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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Drones of Michael Zerang

By Eyal Hareuveni

Chicagoan Michael Zerang is a man of many talents. He is an resourceful percussionist and imaginative improviser who have played with the most innovative improvisers on both sides of the Atlantic, including Peter Brötzmann, Joe McPhee, Ken Vandermark, John Butcher and Sten Sandell. He is also a pianist, producer, painter and great storyteller and singer-songwriter. His two new albums - released on his own Pink Place label - offer more of his talents, now as a drone master.

Michael Zerang - The Shuddering Cherub: For Solo Piano with Vibrating Elements (Pink Palace Recordings, 2019) ***½


The Shuddering Cherub is an exceptional exploration of the sonic possibilities prepared piano in the already exceptional school of playing the preparing piano-inside the piano-hyper-piano. Zerang added an array of vibrating elements and controllers to the piano prepared strings in order to create a thick and multilayered densities and timbres that according to him, “simultaneously drone and dance”. 

His acoustic piano is transformed in this monolith piece to a totally new sonic entity, a kinetic machine that sounds as have originated in a nightmare of sculptor Jean Tinguely. A machine that has a manic mind and mood swings of its own. The transformed piano becomes much more than a vibrating entity. The strings not only vibrate and obviously, resonate, but rattle, clash, storm and moan in this uncompromising, brutal drone. Slowly more abstract themes surface and shape the dense, resonant energy - reflections of brief, lyrical melodies, playful gamelan-like gongs, industrial rhythmic patterns and cryptic, ceremonial hammering of the strings, until it ends with a quiet and peaceful buzzing sounds.  

SILT Ensemble / Michael Zerang - Follow The Light (Pink Palace Recordings, 2019) ***1/2

Follow the Light is a collaboration of Zerang with the SILT Ensemble - viola players Johanna Brock and Julie Pomerleau and double bass players Anton Hatwich and Jason Roebke. Zerang plays the custom-built Queequeg’s Coffin, a drone, coffin-shaped string instrument, titled after the colorful tattooed harpoonist from Herman Melville's Moby Dick (who, at the end of the novel, foresees his death and builds a floating coffin, later converted into a life buoy that eventually saves Ishmael after Moby Dick sinks the ship), and designed by Eric Neumann for a theatrical version of Moby Dick, in which Zerang played this instrument for the first time. The Queequeg’s Coffin has the scale length of a full size cello, with four strings that are vibrated by a circular, wooden wheel - the same mechanism that makes the Hurdy Gurdy's sound.

Follow the Light is Zerang’s first composition that features the Queequeg’s Coffin with this unique SILT string quartet. It is a 43-minutes rich and powerful drone, recorded at the Chapel, Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago and dedicated to Zerang’s early collaborator, late violinist Daniel Scanlan. This drone investigates methodically nuanced resonating and vibrating layers of the five deep-toned, string instruments. Slowly the SILT Ensemble and Zerang draw the listener into their deep seas of sounds. These sounds are highly disciplined and always unified, with no solos but with assorted extended bowing techniques, and offer different dynamics and movements. Follow the Light moves the most serene, ethereal and fragile ripples to the most dense, tense, brutal and chaotic waves, and ends in an abrupt manner. Like life itself, in its most vulnerable or excruciating times.

More on Soundcloud.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. An album I recently purchased was the "un-named" effort that features Zerang with Tashi Dorji and C.Spencer Yeh. Excellent too.

Hopefully this site will review it some time. :)