I first came across Nick Storring as part of the I Have Eaten The City trio, whose phenomenal 2014 album on Tombed Visions, Secret Paths, is a masterclass in spontaneous composition and group improvisation. That Secret Paths was the group’s first release since 2007 mattered not one jot – the group’s collective actions were as fresh and diverse as in their mid-2000’s heyday. Props to Tombed Visions boss David McLean making that release happen, and to Storring and bandmates Colin Fisher and Brandon Valdivia for laying down a mind-warping set of tracks. Fisher, Storring and Valdivia have plenty of other sonic strings to their musical bows of course, of which this tape release of Storring’s on Notice Recordings is a recent, glorious example. Its two longform compositions contrast textural roughness with melodic smoothness in beautiful contrast, a sonic yin and yang in which the glistening percussion dewdrops of Field Lines are leavened by the looming cello heaves of Yield Criteria to create a harmonious whole.
Field Lines was created originally to accompany choreographer Yvonne Ng’s Magnetic Fields, a piece in which two dancers twist and turn in a kind of human Brownian motion, their bodies held in a perpetual graceful whirl of near collisions (you can watch a section here). Storring’s composition retains some of that delicate flux, its central section a series of sonorous metallic flurries erupting out of silence, their subtle and propulsive kinetics always kept in balance by an unerring sense of pulse and movement. There’s an impressive and exhaustive list of percussive noise-making kit deployed by Storring as he painstakingly stitches together the contours of the piece – vibraphone, glockenspiel, balafon, chimes, hand bells, toy pianos, thumb pianos and lots more (check the Notice Recordings Bandcamp for the full list), and that attention to detail pays off. Each burst of sound is etched with its own resonant patina, occasionally gamelan-like in its soft, brassy hues, other times giving off the hollow clonks of woodblock or thumb piano. Yet there’s also such naturalness to the composition that it feels improvised, spontaneous even. I guess it takes a whole heap of work to make composition seem so effortless. Indeed, so expressive is Storring’s piece that it exists perfectly as a standalone work without Ng’s evocative choreography.
Yield Criteria, on the other hand, is a gradually disintegrating cliff face to its companions’ liquid flow, its warm and grainy heft created by Storring manipulating another college music teacher’s cupboard-worth of instruments into a series of sustained, slowly shifting drones. Like in Field Lines, Storring uses pauses or patches of silence as tools to emphasise his sound-making, but here they act as deep, dark lacunae out of which his loamy chunks of sound-making rise, and back into which they inevitably sink. In fact, the messy scree that lurches into earshot at around the 13 minute-mark – like a many-layered garbage sludge scratched and marked by metallic debris – could be a slow-motion catastrophe in action, an avalanche of rock, mud and metal grinding inexorably into the abyss. True, some of the earlier sections have the emotional punch of a William Basinski tape loop, with the eerie harmonics about three minutes in (bass guitar perhaps) ushering in some really quite ace Serotonin-rush arpeggios. But that second half is glacial chaos of a sort that would make any short-run noise-tape maven proud, its grunts, grinds and gastric squelches overlaid with headachey whines and the honks of an aggressively-wielded duck call. Great stuff, and even better for its suitably grouch-laden finish.