TRAPIST

Ballroom
Thrill Jockey Thrill 141

Structure and feelings are the two impulses jockeying for dominance on the five selections that make up the second CD by this Vienna-based trio. Musicians whose distinctive sound channels post-rock and electro-acoustic re-mixing as well as free jazz, the challenge they face here is to ensure that the sprawling treatments don’t bury the animated improvisations.

For most the part they succeed, though Trapist’s soundworld isn’t as unique or self-contained as those created by similar cooperative trios such as Britain’s AMM or Australia’s The Necks.

Of course Trapist isn’t the exclusive purview of the three. Martin Siewert, who plays guitar, lap steel guitar, pedal steel guitar, mandoguitar and synthesizer here, has stated that one of his ambitions is to sublimate and electronically diminish sounds. Luckily the instant compositions on BALLROOM aren’t as reductionist as some of the projects he’s been part of in SSSD or efzeg with doleful Teutonic experimenters like bassist Werner Dafeldecker.

Part of the reason is that rhythmic textures are provided by Martin Bandlmayr on synthesizer, vibraphone, drums and percussion, who is also a member of minimalist-rock band Radian. Canadian-in-Europe Joe Williamson on bass and trackerball [?!] provides some of the improv color, having worked in the past with free music masters like Dutch drummer Han Bennink and British reedist Evan Parker.

Studio mavens, Trapist improvised the bed tracks then added and edited in strands of vibraharp, synthesizer and software-based treatments to further blend the sonic compounds. “Time Axis Manipulation (part 2)”, is the track that offers the most memorable pulsation. Here an overlay of spacey electric keyboard meets throbbing beats courtesy of Bandlmayr’s cross sticking and Williamson’s straightahead pulse. Amplifying the sprawling electro-acoustic promises that preceded it in the much longer — and frankly less focused — “(part 1)”, this tune braids crackling sine wave pulses, dense static and instrumental virtuosity into a self-contained and unique soundworld.

Other tracks add drum top cleaning sounds and delicate brush strokes from Bandlmayr, slide guitar intimations and unadorned song-based guitar riffs from Siewert, plus cathedral organ drones and wiggling electronic loops from everyone to further bond the disparate instrumental properties.

Climax is the almost 18½-minute final track, with the sardonic title: “For All the Time Spent in this Room”. With individual instrumental sounds alternately buried and emerging from the oscillations, the piece lurches from episodes where familiar tones are outlined, to those when individual attribution is almost impossible.

Throughout massed accordion-like tones and wiggling sine waves vie for aural space with wah-wah guitar tracks, bass thumps and counterpoint drum rustles. Soon the polyphony of simple, repetitive guitar licks are mirrored by synthesizer tones which then become muffled and diffuse. Beneath the circular, electronic buzzes and squeals is an undulating, organ-like continuum, which eventually gives way to a new theme presaged by acoustic guitar strums. As soundless episodes alternate with hesitant chording, the sonic backdrop fades away until the entire track fades to silence.

Notable as one method of mixing electronic and acoustic impulses, the Trapist three have avoided many of the drawbacks of electronic overkill. The feeling remains that they can do even better, though. After the fine work here, this puts even higher expectations on their next outing.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Time Axis Manipulation (part 1) 2. Time Axis Manipulation (part 2) 3. Observations Took Place 4. The Meaning of Flowers 5. For All the Time Spent in this Room

Personnel: Martin Siewert (guitar, lap steel guitar, pedal steel guitar, mandoguitar, synthesizer); Joe Williamson (bass, trackerball); Martin Bandlmayr (synthesizer, vibraphone, drums, percussion)