Grosse Abfahrt — Everything That Disappears (Emanem, 2009)
The name, they assure us, is German for “great departure,” and it’s assigned to a varying collection of Bay Area improvisers teamed up with European guests. This is the third such venture, with Le Quan Ninh (bass drum) and Frederic Blondy (piano) occupying the guest chairs. (More about Ninh here.)
Like the other Grosse Abfahrt album I’ve heard, erstes Luftschiff u Kalifornien (Creative Sources, 2007), there’s a patient aesthetic at work. Although <i>Everything That Disappears</i> isn’t as relentlessly quiet, the pieces build patiently, loose membranes of sound drifting by.
While you’ve got four different players doing some level of electronics, it’s not always easy to distinguish the electronic sources from the acoustic ones. Some of the high-pitched whistles on the third track could conceivably be coming from an acoustic source — a bowed piece of metal or styrofoam in Gino Robair‘s hands, maybe. It adds up to a swampy mystery, odd sounds that could be coming from wispy acoustic playing.
The opening track is a foreboding hum, atop which are sprinkled tiny sounds: metallic tinkles or the tap of a drum. The title here is “The lack Americans connected What disappears.” (Titles are taken from the first words in succeeding lines of a book, a very “This night wounds time” exercise.)
The minimalism there is an exception, though. Track 2, “negativity paradox achieved in humour realm” gets into some recognizable squiggles from the acoustic instruments, like Matt Ingalls’ clarinet, or the thumping of objects placed on Ninh’s drum, or the hush of air blown through Tom Djll‘s drumpet.
“Admittedly, social relations This” gets even noisier, packed with the crinkled and curled sounds common to acoustic free improv, ominous calm tones from the bass and/or bass drum, and smatterings of electronics added as otherworldly decorations.
Track 4 is the longest, at 38 minutes, and it opens like the start of a epic. A metallic hum, maybe some guitar feedback, and lightly ghostly sounds conjure up images of a barren desert plain. A slow-moving cacophany builds up — the individual sounds might flit past quickly, but the overall flow feels slow. You’re wading an ancient river here, not getting face-planted by a tsunami. The flow dissolves into brief silences or near-silences a couple of times — one intriguing example being just before the midpoint, where a calm percussion rhythm takes over, then gives way to subtle, hearing-test tones from the electronics. It ends with tense, high-pitched electronic squeals backed by what sounds like Ninh scraping mallets against the bass drum.
Track 4 even has an epic title: “geometric undulating driveway symmetrical, all the road of masters.”
It takes discipline for nine people to craft an improvisation with this level of delicacy. You might not like the band name, but this is a compelling ongoing project.