By Cam Scott
Straddling harsh noise and free improvisation, Ted Byrnes’ solo percussion outings are a work-out even for the listener. Byrnes has amassed a significant discography already, collaborating far afield of his jazz training; with John Wiese’s grindcore outfit Sissy Spacek, or harsh noise mainstay The Rita, whose sputtering remix of Tactility is included as a bonus track in the digital version. But his reputation largely centers on a spate of exceptional solo recordings, in which the durational intensity and textural sensitivity of his playing are on full display.
In a word, Byrnes’ music is unremitting. Tempo is notably beside the point in the midst of this torrential freefall; a violent hailstorm on a tuned tin roof. The pieces are fast, with an insistently strong center, but this rapid barrage mimics the turbulence of electronic harsh noise, in which latent rhythms emerge from a wall of static distortion. In this, Byrnes’ acoustic reply to the noise genre upends its production values, starting with the discrete events comprising rhythm and compressing them into an ecstatic stasis. (Not to mention that the auto parts and metallic detritus that Byrnes creatively mishandles are nothing if not post-industrial themselves.)
Byrnes’ conceptualism originates in instrumental fluency, however, and this session is full of musical surprises. Swing is not a core value here, but Byrnes defies the rigidly alternating blastbeats characteristic of noisecore for a shifting, sifting, subdivisory shuffle, creating enough contrasting layers to sound like a one-person group improvisation. Whether approaching a standard kit with bare hands, or enrolling household bric-a-brac in an escalating din, there’s a material transparency to these recordings, as Byrnes affords each object its identity amidst the clamour.
A haptic racket and coordinated tumult, this short album starts and stays intense. But Byrnes forges peaks and valleys throughout; compare the frantic rustle of ‘Shells’ to the accented density of ‘Fix It,’ or the rotary patter of ‘Sap’ to the roiling fills of ‘JH Bonham.’ Intelligent and focused, just the right about of numbing, Tactility is a compact tour de force.