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Thursday, February 17, 2022

Ken Vandermark - Momentum 5: Stammer (triptych) (Audiographic, 2021) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

The creative process is really fascinating. Where it begins, how it evolves, when it achieves something, are evergreen questions. Trace the bouncing lines of a simple thought, it may begin with "what shall I eat for breakfast" and within a few moments ends up at thinking about a stretch of the Utah desert with rock formations that look like goblins. Extend such an internal monolog into the real world and you may just end up with a stunning multimedia artwork.

For composer/woodwinds Ken Vandermark, his latest installment of the Momentum series, now at #5 and entitled Tryptich (stammer), is the product of being inspired by avantgarde sound artist Alvin Lucier's I am Sitting in Room along with a somewhat incomplete memory of Tony Conrad's Film Feedback. While it would be interesting to dig deeper into both of these pieces, it's probably wiser at the moment to say that it seems that the connecting fiber is in the concept of making the process of making the art into the art itself, and along the way, reprocessing the pieces made back into the process in the making. The rest is managed through the inexplicable flow of creativity that sweeps up any other ideas and forms it all into something exciting and unique.

And so, we have Stammer (triptych), which brings together a large ensemble of several of Vandermark's older and newer musical acquaintances (see below) along with the real-time video artistry of Kim Alpert, to deliver a provoking live performance and a subsequent recording that stands sturdily on its own. As mentioned, the process is key, and in Vandermark's thoughtful liner notes, he discusses both the background of what brought the influencing works together for him, as well as intuitive need for balance in creating three equal length musical movements (his triptych). Vandermark's compositions effectively intertwine components of spoken word samples provided by Damon Locks and Lou Mallozzi, which repeat, stammer and mix, with extensive passages of improvised and composed music. With woodwindists like Mars Williams and Vandermark, you can also be rest assured that at some point infectious grooves and ripping melodies will manifest. 

As I've listened to the recording again and again, in all sorts of settings, from picking up some items from the grocery store, to sitting on the sofa, to riding my bike on a muddy path, it's the second movement that seems to really grab my attention. Maybe it's the quote about someone not being Santa Claus, or the way that Katinka Kleijn's cello (or is that Nick Macri bass?) commands the introduction, sometimes slamming into the samples, or when Macris' electric bass brings in the instruments back after a long voice sample passage, whatever it is, the track is quite effective in its integration of the samples and the music. In fact, during Mars Williams edgy solo, the voice samples become an important part of the comping, adding some extra glitches into the process. The drum work of Claire Rousey and Tim Barnes is also noteworthy, especially at the end of the third triptych, along with a bassline that is capable of altering a heartbeat, the percussion brings the piece to a startling end.

Below is a video except from the performance of the piece. As I understand it, there was a pre-made film that contains patterns and text snippets, then a real time processing that produced a film that was a reference of itself. Like the music, and the samples, there is constant remixing, layering, and re-presenting which intriguingly anchors these exploratory pieces. Like the natural forces that shape the otherworldly landscapes of the Utah desert, the creative forces here shape the music of Stammer (triptych) sometimes may escape easy explanation, but their results are unexpected and riveting.

Performed and improvised by:

Kim Alpert – visuals
Tim Barnes – percussion
Katinka Kleijn – cello
Damon Locks – samples/electronics
Nick Macri – basses
Lou Mallozzi – recordings/electronics
Claire Rousay – percussion
Ken Vandermark – reeds
Mars Williams – saxophones/little instruments