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4g - Cloud

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Artist: 4g

Album: Cloud

Label: Erstwhile

Review date: Nov. 20, 2005

This project comes freighted with history and concept. 4g is shorthand for "Four Gentlemen of the Guitar," the name under which Keith Rowe, Oren Ambarchi, Christian Fennesz and Toshimaru Nakamura toured Europe and Canada in 2004. Rowe conceived the group as a vehicle to explore notions of "guitar-ness" in a chamber format analogous to the string quartet.

All four members of 4g started out playing guitar and the instrument's personality has shaped each player's, although two (Nakamura and Fennesz) of them generally don't take one on stage anymore; Fennesz relents and plays that stringed plank as well as computer here, while Nakamura sticks to no-input mixing board. So the guitar is as much an inspiration as a sound

source here.

The string quartet format is, in some ways, a more helpful guide to understanding this music. "A medium that allowed four gentlemen amateurs to converse musically," to quote Rowe quoting Paul Griffiths' history of the string quartet; this quartet of current and former string benders, all of whom now employ electronics, definitely engage in conversation throughout this album's two hour-plus duration. Each player speaks in his identifiable instrumental voice, each man responds thoughtfully and supportively to the others' expressions, and the resultant music is synergistic, not additive.

The final concept here is in the album's name. Cloud's three pieces are long, slowly changing articulations of a sound-state, and hearing each is like watching a cloud. Are they static? Do they fly quickly through the air? Do they hover unchanging, or ceaselessly morph in shape and density? All of the above. "Yellow Cloud," the Victoriaville set that takes up all of disc two, is quite eventful, with crackling static, blinding metallic grinding and deep bass rumbles courtesy of Ambarchi's insistent tolls; if you've ever viewed an electrical storm in New Mexico's mountains from the vantage point of its flat plains, you've seen how this piece sounds. "Perfect Grass," which was excerpted from a concert in Vand'ouvre, France, is deeper and heavier, with a grainy texture that renders it endlessly unfamiliar despite repeated playings. "Deformed Veil," from Montreuil, France, is the most aggressive of the lot; it progresses from lacerating sine waves to stabbing peals of feedback, and even Fennesz's trademarked soundwashes fail to settle its roiling surface

By Bill Meyer

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