The AMPLIFY 2008: Light festival produced two noteworthy performances involving Keith Rowe. The solo act – released by this same label with the title ErstLive 007 – features one of the Englishman’s best efforts in the last decade, a jam-packing of implications and details (the author’s review can be found here) that has deservedly elicited a measure of debate. ErstLive 006 is the companion release and – although not accomplishing an equivalent level of emotional strength, is in any case a rewarding album.
Besides mistreating his customary table-top Steinberger with all sorts of manual and electric tools, Rowe generates and manipulates electronics via a Macintosh notebook; Unami is also seen handling a laptop (“computer with objects”) and, additionally, utilizes contraguitar and mandolin. If this suggests the incidence of regular sounds of stringed instruments in the piece, think again: the moments in which single plucks and “normal” harmonics appear are indeed infrequent, especially occurring in the second half. The dominating presence is instead that of recurring clicking pulses at variable speed that the couple uses as a sort of leitmotiv throughout; I am not really convinced that this comes from one or more metronomes, but the aural picture gets close. At first the music is informed by long pauses, extremely minimal activities leaving room to infiltrations from the external environment (the set was recorded at Tokyo’s Kid Ailack Art Hall). As the minutes elapse, the infinitesimal dynamics of the repetitive clicks gradually introduce a developed instrumental strategy, the timbres growing harsher over diverse combinations of computerized action and scraping/bouncing diffusions featuring several among the techniques that we’ve come to know and appreciate from these artists. The conclusive section increases the textural tapestry’s mass, individuating a considerable peak in an otherwise pretty tranquil, if ever-active performance, a much appreciated suggestion of escalating nervousness that aptly seals the closure.
The recommendation is to listen to both CDs –006 and 007 – comparatively to get an idea of what Rowe managed to cook for this particular occasion. But let’s not forget to give credit to Unami, his figure unquestionably relevant to help swerving the events from potential standardization, always a concrete risk in this form of exchange. This time, the traps have been cunningly eluded.