Clogs: Stick Music (2005)
Sound is spiritual. The sound of a single, unaltered string quivering against the force of a finger can be religious. With its third album, Stick Music, the Australian-American group Clogs devotes itself to the exploration of strings. With band members Bryce Dessner on guitar and prepared guitar and Padma Newsome on violin, viola, vocals and prepared guitar joined by violinist Jennifer Choi, cellist Erik Friedlander and percussionist Tim Feeney, the group creates the musical equivalent of a flower blooming in fast forward with the help of time-lapse photography.
Weighing speed, pressure, force, and the contrasts between bowing, striking, and plucking, the compositions on Stick Music relay a sense of nature. A few lines of graceful cello frosted with the metallic skim of a very high violin create a silent, wintry ambience in "My Mister 'Never Ending Bliss'. A subdued, rapid-fire chugging of struck strings recall flowing water gurgling over a brook-bed of stones, smoothing as it journeys. The music seems to ponder the reality of the natural world, existing void of humanity in its universal silent beauty, yet evolving constantly.
Incorporating elements found frequently in the music of far lands, Clogs entwine a slightly exotic element into the recording. Minimalist with its rapid repetition, the incredibly percussive "Pencil Stick soothingly conjures a bustling Beijing street. "Beating Stick recalls Africa with rhythms that change texture, as the objects striking the strings become more forceful resulting in a fluctuating volume.
The group often gets caught in the ecstatic realm of improvisation. "River Stick with its cautious phrasing becomes a thick configuration of instruments slung on top of one another. It gets carried away into an eerie ether world, to find an ending in a brief, yet furious swarm.
Newsome's gentle voice contributes a folk element to one track as fingerpicked guitar combines with sweeping bowed strings. "It goes a long long way/to just be kind/to just be gentle, he sings. With their careful consideration for sound and eagerness to explore new music dimensions, it seems Clogs will do just that.
Track Listing: Ananda Lahari; Pencil Sticl; Sticks & Nails; Beating Stick; Lady Go; River Stick; My Mister "Never Ending Bliss"; Witch Stick; Pitasi
Personnel: Bryce Dessner (guitar, prepared guitar), Padma Newsome (violin, viola, vocals, prepared guitar). With additional performances by Jennifer Choi (violin), Erik Friedlander (cello), Tim Feeney (percussion).