HISS

Zahir
Rossbin RS 011

Yet another example of the Oslo-London concordant, CDs like this one prove — as if there was any doubt — that musicians from different countries cooperate a whole lot better than their political counterparts.

An outgrowth of the ever-shifting, large band No Spaghetti Edition, Hiss pares down the members of that larger group to four, who then proceed to run through five instant compositions in about 46 minutes. Recorded in London, the session makes up for this geographical imbalance by featuring three Norwegians and one Englishman. Each of the Norwegian players, though, is quite comfortable improvising in the low-key BritImprov style.

Percussionist Ingar Zach, for instance, has recorded with such first generation British improvisers as bassist Barry Guy and guitarist Derek Bailey. Bassist Tonny Kluften is part of British drummer Tony Oxley’s working trio as is guitarist Ivar Grydeland. Odd man out, British keyboardist Pat Thomas’ usual associates include Bailey, Oxley, drummer Roger Turner and the co-op group Lunge.

ZAHIR is no slavish BritImprov recreation however, but a novel variation on the theme, adapting electronic sounds to improv music. Many times throughout, the tunes highlight the enigmatic joy of true improv as the listener finds it impossible to match certain sounds to particular instruments.

Although all the tracks start off quietly and the music prefers to make its point at a whisper rather than at a scream, no one whimps out. There are enough passages of electric squeals, guitar feedback and pure industrial noise to remind you that improv aside, Scandinavian black metal is a close kin to British head banging.

Shimmering, high-pitched, mouse-like squeaks arise from the synthesizer at times, as do guitar pedal effects, feedback reverberations and the ascending noise of what sounds like a train going through tunnel, with percussion creating the level crossing interface. Zach also seems able to create enough hullabaloo to replicate how a shop full of exploding, hammered metals would reverberate — and how walls would be rendered by that explosion.

Meanwhile, static moving from one electric instrument to another, freeform drones, ascending buzzes and whirls — plus mixing board squeals — add to the general discord. Mingled among all this is what appears to be keyboard glissandos and forearm pressure on many keys simultaneously; whacks on hollow logs and on what could be either a dumbek or darbuka; plus melodica and car horn tones and sampled voices isolated on recording tapes run forwards and backwards.

The CD reaches a crescendo of sorts on the penultimate track where the scratch of metal appears to arise from unselected cymbals rolling across the floor and cowbells hit with great force. Twisting tones of sprawling electronic currents meet video game echoes and spinning top sounds, while tinny accordion-like timbres vie for upfront ear space with squeaking, whirring tones, chain rattling, swift ruffs and flams and industrial noises that could actually be furniture being dragged across the studio.

Finally, the entire glorious cacophony comes to a head on the almost 14-minute “Khayal”. Here the menagerie of effects multiples with the apparent emergence of running water sounds among guitar chord twists, scraping metal, wood abrasions, bubbling cauldron intimations and what could be the peeps of grouse and definite porcine oinks. Wire brushes hitting glass test tubes, resounding drum rolls, all but ear-splitting electric guitar drones and the whooshes of a synthesizer’s output are knitted together as a coda — concluding with a single bell stroke.

Whether musicians from two other countries could have created a similar aural whole is open to question; as is whether you’re prepared to sit through this CD. Your appreciation will likely depend on how well you can appreciate manipulation of sound sources as well as those from conventional instruments.

But certainly for the brave of heart — and ear — the verb that may describe this Norwegian-British quartet’s output is closer to cheer than hiss.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Wazifah 2. Qalb 3. Batin 4. Zahir 5. Khayal

Personnel: Pat Thomas (keyboards and electronics); Ivar Grydeland (guitar); Tonny Kluften (bass); Ingar Zach (percussion)