelan’s sociability in varied settings and while most members have studied the instrument formally, none would claim steepage in its culture nor would they wish to, instead making a virtue of the resultant Novelties when rampant inspiration collides with the potential of a new medium, as they set out to ‘broaden the range of what gamelan is thought to be’. Purists might sniff ‘dilettante’, but the group has considered its output with care and in the interlocking lines of the early minutes establishes a convincing, mechanical rigour; a conceit pursued so vigorously that the typewriter-like tapping of the titular ‘Adding Machine’ is audible over the gamelan’s gentle, metallic pulse. The group maintains this this premise of gamelan-as-canvas throughout, importing non- (or vaguely) traditional accompaniments such as hand drums, hand claps and scratchy violin to embolden and diversify the mood and syllabic nuance of these five pieces, which culminate rather sharply in a 10-minute shrieking howl of Asian puppet theatre, ‘MonoGatari’, ensuring listeners ringside seats to an affable and exploratory kitchen sink drama.

Open The Sight to a Hidden Reality

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Here’s another new record by Raymond Dijkstra. At least I think it is. This vinyl LP is credited to Bhaavitaah Bhuutasthah, the music is credited to Le Ray, while the artworks and sleeve note are credited to RD. It’s fair to assume that these are all aliases for the same fellow; last time he descended upon our four walls, he was calling himself NIvRITTI MARGA, an act which he realised with the help of Timo van Luijk (from Noise-Maker’s Fifes) and Frédérique Bruyas, who added grisly voice effects. Unwritten rule followed by a few avant-garde acts: keep one step ahead of everyone by throwing them off the scent with exotic aliases. It worked for Fantômas, that pulp fiction anti-hero criminal mastermind so beloved of the Surrealists.

Over the years I keep finding myself in a love-hate relationship with Dijkstra’s work, forcing myself to hear it and drag myself to the writing block afterwards; even he was moved to email me with the observation, “although you don’t really seem to like my music, you’re nonetheless one of the best review writers I know.” Remembering In The Cosmic Manifestation (EDITIONS LE SOUFFLEUR LS111) is, for the first side at least, one of his more approachable records. The two parts of the title track appear on side one, and it’s a couple of moog / percussion workouts that I’d venture to say might even appeal to fans of the first Popol Vuh LP, Affenstunde. Matter of fact the very word “Cosmic” in the title is probably a nod in that very direction. But it’s far darker and colder than the sunlit worlds of Florian Fricke. It’s as though Florian had turned to diabolry and satanism instead of Tibetan Buddhism. I say this because the music is so wayward and distorted; although Le Ray comes close to playing recognisable chords or melodies, it’s as though he deliberately stops short of doing so, refusing that safe resolution into a comforting E-C-G chord shape. Likewise, his sonic treatments keep the listener off balance here; distortion, wayward interventions, and other devices to disrupt the surface calm keep on bobbing to the surface, like so many unwelcome monsters rising up from the bottom of the lake. Even those conga rhythms which could have added a transcendental effect and contributed to a meditative frame of mind are poisoned somehow; they smack of decadence, ether-infused trance states, unwholesome nightmares. So far, “approachable” does come with a caveat or two.

Side two turns out to be the hideous twin brother of the relatively benign side one. Both parts of ‘Kosmische Vernichtung’, especially the interminable part I, are the sort of indigestible and unsettling music I usually associate with Dijkstra. The title says as much. You may be cheered by the sight of the word “Kosmische” and assume we’re in for some more Popol Vuh related treats, but it translates as “cosmic destruction”, indicating at least three related aspects to Dijkstra’s fiendish plan. He aims to destroy krautrock music; he aims to completely reverse any benefit that may have been conferred by his efforts on side one; and he aims to create a soundtrack for the apocalypse. Yes, I know there’s probably not a single Industrial musician who hasn’t boasted about their apocalyptic ambitions since 1980 onwards, but Dijkstra comes pretty close to opening the Seventh Seal with this horrifying melange of sound he’s unleashed. Produced I think with mellotron added to the moog and percussion, said mellotron probably contributing the ultra-queasy string effect that sounds like a hundred classical musicians being sick at once, ‘Kosmische Vernichtung Part I’ manages to stay just on the right side of coherence long enough to pull you in to its hateful vortex of chaos and despair. Every discordant moment is probably planned and executed with a ruthless precision, the composer knowing exactly what buttons to push to induce existential terror in the listener’s head. You’ll think you can stand it at first, then after ten minutes you’ll be begging for mercy. I can’t really say I enjoyed listening to this side of swirling, monstrous noise, but it’s a work of genius. Evil genius, that is.

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The cover art to this record continues the series of photo-collages we have already seen on Nivritti Marga and the Santasede 10-inch, also on this label and another Dijkstra collaborative project. Through the simple expedient of cutting up images of a lushly-furnished room, the artist strikes cold fear into the heart of the onlooker. It’s a deliberate attempt to subvert the normality of the bourgeoisie, through a direct attack on “good taste” and the traditions embodied in fabrics, wallpaper, and antiques. In the same way that the music challenges you to find a way into its illogical patterns and pathways, this impossible room looks at first sight like a place where a human being could enter, but the more you examine it the more you realise it’s an impossible, nightmare dimension, full of broken perspectives and awkward shapes. It’s not too far-fetched to suggest a connection could be found with the music on ‘Kosmische Vernichtung Part I’, those parts where classical orchestral traditions are being parodied and grotesquely mutated into a sickening noise. What these collages do for a hundred stately homes and luxury hotels across Europe, Dijkstra’s music is doing for the conventions of classical music. Once again I must liken him to that most famous of 20th century art movements, and consider him one of the most outright Surrealist artists working today. From 10th February 2016.

Where The Wild Things Are

Andi Stecher

Andi Stecher
Austreiben / Antreiben
AUSTRIA HEART OF NOISE EDITION 03 CD (2015)

Having recently enjoyed Charles Fréger’s enthralling Wilder Mann, imagine my delight at finding one of his “Images of the Savage” staring at me from the cover of this release. It’s the face of a visitor from the deepest, most primal levels of the human psyche, and that’s pretty much what the music sounds like too.

Andi Stecher is an Austrian born, Berlin based drummer, percussionist and electronic musician. This album was specially commissioned for the Innsbruck Heart of Noise Festival in 2015, and is Stecher’s own response to the same Central European mask traditions that Fréger documents in his photo collection. Essentially a solo release, he’s helped out on a couple of tracks by double-bassist Antti Virtaranta and ululator-in-chief Otto Horvath. Together, these wild things make everything groovy, in a ritualistic, shamanic kind of way.

Proceedings open with ‘(un)durchdringbar’, tintinnabulating bells laying down a primitive rhythm from which a more sophisticated groove emerges, as the double bass kicks in and the whole thing builds to a crescendo of cymbals. It’s as if the first part of the track has been designed to invoke the second part. Or perhaps we’re looking at one of those evolutionary diagrams showing the ascent of dance music, from Homo Habilis be-bopping on a lump of rock to Homo Sapiens programming a drum machine.

Two short pieces follow that – ‘möglicher zugang übergang 1’ and ‘2’ – which feature the Horvath vocal chords doing what comes unnaturally. The final track, ‘Tödi’, has a similar structure to the first track, as the jolly sounds of a folk festival dissolve only for a groove to re-emerge from the chaos. The tintinnabulations return, like a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and environs, bringing us back to where we started.

A remarkable blend of ancient and modern that creates some timeless moments. One for the wild at heart.

How High The Moon

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Impressive free jazz team-up on Wood Moon (JVTLANDT JVT0016 / TOZTIZOK ZOUNDZ TOZ017) – it was a one-off meeting between the Dutch drummer Rogier Smal and the Japanese saxophonist, Ryoko Ono. Ryoko Ono is a new name to me but I’m very impressed by her fluent playing and uncluttered style; she gets on with the job at hand and makes “high energy” music seem like something she could do without breaking into a sweat, executing complex moves with ease. Her press points to her interest in several forms of music outside of jazz, including free improvisation and avant-garde noise, which is the kind of claim made on behalf of many a cultural omnivore these days. But Ryoko Ono, I learn to my advantage, has a history of adding her sax work to LPs by Acid Mothers Temple, and other unusual latterday Jap-psych records, such as releases by Atsushi Tsuyama, the zaniest member of Kawabata Makoto’s ever-changing collective. I’m now intrigued enough to start looking for records by Psyche Bugyou, whose output has strangely enough passed me by. Experimental skittery brush-work drummer Smal is also new to me, but anyone who makes a record with Dylan Carlson and has played alongside Eugene Chadbourne is welcome in this humble abode.

Wood Moon for the most part resembles John Coltrane for me, particularly some of the cuts on 1960’s all-time classic Giant Steps, except that Ono does the overblowing and sax-screaming thing with an incredible perfection – almost too perfect, in places making her performances verge on the synthetic, and I’m amazed at the way she can regain balance with such sangfroid after performing a series of near-impossible acrobatics with her horn. It’s kind of a samey sounding record too, most likely recorded at a single session, but for the presence of Track Four where we hear some of Ryoko’s charming vocalising, which she’s apparently able to do in between puffs on the sax. I’d have gladly paid double for an entire album of this surrealist jibber-jabber, where she appears to be possessed by a friendly Japanese demon. From 30 March 2016.

Skin And Bone

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Parisian drummer Antonin Gerbal has graced our pages before playing with the trio ZOOR, where his “modest lack of ostentation” was noted by Stuart Marshall, and also on a far more restrained outing called Heretofore with the sax player Bertrand Denzler. He’s now made a solo drumming record called Sound Of Drums (UMLAUT RECORDS UMFR-CD17), an album which sets out its stall with the 21-minute title track at the start; with a minimum of means, and a tightly controlled expression, Gerbal manages to keep the listener in a perpetual state of expectation with his brutally simplistic drumming styles. It’s about half snare-drum rolls, half cymbal splashes to suggest waves of energy; the drum roll makes me think of watching a high-wire act, or a magician’s trick, that seems to take forever to complete. The tension produced is almost unbearable, and the listener’s desire for closure grows steadily with each passing moment. Already I feel like I’m hearing the percussive equivalent of an endlessly rolling Samuel Beckett text, pages and pages of sentences punctuated only by commas. Will we ever reach a full stop?

The modernist allusion here may not be completely off the beam, given that Gerbal’s aesthetic aim is to remake the history of (American) jazz drumming through his own distinctly European coffee-flavoured brain. “Since 2009”, according to the press note, he has “developed his own approach to the drums”, and we are invited to note the connection to European musical improvisation. His austere process may have had quite severe side effects. It appears to me that along the way he has sacrificed a good deal of energy and passion, and he seems determined to reduce the drum kit to “skin, wood and metal” – the list of physical materials is again drawn from the press note, and feels like a 1970s conceptual artist’s view of the world, seeing physical matter as the only “truth” worth bothering with, denying any form of sublimation or aesthetic pleasure for the audience.

Other pieces, such as ‘Antefixe’ and ‘Qualia’ are likewise fixated on utter simplicity, in places appearing almost as utilitarian as a row of rivets driven into a girder; it’s like riding your bike over an endless series of tiny speed bumps. I’ve no doubt that Gerbal is familiar with the technique of syncopation, but he’s evidently forcing himself to forget that skill for this record, and indeed anything else that might make his music remotely human or approachable. By the time I got to ‘Repetition’, the last track here, I felt that he was knocking six-inch tungsten nails into my forehead with a metal hammer.

If Milford Graves and Sonny Murray evolved jazz drumming by playing “around” the pulsebeat in a highly inventive and subjective manner, Gerbal has (on this record at least) attempted to reverse that entire trend by insisting on the pulsebeat and nothing else. It’s a stark message he delivers, but I do have a certain admiration for the way he sticks to his guns and keeps on playing, even well past the point when his mind and body must be on the point of collapse from sheer monotony. From 31st March 2016.