Posts Tagged ‘percussion’

Christopher Nosnibor

The missive which contains a link to the album lays out the facts. ‘August 2015: On a sweltering summer evening, Sly & the Family Drone brought their sweat-soaked carnival of chaos to east London. This is a recording of that night.’

Café Oto seems to be the venue of choice for weirdy, avant-garde experimental acts to capture their live sound – or perhaps it’s one of the few venues that truly embraces all that it weirdy, avant-garde and experimental in the first place. This, of course, is one of the benefits of operating on a not-for-profit basis. Art takes precedence over capital. It’s also an intimate space, where even a small crowd will make the place feel like it’s heaving, and it’s possible to really feel that connection between performer and audience in an up-close setting. Truly, here’s no substitute for being able to smell the sweat and see the whites of a perfomer’s eyes

Sly and the Family Drone have been pushing the parameters of messy noise for about eight years now, and while their recoded output explores all areas of murkiness and abrasion, their live shows are something else. Chaotic and cathartic, the only predictable part is percussion – that is to say, a lot of percussion.

This particular outing is heavy, and percussion-heavy from the outset. Thick, low-end blasts thunder through pounding drums. The percussion intensifies in both power and pace, while the droning bass frequencies bottom out to a place below the pelvic region while explosions of top-end squeal painfully. Less than ten minutes in, and they’ve hit total overload. Over the course of the album’s hour-long duration, they maintain it, and if anything, continue to push further, harder, louder, harsher. Crescendo hits after crescendo, and cumulatively, it’s punishing – in the best possible way.

It’s not just a hell of a noise: it’s all the noise. Even when the noise abates and the relentless battery of snare halts temporarily, eardrum-perforating feedback and whirring, hissing shards of treble fill the space. Through speakers, it hurts. Once can only imagine the impact and potential damage inflicted on those actually present. This is less a case of ‘you probably had to be there’ and more about ‘damn, I wish I’d been there’.

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Spezialmaterial / Staubgold – SM052 – 6th June 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

You’d expect an act as boldly named as The Immersive Project to make music which is nothing short of completely immersive and engaging from the outset. Even if you wouldn’t, I certainly would, and did, and so was a shade perplexed when my initial reaction wasn’t ‘wow’, but ‘what?’ Snaking bossa nova beats and strutting strings conjure an exotic vibe on the album’s first track, ‘Middle Class Massage’. Is the medium the massage? Am I missing something?

The Immersive Project is a collaborative work, the product of the shared endeavours of musical percussionist Holger Mertin based in Cologne, and electro musician Michael ‘Koko’ Eberli from Zurich. As such, it’s one of those works which could only exist in the modern age, in which distance is no object and geography is a state of mind. The pieces contained herein are what can emerge when collaborators bounce ideas off one another’s ideas, rather than one another, with producer Marco Riedener’s contribution being such that he is named on the cover as the Project’s third member.

‘Pizzifikato’ begins with soft, finger percussion and trilling strings before a trudging march and swampy bassline stroll in to create a dense atmosphere oozing with a sense of esoteric mysticism. Elsewhere, ‘Hilo’ (which features Eberhardt Kraneman of Kraftwerk / Neu renown) hurls a whole heap of stuff together, with bits and pieces of post-punk disco, wibbly synthtronica, bulbous bass and jittery grooves criss-crossing one another all over the shop. What indeed?

It’s certainly varied in its scope, with ambient and semi-ambient explorations interspersing the various forays into experimental dance. At times eerie, often playful, this is a work that defies ready categorisation. It’s not mood music, it’s not dance music: as on ‘Zwerchfell Schwingt’, the clattering, booming thuds are distant and contribute more to the creation of atmosphere than groove. And while the majority of the compositions are strongly orientated toward the rhythmic aspect, it’s by no means a beat-driven album.

‘Regenmann’ brings some chilled, swampy, vibes, and the attention to detail, both within each piece and the overall flow of the album becomes increasingly apparent with each listen. Textures and tones compliment and juxtapose alternately, often confounding expectations from one moment to the next. Such focus on variance and nuance requires a huge create commitment: an immersion on behalf of the creators. It does take a little bit more effort on the listener’s part to fully engage and to appreciate this, but ultimately, the rewards are there for the taking.

 

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Gagarin Records – GR2037 – 1st March 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Werke für Schlagzeug und elektroakustische Geräte (that’s Works for Percussion and Electro-Acoustic Devices) is the second album by Polish duo Miłosz Pękala and Magda Kordylasińskam, and it’s a covers album. But as you might expect from an act which started out under the moniker Hob-beats Percussion Duo, this isn’t anything like a regular mainstream covers album. The selection of ‘original’ compositions more than amply evidences this, with the album starting with a brace of Felix Cubin compositions – ‘Renaissance Gameboy’ # 1 and #2.

Miłosz is a vibraphonist and percussionist, while Madga’s instrument is marimba: they use these to recontextualise and realign the explorations of Kubin’s works (while usually found working with synths and Gameboys, these pieces were originally written for violin, saxophone, cello, drums, and tape), and the results are nothing if not fascinating. It’s a slow drip, clatter, rattle and scrape with the occasional swelling rumble. It’s percussive, but not overtly so, and the unorthodox approach to generating – and recording – sound using their instruments of choice means identifying the origin of each individual sound is almost impossible.

Frank Zappa is by far the best-known artist covered on here. Famed for being difficult to play and originally written for drum kit and electronic percussion, but later emerging in various revised forms, it does seemingly lend itself to Pękala and Kordylasińska’s set-up. But of course, they’re not content to simply ‘play’ it, and instead incorporate dripping water, temple blocks, cups and use lose-mic recordings of all of these and more to forge an altogether different kind of clicky, flicky clattery racket.

Pieces by Thymme Jones and Steve Reich receive similar treatment, with the latter’s ‘Vermont Counterpoint’ performed with the flute motif and, indeed the rest of the orchestral parts, performed on vibraphone, glockenspiel, marimba and dulcimer. Building layers of rippling melody, it’s remarkably faithful to the original.

An original Pękala composition, ‘Modular #1’ closes the album. Based on a rhythmic pattern generated by a modular synthesiser, it further demonstrates the versatility of percussive instruments, as delicate waves of sound drift and flow in supple glissandos.

And yet, as beguiling as the music is – and it really is extremely pleasant, and relaxing without being too much ‘background’ – the thing I found to be most charming is the sticker on the cover of the CD, which lists the running time of 36:52 as the ‘Total Playtime’. It may not feature on the commercial release, but it does serve as a reminder that music, however serious or experimental, invariably involves an element of play, and this is nowhere more apparent in Pękala and Kordylasińska’s approach to music-making.

 

Pękala – Kordylasińska

SOFA – SOFA552 – 7th October 2016

James Wells

Le Stanze is Ingar Zach’s fifth solo album. His previous works have explored the potentials of percussion and electronic sources for the basis of his compositions, and Le Stanze sees him continue to expand in this field. ‘Groundbreaking’ is a word which is used in reference to many artists, often somewhat spuriously: in Zach’s case, it’s entirely apposite. While many of the sounds are overtly percussive in origin, it’s where Zach takes the sounds which renders Le Stanze such a fascinating album.

A flurry of sticks against skin is followed by silence. The silence is as important as the sound: Zach understands contrast and dynamics. He also understands range: single thuds at an infinite range of timbres contrast with chimes and jangles, scrapes and long-decaying echoes. A mesmeric heartbeat-paced thud underpins a sustained clamour of tinkling chimes like an alarm bell. Long, low notes loom beneath, almost subsonic, almost subliminal.

On ‘Il Battito Del Vichingo’, a battery of tribal percussion builds to a polyrhythmic frenzy. It contrasts with the drifting ambience of ‘L’inno Dell’ Oscurita’ and again with the shifting, sharp-edged metallic ibrationss of ‘E Soplitudine’, which slowly builds a long, sonorous drilling hum. In places, it’s almost unbearable in its tonal intensity, frequencies which assault the aural receptors and scrape at the soft matter within the cranial cavity.

Not only is it an intriguing listen, but on Le Stanze, Zach brings a magic, a mystery, to the act of making music, the process.

 

Ingar Zach

LM Dupli-cation – 26th September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Thor & Friends is the eponymous full length debut from the avant-chamber ensemble formed by its namesake, polymath percussionist Thor Harris. Anyone who has heard – or, more so, seen – Swans in their current incarnation will be aware of Thor Harris’ remarkable percussion skills, and likely know that he is a man worthy of his name: a burly, bearded, hirsute figure who appears to have been transported from the mists of Norse mythology and onto the stage, surrounded by chimes and gongs, he’s something of a drumming deity and a figure far more fearsome than Chris Hemsworth.

Swans fans may, then, be somewhat surprised by this album. Surprised, but not disappointed. Despite it being Thor’s project, the percussion is not a dominant factor: it’s very much about the contributions of his ‘friends’, namely Peggy Ghorbani on marimba and Sarah ‘Goat’ Gautier on marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, organ, voice, mellotron and piano. Harris also plays, alongside myriad percussion instruments, wind instruments including some of his own devising. The core trio are joined by Jeremy Barnes on accordion, drum, and mellotron, Heather Trost on violin, voice and marimba, John Dieterich on guitar, bass, castanets and special effects and Raven on bone flute, and electronic sounds.

The choice of instruments may provide an indication of what to expect, but to be clear, there are no thunderous crescendos to be found during the nine tracks on offer here, and Thor and Friends is a remarkably graceful, elegant and understated work. In place of volume, there is atmosphere.

Soft chimes ebb and flow and soft, supple droning tones rise and fall before soft, soothing strings layer down over them on the album’s first track, ‘White Sands’. It’s a multifaceted, mood-shifting piece which sets the album’s gentle, hypnotic tone. Airy rhythms bounce from softly struck xylophone bars, and the general leaning toward instruments fashioned from natural materials lends the pieces a soft, organic feel. Supple woodwind melodies drift and trill effortlessly through semi-ambient passages, and there’s almost a sense of playfulness about the light, skipping, rippling motifs of ’12 Ate’. Elsewhere, ‘Lullabye for Klaus’ presents a darker, more brooding outlook, but nevertheless manages to lift the listener with its cyclical motifs.

Many of the pieces would work well incorporated within film or series soundracks, and while the compositions in themselves aren’t overtly evocative of anything specific, they possess a malleability allows their context to be ascribed by the listener. If ‘pleasant’ strikes as being a wet, nondescript word, in reference to Thor and Friends it most certainly is not: we live in a world befouled by unpleasantness, we’re jaded, cynical and mean. Thor and Friends offers a rapturously pleasant listening experience, in many ways simple, natural, and honest. It’s a magnificent antidote to modern times.

 

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