ALFRED HARTH / CARL STONE – Gift Fig

Kendra Steiner

A meeting between two big names whose partnership would have been nearly unthinkable just a few years ago. But there’s something that links Alfred Harth with Carl Stone besides their indubitable artistry: the influence of Asian cultures on their respective lives and crafts (one is based in South Korea, the other in Japan). These six tracks constitute a compendium of two concerts occurred in 2009 and 2010 in Frankfurt and Tokyo, but the extremely high quality of the sound and the lack of audience noise makes the CD comparable to a studio work.

The set is basically built upon Stone’s transformation (via Max/MSP) of Harth’s emissions, with subsequent additions of further pre-existing materials. The palette is obviously homogeneous: Harth also treats his “babies” (which include Korean instruments like taepyeongso and dojirak) with a Kaoss pad, and uses bows on the instrument’s bell and in other parts too. Both employ samples and voice. But the description of the sources doesn’t excessively help clarifying how this uncompromising record sounds. The material, at least from what I gathered by repeated listens, appears mostly improvised. Many different scenes succeed in ever-radical spurts, without concessions to any kind of easiness or relief; a latent tension informs the bulk of the sonic settings, which in some moments approach a near-explosive configuration. Percussive aspects are frequently privileged, the mechanical features of the reeds amplified and expanded to become an out-and-out menace: imagine a giant crab walking towards you with bad intentions (“Adler_Kino 23 Gu II”). Somewhere, Harth’s pulmonary exhalations morph into powerful winds deprived of a chunk of the frequency spectrum. And I could go on.

In a way, there’s a “savage ritual” aspect to the whole. Squealing pitches and calmer floating mix, often in the ambit of a single section, with exceptional results. Not a minute passes before some sort of surprise materializes: sampled talkers telling incomprehensible things for us poor westerners, looping junctions attacking the brain from all sides. In the lengthy final track “Adler_Kino 1166-1215 IV” the progressive accumulation of acoustic substances produces such a level of eventful saturation that one foresees fire from the amplifier; maintaining a mental balance in there is not for everybody.

Ultimately, this is a seriously dissonant album that will represent a veritable nightmare if foolishly played as a background for conversation: it will grab you by the ears and destroy your social pleasures. Tough and totally unwilling to open autonomously; treat it like a shut oyster and use the knife of your concentration, provided that the edge is sharp. The pearls inside are several, but they’re not suitable for a glamorous necklace. 133 copies only – you’ve been warned.

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