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Oren Ambarchi and Robin Fox, "Connected"

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cover imageThe worlds of dance and experimental guitar music rarely intersect (for good reason, probably), but the artistic director of Australia's Chunky Move company had a wild enough imagination to bring Ambarchi and abstract electronics maniac Robin Fox together to compose this soundtrack.  In many ways, that gamble paid off handsomely, as Connected is surprisingly inventive, challenging, and divergent (and no doubt inspired some very unusual choreography).  As a purely audio experience, however, it is pretty tame and comparatively characterless by either artist's normal standards.

Kranky

Connected - Oren Ambarchi & Robin Fox

The five pieces that compromise this album are dramatically different stylistically and subverted my expectations at every turn.  That may sound great, but my expectations included thoughts like "this will sound kind of like Oren Ambarchi" and "this will not be puzzlingly schizophrenic."  Consequently, my first impression of Connected was not favorable.  That impression gradually changed to "grudging admiration" with future listens, but I still have a hard time accepting how much the distinctive aesthetics of Fox and Ambarchi are either watered-down or presented with no clear evidence of collaborative influence.

That said, the kinetic opening piece, "Standing Mandala," is arguably the album's clear highlight and the most fully-realized melding of the duo's guitars and electronics.  Over an insistently throbbing and burbling electronic pulse, Ambarchi gradually escalates in intensity from rhythmic clicking and a pedal tone to well-placed snarls of feedback and guitar noise.  It ultimately culminates in a crescendo of insectoid hiss and chittering from Fox before ending abruptly at around nine minutes.  Aside from the sudden ending, it is a pretty masterful display of how to slowly and enticingly build tension.

Unfortunately, that momentum is killed instantly by "Game of Two," a piece that I still have very mixed feelings about.  If I am in a mood where I can listen intently and appreciate nuance and subtlety, I can definitely hear some beauty in the way that Ambarchi's lazily strummed chords dissipate into feedback and creaking strings.  When I am not in that mood, it basically sounds like someone playing an uninteresting chord progression extremely slowly for eight interminable minutes.  I am more frequently in the latter mood.

"Connected" follows in similarly frustrating fashion, only this time it is Fox's turn to take center stage.  Again, the music is relatively static, consisting almost entirely of sustained hums, whines, and sub-bass tones.  In the foreground, there are occasionally sounds that resemble quavering, electronically processed bells.  In the context of a dance performance, I imagine its near-silence could be quite intriguing. Sonically, however, it is the album's nadir, as there is nothing compelling about it for me at all.

The proceedings liven up quite a bit as the album draws near the end though, as the comparatively brief "Trios" sounds like traditional clicking-and-blurting Robin Fox-style electronic chaos with some buried gnarled guitar noise thrown in.  Hopefully, there is footage of the performance somewhere, as I  cannot even begin to imagine what the associated dancing would look like.  I suspect it was epic.

That howling climax is then followed by the droning, discordant coda of “Invigilation,” which combines dense layers of oscillating synths into a queasily, heavy thrum.  It's a pretty likeable slab of drone, certainly, but it is pretty hard to see anything distinctively Fox- or Ambarchi-esque about it.  That, essentially, is Connected's biggest problem: generally, pieces either sound like passable Fox, sub-par Ambarchi, or neither.  Only "Standing Mandala" comes close to blending their two distinct personalities together.

Critiquing an album like this one feels a bit frustrating and pointless, as the music has been completely decontextualized from its intended purpose–this is merely one element of a complete work.  Based upon the bizarre moods and willful absence of traditional rhythm here, I suspect Chunky Move's performance was a strange and memorable one, but I do not understand the purpose of a disembodied soundtrack album.  Artistically, Fox and Ambarchi managed to provide a dance company with something quite unique and inspiring while intermittently finding a fertile creative common ground for their disparate styles.  As a musical document, however, Connected is too restrained and compromised to rank very highly in either artist's oeuvre.

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Last Updated on Monday, 05 November 2012 08:12  


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