Monday, December 31, 2018

Clayton Thomas, Burkhard Beins - Rhythm Complication (Remote Resonator, 2018) ****

By Keith Prosk

Berlin’s Splitter Orchester is a goldmine of great musicians that make great recordings. I enjoy the orchestra’s recordings, particularly 2016’s Creative Construction Set™ with George Lewis, but the real treats are the recordings of its members in smaller formats. Matthias Müller’s Solo Trombone was one of the albums I listened to most last year; Blurred Music from Biliana Voutchkova and Michael Thieke is in my heavy rotation for this year. Many of the Splitter musicians began recording well before the orchestra did, in 2016, or even before the orchestra established itself, in 2010, but the orchestra provides a convenient reference as well as a roster of musicians with a similar sound. That sound can be characterized by a quieter, pensive exploration of the timbral nooks and crannies of an instrument that is often achieved through heavy use of extended technique, prepared, constructed, and/or tailored instruments, and a process-based approach; it often teeters on the edge of feeling over-intellectualized or sanitized, but more often than not comes across as organic sonic wanderlust.

Rhythm Complication continues in the vein of that sound. It is 69 minutes across 4 tracks. Each track is a collage cutting from six live duo sets from Burkhard Beins (percussion, Splitter member) and Clayton Thomas (bass, ex-Splitter member) and from eight live solo sets performed by seven musicians before each duo performance. Those seven musicians are Splitter members Liz Albee (trumpet), Robin Hayward (tuba), Matthias Müller (trombone), and Magda Mayas (piano) as well as Hilary Jeffery (trombone), Thomas Meadowcroft (organ, tape machine), and Chris Abrahams (piano, DX7 synthesizer, most famously of The Necks). The brass solos (and four bass/percussion duos) were recorded in 2010 and are collated in the first two tracks; the keyboard solos (and two bass/percussion duos) were recorded in 2012 and are collected in the last two tracks. Despite the sonic puzzle, the pieces’ lines are blurred and each track usually seems as if it was performed together, all at once, organically.

On the first track, “Rhythm Complication & Brass I,” Albee and Jeffery join Beins and Thomas, but not for some time. The first minute or so showcases a tight call and response between Beins’ bass drum and clanging metal and Thomas’ striking and bowing. This transitions into Guyesque extended techniques and scraping and tapping percussion that recalls a ball rolling in a roulette wheel. With some stops and starts that include some beautiful bell and gong accents from Beins, the rolling ball gets faster and louder, an accelerating pulse is added by the bass drum, and the duo climaxes into a kind of primitive bashing before retiring to a spacious call and response. At which point Jeffery comes in sounding like a deflating balloon moaning and Albee answers with a line like a stuttering clock hand. The brass ebbs in a couple times each before the conversation between Beins and Thomas fills the space and closes out the track.

“Rhythm Complication & Brass II” starts out with Albee, Hayward, and Jeffery ambling around each other until they arrive to an undulating drone over which Albee repeats a three-tone statement. Shuddering cymbals and chimes come in with a faint bass drum pulse and a metallic drone that sounds like rimming a crystal glass. They are eventually joined with some breathy gurgling by Müller before Thomas’ abrupt sawing kicks out the brass. For some time, Beins works with the crystal drone while Thomas comes back to the roulette technique and some tapping until an abrupt clash brings the brass back in, another clash summons two more brass solos, and another dispels the brass. Beins and Thomas engage in a chaotic jam until they are again joined by Hayward’s droning and Müller’s breathy work, then by Jeffery and Albee’s moaning horns. Everyone is eventually silenced by Hayward’s tuba turned fog horn, which turns melodic as the track ends.

“Rhythm Complication & Keys I” begins with two overdubbed Abrahams solos: (1) his characteristic piano of Reich-like canons that move forward like an ascending spiral and even seem to expand and contract in space like a spring; and (2) a beeping synthesizer that occasionally works itself up into sputtering distortion only to return to a metronomic bleep. After some building, Abrahams is joined by the scraping cymbals of Beins and bowed accents from Thomas. Eventually, Abrahams reaches an ominous, deep rolling thunder on the piano, which is complimented by an earthquaked bass and some high tension metallic shimmers cutting through it all. Abrahams is drowned out by a righteous percussive racket and bowed bass as the track comes to a climax before an abrupt end.

“Rhythm Complication & Keys II” first features Meadowcroft recording, rewinding, and creating tape screeches out of a warm organ chord (perhaps at different distances from the mic) while Beins and Thomas demonstrate the most driving rhythm on the album yet. Meadowcroft drops out to rapid bowing and a circular drum beat. With a hefty drum hit, the track transitions to a melancholy melody from Mayas while Thomas slaps the body of his bass and Beins scrapes his cymbals. Meadowcroft’s now humming, spiritual organ edges in under screeching cymbals. Soon Mayas can be heard inside the piano, and her guitar-like strumming is complemented by flute-like scraping from Beins. Meadowcroft’s tape screeches return along with an organ vamp and Mayas’ melancholy melody from earlier returns too. A woody racket from Beins and Thomas increases in volume and space but fades, as the album ends with Beins almost keeping time with his sticks, Mayas’ hammering on a note, and Meadowcroft’s rewinding organ sounding further and further from the mic.

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