There was a moment right at the brink of The Necks starting up their first set, where the notion hit: what if they can't think of anything? What if they can't begin? What if, finally, after more than two decades, this same familiar familial trio can't conjure up anything to say? When improvisers launch off into free space, there is frequently the concern that they might not be empowered on some particular occasion, but in the end they usually manage to pull something worthwhile from their collective sac.
So, as The Necks girded themselves for their customarily hour-long exploration (a Necks piece is always lengthy and is always constructed around a gradually growing linear pulse-flow), there was a moment that felt much longer than the standard instant. There was what could only be described as a long silence.
Of course, the concern evaporated once they started to sculpt. These three Australians have a composite sonic character, a set of techniques that frequently allow them to bypass the conventional expectations of their instruments to the extent that it sometimes becomes difficult (or even undesirable) to unthread their contributions into the sonic categories of piano, bass and drums. Indeed, without any accustomed use of electronic effects, individual Neck vocabulary can sometimes suggest the mimicry-nature of loops, delays, processed patterns and other digital interventions.
Pianist Chris Abrahams fingered his keys in a fashion that built up resonance and reverberation, creating repetitive blocks of progression, scintillating veils of ripple. He could have oscillated all night, and he actually appeared to be doing so, but when a small adjustment was made, it had the impact of radical change. He was deeply involved, peering sternly into the piano's inner space, brows furrowed, head tilted.
Until halfway through the piece, Tony Buck could have left most of his drum kit down under. It was a tantalizing degree of restraint, to work mainly across the cymbal array or tickling bells and tiny metal plates, scraping glanced puffball strikes. After a while, a more active rhythmic pattern emerged, once again investing the music with a gravid teasethe goods eventually delivered, if the goods could be viewed as some kind of release.
Lloyd Swanton's bass set up a primitive repeat cycle; it shifted its shape at an almost imperceptible rate. He even removed one hand periodically, as if to leave his instrument to its own resonant devices.
As they elected to play two sets with a restorative intermission, each of the evening's improvised journeys lay around 50 minutes, instead of the hour or 70 minutes The Necks might reach were they delivering a single festival-style set. Yes, there might be some kind of rulebook governing a piecethe length, the pulse, the development, the patterns, the repetitions. The cumulative effect could be, in a very positive sense, described as cultivating a numbing sensation. As with the cream of minimal and repetitive music, a state of boredom was never a pitfall consequence.
For the second segment, Buck found a sound that he could repeat with great control, as he revolved an antique bell-chime device around the rim of a drumhead, on which was placed a gong. The result felt disembodied, and it was frequently the case that the source of a Neck sound might have been, at first, unfathomable. The second piece utilized the social energies of the intermission, and where the first piece was exploring the acoustic subtleties of the Issue Project Room's austere, white space, the second was more aggressively rhythmic, led by Buck's full engagement with all parts of his kit.
No other unit could reach into a remotely similar sonic area. The Necks might have been very comfortable in each others' spaces after all these years, but their predictable methods never produced predictable results. It's almost as if their music was disembodied from conventional human touch, arriving from some unknown abstract source. A shimmering excellence was achieved.
moved to New York City in December 2009. Originally hailing from Chicago, he'd been settled in Oakland, California, for six years. He hasn't taken long to grapple with the NYC scene, immediately playing a plethora of gigs in a variety of settings. This six-piece combo was jointly led by Walter and his fellow sticksman Marc Edwards