These two absorbing works explore the properties of electronically-controlled instruments – percussion and an idiosyncratic arrangement of solenoids for Abraham, and a synth-controlled drum for Rice.
The attraction of these approaches for artists like Abraham and Rice seems fairly clear. They offer that strange combination of freedom and rigour that you get with the best process-based work. So there’s the control that comes with setting the method and its parameters. But once you hit the start button, you effectively relinquish hands-on oversight in favour of observing and documenting the results. It’s almost … experimental, right?
For me, however, there’s an additional attraction that’s a little more metaphysical. There’s something discombobulating about hearing this effectively equipment play itself, like some clockwork AI crawling towards sentience, or a nineteenth-century automation flailing as the mysterious spark of life flows through its frame. But whether it’s the science or the spookiness that gets you going, these two releases have something to turn you on.
Julian Abraham ‘Togar’: Acoustic Analog Digitally Composed
Hasana Editions cassette and download
‘Acoustic Analog Digitally Composed’ documents two sound-making installations built by Indonesian artist and musician Julian Abraham. Sadly there’s not much visual documentation bundled with this excellent tape, although the clip below gives us an idea of the baroque and mesmerising intricacies of these works. Strung up like some esoteric batterie du cuisine, and lit in trad shadow puppet style, Abraham’s percussion clanks and bangs like a dismembered timepiece pilfered from an alpine town.
It’s obviously brilliant – fluid and bonkers and frenetic – and must be quite something to experience in a gallery or exhibition space. Yet without that spectacle, Abraham’s recordings become even more energising. There’s a looseness to his percussion pieces that belies the cleverness and hard work that’s gone into their creation. Number 8 shimmies with looping samba abandon, while the humpty funk of number 12 should spark giddy euphoria in anybody within earshot.
Abraham’s other installation, for a set of magnetic solenoids, is grittier and more aggressive in its sounds. I’m pretty ignorant about what’s involved in this one – there are no clips available online as far as I can see, and even trying to figure out what a solenoid is has me spiralling into bad memories of teenage physics lessons. But the hectic patter of tinny thwacks – check the spiralling Escher vibes of piece number 6, or the aluminium rainstorm of number 9 – makes for a fabulously syncopated assault, whose ongoing tension between repetition and variation provides a compelling, if occasionally gruelling, aural spectacle.
Louie Rice: Continuous Demonstrations
If Abraham aims for complexity, Louie Rice’s ‘Continuous Demonstrations’ narrows the focus, as Rice prods his mechanical enquiries into captivating, almost motorik, excursions. While Rice’s rig is less ambitious than Abraham’s – he plugs a modular synth into a DC motor that ‘plays’ a single drum, with its rhythmic patterns determined by different patches – the results are equally absorbing.
Here, limitation drives inspiration. Rice’s determination to avoid any kind of harmonic or structural development results in a bone-dry suite whose minimalism is fascinating and addictive. So track 4’s gulping whoops and rubbery gasps are an alien riot of low-key stutters and jumps. Track 7, meanwhile, is a soundtrack of overlapping metallic tones, whose snail-like velocity opens up a gleaming, endless dronescape.
Duration is key. All but one of the seven tracks are longer than five minutes, Rice letting his assemblage run on so that the looping kling-klang burrows into your lobes in deadpan shuffles of psychic conditioning. Indeed, Rice’s studiously distanced approach to these compositions is as a much a challenge to the listener as it is a methodological decision, pushing us beyond the event horizon of everyday boredom into eternal, syncopated reveries.