Tagged: percussion

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

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.

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.

Sensitive Chaos

Drums

The fifth item from the Brooklyn free jazz / improv label Neither Nor Records is Drums Of Days (n/n 005) by Flin van Hemmen, a Dutch drummer and composer who settled in New York City about eight years ago. He’s a festival veteran, a strong collaborator, and currently works with groups such as Narcissus, While We Still Have Bodies, and LathanFlinAli. For this set, van Hemmen drums and plays piano, and he’s joined by the bassist Eivind Opsvik (another NYC resident, originally from Oslo) and the American acoustic guitarist Todd Neufeld.

From the opening track, I had the strong impression of hearing classical avant-garde music mutating into free improvisation, almost before my very eyes. This impression was not dispelled by what follows, and indeed seems to match van Hemmen’s intentions almost exactly. He would like us to be mindful of his influences such as the compositions of Morton Feldman and Charles Ives, and the improvisations of his friend Tony Malaby, the New York saxophonist (who contributes an overdub to one track). Flin works very hard at “through-composition”, and what may appear to be a completely “free” piece is more likely to have been carefully structured, where the beginning and end are known quantities and the territory is staked out in advance; the improvisations are subsumed into this structure, as are other elements such as poetry (in one case), post-production, sound-scaping, and the addition of field recordings. It’s to the composer’s credit that neither concept nor technique get in the way of the free flow of the pieces, which proceed with an organic logic without any obvious joins or jarring breaks in the programme.

I suppose “ambiguity and uncertainty” are key themes of this music. I certainly felt these as emotional states while listening. In fact I felt my very contours turning fuzzy and indistinct, and now I’m so faded and transparent you can’t make me out from the wallpaper. Each piece seems to ask a question, or a series of related questions, and never provides a clear answer. Music may be used to set the listener’s mind moving down tracks of enquiry, pondering matters metaphysical, spiritual, or purely practical. If that is the general trend of van Hemmen’s plan, he does it by proceeding quite slowly, and by leaving lots of space. By slow-moving, I mean that this is not the high-energy music of a Cecil Taylor Unit, but neither is the music so completely etherised that it stops moving altogether, like some numbed zombie beast.

This cautious movement is what gives the musicians, and us, time to absorb and consider these new ideas; perhaps it’s like exploring a new environment, taking baby steps. By “lots of space”, I’m referring in general terms to the near-skeletal precision of the music score, where each instrument is purposely showcased to allow us to hear its natural grain, and each musician’s utterance is spotlighted to an almost frightening degree. A statement almost leaps out at you from an abstract space, casting angular shadows against a white wall. The starkness of this creaky acoustic music creates a strong tension with the underlying ambiguity of it all, and such tension may account for why Drums Of Days has so many compelling moments. I can’t quite detect the “cinematic quality of the album” promised by the press notes, but that is a rather subjective description.

The composer feels he is drawing on his considerable knowledge and experience of music to draw on “genres ranging from Romanticism to minimalism, the avant-garde and Modern classical”, and at the same time is driven to “go into new territory”. The purple cover may lead you to find connections with La Monte Young (probably just a coincidence) and his sunglasses show he doesn’t lack a sense of humour. From 9th March 2016.

Wolfarth’s Pack

WintschWeberWolfarth

WintschWeberWolfarth
Thieves Left That Behind
SWITZERLAND VETO-RECORDS / EXCHANGE 012 CD (2015)

Burkhard Beins / Enrico Malatesta / Michael Vorfeld / Christian Wolfarth / Ingar Zach
Glück
RUSSIA MIKROTON RECORDINGS mikroton CD 38 (2015)

If this review was a Venn diagram, it would intersect at Swiss percussionist Christian Wolfarth, who plays on both albums, demonstrating his considerable chops in two very different settings.

First up, Thieves Left That Behind, the fourth release from WintschWeberWolfarth, the Emerson, Lake and Palmer of free-yet-kinda-funky improv workouts and kosmische spy themes. The other two members of this alliterative tripartite ensemble are Michel Wintsch on synthesizers and electric piano, and Christian Weber on bass.

Proceedings kick off with ‘Schgreen’, which rides in on peripheral tick-tocking beats, bouncing bass and lovely thick daubs of static and shimmering sound, which coalesce and kick up a gear before drifting apart again. It’s quite an opener. From there on in, we’re in an elastic, shapeshifting world, with bass and drums alternately anchoring and embellishing the music. It’s dynamic and exciting and everything you could want from an improv record, really. Top marks as well for coming up with the single most inarguable song title ever – ‘A Thing Is A Thing’.

The overall impression I get listening to this is one of restraint – the same sort of restraint that a grizzly bear would demonstrate if you poked it with a stick and it didn’t rip your head off. In other words, enormous and potentially devastating power deliberately held in reserve, which is a powerful thing in itself, of course.

Gluck

So to Glück, in which Wolfarth joins forces with Burkhard Beins, Enrico Malatesta, Michael Vorfeld, and Ingar Zach in an all-percussion quintet. Now, I’m a slave to the rhythm as much as the next person, but I must admit that I faced this one with a little bit of trepidation. An entire album of people basically hitting things, no matter how artfully, seemed like it might be a bit of an endurance test.

Thankfully, it’s not quite the clatter-fest I feared. In fact, it’s remarkable just how much space and silence there is on this record. Ingar Zach’s ‘Floaters’ is like a passing thunderstorm, dark drones fading away only to rumble back into life. Wolfarth’s title composition focuses more on the shimmering and occasionally strident tones of bowed cymbals, with a bit of tympani rumble underneath. Compared to these, the two parts of ‘Adapt/Oppose’ sound like Ginger Baker doing Toad, but it’s all relative, and the tracks provide a welcome bit of contrast.

As an introduction to contemporary percussion music, this is hard to beat.

Blubber Soul

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Möström
We Speak Whale
AUSTRIA UN RECORDS UNREC09 CD (2015)

Remember that rainy Saturday afternoon in 1973 when you couldn’t go out on your bike, and you ended up watching a Zdeněk Miler cartoon adaptation of Philip José Farmer’s The Wind Whales Of Ishmael on BBC2? Well, here’s the soundtrack to your false memory, a cetacean sensation all the way from Vienna.

Möström are Susanna Gartmayer (bass clarinet), Elise Mory (keyboards, piano) and Tamara Wilhelm (diy electronics, although being a myopic old fool, I initially misread that as “dry electronics”, which wouldn’t be right at all for such a subaquatic sounding record). This is their first release as a trio, although they’ve all got form on the Austrian experimental/avant-garde scene. Gartmayer and Wilhelm, for instance, are both members of The Vegetable Orchestra, a group who play instruments made of, yes, fresh vegetables. Some of that whimsical sensibility is in evidence here.

The group have two basic approaches. First of all, there are the great floating baitballs of drone, fuzz, bubbles and hiss, such as opening track ‘Werft’. This might indeed be the sound of whales speaking, if those whales spoke some sort of futuristic juvenile delinquent slang. Secondly, there are the lopsided, hooting-tooting bass clarinet workouts, that almost but don’t quite resolve into jazz melodies. ‘Humpty Dumpty’ would be the prime example here, and, as the title suggests, it really is as comical and as troubling as watching an anthropomorphic egg stumbling about in a haunted fairground.

Using these two methods, Möström are able to create and navigate their way through an infinitely complex undersea world of sound. New age whale song it is not, but there is something cheering and soothing about it, even as it does its best to unsettle and disturb you. In the words of that man Ishmael, “it is not down in any map; true places never are.” Dive in and enjoy.