Low Points, High Points

English label Low Point kindly sent these three CDs for review over the last few months. Two of them are really, really fine, the third (and most recent one) is not on the same level, unfortunately. Thanks to Gareth Hardwick and Simmo for their trust.

TIM CATLIN & MACHINEFABRIEK – Glisten

An outstandingly concise, musically significant release born from shrewdly applied strategies. Machinefabriek (née Rutger Zuydervelt) came across Catlin’s work while doing some research on prepared guitar, so decided to contact him and the joint venture kicked off. The nine tracks of Glisten will definitely appeal to anyone paying attention to the murk-and-glitter zones of the guitar spectrum, with particular reference to long-lasting resonances of floating harmonics and layering of untidy tones generated either by plucking or bowing the strings. Unquestionably the partners share an interest for the manumission of evenness, yet the music never falls in the holes of simplistic improvisation or chaotic imprecision, resulting well-regulated and clearly designed in each aspect. The transformation of the instrumental gradations into something entirely different is achieved rather smoothly (“Flutter”); pieces whose spellbinding qualities transpire beyond any scientific approach are also present (“Haul”, “Arpeggio”). Generally speaking, the timbres produced by the duo linger within the semi-clean region – more solid overdriven concoctions are sporadically met, nonetheless – but always with an unambiguous configuration that gives them significance and a reason to exist. In a couple of circumstances, Aidan Baker’s first album Element flashed its (just apparent) influence. Make no mistake, though: this is one of the most excellent examples of active modification heard lately, with a totally distinctive character. After four-five consecutive listens, my mechanisms of consideration awarded it a “near-must” kind of prominence.

KYLE BOBBY DUNN – A Young Person’s Guide To Kyle Bobby Dunn

To provide an (admittedly simplistic) orientation to those who never heard the work of Kyle Bobby Dunn, think of a summit between William Basinski and Stars Of The Lid. Of the former we can see certain looping structures constructed upon everlasting repetitions bathed in desolate musing. Of the latter, the scarce intelligibility of colours and timbres, the voluntary non-definition of an essential vagueness and the achingly slow development of the thematic materials. But Dunn – a “minimalist composer and sound artist” (the press blurb’s classification is OK with me) – starts from a different place: in fact, his pieces are born from technically advanced musicians, whom he calls to bring into existence the preselected instrumental palette (in this case, guitar, strings, brass and piano). The recordings are subsequently put in a computer and remodelled according to the artist’s vision. These two discs comprise twelve fascinating tracks, in which the sheer beauty and the deep melancholy of Dunn’s work are finely highlighted. Pseudo-classic designs are dyed with a sense of inevitable sadness, consonant chords meshing their upper partials typically and rigorously at once. Echoes of compassion characterized by sympathetic vibrations that resonate unusually immediately find the right spot to hammer nails of quiet dejection in heavy hearts. The influence of this music on the mood is conspicuous, and there’s no way to get unwrapped from this cocoon of cheerlessness if we just give this splendid release the attention it deserves. If you thought of using it as ambient wallpaper, expect a letdown: these shades were designed to keep us thinking, and I, for one, have been doing that very intensely since the first disc started spinning.

SPARTAK – Verona

An Australian duo – Shoeb Ahmad and Evan Dorrian – who attempted to generate something theoretically interesting during a 2-day “anything goes” session (that’s what the information says) by manipulating regular instruments – guitar and percussion – together with electronics, no-input mixer, computerized processing and vocal contributions. They start adequately enough, though certainly not in groundbreaking fashion, with a couple of nice tracks (prepared guitars, field recordings, radio – typical ingredients used with noticeable commitment). But after a short while the initial sheen is completely lost and the record literally disintegrates under the weight of ordinariness. What’s especially to stigmatize is the disproportionate incidence of drums, which veritably destroy any potential interest in a number of pieces and – well, yes – the above mentioned external factors: Joseph McKee’s “tape ghost voices” in “Sleepstalker” would like to appear psychologically perturbing yet end up being merely irksome, and Lucrecia Peres’ “angel voices” in “Second-Half Clouded” amount to a third-hand replica of Lisa Gerrard. The large part of the music seems improvised without a clear idea of where the players really wanted to go, and the expected machine-based tricks (infinite-repeat delay on top of everything) can’t attribute any deepness to a gathering of ideas that never take a definite shape, remaining just an assortment of mainly tedious sketches.

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