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The title of Drums and Bells is a bit of an insider joke, it appears. The personnel on this record consist of German virtuoso Johann Drums joining forces with Bosnian veteran Kata Bells for a wide range of inspired improvisation. But there's neither a drum nor a bell to be found on any of the full 70 minutes of this recording, because both of these players are devoted fiddlers. Drums and Bells veers into Appalachian territory on the opener, "Copland," where they explore simple harmonies and organic, folksy melodies. But as the record progresses, these two players start adding all kinds of odd nuts and bolts (quite literally) to their playing.
The liner notes and some of the titles of these tunes hint at the details, but the rest you'll have to guess by ear. The prepared fiddle is hardly an everyday instrument, but on Drums and Bells this duo manage to manipulate their instruments in surprisingly clever and enlightening ways. The nuts and bolts of the second track endow it with a metallic sheen, which only complements its factory-fresh mechanical themes (at times reminiscent of early Kraftwerk). Further adventures lead the duo through "Tibetan Bear Paws," which features an oddly-textured percussive approach. Apparently the duo literally tossed their bows out the window in favor of the paw. (Nobody clipped this bear's nails, that's for sure! And passers-by during this session got a pair of free bows, to boot.) Double- and triple-stops are strummed, in a polyphonic sense, using the four fingers of the paw, and that makes the gradual tonal development of this piece a richly expressive process.
The most exciting track on Drums and Bells is the one where these two players actually string their instruments together. On "Interconnection," Drums passes his strings under Bells', and the instruments lock together. So when one fiddler hits a note, the second fiddle resonates accordingly. It's truly remarkable how these two so very distinct musical personalities manage to perform as one. Two tracks later, "Ticklish Wickets" offers the great apex of the record. Johann Drums and Kata Bells (who apparently never met before this recording session) alternate solos, with a twist: as each solo progresses, the silent player has the opportunity to tickle the soloist. "Ticklish Wickets" is so well-recorded that one can hear every cackle and giggle. But meanwhile each soloist continues to improvise, often in the higher register, using a thirteen-tone approach with non-tempered scales. The level of complexity, both emotional and intellectual, of this track makes it an ideal candidate for the group's moniker.
Word on the street has it that Drums and Bells may meet for a sequel to this fine record, though they plan to discard the commonplace (prepared) fiddle for the more intriguing combination of koto and goonji.
Track Listing: Copland; Notecards; Nuts and Bolts; Tibetan Bear Paws; Interconnection; Two Into One; Ticklish Wickets; Companions on the Rampage of Genghis Khan.
Personnel: Johann Drums: fiddle, prepared fiddle; Kata Bells: fiddle, prepared fiddle.