Ezekiel Honig: Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band

Listeners who've monitored the evolution of Ezekiel Honig's music over the past half-decade will know that it has paralleled to some degree the evolution of the two labels he helms. If one were to characterize Microcosm as “found-sound minimal techno” (as crudely reductionist as that might sound), his last full-length, 2006's Scattered Practices, certainly exemplifies that aesthetic, as much if not more than the label's other releases. During the past two years, the New York-based producer's energies have been spent establishing Anticipate's “experimental electroacoustic” identity with releases by Mark Templeton, Morgan Packard, Sawako, Klimek, and Nicola Ratti, and only now has seen fit to issue his Scattered Practices follow-up, Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band, on the label. In truth, the new album accomplishes two key moves in one fell swoop: it retains clear connections to the style developed in his past output and takes the next, natural step forward in his highly personalized approach. Honig builds his sound world by digitally manipulating sounds sampled from his home environment as well as those taken from the immediate outdoors (Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band 's rich array includes sounds recorded at parties, subway stations, and other places), and consequently the music, no matter how abstracted it becomes, exudes an intimate character. That quality is in turn bolstered by the understated, even placid mood that pervades much of the album's forty-five minutes.

Briefly setting the stage, rippling noises course through “Porchside Prologue” before “Broken Marching Band” unites the two realms of Honig's music: a softly pulsating beat pattern similar to the kind heard in his past work coupled with a more overt and dominant infusion of field elements (voices, environmental sounds) than has been heard before in his material. Muffled horn-like tones call to mind Ernie Mills' trombone playing on Early Morning Migration's “White On White” while Mark Templeton's guitar sounds, fashioned into bleating cries and moans, surface in “Porchside Economics.” Interestingly, the title of Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band's “Seaside Pastures Part 2” plus its aquatic-ambient meld of dockside clatter and streaming tones evokes the tranquil style of Early Morning Migration, Honig's collaborative project with Packard (of which much the same could be said for “Material Instrument 1”).

Honig's no virtuoso in the traditional sense; his proficiency on any given instrument is limited. But his music isn't founded on virtuosic playing. It's composed, or perhaps it would be better to say constructed from a broad array of elements and arranged with immense sensitivity to the make-up of a given piece's vertical and horizontal structures. “A Brief Visual Pattern” neatly instantiates the idea when clattering accents, field noises, and blurred snapshots of piano sprinkles mingle over a skeletal pulse, with a recurring handclap the most prominent rhythm element. On the other hand, by dispensing with beat structures altogether and shifting the focus solely to the layered interplay of acoustic (piano) and sampled sounds, “Displacement” emphasizes the more pronounced electroacoustic focus of the new recording, something the heavily-textured ambient setting “Epilogue” also illustrates. Take the electroacoustic balance struck so effectively on Early Morning Migration and sonically transplant it from the remote, depopulated outdoors to the bustling streets of mid-town Manhattan and you've got a fairly accurate impression of Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band's sound .

December 2008