Monday, June 04, 2007


OK, so I know my concept of what constitutes a "week" is starting to drift a bit, but I'll realign my compass soon, I promise. At least this time around I have a semi-substantial amount to say about a daunting Euro-improv all-star ensemble known as the Signal Quintet. I'd read about Jason Kahn's graphical score "Timelines" a while back, and how he had put this five-piece together specifically for it, and then how they'd decided to stay together and do other stuff because, well, shit - the lineup is really too good to be stopped: Kahn, Tomas Korber, Gunter Muller, Christian Weber, and my particular fave, one-time Voice Crack genius Norbert Moslang. I'd read, but I hadn't heard, and luckily the kind folks (actually, Mr. Kahn, I believe) at Swiss label Cut sent us a copy, part of a two-fer package with Sean Meehan's latest (a nice duo effort with Ellen Fullman that I suggest you order, as long as yer ordering this one, right?)

The disc is called Yamaguchi, and it contains three exclt improv-noise environments recorded in Japan during a tour there last year. Now, not to be regionally prejudiced or anything, but since this is quite distinctly a European affair, one might - if one were as lazy and unfair as me - expect it to have a certain, uh, "reserve" often found in the improvised noise of that fine assemblage of countries. And the pieces here do have points that could be called "restrained" or even "mellow" (they also have points of fiery all-out noise most Americans would be lucky to match), but the catch is that even Signal Quintet's quietest moments have a tension, creepiness and just plain scarily thick atmosphere that makes the whole record seem as sinister as any all-out screech fest.

Now that all my stupid biases and even stupider surprises at said biases being overturned are outta the way, here's what Yamaguchi has: rumbling low tones, scratchy surfaces, pregnant negative spaces, thick slabs of dissonance, crunching distortions, and lots of other sounds one might not expect from percussion, synths, guitar, electronics, and good ol' contrabass. Each piece manages to sound both like an aggressive aural confrontation and a lulling, picture-less mood-film, often at the same time. I think the first of the rec's three untitled pieces mixes those semi-warring/semi-brotherly factions best, and is also the best at building its sounds into arcs that are natural and stunningly organic, as if the participants were following some kind of unspoken treasure map to get to an bottomless chest of sparkling sonic rewards. (My metaphors still need help - send any spare ones to the address on the right).

SIGNAL QUINTET - (track one) from Yamaguchi


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