Short Takes on Four EPs

glassarmonicaZach WallaceGlass Armonica
Root Stata

The glass armonica is an instrument made of wine glasses of different sizes aligned on a rotating, horizontal axis, first devised by one Benjamin Franklin. Sound is made by rubbing the rims of the glasses with moist fingers, resulting in high pitched crystalline tones. Experimental drone musician Zach Wallace built his own glass armonica out of thrift store glasses and recorded a performance by himself and 3 other musicians in Ann Arbor, Michigan at The Gallery Project in Spring 2007. The disc contains three lengthy drones titled, “2”, “5”, and “7”, so one would assume these are the best parts of the performance.  These are deep drones, throbbing in a high register without much noticeable variation. There are loads of overtones, any drone fan’s dream. But while Wallace’s glass armonica might be a great achievement in instrument making, it is not a great achievement in drone music. Not that this isn’t a passable work in the genre, but the overtones and variations aren’t pronounced enough to really make this interesting. The rhythm, while transfixing, is so pronounced that it distracts from the textural qualities produced by the interplay of elements. Also, it sounds like at least one of the players is doing some interesting stuff, but it is half-buried beneath the constant hum of the other players.  The most interesting part of the performance comes 15 minutes into the second track when some separation of the players’ actions produce allow the texture to come to the fore, and it climaxes (relatively speaking) at the 20 minute mark with a purring sound and then some high pitched tones that sound like guitar feedback. Moments like these make this setup sound like it has way more potential than is shown on these fairly monotonous tracks.

 

themeltingoficeTerminal 23The Melting of Ice
Inam Records

Another new limited run EP from Inam Records means another chance to bask in the glory of disorientation. Terminal 23 are a group from Athens who appear to do most of their work on self-made electronics, generators, effects, and software programs. On The Melting of Ice, pulsing drones slowly compete with sustained drones, all set against cavernous echoes, phased oscillations, and other found sounds. With assistance from the title, this noisy piece can be interpreted as a representation of the natural process of ice melting, a process which constantly leaves behind a form different than its predecessor. Despite this, the overall tone has more of an industrial feel than a natural one. Perhaps they mean to make a link between industrialization and melting ice. Regardless, this is drone music for the active listener, as a continuum of tones are visited throughout the 23-minute running time, always complimented by some other non-drone sound source, whether that be repetitive descending tones, swooping grand gestures, crumbling electronics, or swirling radio frequencies. Melting has never been so serious.

 

panacea

OlekranonPanacea
Inam Records

Hot on the heels of Olekranon’s recent full-length, Gaitan, comes this limited (pressing of 50) 3” Panacea on Inam Records. The three tracks on Panacea, which was recorded both before and after the sessions for Gaitan, take the flood-light-in-a-gutter, industrial, party aesthetic of that album and attenuate them in trippy ways. “Panacea” pushes even further into trip-hop territory, with an overblown drum machine and something that sounds like a creaky hinge leading the way rhythmically, accompanied by some fuzzy, phased guitars swirling through the back giving an impression of circular movement.  It’s simply great another Olekranon track which feels like a Dionysian celebration of noise, scuzz, and anarchy. “Armored” goes in a completely different direction, trading in the volume of noise blasts for the creepiness of echoes in empty space. Little more than a little echoing percussion figure with some windy wisps and other random noises lurking in the background, at almost 8 minutes this track gets a little tedious. Final track “Solemn” starts with some very bright electronics before segueing into a bumping beat and some darkly atmospheric keyboards. Uncharacteristically, the song breaks for an interlude of melodic guitar licks before dropping back in beat. This song repeats that drop a number of times, mixing in various elements to the beat and guitar picking, and is the most structured and melodic thing I’ve heard from Olekranon. Could be an intriguing direction for the new full length…

 

nopicKill and EatGreen Bushes
Alright Now Records

“Green Bushes” is a loose 18-minute voice and piano piece released on the Alright Now Records label, which eschews including any sort of album artwork in order to put the focus on the music. Luckily, the music included is less austere than this sort of purism would lead you to expect. Following the stream of conscious, “Green Bushes” employs a cocktail lounge piano on valium, the player’s lead foot barely lifting off the sustain pedal, accompanying a boyishly imperfect voice singing the line “Green bushes and concrete trees above me”. The singing is detached and dreamy, like the singer is more interested in the nuances of the syllables than the words themselves. As the song slowly draws on, the piano gains some gusto in its flourishes, throwing in twinkling notes and cascading runs, grounding the proceedings just a little even as the music continues to wander at its own whim. Before the track comes to a close, a trumpet that sounds muted under an armpit plays a woozy but serene variation on the main theme. To end, the piano ramps up its force and volume, banging out the chords and notes in a confident rhythm accompanied by a drumbeat, a satisfying coda to the deep, dreamlike meditation of the rest of the piece. Although Kill and Eat use familiar sounds, “Green Bushes” pushes into totally new territory to surprising effect, bringing emotionally touching and gloriously unclassifiable playing back to the piano and voice.