issue 17 :: August 2010

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REVIEW: Sonic Systems Laboratory

“Two Vibraphones” CD (Splitrec)

By naming this too brief (32'), multipart piece “Two Vibraphones,” Robbie Avenaim and Dale Gorfinkel are guilty of showing off their incredible powers of material (not electronic) transformation. As benefiting the laboratory of the group/project name, the two Australians use motors and extended techniques to cull sounds out of their vibes that sound nothing like that instrument. I could only recognize anything remotely resembling a vibraphone some twenty minutes into the piece. This is the hallmark of acousmatic success; not only do we not recognize the instrument, but we don't recognize the methods used to generate the sounds.
Liner notes inform us of wheeled motors brushing the edges of the keys (teeth? tines?), which I assume produce the shifting long tones, as pure as feedback or harmonics, during the first third of the piece. Next we enter a forest of creaking and insect-like chirps. Not isolated chirps, but a dense mass of metallic noises, like hundreds of crickets heard over the hill, along with other inscrutable sounds. Some of the creakings begin to sound like a campfire, and then build into a loud rumble of an old piece of machinery, like a Model T engine on its last legs, or some piece of 1930's farm equipment. I don't know why the music produces this strange rural feeling in me. Slowly the sound of a “vibraphone” being struck with mallets enters into the mix of watch-like clickings. But soon this “normal” playing is eclipsed by a steady and rapid metallic tapping. I assume electronic processing is kept to a minimum, and the duo takes advantage of the motors, including the vibraphone's internal motor, to create all of the dense clicks and taps. It's a wonderfully inventive sound.
You may recognize Robbie Avenaim's name from the Splinter Orchestra or on CDs released with Keith Rowe, but you should know him from 1999's “The Alter Rebbe's Nigum” CD on Tzadik with guitarist Oren Armbarchi. This still exciting and still perplexing mélange of noise, punk rock and Kabalah sermons is apparently still available.
review by Josh Ronsen
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