Dane Rousay is a San Antonio based percussionist and this is the first of several planned releases. This is a solo effort largely with drum kit and perhaps a couple of enhancements or additional percussive hardware. There are 8 rather brief tracks on this album, all of an experimental nature and all very well recorded.
One small disclaimer: I generally don’t review download only releases but Mr. Rousay was persistent and kind in his requests for a review. Another aspect is that there appears to be an increase in this purely digital release format and to ignore that in favor of a demand for a physical product would likely be missing an opportunity to hear some good work.
Despite the brevity there is much for the ear. The percussion seems to be closely miked and that is apparently the point here. Each track is like a mini-etude or experiment which will presumably be used as material for other work. Whether this is jazz, free jazz, new music, classical, etc. is actually beside the point. The point appears to be the sound itself.
There are no liner notes and little in the way of explanation to be found even on the composer’s web site. (That’s not necessarily a negative thing either.) It is not clear if this music is improvised or composed or if there is any predetermined structure and there appears to be no intended connection between each of the tracks. Most of the work is mallets or sticks of some sort hitting the targeted percussive surface though he does make use of extended techniques such as rubbing the mallets across the surface creating rich harmonics in the manner of the spectralists.
After multiple listens this reviewer is left with the impression of having visited the artist’s studio for a rather personal tour of some of his working ideas. If you are a percussionist or a fan of percussion music this album will doubtless interest you. It is not easy listening but it does appear to be a very personal exploration of this artist’s techniques and ideas.
I am looking forward to more from this interesting and seemingly uncompromising artist.
Chatham’s new CD “Harmonie du Soir” on Northern Spy records was thoughtfully made available for sale at the ‘Secret Rose’ performance this past November. Of course I had to buy it but after that concert I found I needed time to digest the performance before I dare move on to listening to another of his deceptively simple sounding compositions. The CD consists of three compositions, Harmonie du Soir (2012), The Dream of Rhonabwy (2012) and a bonus track Drastic Classicism Revisited (1986/2012). All the pieces represent aspects of the artist’s output which will be familiar to fans of his work.
The first track Harmonie du Soir (after the poem of the same name by Charles Baudelaire) was premiered and subsequently recorded in France in 2012. In his liner notes Chatham points out that he uses tunings like those used previously in An Angel Moves Too Fast to See (1986) and Crimson Grail (2007). It reminds this listener of Die Dönnergetter (1986). It employs the same configuration of 6 electric guitars, electric bass and drum kit. It is not, however, a reworking of the 1986 piece but rather a new piece which developed from similar methods. Harmonie clocks in at 22’26”, similar in length. The comparison ends there. The difference between Dönnergetter and Harmonie is more like the difference between a Beethoven middle string quartet and a late string quartet. Same ensemble, similar gestures but an overall very different impact. Like all of Chatham’s guitar pieces this is best heard at a substantial volume level if you want to appreciate the harmonics which result from the tuning system he uses. This is post-punk after all and the wall of sound is frequently an essential part of the piece. It begins with a minimalist type repeating of a 2 note pattern punctuated after a few repeats by the drum kit and on to some droning harmonies aching for a melody in an insistent rhythm. This moves on to a faster section which takes on not the dance-like character like he does in Die Dönnergetter, rather it is a sort of deconstruction. It is consists of guitar tremolos and rolls on the drum kit and moves into a new somewhat pointillistic guitar figure accompanied by a throbbing bass line and a steady rhythm on the drum kit. This is followed by a return to the music which opened the piece. Clearly this is a composer whose work continues to develop and show variety.
The second piece is another with precedents in the composer’s previous compositional efforts. This is essentially a piece for a wind and brass orchestra with percussion. No strings, no guitars or bass. It marks a return for Chatham to writing for and playing trumpet. The piece was written for a 70 piece brass band called Harmonie de Pontarlier, named for the town of their origin. It is 20’26” in length and Rhys plays trumpet along with the band. One is reminded of pieces like his Waterloo No. 2 (1981) which appeared on his CD “Die Dönnergetter”. The composer takes his approach to writing for band but here expands into symphonic proportions. According to the liner notes this was written as a soundtrack to a film. After multiple listenings I came to hear this as though it were an homage to grand romantic symphonists like Bruckner or Mahler. This is a briefer symphony than those ancestors would have written but the spirit is there if dressed in more contemporary guise. The music relies on sustained tones and intervals which, like Chatham’s guitar pieces, produce cascades of harmonics, a mesmerizing experience.
The last piece is listed as being a “bonus track”. It is Drastic Classicism Revisited and is a sort of reworking of Chatham’s earlier work Drastic Classicism from 1981. It was originally written for a dance choreographed by Karole Armitage and was performed by the musician live on stage with the dancers. Post-punk for modern dance. At 9’36” it is the shortest track but well worth its inclusion on this beautifully produced disc. I can’t wait to hear more from the Northern Spy (http://northernspyrecords.com/artist/rhys-chatham/) catalog. All in all a great listening experience by this wonderful expatriate American composer. I highly recommend it.