Lasse Marhaug/Mark Wastell

Kiss of Acid
Monotype REC Mono 033

Taking full advantage of the re-compositional techniques now possible with granular synthesis and other inventive software programs, Norwegian electronics-manipulator Lasse Marhaug and British percussionist Mark Wastell combine to produce a dense sound program that while riveting, handily dispenses with acoustic properties.

Originally a cellist, Wastell’s work in the 1990s with the likes of pianist Chris Burn and harpist Rhodri Davies among others, was linked most strongly to reductionism. But before the 21st century was too old, the London-based musician began concentrating on so-called amplified textures, using preparations and particular sound sources to create unique percussion programs. Kiss of Acid’s nearly 42-minute single track, for instance, is based on an extended tam-tam or tuned gong improvisation Wastell recorded in 2004. The next year Arctic Circle-born, Oslo-based Marhaug spent nine months restructuring and recomposing the existing piece. Marhaug, who regularly works with the noise-improv band Jazkamer, is very cognizant of percussion and the allure of improvisation, playing often with drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and as part of alto saxophonist Frode Gjerstad’s Circulasione Totale Orchestra.

More of a dense sound block, than a composition embracing exposition, variations and finale, “Kiss of Acid” – meaning of title unknown – is focused around abrasive textures that skim among oscillated drones, heart-beat-like thumps, crumbling time shifting and stop-start sequences of patched-in shrills. Further reconstituted timbres, occasional mass choir-like harmonies, whistling signal processing and a snare drum ruff are shrouded in synthesized reverb which becomes more dissonant as it becomes louder. With a transition a little more than one-third of the way along marked by a click presaging an extended pause, gong resonations then brings forth relentless thudding, singular plucks and swelling crescendos of what is probably the time-stretched and tone intensified original track.

Strident bell-like pealing, vinyl record-like groove skips and distant whistling alternate in the narrative until the three-quarter mark. Finally pitches swell to become both inchoate and solid, thunderously replicating what might be a Sun Ra Arkestra-like space chord or the finale of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”. As the elevated timbres continue to reoccur, the hubbub becomes more piercing and boisterous, before ultimately fragmenting into high-pitched buzzes, pauses, grinds, spins and flanges. In its final minute the pitch breaks up further, when sharp oscillations in the shape of dial-twisting static and twittering wave forms succeed the tam-tam buzz.

A gripping track which leaves little room for tonal differences, “Kiss of Acid” allows too many of the wheels and pulleys in the shape of patches and signal processes, to be obvious. It isn’t fully mesmerizing. But on the cumulative evidence here, Marhaug and Wastell are moving closer to that goal of pure sound.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Kiss of Acid

Personnel: Mark Wastell (pre-recorded 32” tam tam) and Lasse Marhaug (electronics, computer and compositional structure)