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Wastell / Davis / Durrant - Open

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Artist: Wastell / Davis / Durrant

Album: Open

Label: Erstwhile

Review date: Oct. 22, 2003

To start with, a brief recap of high school acoustics: Sound travels in waves, vibrating particles in the air, these vibrating particles eventually reach the eardrum, causing slight vibrations that are translated into noise and pitch by the cochlea, or more specifically, the basilar membrane. Sound physically imprints itself upon you. Where the idea of music being something that contains a number of "textures" has become something of an easy cliché, the term is profoundly applicable to Open, the new release by Matt Davis, Phil Durrant, and Mark Wastell.

Before a single note is heard, the listener can see the cover ornamented with various overlapping surfaces: A bathroom tile; topographical map-like red lines; a washed out blue stain on the photograph. Even, the compact disc itself is coated with a ridged enamel surface, completely designed for physical touch. And to make things perfectly clear, on the back cover, Mark Wastell's instrument of choice is listed as "amplified textures."

Perhaps "amplified textures" comes off as slightly ambiguous alongside of more common nomenclature like Matt Davis' trumpet or Phil Durrant's software synthesizers, but a preliminary listening easily clears up any ambiguity about Wastell's approach, while engulfing and concealing the preconceived notions about Davis and Durrant's instruments of choice. What comes across is a powerful example of purely visceral sound, something deeply physical that seems to resonate throughout the whole of the body, a sound that triggers a nerve response, rubbing sandpaper along your teeth or listening with a cup partially covering your ear.

In fact, as a completely ridiculous experiment, why not try right now? Pick up a close object and run it alongside of your ear. Get two objects and do the same. Crumple paper; pop bubble wrap; put your head against the computer monitor; click scissors; use your fingers; etc., etc. By amplifying various surfaces, Wastell comes close to wiring the speaker directly to your ear, as the object resonances are specifically attuned to the eardrum.

To lavish all of the praise on Wastell would be an oversight, though. Considering that, like a good portion of electro-acoustic improv, the three improvisers are specifically using their instruments in ambiguous ways; it's difficult to attribute any given sound to one member. In fact, Davis' use of field recordings give perfect foil to Wastell's psychoacoustics. In theory, Davis gives context and atmosphere to Wastell’s sonic implants, while Durrant seems to inhabit the middle ground. Durrant's synthesizers seem to buzz and shriek, diverting and conducting the listener's attention to the improvisers on either side of him. Yet, all of the sounds are difficult and perhaps unnecessary to assign to an author.

The preoccupations of the 40-minute album are clear-cut from the first moments, yet to experience sounds unraveling as naturally as they seem to unravel on Erstwhile's releases is always a pleasure. It seems like each Erstwhile album seems to approach listening and music from a different and vital angle, questioning hi-pitched frequencies, sounds near complete inaudibility, the way distinct personalities translate into musical equations, perceptions of time, and any other number of possible readings. The Wastell / Davis / Durrant trio is another crucial element in the catalog, an exploration of sound's manifestation in surfaces, its ability to crystallize and ripple along the ear.

By Matt Wellins

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