Reviews for 12/10/09

Neil Rolnick – “The Economic Engine” – Innova

Rolnick’s third album for Innova Recordings, “The Economic Engine” is currently top of my listening/dissection pile. Although I’ve never been a formal student of music, I’ve been having a very good time formulating ideas about the juxtaposition of Eastern and Western instrumentation in Rolnick’s China-inspired titular four-part suite. Complicating matters is the electronic processing of the instruments, sometimes yielding a boldly distorted call-and-response, or sometimes subtly making a tweak in pitch. I especially enjoy the second movement, “Farm to Factory” which is as fine a musical setting for the range of human experience in Chinese society as I can imagine– from the slow, cyclical days known to farmers the world over; to the headlong rush towards modernity witnessed by so many during this past Olympics. Also included is “Hammer & Hair,” which utilizes the acoustic sounds of a violin bow and piano hammers, creating an interesting blend of jazz and more abstract sounds.

Ralph White & The Horaflora Sound System – s/t – Resipiscent

Three multi-layered improvisations with kalimba, fiddle and banjo piped through a prepared speaker array recall Ross Bolleter’s work with playing decayed pianos, with an additional patina of electronic clatter throughout. The first track, “Buzzard and Rattlesnake Share a Meal of Honeycomb,” is by far the most raw. Recorded with binaural microphones, it sounds better with a good set of headphones, where the buzzing kalimba really has a chance to emerge from the general froth of distortion. “A Space Between a Chimney and a Swift” continues the instrument abuse, albeit in what seems to be a more controlled manner. Often, the effect is lovely, with bludgeoned echoes ringing in agreement with the melody. Don’t listen to anyone who compares this to Konono no. 1, by the way– though I’m sure the comparison will be made by any number of writers searching their pretty little heads for thumb piano players, this album has very little to do with “Congrotronics” beat-driven tunes save instrumentation. If anything, White’s far more like the fellow in my next review…

R.P. Collier – “Let Them Eat Flarn” – Self-release

I’m not for certain that this is an official release just yet, but seeing as how it’s in my stereo, I’m going to make mention of it here. Combining futuristic synth-work and handmade kalimbas, Collier sketches a weird universe of glassine forms moving about on unknown business. “Deploy” is a hoot– a good number of more recognizable synth samples (whistle, cowbell, hi-hat) jumble about, forming temporary rhythms before re-assembling in a series of new ways over time. As this disc was Collier’s response to my recent call for “future music,” I guess he figures the cowbell has some life in it yet. “Mang” closes the album with a hectoring cloud of synth chirps, burbles, and imperfectly-received transmissions from 20th century Earth’s island culture. It’s a strange existence for our descendants, sorting through the cosmic flotsam of our radio existence… but send R.P. a message and you might get to hear it today!

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