How does it sound when a bass is not a bass, a guitar not a guitar and a drum is a not a drum? The answer to this riddle is the album Noumenon by the Belgian-born bassist Raphael Malfliet.
His album is yet another worthy addition to the hip Brooklyn label, Ruweh, but it is also the most difficult and experimental of the three releases on the label so far.
Malfliet is interested in improvisation, but his sources of inspiration for this particular release came primarily from advanced modern classical composers like Morton Feldman, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Gyorgi Legeti. With the help of guitarist Todd Neufeld and drummer Carlo Costa, Malfliet creates a world of sound that is all about texture and space while it eschews the idea of regular rhythms, grooves and melodies. The closest thing to a motif on the opener, "Kandy," is a sound like a drop of rain falling on the ground. Neufeld manipulates his instrument into all sorts of sounds, bending the tones into many different shapes. The same can be said of Malfliet and Costa who come across as abstract sound painters rather than conventional musicians.
While the musical landscape they create together is unconventional, there is also an ambient quality to the extended patterns of sound. It might be knotty at times, but like the abstract painting by Julie Mehretu that graces the cover, there is a certain ungraspable beauty about it all. Nevertheless, it is also a release whose experimental language is close to being hermetic. On the other hand, one has to admire Malfliet's bold attempt at creating a new musical language.
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