grand mal
Barely Auditable/Pax Recordings bar 1234

Object 2
Locust no. 24

Teleporting in from the farthest reaches of experimentation where instrumental improvisation meets up with electrical impulses are these two sessions featuring Chicago-based double reedist Kyle Bruckmann.

A freelance modern classical musician, who plays oboe, English horn and suona or Chinese oboe, Bruckmann works with a variety of sympathetic improvisers. Connections in Chicago and beyond include cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, percussionist Michael Zerang and saxophonist Scott Rosenberg. On GRAND MAL he’s part of a band of West Coast instrumentalists including percussionist Karen Stackpole, who has collaborated with fellow percussionist Gino Robair; electric guitarist John Shiurba, who has recorded with composer Anthony Braxton among others; and acoustic guitarist Ernesto Diaz-Infante, who plays and composes contemporary chamber music as well as improv fare. The interplay reaches exceptional heights here.

OBJECT 2 is designed for a much more limited audience. EKG — which is also an abbreviation for electrocardiogram — is an electro-acoustic recording of the heart. It partners the double reedist with trumpeter Ernst Karel, who has also played with such musicians as Lonberg-Holm and saxist Ken Vandermark; plus a collection of analog electronics to create an auricular meditation on a trio of inanimate objects. The resulting set of buzzes, drones and swiggles is true to the concept, but lacks listener friendliness, at least for those not attuned to buzzes and static.

Electronics also figure in the first CD, but perhaps because they arise from Shiurba’s electric guitar amp and share space with acoustic instruments, the effect isn’t as overpowering. On the nearly 11-minutes of “Retrograde amnesia”, for instance, crackling noises and an intermittent electric current — which seems to arise from the sweep of fingers over guitar strings — encounter bleating tones that sound like an infant’s cries. Later subtle drum pressure and single cymbal smacks give way to a steady double-reed tone, amplified and reverberated. Outer space tones are matched with guitar moans that get clamorous and insistent enough to sound like a flock of swarming bees, until the piece is finally defibrillated with diminuendo reed honks.

“Catatonic Posturing II”, features extended and elongated shrills from the double reedist amplified with electric guitar noises that meet a crescendo of electronic buzzes. Soon taking on a characteristic electronic drone, only the bell-like tones from Stackpole manage to piece the crackle and static at the end. The drummer’s scattershot percussion defines itself with louder clatters and quick movements from the standard kit, as well as whacks on unselected cymbals and what sounds like parallel glass rods on “Gray matter”. Also on hand are cello-like sweeps, perhaps created by an e-bow on Diaz-Infante’s acoustic, beats that sound like heel of hand hitting the guitar strings, and reed work encompassing extended lines and tongue slaps.

Rolling growls, bubbled notes, tonal hints of Asian music, electric guitar scrapes and squeaks, plus tones that could come from shaken maracas and sticks hit together appear on many of the other tracks. Yet, oddly enough, “Nervous tic” comes across as a curious mixture of BritImprov and avant-rockabilly. Stackpole whales away on the whole drum hit; Bruckmann pulls John Butcher-like emphasized squeals from his English horn and oboe; and the racing feedback created by the guitar(s) takes on a broken, accentuated quality, like the jagged guitar parts on “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats, arguably the first rock’n’roll record.

Proceeding may be coarse and rugged on OBJECT 2, though among the miasma of extended sounds you won’t hear any echoes of rock’n’roll. As a matter of fact, during the course of the six tracks you may be hard pressed to detect any acoustical instrumental tones at all.

That’s because Bruckmann and Karel are sonic explorers like London-based saxophonist Butcher, intent on using non-traditional techniques to showcase completely unexpected sounds from their horns. The result is as if the instruments are being vivisected from within. Squeaks, screeches and silence vie for audible supremacy, with purposeful microphone smacks sometimes taking the percussion function.

Otherwise, as on the second track, the output ranges from “name that sound” to what could be testing time at the radio tube factory. Initial organ-like swells soon feature higher pitched buzzing static segmented by sizzling electronic beeps. Use your imagination and you can hear waves lapping the seashore, at least until the track becomes completely still. Then a few bleated trumpet tones bring out trilling drone from the double reedist preceding the brassman creating what could be an offbeat memory of “Taps”.

Track 5, which clocks in at 12:41 — instead of the booklet timing of 7:36 — seems to best exemplify the ties between inanimate objects and the players. At least the manipulated electronic static strongly suggests the frayed electric cord pictured on the cover. Intermittent horn squeals and extended breaths without valve or key pressure produce minute tune shards that are added to the mix. Amid the continuous electronic drones you can hear the musicians straining as mechanized beeps take their place alongside tongue fluttering and mouthpiece kisses. When a low level alarm sound produces the mental picture of a boat leaving a harbor, breaths makes their way past the reed and the mouthpiece, propped up by wiggling electronics.

Crackling static, tone percussion and what appears to be some plastic item being bashed to record its vibrations, characterize the final track. Soon the tone of a conventional electrical current is repeatedly interrupted by other prolonged buzzes. Following oscillating movements and what could be the sound of a ray gun, a tumultuous electronic traffic jam erupts complete with blaring car horns. Dissonance snakes and shakes through the amplified electronics until the track sinks into silence.

Those interested in the experimental should definitely investigate the work of Bruckmann and these others. But realize that gratification only come with acceptance on their own terms. So come fully prepared to both discs.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: grand: 1. Catatonic Posturing I 2. Nervous tic 3. Gray matter 4. Spatial agnosia 5. The final “d” in “grand” is not pronounced 6. Big, bad 7. Retrograde amnesia 8. Shaking palsy 9. Tonic clonic 10. Catatonic Posturing II

Personnel: grand: Kyle Bruckmann (English horn, suona, oboe); Ernesto Diaz-Infante (acoustic guitar); John Shiurba (electric guitar); Karen Stackpole (percussion)

Track Listing: Object: 1. 11:16 2. 13:43 3. 05:10 4. 05.01 5. 07:36 6. 07:57

Personnel: Object: Ernst Karel (trumpet and/or analog electronics); Kyle Bruckmann (English horn, suona and/or analog electronics)