Muta Bricolage Al Maslakh

Last week I packed my bag full of mostly clean clothes, plied myself with day-old coffee and drove down to Chicago to see my sister and catch Dans Les Arbres play at the Chicago Cultural Center. It was a free show, part of their series with some delightfully pretentious name that plagues this kind of stuff, like New Noise or Hidden Voices. It was probably a bad life decision to slam a beer and pop a bar of Xanax before the show, but sitting among the grey hair improv freaks already practicing their best to appear studious and appraising, hands firmly tucked under chins (thinking about the piles of kult merch they’re going to buy after the show no doubt), I realized it might have been one of the few right life decisions I’ve made lately. Certainly it made the show feel more lilting and introspective, less heavily indebted to the art school society slum. But let’s just say the my recollections of the music played by Ingar Zach, Ivar Greidland, Xavier Charles and Christian Wallumrød are probably a little hazy. I do remember distinctly the opening five minutes when Zach lightly tapped a few gongs that were hanging over his massive bass drum in a ritualistic manner and Wallumrød sat motionless at the piano, staring at the keys. It was languid and stunning, reminding me of a kind of Gamelan on Quaaludes; the only thing missing was the haze of clove cigarettes. The others played nicely I’m sure; but, really, Zach was the only thing I could concentrate on for more than a couple of minutes as I drifted in an out of consciousness, jerking suddenly awake just before my forehead could crash into the seat in front of me, probably ruining the bliss out for the poor dude in front of me. The whole concert had an aqueous feeling (which couldn‘t of been just the Xanax but…), as though I was drifting in hazy water filled with slowly waving weeds and schools of fish. At one point Zach rubbed a dowel against the bass drum, and a subterranean rumble issued forth — Cthulu, if only for a moment, awoke. Ultimately, it was Zach’s show for me, as his playing was so perceptive, so arresting in its slow, thoughtful momentum.

One would be remiss to assume Muta’s album, Bricolage, on the Lebanese label Al Maslakh, is purely a showcase for Zach, however; even if his percussion becomes a sort of guiding presence. I’m relatively new to Muta, as I missed the release on Sofa, but along with Zach, it includes Rhodri Davies on electronic harp and electronics, and Alessandra Rombolá on flutes, tiles and preparations. According to Muta’s website, they search “…for changes and variation in musical structures and slow/minimal developments of specific sounds and/or pitches,” while trying to achieve a unified group sound. And this is readily apparent, as each track seems to explore a certain set of sounds, momentums and strategies.

The first track on Bricolage, “driphlith” is a shuddering, percussive excursion that, when played loudly, can shake the walls. It’s a variety of elements overlaid, and that slide up over one another. Zach’s deeply sonorous bass drum appears first, but what appears to be ebowed harp from Davies, and percussive pops from Rombola, soon follow and start to converse. “Bricolage” is an excellent word for the sounds here, because it is as if these three resourceful musicians were using whatever they had at hand to produce this music. There’s a searching pragmatism here, a metis-like quality to everything they play.

Rombolá’s a new musician for me, and her playing really comes out on “encilion;” blasts of still flute-like sound punctuates a slow moving back drop of ebows and cymbal scrapes. Rombolá ’s playing here is aggressive, vital, and bruising. You feel the back contract, the lungs burn, the physical exertion of the playing. It‘s a nice change of pace from the usual extended technique dry-heave. This style of extended playing– the air circulating, spurting out, burbling inside the instrument– is obviously not new, but she plays with such vigor and aggression here… almost as though something is at stake; and it’s not just some look-at-me trick or cynical flaunt, it means something– just what is up to you. Her flute disappears for a moment about four minutes in and what I think must be her tiles and preparations slips into focus — knives unsheathed, sharpened, flattened against the table, bent, clattering to the floor. All the while, Davies’ playing is as apt and perceptive as usual: an unchanging tone from his electric harp rings at first seemingly in the background, but, as one listens more closely, it overtakes the field, inchoate, stubborn. It’s a wonderful track, especially off set against the more droning “driphilith.”

Drone can be a dirty word in this area of music. It implies a certain kind of laziness, an easiness to the music. You can layer up a couple of guitars and a pump organ and there you go — a one way trip to nirvana, to outer space, to limited run screen printed tapes. Play a drone and you provoke the listener– you tell them just what you want them the feel; you mask their own feelings under an emotional weight not earned. I don’t hate the drone necessarily, it has its uses. And while some of Bricolage could be considered drone, it’s far too rough for that. Elements change, noises fluctuate, the musicians are too concerned with trying out something new, reaching that new destination. Wherever, whatever that is.

“Goriwaered” is more electronic in a sense, or at least the electronic edges fray more in the distorted pits and pops, under fried scrapes and a patina of electronic scum. It’s highly percussive, with very little forward movement. A bass drum sounds, a knuckle against the hull of a schooner. And at 4:00 or so there is the first moment of respite, where sounds are let to breathe a little, and bells are like nautical soundings in a darkened bay and the buzz of electric dragonflies are next to your ear. It ends suddenly; while “Hafflau” emerges into dark drone and small bubbling percussion like tiny bells or maybe a steel brush rubbing against metal surfaces . It’s not as interesting as the others. It appears slightly dull in respect to the glow of the other tracks. One hopes for it to be edited down more, as though maybe it was just a little to flabby. I’m not sure.

“llinyn” is more clatter and junk, hail swept metal sheeting, detritus thrown into the wind. And again, the juxtaposition of it in regards with “Hafflau” works really well. At one point, Rombolá (?) creates an amazing snuffling pig sound, a throat clearing rumble that is at once out of character for the group but also seems to encapsulate it so well. Sometimes it’s nice, nah, needed to just revel in sound: to sit back and bask in the odor, the feel, the grit and dirt of it. The last track, “osgo,” is fascinating, starting with a familiar percussive rocking clack, and a buzzing tone from Davies. Rombolá ’s flute approaches a more traditional tonal language, sounding nearly like a Shakuhachi. The percussion reaches a more traditional momentum, as well. Davies’ electronics hover and skim. It’s a beautiful track..

I’m interested in hearing more MUTA, and possibly seeing them live if they ever get over here. I’ll promise not to drift in and out of sleep at their show, though. From the sounds of Bricolage, it would seem almost an impossibility.

Although who knows. I do stupid things.

Excellent sleeve design by Al Maslakh (check them out)


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