Group is not an album for city dwellers. The fragile tones emanating from their stereo speakers would likely be overpowered by the din of the industrialized world filtering through their windows, and they would wonder why they paid good money for a CD they can't hear. Recorded live in 2005 and given further treatment in the studio, the five tracks on this collaborative effort from Giuseppe Ielasi and the electroacoustic duo EKG are far too subdued for superficial listening, but close scrutiny illuminates their vast, even cinematic scope.
The abbreviation "EKG" is used to indicate an electrocardiograph's measurement of the electric currents generated by a heartbeat, and it's a fitting moniker for Ernst Karel and Kyle Bruckmann, whose analog-derived material forms the heart of Group. The odd-numbered tracks were mixed by Karel, the untitled even-numbered tracks by Ielasi, whose digital elements widen the sonic parameters but sound detached and clinical against the warm analog hum.
Many musicians exploit electronics to augment their sound with half-baked beats and uninspired samples, hoping to score with the electronica crowd and to give other listeners the chance to feel like scenesters; luckily, Ielasi and EKG are more interested in the subtle complexities of sound. The moments of near-silence on Group are indeed part of the music, perhaps the most telling part for those who strive in vain to classify the album. By incorporating amplifier buzz, knob clicks, and other sounds that wind up on the proverbial cutting room floor of most commercial recordings, these musicians have turned out a rare breed of meta-music, one with historical precedents reaching back to the musique concrete of the early twentieth century.
Ielasi, in particular, sticks closely to Pierre Schaeffer's aesthetic: he juxtaposes distinct but not wholly recognizable sounds to create a sonic environment only possible with the recorded medium. His few perceptible contributions on guitar and piano resemble extensions of the aural backdrop more than music-making in the conventional sense. Meanwhile, EKG are nearly as parsimonious with their instruments, but when oboe, English horn, and trumpet do appear, it is usually with the intention of harmonic adornment.
If the threesome owes their exploratory outlook to the early pioneers of electroacoustic music, their approach to form betrays a sympathy for the populist's attention span. While most of the tracks approach or surpass the ten-minute mark, the underlying throbs and pulsations distinguish themselves as discernible rhythms frequently enough to keep the listener interested. The primary aim, however, is timbral and textural investigation, so there is very little here that resembles a "tune."
The ever-shifting soundfield of Group places its creators square between their proto-glitch predecessors and their laptop-wielding contemporaries. These five imaginary field recordings are, thanks largely to a warm and evocative analog presence, as capable of emotional resonance as any other music.