Huntsville: Pond
Hubro

Without wishing to draw excessive attention to Pond's production side rather than its musical content, it's interesting to note that Helge Sten (aka Deathprod) mastered Huntsville's latest release and that he did so, as is his custom, at his Audio Virus Lab in Oslo. The detail signifies on a couple of levels: on the one hand, it offers further evidence in support of the apparent kinship between Rune Grammofon, the label on which Sten's work typically appears, and Hubro; even more importantly, it suggests a kindred sensibility between the explorative sound sculptor Sten and the equally adventurous Huntsville, the trio featuring Ivar Grydeland (electric guitar, pedal steel, electronics), Tonny Kluften (bass), and Ingar Zach (percussion) that came into being nine years ago.

Laid down in a week in the Oslo studio AmperTone with sound engineer Johnny Skalleberg, Huntsville's fifth album shows that the band remains a restlessly searching entity open to new ideas. That the trio's creative process is rooted in collective improvisation is borne out by the album's fifty-two minutes of content, four long-form tracks that thoroughly engage the listener despite the presence of a few meandering episodes (pretty much par for the course where improv-based recordings are concerned). It's not the first time the trio's been explorative in its approach: its fourth album, Past increasing, future receding, was recorded in Tomba Emanuelle, a room known for remarkable acoustics and sustained echo, and its fifth carries on that tradition in its overall concept.

On Pond, Kluften's bass plays a critical role in solidly anchoring the music and freeing up the others. During the opening (ER), for example, Kluften's playing provides an ongoing stability that enables Grydeland's pedal steel to emerge as feints and stabs rather than carry the weight of the tune. Zach's no staid time-keeper either but rather a sound colourist who enhances the others' playing with percussive flourishes and detail. In similar manner, Grydeland, his gestures at times raw and scabrous, is more focused on texture and sound design than playing a conventional solo. As abstract as Huntsville's music might sound on paper, it's earmarked by specific signatures, the countrified twang of Grydeland's pedal steel foremost among them, that help make the trio's material more accessible than it might be otherwise.

The trio less approaches the four pieces as conventionally structured compositions with formal beginnings, middles, and endings and more as sound paintings. Theirs is very much an interactive process grounded in spontaneity, as while each player contributes material to the whole, his contributions are influenced by what the others are doing in that same moment; it's an approach perfectly illustrated by (ING) where each member expresses himself individually whilst attending responsively to the sounds arising around him. Pond thus inhabits a zone where elements of rock, improvisation, jazz, and electronic music liberally intersect and intertwine.

April 2015