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Anthony Burr & Skuli Sverrisson - A Thousand Incidents Arise

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Artist: Anthony Burr & Skuli Sverrisson

Album: A Thousand Incidents Arise

Label: Workers’ Institute

Review date: Feb. 2, 2006

When two heavyweights like reedsman Anthony Burr and bassist Skuli Sverrisson go at it, one would expect music of earthshaking gravitas. Collectively, they have added their voices to the music of such new music auteurs as Jim O’Rourke, John Zorn, Jim Black, Laurie Anderson, Johann Johannsson, Morton Feldman, LaMonte Young and more. But for the latest stop on their nearly 10-year collaborative journey, Burr and Sverrisson operate with methodical patience, producing an album in which their central concern is the tone – its length, its volume, its behavior with other tones, its birth, its death. To generate and capture their subjects they utilize bass, bass clarinet, organ, guitar, intimate microphones, some sensitive overdubbing and editing.

The four pieces here exude the measured calm of one’s breathing during a deep sleep. The opening “We shall be sure of not going astray” and the closing “Except in memory” carry the most compositional heft, as both cycle through passages of gleaming, seamless sound and oblique melodies. It is the second and third tracks in which the pair huddles most deeply within the sounds. For “Change is far more radical than we are at first inclined to suppose,” they study not the whole audio rainbow, but swim in the murky lows of Burr’s purring, rasping, and whispering bass clarinet, never sticking their head above the greenish-blue mid-range. Some tones resound cleanly, some brush past each other, fluttering more intensely as they draw close, some do nothing more than vibrate.

On the “Divine principle as a sphere turning on itself,” the pervasive voice of an organ fills the space, its entire range mobilized in long steadfast notes. The dynamic here is not attack, resonate and decay, but coming, arriving and going, akin to theDoppler effect. Both pieces have extended playing times (the second goes for 16 minutes, the third stretches to 20) but interest only grows with each passing cluster of tones. The beauty lies not in the tones themselves, but in how they interact.

None of this, though, comes off as academic. Their approach reveals the illusory gap between the objective gaze of the scientist researching phenomena and the obsessive eye of the painter studying light. If one considers these pieces to be studies in tone relationships, then they exist only as sketches, thoroughly conceptualized yet spontaneous and organic. Where most see only a tundra of unbroken white, Burr and Sverrisson see a thousand shades, each one subtle, unique and gripping.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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