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Wrekmeister Harmonies - Recordings Made in Public Spaces, Vol. 1

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Artist: Wrekmeister Harmonies

Album: Recordings Made in Public Spaces, Vol. 1

Label: Atavistic

Review date: Jun. 19, 2009

The name of Chicagoan J.R. Robinson isn’t one of much renown, even in his hometown, but the man certainly keeps good company. Robinson’s work as a sound artist includes ambient tonal recordings in art museums and other locales, and for his first full-length, he invited a cadre of Chicago musicians into the studio to create an album that’s an entirely different beast. It’s not as mysterious, perhaps, as a whale carcass on a large trailer, but Recordings Made in Public Spaces, Vol. 1 features a veritable super group of Windy City music makers in a mélange of sound that is reminiscent of any number of genres but firmly outside the borders of each. The album features contributions from Mark Shippy and Pat Sampson of U.S. Maple fame, Drag City recording artist and former Scissor Girl Azita Youssefi, free jazz heavies Ken Vandermark, Fred Lonberg-Holm and Frank Rosaly, Tortoise players John Herndon and Jeff Parker, and the effervescent David Yow of the Jesus Lizard.

Like the Bela Tarr film whose bastardized title serves as the project’s name, the music of Wrekmeister Harmonies evolves slowly, heavy on dark atmosphere and unease. The accompanying DVD features Robinson’s minimalist tone above nearly static imagery, but the CD is a far more varied affair. With Robinson’s site-specific recordings underneath, the sundry collection of hired guns lay all manners of in-studio accompaniment on top. At times, Robinson’s original recordings seem to contribute little more than background, but even then, they play a major role. Amidst the unwound rock vibe of “Pittsburgh,” the voices of patrons at a public pool are slowly swallowed by an ominous vibe due in no small part to Yow’s creepy groan and growl. It’s the track’s almost intelligible chatter that becomes, in this context, its most unsettling ingredient. “Paris” pairs Azita’s piano with Keefe Jackson’s saxophone to create an almost Badalamenti-esque tone, with percussionists Rosaly and Nate McBride scuttling beneath. Azita’s scant vocals and an unexpected metal sample might be the track’s most memorable facets, but it’s again the atmosphere of the track that is its core, with an easily overlooked contribution from the space within the Centre Pompidou. “New York” is the disc’s most minimalist segment, with Lonberg-Holm’s Guggenheim performance abetted by two layers of studio work in a mass of ringing tones, feedback and sustained bowing. Though crowded, the mix isn’t a mess, and “New York” might be the album’s most familiar-sounding inclusion.

By Adam Strohm

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