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Marhaug/Asheim, "Grand Mutation"

 From the basic description, one might be left shaking their heads: organ improviser Nils Henrik Asheim and electronic noise thug Lasse Marhaug got together and improvised some material in an Oslo cathedral.  However, as odd as the setting sounds, the result is fascinating. 



Part instrumental and part field recording in feel, the two musicians set up in the organ loft of a soon to be renovated cathedral in Oslo, Norway late one night and improvised for an hour.  Rather than using any direct to tape or digital recording methods, the room was instead mic;d (which is discussed in pure audiophile detail within the liner notes) to ensure an optimum meshing of Asheim's pipe organ and Marhaug's electronics.  This strategy was extremely effective, as "Phoneuma" seamlessly combines the chime-like electronic tones from Marhaug's laptop with the mid and high end sustained organ that slowly and dramatically builds from a gentle, calm opening to a massive, chaotic roar that concludes in a wall of buzzing and dissonance.

The two not only show their instrumental proficiency, but their ability to improvise and compose in the improvisational context as well.  Given the nature of the session, one of limited instrumentation and completed in a very brief window of time, it would be easy to assume that the tracks would blend together in uniformity, but that is far from the case.  Each of the five pieces have their own distinct feel and mood, from the aforementioned filmic "Phoneuma" to the mechanical, electronics focused "Philomela," which seems like a boiler on its last legs somewhere deep within the bowels of the church as the center point, the clangs and rattles form the basis of the track before a piercing organ shrieks over the din at the end.  Even the less than two minute span of "Magnaton" has its own unique ambience:  focused bursts of harsh electronics, organ noise, and stuttering machine tones.

Both the opening and the ending tracks effectively bookend this album, from the massive tonal organ walls and electronic grinds of "Bordunal" which convey a sense of grandeur to the closer "Clavaeolina," where all sustained passages of ringing organ (reminiscent of Hermann Nitsch's Harmoniumwerk releases) eventually mesh into a soft, gentle melody of organ, and later a subtle, quiet electronic ending.

For all its basic structure, Grand Mutation is a complex, powerful work that reveals new textures and facets on each listen.  What seems like an odd proposition at first is instead a fascinating meeting that surpasses any expectations that may have been held (though who only knows what the expectations could have been).  I only wish they would take this show on the road. I'm sure this would be the best way to get most of us up early and in a church on a Sunday morning.



Review of the Day

Nonkeen, "The Gamble"

cover imageThis trio featuring ubiquitous pianist Nils Frahm is one of the more pleasant surprises that have come across my path in recent memory, as I expected some sort of bloodless avant-jazz/post-rock hybrid, but was instead treated to quite an innovative and unique album (albeit quite an understated one as well).  I suspect a lot of that success is due to the band's exceedingly unconventional recording process, as they spent 8 years recording, re-recording, editing, recombining, and endlessly tweaking these pieces before finally concluding that The Gamble was finished.  Consequently, whatever these songs sounded like when they were originally played is probably a hell of a lot different from what ultimately wound up here.  To my credit, I was right about this album being a sort of avant-jazz/post-rock hybrid, but all of the instrumentation is so blurred together that The Gamble transcends either genre entirely and instead sounds like a strain of dub techno that is just as influenced by Latin percussion as it is by Jamaican dub. Except when it sounds like the greatest album that Tortoise never recorded.  Or when it sounds like something else entirely.

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