Robert Curgenven: Oltre

Using only a “Transparence” dubplate (that acts as a sound source as well as medium), turntable, field recordings (gathered from remote areas of Australia), guitar feedback, and ventilator (no computer or electronics, in other words), Robert Curgenven presents five long-form, explorative settings that prove mesmerizing in their degree of detail. That the material was recorded over a two-month period in spring of 2009 would normally be a detail of minor importance; in this case, it's significant because the recordings document the gradual degradation and transformation of the dubplate over the span of the performances: as the stylus repeatedly abraids the vinyl surface, the dubplate's higher frequencies gradually disappear and the surface noise increases. Throughout Oltre, ominous tones pierce dense masses of surface noise produced by the needle gouging the vinyl surface.

The opening piece, “Isole: Allargando Nero,” serves as a good representative for the album in general. Recorded live at Ionian University, Corfu, Greece, Curgenven wraps multiple sounds—the creak of a boat, waves crashing ashore, flies buzzing, crickets chirping, footsteps trudging—in a thick blanket of crackle, static, hiss, and pops while a soft drone warbles at the center. The natural sounds that figure so prominently in “Isole: Allargando Nero” are almost wholly absent from “Largo Capriccioso,” which is closer in spirit to a surging drone of industrial design; for fourteen minutes, waves of blurry, guitar-generated tones rise and fall, augmented by seeming thrums of insects and vinyl crackle. While a level of intensity pervades “Isole: Allargando Nero,” the other settings are calmer by comparison. A thunderstorm is present at the outset of the closing piece, “Nero Lento: Coda Lunga,” but it quickly recedes, allowing for a micro-sound interplay of high-pitched tones, vinyl crackle and hiss, and insect calls to move into the spotlight. When the needle digs deeply into the dubplate's surface at the twelve-minute mark, it's hard not to think of Curgenven as a kindred spirit to Philip Jeck. Though the physical interaction between the turntable, dubplate and stylus accounts for much of the recording's textural detail, Curgenven makes the most of the sound-generating properties of the other sources too—subsonic feedback from the ventilators, for example—in generating immense fields of constantly shifting sounds.

February 2010