Sunday, July 15, 2012

Lonberg-Holm, Zarzutzki Duo - Feminization of the Tassel [Peira]

Feminization of the Tassel is an absolutely stellar disc of free-improv from cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and no-output turntablist Aaron Zarzutzki. Released on Chicago's fascinating Peira label which appears predominantly focused on documenting local improvisational activity. What's most interesting to me about Peira, aside from the sounds themselves, is it's released only 13 records since 2007, practically unheard of for a CDr label. The label seems intent to exercise curatorial discretion which is the reason, at least in part, that they yield such great results like Feminization of the Tassel.
Lonberg-Holm's cello is predominantly in the left channel while Zarzutzki's turntable resides mainly in the right--at least I think that's the case. Even with this ostensible knowledge, I lose track at times which instrument is creating what sounds. Those staccato bowed notes? They must be coming from a cello, except they aren't.
Zarzutzki's turntable, which I was first introduced to via his sweet Psychophagi LP with Nick Hoffman, is an entity I still probably won't completely understand until I see it in action live (I have poked around youtube for clues) but my understanding/guess is that no vinyl records are used, I don't think there's a stylus either, but instead Zarzutzki generates sound through friction between the spinning plate and various objects. Pretty wild stuff. Perhaps even wilder, is Lonberg-Holm's cello, which I'm pretty sure is just a regular old cello--though at moments I think he's working with delay and may be using a pickup in addition to an external microphone. Either way, the spectrum of sounds he's able to pull out of the thing is pretty ridiculous.
Anyone who loves sounds (and the physics of sound) will find lots to love here. For this record just being a no-output turntable and cello, Lonberg-Holm and Zarzutzki come up with a hell of a lot of sounds. All manners of percussion, a stuck transmission, reeds and brass, woodshop class, tape-mulch, construction site, an oscillator and, oh yeah, occasionally a cello.
It's a pretty futile endeavor to try to capture music like this with language; I've wrestled with the task for a while and I'm still at a loss. Lonberg-Holm applies jazz vernacular occasionally and every so often you might get a brief baroque cello lick out of him while Zarzutzki's often working in a more "noise" context, grinding out abrasive, mechanical textures. The intersection on the ven diagram for the two is that each gets into free-percussion zones at various points. What's great about their collaboration is that you get a range of approaches to "free music" exchanged, well, freely and, more importantly, seamlessly.
In what is perhaps the centerpiece of the disc, the nearly 15 minute "The Spikelet Pair Meristem" the duo get almost into drone territory. A lengthy section of long, sustained tones and quiet crackle lull you into a surprisingly relaxing stasis before pulling the chair out from under you with fractured cello notes and klang. The control over their instruments exhibited by the duo is impressive and representative of the whole disc. What may sound random on first listen reveals itself to be anything but. Lonberg-Holm and Zarzutzki never sound short of ideas or of ways to execute them.
Totally great and definitely recommended. Hit up Peira for copies.

The shortest track is uploaded so you can get an idea of what the thing's like.  

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