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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Fredrik Rasten - Six Moving Guitars (SOFA Music, 2019) ****

Six Moving Guitars is the musically and conceptually ambitious debut record from composer/guitarist Fredrik Rasten. The recording was made by Rasten and five collaborators -- both musicians and dancers -- at a church in Norway in 2018. The performance is an interactive sonic exploration of the space in which it was recorded, each performer wielding an acoustic guitar tuned in just intonation, a manner of tuning wholly different than how instruments are typically tuned. A choreography is played out with the guitars, which was developed as a way to link the unique sound of the guitars in just intonation and the space they were being played in. Rasten developed material and various playing techniques that are played out by both musicians and non-musicians. This is intentional, as Rasten refers to the music as " a study in how people, without necessarily being trained musicians, can act together in a musical situation based on awareness of listening and spatial orientation."

Musically the record is filled with seemingly simple plucked and strummed guitar patterns. The six voices bounce small ideas off one another, thoroughly in conversation, and ultimately create a complex fabric of sound. It is slow moving, steady and consistent, breathing gradually and moving between sections. Before you know it the music has reached a new section, bled into from what came before it. This is music that very successfully invokes elements of Minimalism, and nearly New Age.

Rasten has created a hypnotizing, beguiling listen, both in part to the aforementioned way the music unfolds, as well as the textures coming from the non-traditionally tuned guitars. Overtones abound -- they wobble and throb, and often it is hard to place from where a sound came. There is a spareness to the recording but the sound is nonetheless full, aided in part by the waving. encompassing chordal textures.

Though separated into five tracks, Six Moving Guitars is really one long piece. Consistent throughout is the footsteps and incidental noise generated from the movement of the performers. This becomes an essential part of the recording, an element not unlike the clinking of glasses of music recorded at a club. It acts as well as a near percussive drone, shuffling under the guitars like a quiet cymbal. The pulse really only changes during the fourth piece "Running," during which the choreography seems to be the namesake for the piece, as rhythmic running steps beat quickly in time, achieving a tone different than what came before. A phasing effect is even subtly achieved, as the steps come closer and drift further from the mic. The effect is mesmerizing.

When listening to Rasten's record one may recall the music of the late guitarist Rod Poole (as well as Poole's Acoustic Guitar Trio with Nels Cline and Jim McAuley), a master practitioner of the guitar tuned in just intonation. Though of a different overall aesthetic and intention, there is indeed a comparison. Both make shimmering, ringing acoustic guitar music, that achieves a feeling of boundlessness among many sonic worlds. Rasten has released a beautiful debut record, and I'm excited to see what comes next for him.