Friday, 19 June 2009
Enrico Malatesta - Standard [presto!?]
The inlay lists this as six improvisations for classical bass drum recorded in the Teatro Valdoca in Cesena. It also proudly states in a manner typical of improv documents: “there are no overdubs on this record” and the recording certainly has a warts and all character about it. The track titles appear to be durations in minutes and seconds, the first on each side though reads 00’ 00”, so in practice we have four pieces varying in length between one and four minutes.
There are no notes on technique, either that of playing or recording, though I would guess from the amount of audible skin flutter beneath a large dose of hiss, that the microphones have been brought in extremely close over the drum and that it might even have been recorded to tape in the first place. The opening track is a constant rumble full of ringing overtones reminding me of some of Jon Mueller’s recent electroacoustic percussion treatments, It is difficult how to tell how Malatesta is generating these rising arcs of mid range, how he keep them swirling, from what at the beginning of the track sounded like the gentlest of drum rolls. There are some really striking timbral nuances in this piece which make it more fascinating than the straight drum-based drone it might have become. The second track is more familiar fare for a percussion based improviser. Starting out with a similar low rumble as previously, which breaks down into individual hits. There follows a busy array of cracks, clatters, rubs and scrapes let loose over the drum’s surface, at times sounding like a croupier is showing off his shuffling skill on the skin. This section is akin to the ‘environmental improvisations’ heard on Jeph Jerman and Greg Davis’s Ku album, and also to Patrick Farmer’s approach to snare drum improvisation.
After what I assume is the false start of 00’00”(*), The second side opens with 01’07” in which the drum is straightforwardly struck fourteen times. The note is far from clean however: there’s a certain crash in the attack of the sound suggesting it’s either being played with a non-traditional stick or a fairly heavy object has been left on the skin. I assume our attention is intended to be drawn to the subtle differences between each apparent repetition, the different pitches that rise in the decay. I find this sort of work wearisome when drawn out over long durations but here the brevity works fine. The final piece begins another rumble but when this subsides the instrumentation claims of the sleeve are called into doubt by the unmistakeable presence of a bowed cymbal. It is here that the low-fidelity of the recording throughout really shines, the high pitched keening tones and metallic washes coalescing beneath the tape hiss perfectly. After a couple of minutes the beautiful uncertainty of the shifting bowed tones is joined by spurts of deep resonance as the drum is intermittently struck. This lovely interplay between (I assume) left and right hand continues for five minutes according to my stopwatch, even though the track is titled 04’26”, and could as far as I was concerned have happily lasted twice as long.