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Keith Rowe & Oren Ambarchi - Flypaper

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Artist: Keith Rowe & Oren Ambarchi

Album: Flypaper

Label: Staubgold

Review date: Feb. 20, 2003

Improvising in Waves

Keith Rowe has staked his place in musical history as a leading exponent of modern improvisation both solo and, most notably, with groups like AMM. Oren Ambarchi has worked alongside Christian Fennesz and Martin Ng, in addition to exploring solo guitar and electronic territory indebted to artists like Alvin Lucier and Phill Niblock. On Flypaper, an excellent four-part piece on Staubgold, Rowe utilizes a mix of his trademark tabletop guitar and electronics while Ambarchi adds his string and electronic work to the affair. The result is an intriguing exploration into the realm of sustained drones and tones, mixing other sound effects into measured layers of sound.

One might expect the proceedings here to be alternately shaped by each player moving in opposing directions, but that is clearly not the case. The work sounds more like Rowe’s previous efforts than anything else, but the two players manage to contribute greatly to each other and thus the overall sound of the record. The pieces here are born out of great communication and listening on the part of each musician.

The first part of the disc opens with a nice sustained drone set against prickly, cold guitars. Waves of sound move in and out as the track slowly builds back-and-forth in an almost seasick hum. Crackles of static rise from the surface only to drop back down again like ghosts while a machine-like chugging continuously massages the different textures . The layers of sound here continuously deepen and then begin to shift and progress. The second piece begins almost as the first, but with a more ominous oscillation. This track feels distinctly darker, with more piercing sounds cutting through the drones to cast grayer reverberations. Rowe and Ambarchi pile on wash after wash of drones to propel the sound, while faint radio waves try to break free from the tides. The tension and intensity amongst all the drones builds steadily here, placed against subtle background waves that almost form a sort of pulse that winds its way through the piece.

The drones return for the third track, this time underpinned by queasy crackles of sound. Different sounds from the same hazy pile work their way to the front of the mix now and again. A sharp tone or oscillating sound wave surface then submerge as the electronics in the background sound alarm calls to each other, creating faint and distant chimes and hums. This track works well to suspend time, casually dwelling on each sound, then mutating it into something else, shifting the focus until the drone returns. It reaches an apex and then gradually dies down, fading out all the constituent parts to low muted drones and silence.

The disc concludes with a rising drone that moves quickly into the upper registers while the cascades of sound hum beneath. The track quickly becomes a mix of sawing electronics and claustrophobic sound, all the while allowing the high end drones to gradually twist into more piercing effects. This all dies down to allow for mechanical hums and whirs to twist around the proceedings. The throbbing low-end thistles return, in and out briefly, while the radio waves play forgotten sounds that originally set the mood, building up to an eerie clatter.

Rowe and Ambarchi come together nicely on this release, complementing each other’s natural instincts and improvisational styles. There’s never any sense of struggle for control amongst the tracks, but rather a nice, communal ability to work with intriguing sounds and textures.

By Michael Crumsho

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