By Paul Acquaro
All in All in All, on Relative Pitch is a rich and somewhat beguiling recording by the expansively thinking percussionist Mark Nauseef. The album, recorded in 2001 in Cologne, Germany, is a tremendous soundscape that focuses on the micro: dings of the glockenspiel, muted thud of prepared piano, hiss of electronics, and scrapes of percussion, played in service to the macro musical arch.
The cast is an eye-catcher: Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, prepared piano, Tony Oxley providing percussion, Bill Laswell on bass, field recordings, electronics, Miroslav Tadic on guitars, Pat Thomas on cassette player, electronics, electric keyboard, Arthur Jarvinen on glockenspiel, chromatic harmonica, analogue electronics, Walter Quintus with real time processing and conducting, and finally Mark Nauseef on percussion and electronics. With such a range of musicians, you may be tempted to think that it could be a cacophonous outing, or at least a very busy one, but it’s quite the opposite. In fact, the album reveals itself slowly as a rolling soundscape with elusive glimpses of the mountains on the horizon.
The album begins with a low rumble of piano, percussion, glockenspiel. The slight menace created by the sustained piano and deliberate ringing sets a mood. The dark theme is soon obliterated by a mix of percussion and electronics. An unheard pulse keeps the track together as slightly menacing sounds appear from the quiet, while the glockenspiel plays an important role in providing speckles of hope. The tracks, only titled by their length, are reference markers. The ethereal third track begins with a rise of distorted guitar, providing a little forward motion, and track four is dominated by skittering electronics and samples of voices stuttering percussively. The obfuscated words themsevles don't seem very important, rather they serve as textures and sign posts in the humid hazy fog of sound.
The original theme returns again midway through in track five. Here the the guitar, glock, percussion, and electronics bubble together a bit like Robert Rauschenberg's Mud Muse sculpture. However, here is also where the mountains can be seen - the music becomes denser, the pulse picks up, the clangs, fizzles, and sinewy sine waves part and the bass breaks through. The piano plays a forlorn melody on the start of track six, with some lusher chordal work, and while this passage is the most melodic of the album so far, it also seems to serve as a dividing point in the music. The later half of the album too gives precedence to its percussive side, with and ending that culminates in a restatement of the original theme, adorned with electric guitar, electronics, prepared piano, and plenty of percussive sounds. The actual instruments however are hardly the point, this is suggestive music, and the focus is on the percussion with the other instruments lending their voice in support. The music is a carefully constructed suite that relies on the close listening of the participants to achieve its impact.
All in All in All is something to lie beneath, listen to without preconceived notions of song structure, and certainly not thinking that you may know what happens next. It's an orchestral piece of sound and works almost on a subliminal level, something to discover and enjoy.