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Recording in an empty water cistern, specifically the one in Port Townsend, Washington, must be something like conversing with Stephen Hawking, the brilliant physicist and cosmologist, whose battle with ALS has left him to communicate through tapping words on a voice synthesizer. Each note produced in the cistern has the capacity to overwhelm every other sound, as it bounces and reverberates; in effect, making every gesture, every choice, painstakingly critical.
The significance of each gesture might be the motive for the experimental percussion duo known as Open Graves to record at this location. Jesse Olsen and Paul Kikuchi recorded Hollow Lake (Prefecture, 2010) at the cistern. They are back again, this time with trombonist Stuart Dempsterthe duo's inspiration, perhaps. Dempster's Underground Overlays From The Cistern Chapel (New Albion, 1995) was a startling and meditative recording that gave birth to similar projects, such as John Butcher's Resonant Spaces (Confront Records, 2008).
Olsen is a musician and performance artist living in the Bay Area and Kikuchi is percussionist, composer and instrument builder who is a member of several ensembles including the Empty Cage Quartet with fine discs out on Clean Feed and pfMentum Records.
The four tracks heard here are, of course, echoey ambient creations that focus attention by way of the recording and listening limitations of the cistern. Time must be slowed, giving a protracted feel to the performance. Dempster's long, drawn-out trombone notes act as a blanket covering the plucked notes, percussion, and bells applied. The effect is one of slow-motion free jazz, with sub-woofer reverberations that apply texture and an almost tactile sense of feelingso lovely, that you might catch yourself holding your breathe, dare you make a sound to disturb them.