The Wire, Brian Duguid
It's onward, ever onward for New Zealand's foremost guitar experimentalist, Dean Roberts. Before you know it, he'll be as ubiquitous as Thurston Moore, a New Music gadfly gatecrashing every weird feast going. The latest outpost in a transition from lo-fi humstrum to Destination Unknown sees Roberts shacked up with avant-Austrian Werner Dafeldecker bassist in Improv group Polwechsel.
Expect: grinchy crackling, like the amplified sound of grit disintegrating. Imagine: bric-a-brac, debris, splinters, all stroked, scraped and scratched. Hear: loudspeaker hum, sine tone fever, lumbering guitar-borne jumble to delight and distract. Stepping away from what with hindsight can be seen as the relatively structured audiodrama of other recent recordings, Roberts has plunged headlong into the deepest waters of free Improv abstraction. For Aluminium, he and Dafeldecker sat together in a studio with electronics, electric guitars, and a shared hi-hat placed between them. I imagine their brief was 'to sound like AMM', although the album that results is often more patient and minimal than improv's old masters.
Patience, indeed, is the name of the game, as high-pitched drones drift very gently before soft, lumbering guitar chimes join the party. This is music that's deeply reserved, frugal at best, albeit still with a shy charisma. Simplicity is the watchword, not drama, and if you were to imagine a scrpayard filled with hesitant but unruffled ghosts, you might come close to the sound of Aluminium. After a while, the crackles and creaks begin to sound like strange wildlife, like a jungle recording made from inside a power transformer.
Incursion Music Review, Richard di Santo
Dean Roberts, best known for his explorations into guitar drones and feedback (see especially All Cracked Medias and And the Black Moths Play the Grand Cinema on Mille Plateaux and Ritornell respectively) has joined forces with composer and sonic improviser Werner Dafeldecker, founder of the influential Durian label (www.durian.at) for this new release on Erstwhile Records. For this recording, both musicians perform on guitar and electronics, along with occasional percussion on a hi-hat placed between them in the recording studio. The disc is divided into two tracks titled Rock and Roll, Parts 4 and 5. The first track is a short preface (a total of 10 minutes), introducing a marked tension between sound elements. High pitched whistles are pitted against the gratings and scrapes of guitar textures. The second track runs for precisely 30 minutes, and is characterised by a movement from high to low, from tension to harmony. Couched in a bed of silence, high frequencies whistle at various pitch; crackles, pops and waves of electronic sound interact with scrapings and pluckings of guitar. In the opening minutes, it sounds as if these two sound elements (guitar and electronics) are being played against each other, as if they are competing for dominance, or conversing as if trying to win an argument. But about 13 minutes into the piece, a certain harmony sets in, the tension disappears into a gentle strumming of strings and a calm electronic accompaniment. In answer to the higher pitched frequencies and sounds of the first half of this recording, a stunning bass drone kicks in, rising as if from the silence itself about 20 minutes into the piece. From this point on it's the lower frequencies that dominate the piece, fluctuating and shifting through various intonations (reminiscent of a bass gong) and exhibiting a striking depth and dimension in the sound. It's a marvel listening to the interplay of elements in this recording, and the developments throughout these improvisational pieces are full of details and surprises. In short, another fine release from the Erstwhile catalogue.
All Music Guide, François Couture
Aluminium is the result of an extended studio session recorded in Vienna on April 13, 2000. At that time, New Zealand's Dean Roberts was a rising star in the European free improv sky. Werner Dafeldecker was already a renowned figure of the Austrian scene and one of the few influential people (with Gčnter Mčller, Keith Rowe, Burkhard Stangl and Martin Siewert) that defined the new aesthetics of improvisation in the third millennium. And the beautiful Aluminium embodies this fresh approach. Exit the virtuosic rates of notes per second and the over-adrenalined sweaty improvs. Roberts and Dafeldecker work on textures provided by electric guitars, simple electronics and a hi-hat placed between them during the session. Buzzes, crackles and hums are carefully laid down in order to create strange and enticing pieces. "Rock and Roll Part 4" opens with a sine wave, accompanied by low guitar scratching (you'll never hear a chord or anything close to a note) -- a disquieting ten minutes. The half-hour "Rock and Roll Part 5" is on the contrary very atmospheric: textures develop slowly and surround the listener, catching his attention from every direction -- atmospheric drones polluted by electrical discharges. A masterpiece. Of course, by now you must understand there is nothing "Rock and Roll" about Aluminium, except the prominent role played by the guitar. Well, maybe it's enough.