Following on from their fine Concrete Field-Wound split cassette, Gateshead’s Invisible City Records have let this creeping beastie from Argentina’s finest underground multi-instrumentalist, Anla Courtis, stalk into the world. Functionally titled, this is two long-ish investigations into microtonal guitar that maxes out on atmosphere and technique rather than structure or development, doling out a sizeable umami hit in the process.
I last came across Courtis on his collaboration with Aaron Moore, Bring Me Some Honest Food, its meticulously crafted tapestry of drums, piano, marimba and guitar as intricate as it was widescreen. By contrast, Microtonal Drifts takes a much more personal, almost claustrophobic, approach, Courtis zooming in on his instrument with obsessive zeal, often overdubbing himself to create blurred flurries of sound. All of which serves to emphasising the hallucinatory, interior feel of these recordings.
Side A is brittle and chilly, Courtis searching out clusters of notes (microtones, baby) like a tarantula creeping across a cement floor. It’s physical, this sound, dry and hard like some kind of furred exoskeleton, but hinting at the fleshy mass underneath. Across nearly 10 minutes, Courtis circles around, never missing a step, even if his destination is unfathomable. Echoing fragments hang in the air – an army of spiders – as he loops or doubles himself, gradually creating a mist-thin wall of ghostly reverberations, although the resolute focus on a single sound source keeps things firmly tethered in minimalist territory.
The companion piece sounds, somewhat surprisingly, completely different. I’m not sure whether he’s added some extra equipment to the mix (the Bandcamp page credits him with microtonal guitar ‘and strings’, which, if you think about it, is quite ambiguous really) or has just messed about with his recordings a bit more. In any case, this is a hissing, spitting beast, serpent rather than arachnid. Thin, metallic skeins of sound whip around the high end, almost like a bowed cymbal, while a mechanical growl loops underneath. It gathers density as it progresses, an offence to the laws of physics, Courtis avoiding the predictable build while carefully adding layers of proto-industrial noise to the base, all the time keeping those cymbal-guitar-steel-snake sounds flailing around with an appropriate level of venom. A snakepit underneath the assembly line. Vipers in the factory.