Monday, January 18, 2010

Broken Necks

Posted By on 01.18.10 at 03:19 PM

Clare Cooper and Chris Abrahams
  • Clare Cooper and Chris Abrahams
On Tuesday night Australian trio the Necks play two sets at the Empty Bottle. Superficially it may seem like drummer Tony Buck, bassist Lloyd Swanton, and keyboardist Chris Abrahams have been doing one specific thing for a couple decades now, but the parameters of that one specific thing are such that all three musicians can display some serious range. They all come from a jazz and improvised-music backgrounds, and all of them are involved in other projects that, though they sound nothing like the Necks, turn out to be linked to the band by similar ideas once you put them under a microscope.

Even Better by Robbie Avenaim
  • "Even Better" by Robbie Avenaim
Last year Abrahams released a rigorous double CD of improvised music made with Clare Cooper, a fellow Australian who lives and works in Berlin (she played in Chicago at a concert presented by Lampo in February 2008). Germ Studies for Guzheng & DX7 (Splitrec) contains a brain-numbing 198 tracks on two CDs, with most clocking in at less than one minute. Cooper, usually a harpist, plays the guzheng, a traditional Chinese zither, while Abrahams sticks to the DX7, an early digital synthesizer with primitive MIDI ability. Neither instrument is particularly recognizable as itself, particularly the guzheng—though it does at times sound like a stringed instrument, given Cooper’s broad palette of extended techniques it never really sounds like a specific stringed instrument. Likewise, Abrahams steers clear of obviously digital sounds in favor of squelchy high-frequency blurts, squeaks, and snorts that generally sound like the product of analog gear.

Pear by Oren Ambarchi
  • "Pear" by Oren Ambarchi
The pieces were all recorded between 2003 and 2008, and most stick to one simple motif or gambit; unlike the Necks, who tend to devise relatively melodic motifs and then mutate them gradually for a half hour or more, Abrahams and Cooper elucidate a terse, abstract idea and then yield immediately to the next piece. That shouldn’t suggest that these miniatures are glib, though: the sounds Abrahams and Cooper produce are remarkably simpatico, more often than not pairing up with a glovelike fit. In a certain sense Germ Studies’ barrage of short pieces is heavier than a few long tracks would be; there’s an awful lot to absorb here. The package is also greatly enhanced by the inclusion of a “wall chart” for each piece. Abrahams and Cooper enlisted a slew of friends, artists, and musicians (including Oren Ambarchi, Robbie Avenaim, Sachiko M, Axel Dörner, Xavier Charles, C. Spencer Yeh, Andy Moor, and Chicago’s own Andrew Fenchel) to provide the illustrations—which range from loosely figurative to abstract doodles. They’re an elusive visual analogue to the even more slippery sounds.

Today’s playlist:

Various artists, Psych Funk 101, 1968-1975: A Global Psychedelic Funk Curriculum (World Psychedelic Funk Classics)
Various artists, Eccentric Soul: Smart’s Palace (Numero Group)
Maria Bethânia, Encanteria (Quitanda)
Eddie Hinton, Very Extremely Dangerous (Reel Music)
Maja S.K. Ratkje & Lasse Marhaug, Music for Gardening (Pica Disk)

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Performing Arts
Phantom Pain Greenhouse Theater Center
March 15
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Daniil Trifonov Symphony Center
March 26

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