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Anne Guthrie / Richard Kamerman - Sinter

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Artist: Anne Guthrie / Richard Kamerman

Album: Sinter

Label: ErstAEU

Review date: May. 15, 2013

Erstwhile Records has just rolled out a new sub-label, ErstAEU. In the tradition of AMM, the AEU is not explained. Despite the paucity of officially sanctioned information — you won’t find any explanatory text on the label’s website — there’s a definite aesthetic angle at work here. The label’s first three CDs are all the product of American-born duos, and all of the participants are in their 20s or 30s. Conventional instruments aren’t completely absent, but they often take a back seat to captured or processed sounds, as well as disorienting manipulations of time and space. One thing the albums do not share is a particular methodology. Graham Stephenson and Aaron Zarzutski’s Touching is a straight-up improv encounter; Joe Panzner and Greg Stuart’s Dystonia Duos combines played and processed sounds into hard-shelled containers of noisy electrical activity; and Anne Guthrie and Richard Kamerman’s Sinter, an assembly of “field recordings, domestic recordings, composition, improvisation, and processing,” which inhabits some zone that doesn’t really have a name yet.

For clues about how to understand it, one can look to the album’s name. Sintering bonds powdered clay into a pot without melting it; even after it’s fired, the ceramic’s texture will make you think of clay. The disparate elements of “Civil Twilight: 5:23” — dancing electrical buzzes, slow-changing mechanical hums, under-the-breath counting, close-up paper shuffling, and distant outdoor sounds — likewise retain their essential individual characters even though they have been configured into a hefty yet spacious block of musique concrète. But the way the sounds hang together doesn’t tell you why they were made to sit in that configuration, or how you should respond to them. They just are what they are.

So you might either be thinking about now, “I gotta hear this record,” or “Why the hell would I ever want to hear this stuff?” You know who you are, and either way I’d tell you to listen to your inner voice. Having spent a lot of time with it, I’m on both sides of the fence. On the one hand, there’s “Re(Z)=Piper, Im(Z)=Andrej,” an amalgam of cleanly recorded exchanges in Italian (I think), fuzzy room sounds that might come from a mall or train station, and mightily distorted monk chants that sound like they’re being played Alvin Lucier-style from a busted speaker into a resonant room. I’d heartily recommend it to anyone who likes their noise non-macho and genuinely unpredictable. On the other, listening to “Porcellino”’s layers of distant banging and close metallic clanking is an exhausting Cage-ian exercise in using applied attention to pry interest from boredom.

The most rewarding piece is the longest, the last, and the one that feels most musical. Taking a cue once more from nomenclature, “Several Or Many Fibers” feels to me like a tapestry. I’m not sure that its journey — from footsteps and a hovering synth note through sounds of water striking different surfaces to a late burst of weather reporting — is intended to say anything at all. But the way these sounds succeed each other implies a narrative whose inscrutability makes there passage compelling.

By Bill Meyer

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