Written by: Bryan Babylon
Title: Spectra: Guitar In The 21stCentury
Label: Quiet Design
Cat. # Alas007
01 Tetuzi Akiyama– Three Small Pieces
02 Sebastien Roux + Kim Myhr– SIX
03 Mike Vernusky– Nylah
04 Duanne Pitre– Music for Microtonal Guitars and Mallets
05 Cory Allen– Fermion
06 Erdem Helvacioglu– The End of the World
07 Kieth Rowe – Fragment From a Response to Cardew’s Treatise
08 Jandek– The World Stops
Quiet Design’s 2009 compilation of experimental compositions gives listeners an overview of some of the directions contemporary guitar playing is moving in. Ranging from minimal acoustic and jagged post rock pathos to ambient noise and experimental classical, this disc compiles eight long tracks from around the globe that stretch common conceptions of what constitutes music and how guitars should sound.
Tetuzi Akiyama’s ‘Three Small Pieces’ blend with each other so well that the listener can get lost in the wide open spaces between notes trying to look to find where the breaks are and in that search the aleatory sounds of the room and Akiyama’s body flow with the spare tones to lift the listener out of the act of searching for standard musical formulas leaving them open to chance the unexpected. Sebastien Roux and Kim Myhr’s sparse landscape of unsteady yet recurring chimes and gloomy mist move intimately from Akiyama’s pieces adding electronic shades that slowly unfold the minimal mood into a darker zone of intimacy where the focus changes from how my mind listens to how my body does. Mike Vernusky’s ‘Nylah’ slithers in from the chill IDM with waves of reptilian intensity morphing into each other, while saturnine shadows and fluid speckles crawl through the subbasement sound levels permeating the music without overpowering the higher tones.
A strange yet familiar theme bookends Duane Pitre’s ‘Music for Microtonal Guitars and Mallets’ and in between their statements, sound stretches outside of its normal scales, coming alive and making me listen with my voice. The vibrations are difficult to match after being accustomed to conventional harmonies, but the subtle tone combinations are hardly aberrant, in fact they are warm and intuitive despite their breaks from orthodox pitch systems. ‘Fermion’ by Corey Allen seems designed to focus the listener onto patterns. The music grows as it revolves, the cycles difficult to discern at first, but as the larger structure of the composition becomes apparent it gets harder to hold the entire series in my head and nearing the end a randomness is introduced that forces me to believe this cannot possibly be the end, but only a tiny fragment of the whole.
Erdem Helvacioglu contributes the longest work to this collection, and despite being over ten minutes in length, ‘The End of the World’ seems like just a whimper as the glacial psychedelic soundmasses deftly flow through one another and shimmer away into fragments. This is synaesthetic music to prepare for a voyage beyond the threshold. The holistic intensity and delicate disintegration recall to me the fairly new discipline of music thanatology where sound is used palliatively to help those at life’s end make the transition with as little physical and psychic pain as possible. Using music to bridge the reach, this liberation through hearing ends with a moment of silence.
‘Fragment From a Response to Cardew’s Treatise’ by Keith Rowe balances Helvacioglu’s lush apocalyptic secrets with the compilation’s harshest and most abstract piece. The static fields full of hallucinatory vermin moving just beyond sight and faint voices arguing in the very background are truly innovative, I have difficulty even being able to tell this is performed with guitar. This song ranks with fine noise music in the mental displacement and instability it transmits to the listener. The bleak feeling of separation is carried on into Jandek’s track ‘The World Stops.’ The clamorous dissonance and sliding vocals share space with the occasional bleeding harmonica, combined with the lyrics these elements delimit the borderline where consciousness splits. ‘Watching my body,’ he says at the place where the clockwork breaks down and everything suspends. I find his voice rather difficult to listen to, but this is a wonderful ending piece, the jarring atonal music and heartfelt performance round out this group of innovative compositions by letting me decelerate from the experimental intensity and guided introspection characterizing the earlier pieces and move back into the outside world.