November 1, 2015
As committed to idiosyncratic improvisations as a yoga devotee is to the downward dog position, Melbourne-based guitarist Oren Ambarchi frequently twists his performances into quirky movements. That because during the decade plus he’s been maintaining this post-minimalist deportment his associates have moved to encompass not only grizzled Free Music veterans like Keith Rowe but experimenters whose primary allegiance is to Rock, noise, electronics or notated music. These live realizations of his “Knots” composition, recorded seven month apart in two cities in duo or with expanded personnel, prove this. Like fraternal twins of different sexes who have inherited disparate physiognomy, there’s a resemblance, but no more than would arise from any music created by the same composer.
Characterized by industrial noise and sound dislocation, “Tokyo Knots” is a this-side-of-Metal duet by Ambarchi and his long-time Melbourne associate, Joe Talia who plays drums and spring [!] Devoted to as many abrasive and distorted buzzes as can be exposed in approximately 24½-minutes it could be termed the head-bangers track. Taking up nearly twice as much aural space – at slightly less than 42 minutes – like a tapestry studded with sound-emitting diodes, the concluding “Krakow Knots” could be termed a head trip. “Krakow Knots”, based around the textures generated by the Ambarchi-Talia duo, is further bolstered by American Eyvind Kang’s viola lines, plus timbres from contact mics and another spring manipulated by Canadian sound artist Crys Cole. Latterly the already overstuffed concoction added further interlaces in the form of patched in strings from Sinfonietta Cracovia conducted by Kang.
On its own “Tokyo Knots” could be mistaken for a late-1960s Filmore East psychedelic freak-out. By its conclusion though, the familiarity with each other’s strategies pays off for Ambarchi and Talia climax with hyped up timbral splinters that appear to be dynamiting the piece while completing it. Earlier on Talia spaces out resonating beats with the regularity of telephone poles on a prairie road, while the guitarist’s squealing harmonies replicate a blend of Hard Rock rhythm and Velvet Underground-like vibrating yelps.
These wavering guitar screeching and buzzes plus wheeling drum patterns and pops dominate the exposition of “Krakow Knots”, aided by undulating shudders and palpitating flanges from Cole and Kang. Eventually with the velocity of a jet-plane repeatedly breaking the sound barrier, the theme shakes itself into a straight line. Just when it appears that the Sinfonietta is MIA, layered glissandi announces its droning presence. The subsequent sequences are so thick and impenetrable that they could be made of some mutant diamond substance. Besides this, only odd spiccato swipe from Kang and effects pedal action from Ambarchi signaling their remaining presence. As the Krakow strings gradually intensify in volume and power it’s as if a chamber music and rock record are playing simultaneously. Crunching timbres from the core quartet finally asserts supremacy, as shaking guitar buzzes, spectral processing and percussion pumps cut through the electronic-patched and string-laden cacophony.
The aspects of the guitarist’s talent not exposed here are his quieter-than-quiet-microtonal excursions. But enough other textures are on show to satisfy both his committed followers and those interested in evolving improvised music.
Track Listing: 1. Tokyo Knots 2. Krakow Knots
Personnel: Oren Ambarchi (guitar) and Joe Talia (drums, springs) ; plus Eyvind Kang (viola, string conductor)*; Crys Cole (contact mics, spring)* and Sinfonietta Cracovia*