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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. 

 

Touch

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.
 

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Review of the Day

CROOKED FINGERS, "BRING ON THE SNAKES"
Perhaps inspired by Springsteen's "Nebraska," "Bring On The Snakes" finds Crooked Fingers (Eric Bachmann of Archers Of Loaf fame, who recorded a track for Sub Pop's "Nebraska" tribute "Badlands") recording a largely scaled down affair. Quite a contrast from last year's self-titled debut, this release features Bachmann on acoustic guitar and vocals on all tracks, accompanied by various atmospheric sounds and noises. This may cause some to call the release bland, or comment that all of its songs "sound the same." If the same was said of "Nebraska" upon its release 20 years ago, few say it now. The songs are more mature while sparse, and the lyrics complement Bachmann's half-Springsteen/half-Tom Waits growl. The album reaches its apex on "Doctors Of Deliverance," where a pounding House-like electronic beat drives the track as Bachmann sings of lost hopes and dreams and cheated/defeated love. Crooked Fingers may have changed from the last release, but the song remains somewhat the same. Thank goodness. Bachmann is proving to be one of the great bards of our time, deserving of your ear. Listen: you won't be disappointed.

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