The Swifter: The Swifter
The Wormhole

Recorded at the Grunewald Church in Berlin in September 2011, The Swifter's self-titled debut album pools the improvisatory talents of electroacoustic percussionist Andrea Belfi, sound artist B J Nilsen, and experimental composer-pianist Simon James Phillips. Though each brings a highly personalized background in music production to The Swifter, it's Belfi's involvement in a project called Between Neck & Stomach, in which he turned a house into a musical instrument by using sound vibrations to shake items such as pots, plates, and cupboards (a CD of the same name was issued on Häpna in 2006), that provides a helpful segueway to the trio release. The connection? On The Swifter, the musicians also eschew conventional role-playing for a multi-layered approach to sound-generation that's predominantly textural in design.

The extended opening piece “End of Capstan Bars” begins with ambient sounds of object clatter and muffled noises of indeterminate origin that gradually assume a more musical formation, as if the three collaborators are feeling their way along, collectively shaping the material in the moment. Dense piano-generated clusters appear in tandem with percussive rumble and cymbal shadings, with Nilsen's presence more subliminal in the early going but becoming more pronounced as the piece unfolds. On the second side, Phillips's dense clusters nicely dovetail with Nilsen's electronics to generate a dronescape during the opening part of “Swallow” before Belfi splits it apart with a series of drum and cymbal punctuations. It's during the recording's second half that the material takes a more aggressive turn, with the rolling piano patterns, electronic cloud mass, and now-insistent drumming building into an ever-intensifying whole.

The Swifter exudes a rather Touch-like quality in the patient and explorative mindset the three participants bring to the project and in the restrained manner by which the material develops. No jarring detonations occur but instead carefully considered interplay, with each musician acting more as sound colourist than conventional soloist; Phillips, for example, uses the piano less for voicing themes than as a percussive device. There are times, however, when that reticent approach results in what seems like a missed opportunity, such as when Phillips initiates “Neap Tide” with a chiming pattern of Reich-styled repetitions that the others only tentatively respond to with subtle expressions rather than exploiting the dynamic potential offered by the pianist's playing.

January 2013