Tagged: percussion

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.

Suspended Solids

e02_francesco_gregoretti_front

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

mammoth-ulthana

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

international-novelty-gamelan

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.