The Wire, Julian Cowley
Grainy flickering, strangulated buzzing, blurred sonic shadows and harsh stridulations. Chicagoan Drumm continues to rethink the electric guitar in terms that suggest the microscopic life of ponds, and he deploys electronics along similar lines. Canadian turntablist Tètreault scatters clicks and blips as he skates the meniscus. Tiny events, inconsequential in themselves, taken together form a viable acoustic ecosystem.
Motion, Peter Marsh
Chicagoan Kevin Drumm's tabletop guitar explorations have been heard alongside the likes of John Butcher, Jim O'Rourke and Alan Licht in the last couple of years. Particles and Smears sees him in duet with Canadian turntablist Martin Tètreault, whose CV includes work with Rene Lussier, Christian Marclay, Ikue Mori and Otomo Yoshihide. On this release TÈtreault eschews the more traditional turntablists armoury of quotes and scratches and adopts a minimalist approach for the most part, coaxing whirrs, clicks, hums and scabrous noisebursts from prepared styli, adapted turntable motors and treated vinyl. Rich and dense textures more akin to the contact miked junk percussives of someone like Adam Bohman emerge from these modest means; in one memorable passage TÈtreault manages a convincing sonic impression of a small but busy metalwork studio based on a motorboat. Meanwhile Drumm's prepared guitar evokes gongs, kotos, wasps, sonar activity and heavy industry in quick succession, echoing the work of others such as Keith Rowe and Fred Frith but sounding unlike either. His use of electronics sounds like it's conjured from pretty basic equipment and is correspondingly visceral (beware when listening under headphones...) Most of the time it's hard to tell who's doing what, which is usually a good sign. While it's not exactly easy listening (!), the level of detail in the sounds the two conjure up is surprisingly seductive. They're not afraid of silence either, though they turn up the density levels on a couple of tracks (notably '10') where the sensation is that of speed tuning through endless shortwave radio bands during an electrical storm. In fact this seems less like a record of two improvisors than a field recording of some strange natural phenomena - when an untreated human voice cuts in (via radio) on '9' it's a real shock. There's certainly a similarity between this music and Disinformation's VLF radio recordings of leaf static, sunspot activity and atmospheric electrical interference...perhaps if NASA's Viking Lander had actually managed to broadcast sound from the surface of Mars before it died, we'd have heard something like this. Whatever, it's definitely an immersive experience, and more compelling than most improv recordings I've heard in a while.
Muze, Gil Gershman
Chicago's determinedly low-key Kevin Drumm is a new breed of improviser. He treats his guitar as a sound-making implement rather than a musical instrument, coaxing textures and sounds from the familiar configuration of strings and pickups. MontrÈal's Martin TÈtreault refuses even to be classified as a musician. The innovative turntablist uses his multiple record players as low-tech samplers and as a source for all manners of crunchy, crackling noises.
Particles and Smears is a landmark recording. The disc captures the first meeting between Drumm and TÈtreault, individuals whose nonmusical dialects challenge notions of interactive performance and improv protocol. The experiment is a resounding success, as the guitarist and turntablist find fertile, common ground in the vocabulary of responsive noise. TÈtreault wields his tone arm, grinding out rough chatter and excitable commentary in controlled flurries and tumbles. Drumm answers and exhorts with rattling, rumbling guitar gabble, harmonic asides, and sonorous arcs. One wonders how a translation of their curiously animated and expressive exchange might read, but meaning is incidental here. The comfortably colloquial repartee speaks for the players' creativity, composure, and skill, making the unconventional Particles and Smears one of 2000's most memorable improv sessions.