Black to Comm: Charlemagne & Pippin

Concern: Truth & Distance
Digitalis / Iatrogenesis

In his half-hour Truth & Distance opus, Gordon Ashworth (aka Concern) constructs three drone settings using a mini-orchestra of zither, lap harp, mbira, banjo, piano, clarinet, alto horn, accordion, trombone, and acoustic guitar as the sound sources. Seldom, however, does the identifiable sound of a natural instrument declare itself when Ashworth processes the material into such coagulant wholes. The title composition builds sheets of glassy sound into a shimmering hall of mirrors for seventeen mesmerizing minutes. Tones swell, shape-shift, and multiply as they scan the panoramic vista, while the volume escalates, nudging the piece ever closer to nirvana. A train-like siren rings out at the eleven-minute mark, elevating the whole in one gesture to a higher pitch, before the intensity level drops and the shuttle gradually eases its way back to terra firma. A final surge brings the piece to a blurry close, after which the comparatively becalmed “Young Birth” forms a brief, meditative bridge to “Heartsink,” an amorphous meld of reverberating clusters Ashworth generated from piano and acoustic guitar only. In the release's final minutes, the piano becomes progressively more clearly heard and natural in presentation and, as a result, the album ends on an unexpectedly pretty note when a lovely serenade emerges to eventually guide the listener home.

Charlemagne & Pippin unleashes a thirty-six-minute, single-track drone behemoth courtesy of Black to Comm, a trio composed of Dekorder owner Marc Richter (Farfisa organ, tape loops, electronics, metal percussion, voice), Renate Nikolaus (violin, metal percussion, toys, water, shruti box, bells, whistle), and Ulf Schütte (feedback, electronics, dictaphone). A central organ chord unwaveringly hums throughout while a sprawling cluster of squeals, snuffles, tinkles, wobbles, and tormented wails steadily builds in magnitude in an attempt to drag the whole to hell. The piece's movement is unapologetically uni-directional and the force with which the trio pursues its vision is brutal and relentless. After the twenty-minute mark, things turn truly tumultous, as the relative control heard before mutates into a broil that inches progressively closer to the brink of detonation with each passing minute. Think of the anything-but-polite Charlemagne & Pippin as the raging, psychedelic counterpart to a less harrowing drone outing such as Greg Davis's recent Mutually Arising.

September 2009