More than fifty years on from its birth, electronic music still poses problems for listeners, critics and musicians alike. For listeners, how to relate to it? For critics, how to describe it? For musicians, how to develop it? The quartet known as Poire_z eschews the usual studio tinkering for real-time improvisation, and on q
it adds vocal experimentalist Phil Minton. The record's two improvisations were recorded live at the Musique Action festival in Vandoeuvre-les-nancy, France. “w oder q” is a forty-minute exploration of juxtaposed silence and simmering, restrained glitch textures, while “q oder z” clocks in at a mere five minutes, exploring the same concept, but with less success.
Poire_z is for4ears Records founder Günter Müller on ipod, percussion and electronics, ErikM on 3k_pad fsystem, and Norbert Möslang and Andy Guhl, of the former duo Voice Crack, playing what they call “cracked everyday-electronics.” What sound comes from which device is anyone’s guess, but part of electronica’s strength is ambiguity. As listeners we have to find new ways to relate to these sounds, because they do not lend themselves to our usual conceptions of tempo, beat and melody. Yet in our daily lives we are ruled by electronic devices, so it only makes sense for musicians to harness their potential.
To describe electronica, critics have two choices: philosophical abstraction that reflects its ostensibly distant nature, or hardy similes that drag it into our everyday experience. For q the latter seems appropriate, because the presence of Minton’s voice and the quartet’s improvisation lends the music an intimate human presence. For timbre, the quintet foregrounds the aural detritus of decaying sounds—not bass itself, but its reverberating ghost; not percussion, but its leftover vibrations. For harmony, the quintet acts as a leaking dam, holding back a flood of harsh sounds by plugging and unplugging cracks in the surface silence. For rhythm, the music pulses like the embers of dying campfire, ones that could be stoked at any moment to a roaring blaze.
But the flood never comes and the fire never rages. The quintet prefers to stay tantalizingly out of reach, creating an unnerving tension. “w oder q” begins with two minutes of near silence, and not until fifteen minutes in does the space sound filled. Crackling static, throbbing bass drones, distant buzzes and liquid tones drift in and out of the mix, occasionally joined by Minton’s low-volume moans. At times he sounds like a tortured animal or a babbling mental patient, at others he blends screechy smears into the palpitating fabric of electric drift the quartet produces. But the textures here are never abrasive and the volume never overwhelming. Instead the atmosphere is internal, like looking inside the aural cinema of someone’s brain, full of restless neural activity, spiky silence and tingling electricity.
q strips away the listener’s comfort zone, which is its strength and weakness. When weak it sounds merely confused, or like on “q oder z,” directionless. But when strong the quintet generates sounds with a presence so real you can touch them, feel their glistening smoothness, grating roughness, glowing warmth or slick wetness. q goes beyond being music coming out of your speakers to become part of the room.
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