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Will Guthrie - Building Blocks / Bridges

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Artist: Will Guthrie

Album: Building Blocks / Bridges

Label: Antboy

Review date: Jan. 13, 2004

Will Guthrie is a Melbourne-based percussion improviser with a decade-long history of study and performance. The contexts for Guthrie’s work keep changing: from study at the Victorian College of the Arts, to work on dance, puppetry, film and theatre projects, to his recent work convening the Make It Up club, Guthrie exemplifies the boundless, ever-shifting creative element that tends to characterise the best improvisers – the disavowal of static forms, the desire to keep moving and mutating. He’s managed to navigate the space between his study under American jazz player Tony Williams, and his current work, which tends more toward idiom-less improvisation, without being caught in the traditional double-bind that obscures so many artists’ attempts to re-draw their parameters.

On Building Blocks, Guthrie mechanizes his kit, using hand-held fans and motorized toys to source thick waves of drone or obsessive rattling from his expanded set-up. The compulsive force of these implements contextualizes Guthrie’s work – at least in part – within a lengthy trajectory of music which maps the negotiations between performer and machine. The wayward energy of motorized equipment also opens the improvisations up to chance meetings, a course of unpredictable events and outcomes which Guthrie can utilize as an extra presence. “Blanket” scours cymbals and metal to produce waves of sonority that rise outward, pluming around a bed of humming, motor-sourced resonance. Elsewhere the high-pitched clatter of crotales punctuates Guthrie’s manipulations with the clarity of a beacon light, before the live improvisation “Westspace” plots a steady arc of gong tones against the fidgety clatter of amplified manipulations. Guthrie’s solo improvisations sketch microscopic detail into larger edifices of drone-based constructions, capturing the sidereal presences sent out by his instrumental panoply.

Bridges sees Guthrie teaming up with Sydney-based improvisers Matthew Earle and Adam Süssman. Earle and Süssman work together as the Stasis Duo: Earle has collaborated with Japanese artists of the onkyo order, and Süssman is garnering a reputation as one of Australia’s pre-eminent improvisers for guitar and electronics. Guthrie’s approach to playing doesn’t alter considerably for these sessions: he still pitches in the same low-level dust and scrape, illuminating the corners of the room with gong tones and rounded punctuation. Earle’s sine waves contextualize his work within an idiom elaborated by Sachiko M and Toshimaru Nakamura, yet he is able to transfer his own energy into the process: his playing here provides a acidic edge, piercing through Guthrie’s roiling percussion. There is a point during “Bridges 2” where the three artists, having moved on parallel lines, enact a sudden convergence, where the bedrock of drones and sine waves folds itself into Süssman’s attenuated prepared acoustic guitar. This moment clarifies Süssman’s position – he’s the revelation of the disc, a performer with a brilliant and judicious sense of timing, an apposite player. If the rest of the disc plays out under similar conditions, that shouldn’t imply that the work stagnates: rather, the artists are focusing in on a moment captured and clarified.

By Jon Dale

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