Akchoté/Foussat/Turner - Acid Rain

Ken Waxman, JazzWord

(reviewed along with ET - Labor, Creative Sources)

Events often move so quickly in 21st Century music that the electronic manipulators featured on these fine European sessions can be considered throw-backs because both insist on using analog devices, many of them DIY. Yet the key to exultant Free Music is its adaptability. The ET duo for instance pairs these primitive electronics with primordial percussion consisting of cast off junk, tools and found objects. Meanwhile the electronics on Acid Rain are paired with the 20th Century’s two most popular instruments – the electric guitar and the drum kit. In both cases the result is as mesmerizing as it is unique.

Acid Rain’s wave-form manipulator, Paris-based Jean-Marc Foussat, has worked with musicians such as guitarist Jean-François Pauvros and is a respected audio technician – he also recorded, mixed and mastered this CD. Meanwhile French guitarist Noël Akchoté, who has collaborated with everyone from composer Luc Ferrari to saxophonist Max Nagl, is most concerned with integrating his lines within the improvisation, not guitar hero pyrotechnics. British drummer Roger Turner is also not your average skin basher, having since the 1970s worked with a variety of experimental musicians from guitarist John Russell to synthesizer player Thomas Lehn. The single 45-minute track here is passionate free improv, built up in sections.

With a tougher row to hoe, almost literally, ET’s Elisabeth Flunger rolls, grinds, smacks and quivers sounds from tools, trash, toys, souvenirs and any other non-stationary object. Born in Bolzano, Italy, since 2005 she has lived in the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, a country so affluent and unsoiled that one would think junk doesn’t exist. Bringing the same DIY and inventive ideas to electronic devices is ET’s other half, Lima, Peru-native Tomás Tello, who has lived in Luxemburg since 2009. Labor’s eight tracks were pieced together during sessions in Tello’s kitchen throughout 2011.

Unattached to musical niceties, sounds on Labor may be affiliated or alienated, but the clashes, grinds, scrubs, buzzes and vibrations are usually repeated often enough to create unforeseen but memorable patterns and narratives. Tello’s home-made electronics produce tones that range from tremolo melodica-like trills to warbling pulses, while Flunger beats are defined as everything from grinding rubs against unyielding material to springs exploding every which way. Occasionally there’s even a suggestion of historical time displacement as on “Imminente” when the thickened timbre miasma consists in equal parts of futuristic signal- processing including blurry oscillations and Paleolithic percussion created by whacking un-tempered wood and stones.

If a repetative percussion exposition is created from high-pitched junk and other refuse bounced, smacked and scrubbed as on “Se Fué`, like the participant in any other improv duo, the response must be immediately constructed out of lower-pitched synthesized drones and what could be the ringing bell at a railway crossing to make sense. Among the dial-twisting squeaks and seemingly random pounding is an idiosyncratic electro-acoustic interface best expressed on “Wat Mutt Dat Mutt”. Here, with episodes of buzzing static underneath, Flunger’s dyspeptic, multi-directional rubs and scrubs provide perfect contrast to the watery gurgles and granularized vocal textures that are built up, stretched to their limits and deconstructed.

A more formal situation, recorded on tour in Poitiers, “Acid Rain” can be heard as a complete creation, with an exposition, variations on the theme and a finale. The narrative is initially concerned with establishing boundaries among Akchoté’s staccato guitar picking, Turner’s plonks, slaps and pitter-patter plus Foussat’s convulsive interface that references swelling calliope-like chords at points and chunky burp and fart approximations elsewhere. Turning contrapuntal and aggressive, slurred fingering from the guitarist and focused percussive clunks from the drummer are teased by cascading outer-space like jitters from the electronics. Working in duet variations as when Foussat’s stentorian organ-like chords metaphorically duke it out with Akchoté’s bottleneck-guitar licks, or the keyboardist’s dial-twisting static meets Turner’s whaps and rebounds, it’s the drummer cymbal clatter which eventually creates a melding groove among the three.

Turner’s hand patting and irregular beats blend with Akchoté two-handed hammering on the guitar neck and Foussat blurry splutters suggesting owl-like hoots and jew’s harp twangs until the result becomes three parts of a single instrument. Abstract, but almost Rock music-like in its cohesion, the staccato results gradually become louder and more distinctive. Whistling, backwards-running flanges could come from any one of the three, until a satisfying symbiosis is achieved and the sound subsequently gradually dissipates.

Without exactly defining what has happened, abstract improvisations have managed keep the track consisting fascinating while reference many sonic streams in split-second bursts. In an aleatoric fashion that too happens on Labor. If suspension of a need for regular tempo, timbre and tone is acceptable, either session can be appreciated for what it is.