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Some combinations of "real instruments and electronics starkly highlight extreme contrasts between the two; some uses of electronics produce music that is dehumanising and alienating. At the right time and place, both of these tendencies can be very engaging, if very demandinghowever, they are rarely a great deal of fun, nor are they intended to be.
But it's a mistake to judge all combinations of instruments and electronics in this way. Group is an album that counteracts both these tendencies. It integrates the instruments and electronics into a seamless whole that is warm, human and, yes, fun, without in any way seeming populist or compromising. And that's quite an achievement.
The album brings together the EKG duo of Ernst Karel and Kyle Bruckman with Giuseppe Ielasi. Recorded in April 2006 while the threesome were on tour in New England, tracks one, three and five were then worked on by Karel in Berlin, and the untitled tracks two and four by Ielesi in Milan. Despite such intercontinental to-ing and fro-ing, the album has a pleasing coherence and does not sound as if it has undergone a great deal of post-production.
The two musicians who comprise EKG effectively manage to invert the roles of their instruments and their electronics; the duo's trumpet, oboe and English horn are used to produce sustained vibrato-less notes that are easily mistaken for electronically generated tones, whereas their use of analog electronicscomplete with the noises of switches, amplifier hum and the likesounds all too human. In a world where "performers too often sit on stage in front of their Mac, seemingly immobile and inert, such humanity in the use of electronics is very welcome.
Ielasi also has the knack of humanising the music. At the beginning of track two, for example, the inclusion of just two piano notes, repeated intermittently, complete transforms the soundscape from an alien electronic environment into something far warmer and more inviting. Later in the same piece, an organ drone plus sparse interventions on piano achieve the same effect.
If you are daunted by the prospect of electro-acoustic improvisation, this album can be tried without fear.