Ernesto Diaz-Infante’s Noisier Side

Ernesto Diaz-InfanteMy Benign Sword (Eh?, 2016)

diaz-infante-ehMy Benign Sword is a solo acoustic album where guitarist Ernesto Diaz-Infante madly fiddles — not literally, but in the sense of wringing different types of scribbly, babbling sounds from the instrument.

It has some of the drone/ambiant elements that populate a lot of his other solo work, such as Wistful Entrance, Wistful Exit and this year’s Tunnels, an album of peace inspired by the horrors of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. But Diaz-Infante is no stranger to more prickly kinds of experimentation.

“My Forgotten Stars” opens the album in a Derek Bailey dialect, but one that emphasizes notes and tones. The clicks of tightly held strings and a bit of knocking on the guitar body serve as adjuncts to a spattering of tiny notes and small glissandos.

 
Most of the album is noisier than that, though.

On “Yin” and “The Inside Answers,” it sounds like Diaz-Infante is bouncing a hand up and down the strings, a springy, twangy effect that settles into a groove-based folk ambiance. His approach is harder to decode on “Where Are You? Hope You’re OK,” where the strings rattle continuously like a tuneful roulette wheel — that’s my favorite effect on the album.

I had a bit of trouble with “Moving Away From My Mind,” which is nice and contemplative but is based on that all-too-familiar sound of a guitar’s open strings. (If you don’t play guitar, the track is probably refreshing.)

“Fear of Love” was more my speed, with its gentle sawing sounds and avant-twang tones. It’s a very quiet track, possibly easy to miss if you’re not listening closely, but it’s full of ideas.

You can sample two of the louder tracks on the Eh?/Public Eyesore website.

Waves Upon Waves: Ernesto Diaz-Infante

Ernesto Diaz-InfanteWistful Entrance, Wistful Exit (Kendra Stein Editions, 2014)

Ernesto Diaz-Infante: Wistful Entrance, Wistful ExitErnesto Diaz-Infante has played electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and a swath of other stringed instruments (including piano) in a variety of settings from prickly to the sublime. This album features one guitar with lots of reverb, playing calm, repetitive figures. But unlike a computerized piece, or the high-precision mirrors-on-mirrors of classical minimalism, the variations come not only from calculated changes but from the human variations of hands on strings.

The effect is a hypnotic shimmer — simple, graceful image left to drift and slowly change. The ocean metaphor suggested by the album cover is apt.

The titles of the three 15-minute tracks on Wistful Entrance, Wistful Exit form the phrase “this long moment,” which is an apt way to describe ambient music: a place where the instant is stretched, where you can step aside and be a bystander to the passing flow of time. “This” and “Long” are similiar in character, with the sound of a plectrum gently dragged across the strings, describing a meditative, ringing chord followed by two more sympathetic notes. One section of “Long” reduces to just a chord, which further strips down to just two notes for a while, basking us in the simplest essence of harmony.

“Moment” uses straight strumming to form a pulse along with a one-note bass drone (probably just the low “E” string on the guitar). It’s a tougher, cavernous sound that keeps up a faster pace while sticking to that droning aesthetic. The track starts slow, continuing that meditative theme, but shifts into a slow gallop by the end.

Stretched across 15 minutes, the effect is subtle. If you’ve got this on as background noise, you might be surprised at how differently you’re engaging with the music by the end of “Moment.”

Our Faceless Empire: Cali-Portugese Improv

Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Manuel Mota, Gino Robair, Ernesto RodriguesOur Faceless Empire (Pax, 2010)

This one’s all about strings — not sweet symphonic strings, but the percussive potential behind strings: the dry clacking and snapping of acoustic guitar and viola, the tiny grunts and pops of electric guitar.

Diaz-Infante and Robair are both part of a Bay Area improv scene that favors a sound-sculpture aesthetic, with performances rich in extended technique. Robair stopped calling himself a drummer at some point, preferring the term “energized surfaces” to describe his combination of oddball objects (bowed styrofoam, for instance), and unconventionally played drums, all of it adding up to a forest of sounds barely traceable to acoustic instruments.

So, this album is full of rattly, percussive sounds — a mesh of sound, full of strings clicking, squeaking, and scraping. Ironically, it’s the drummer who produces the longest and most singing tones, if you can call them that. Robair frequently bows his cymbals or other free-hanging pieces of metal, producing a tarnished ringing tone with a scraped quality, a siren’s cough.

Small blips of guitar tones appear on “E Metico Labilty,” and an accordion seems to pop up on “Um Lilburn Em Flovilla,” towards the end of the album. Mostly, though, it’s a thicket of what’s sometimes called insect music, lots of little sounds adding up to a collective and a direction.

The first three tracks keep things on a fast gait, clattery but not overwhelmingly busy, and often quiet. The third track, “Mi Conde, El Odiosas,” gets downright rowdy and is followed by the quiet respite of “O Bursty Bruegel,” a calming sheen.

The album come to be when Rodrigues (viola) and Mota (electric guitar) were doing a tour from Vancouver on down the Pacific coast. It’s all part of the improv mystique: players of similar minds getting together, spinning music into the air, and possibly never reconvening in that exact combination again. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a document of those moments.