Keith Rowe/Alfredo Costa Monteiro/Ilia Belorukov/Kurt Liedwart

Contour
Mikroton CD 32

Keith Rowe/Ilia Belorukov/Kurt Liedwart

Tri

Intonema int 011

Far out literally, to the extent that the nucleus of contemporary music isn’t Russia; and sonically, since the four players involved work on the periphery of electro-acoustics; these densely programmed discs offer insight into unique post-instrumental improvisations, with a total of four tracks that are almost relaxing in their formlessness.

Recorded two days apart in St. Petersburg, the sessions resulted after local Ilia Belorukov, who plays prepared saxophone, and Moscow-based electronics manipulator Kurt Liedwart invited British guitarist Keith Rowe and Barcelona-based microtonal accordionist Alfredo Costa Monteiro to participate in some Russian gigs. Contour’s second track feature the interaction of all four, both Tri tracks involve Belorukov, Liedwart and Rowe; whereas only Rowe and Costa Monteiro on featured on Contour’s aptly named “Two”.

At the risk of drawing brickbats, numbers don’t much matter here, since the sounds generated don’t differentiate much among duo, trio or quartet formations. On their own, for instance, the two non-Russians’ interface is only distinguished by happenstance and/or stylized wave forms and perhaps the movement of thickened objects that give “two” more of a percussive undercurrent than the other tracks.

Taken as a whole, Tri’s trio tracks, the 42-minute-plus “S” and the more-than-31½-minute “Bez” are one of a pulsating kind, with broadening pitches and textures characterized more by silences and dense electronic grain than (m) any recognizable instrumental tones. Throughout timbres come in-and-out of aural focus, with a persistent machine-affiliated drone making an ostinato, which at times builds up to an almost unbearable crescendo of sewn- together strident textures. With the finale distinct sprawling signal processing rumbles and fades, previous sequences of ear-splitting reed squeaks and snarls, plus wood-splintered suggestions and metal comb-like string sweeps, as well as footfalls and coughs are the only human-like references in an otherwise seemingly machine and electricity oriented performance.

The slightly shorter “Bez” offers a bit more variety, since there are sequences during which watery lip slurps, clanking metal guitar clanks and band saw-like screeches interrupt the buzzing static before it subsumes all the other sounds. These distortions not only pierce the flat-line processes, but also introduce a sputtering leitmotif that finally asserts itself in the track’s final seconds as a single reed breath is isolated from among the fading rumbles.

Two days later when the quartet convened on “Four”, the additional tremolo functions from Costa Monteiro’s instrument appear to inject more organic animation into the shuddering drone that characterized all these electronic synapses outputting at once. With the sonic picture still as calmly mesmerizing as on other tracks, the intensity is lessened with scrubs, pops and swizzle which are not signal processed, yet can’t be attributed to any particular instrument. Reaching an earlier, more pronounced climax, the rugged oscillations that underline “Four”, meet contrapuntal interference from sharpened reed blows, intermittent beeps like a computer system rebooting and a collection of undefined noises resembling stomach growls and dog yelps. Even more instructive, the protracted conclusion moves on from what could be paper being crumbled for a finale that’s equal parts rushing wave forms, reed smears and percussion thumps.

Although not as difficult to fathom as Russia’s foreign policy, the two CDs aren’t designed to be pleasant background sounds. Acceptance of harsh timbres alongside unending drones is a necessity; as is staying away from a demand for melody or harmonies. That said, these sorts of performances have become an important part of 21st music in many countries – east and west – and deserve investigation by the adventurous.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Tri: 1. S 2. Bez

Personnel: Tri: Ilia Belorukov (alto saxophone, contact mic, mini-amp, monotron, effect pedals, mini-speaker, ipod and objects); Keith Rowe (guitar and electronics) and Kurt Liedwart (ppooll, electronics and objects)

Track Listing: Contour: 1. Two 2. Four

Personnel: Contour: Ilia Belorukov (alto saxophone, mini-subwoofer, mini-speaker, ipod and objects); Keith Rowe (electric guitar and electronics); Alfredo Costa Monteiro (accordion and objects) and Kurt Liedwart (ppooll, electronics and objects)