Huntsville

For The Middle Class
Rune Grammofon RCD 2058

Ivar Grydeland/Thomas Lehn/Ingar Zach
Szc Zcz Cze Zec Eci Cin
Musica Genera/Archive Genera ga 001

Proficient in all manner of music-making, Norwegians, plectrumist Ivar Grydeland and percussionist Ingar Zach showcase different facets of their honed skills on these equally fascinating CDs.

More in line with the intense Free Music the two have recorded in the past with such improv masters as drummer Tony Oxley and guitarist Derek Bailey, Szc Zcz Cze Zec Eci Cin features the Norwegians plus German synthesizer player Thomas Lehn on three onomatopoeically-titled abstract improvisations. A departure from that genre, For The Middle Class reworks other sounds including minimalism, folk-inflections and electronica into a tougher, groove-oriented program. Aiding the transformation is fellow Norwegian, bassist Tonny Kluften, with the trio operating as Huntsville.

Featuring references from country music – Grydeland plays banjo and steel guitar as well as acoustic and electric guitars here – intermittent tones and underlying drones, Huntsville constructs a hypnotic sound world that in some ways is reminiscent of the one created by Australian trio The Necks. Lacking the Antipodean band’s repetitive keyboard vamp, and with Zach’s tabla machine, sarangi box, shruti box adding unique textures –not to mention all three playing unnamed “various instruments” – Huntsville’s tracks are nonfigurative but evocative.

Among the crossed-wire drones, triggered electronic sound loops and haunting acoustic guitar runs, sporadic, (Morton) Feldmanesque tinctures arise and turn to free tempo. Brief, solipsistic warbling in an unknown language appears on one track, while the percussive outpouring takes in Africanized rhythmic patterns that also replicate heart beat-like pulses and adagio basso strokes. Jackhammer-like percussion, static crackles, non-specific organ-like textures and Grydeland’s shifting from spacey, plangent folksy melodies to multifarious reverb are other highlights.

Defining moments appear during “Add a Key of Humanity”. A 22-minute-plus, often staccatissimo composition, it commences with what sounds like an alarm clock bell going off, and expands into robotic drum beats and primordial guitar strumming. Added to these timbres are clattering, out-of-tempo prepared bass strokes, whistling tremolo guitar licks and weighted drumming. Eventually, the broken chord variants encompass claw-hammer banjo runs as well as flanged amp distortions so that when triple counterpoint emerges it just as quickly dissolves and subsides into a layered and ratcheting groove. Climaxing with up-tempo, Appalachian-style flat picking, these traditional fills are stand out starkly as the tonal centre shifts to make room for triggered harsh buzzes and shrill, mechanized textures from the other two.

Band-saw drones and staccato sequenced pulses show up on Szc Zcz Cze Zec Eci Cin as well, with additional lengthened patterns relating back to Lehn’s nuanced synth work. Triggered whiz-bang pulses and stuttering rhythms, radio tuning vibrations, inert harmonies and electric shaver-like drones build into graduated polyphony, with the Norwegians contributing drum stick-rubbed cymbal echoes and abrasive, slurred guitar-string fingering.

As with For The Middle Class, this CD’s tour-de-force is the extended “Szcin”, whose nonsense syllable title masks more than 23 minutes of shuddering, pulsating, yet effective, improvisation. Bonding shuddering and fluttering triggered oscillations from the synthesizer with spidery guitar picking, bell-ringing and measured Bop-inflected drum beats, the three create polyphonic patterns among the hissing static.

Subsequently elevated crescendo textures that could serve as the soundtrack for a war movie are added, along with reverberations that incorporate rattling and scraping percussion, triggered electronic chirping, rocket flare-like discharges and concussive patterning. Doubling, tripling and quadrupling fortissimo tones with rotating percussive notes rubbing against one another, the diminuendo features echoes from tiny finger cymbals plus the beeping and whirling of electronic toys – until the sound leaks away to silence.

Memorable in both situations, the Norwegians’ playing and instant compositions are unique responses to the challenge of creating inventive, home-gown improvisations in the post-electronic era.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Szc: 1. Zecin 2. Szcin 3. Szczec

Personnel: Szc: Ivar Grydeland (guitars, banjo and various instruments); Thomas Lehn (analogue synthesizer) and Ingar Zach (percussion and various instruments)

Track Listing: Middle: 1. The Appearance of a Wild Child 2. Serious Like a Pope 3. Add a Key of Humanity 4. Melon

Personnel: Middle: Ivar Grydeland (guitars, banjo, pedal steel guitar and various instruments); Tonny Kluften (bass and various instruments); Ingar Zach (percussion, tabla machine, sarangi box, shruti box and various instruments)