Tom Hamilton / Bruce Eisenbeil
- Shadow Machine (Downtown Music Gallery)
HAMILTON/BRUCE EISENBEIL - Shadow Machine (Pogus 21051; USA) Featuring Tom Hamilton
on Nord modular synthesizer and Bruce Eisenbeil on guitar. Tom Hamilton has
been working with synths and sonic manipulations for quite a long time, collaborating
with JD Parran, Roscoe Mitchell, Peter Zummo, Bruce Arnold and Thomas Buckner.
Guitar ace, Bruce Eisenbeil, remains one of downtown's most creative and consistent
players, whether leading his own bands or collaborating with Steve Swell, Milford
Graves, Blaise Siwula, Dave Fox or Nate Wooley. This disc was recorded live
in the studio and it is one of this year's (2009) most challenging efforts.
Opening with "Dusting Off Dada", Bruce is already spinning quick,
fractured layers of line while Tom creates bent, yet minimal electronic sounds.
If love comes in spurts so too does this music with sharp twists and turns and
other bent sound manipulations. For "Dry Mouth" Bruce creates interesting
textures by rubbing and tapping on his strings with objects while Tom adds subtle
synth spice to the tasty brew. I dig when Bruce carefully places ongoing phases
and layers of lines while Tom creates an effective dreamworld counterpoint.
The pictures they paint are fascinating, exotic and challenging all at the same
time. There is a continuous dialogue that keeps reinventing itself in a myriad
of different ways. A most impressive can vas to behold. - Bruce Lee Gallanter,
Downtown Music Gallery
By Ed Pinsent - The
Sound Projector A spiky and exciting collaboration between the modular synth
of Tom Hamilton and the electric guitar of Bruce Eisenbeil can be heard on Shadow
Machine (POGUS PRODUCTIONS 21051-2). Eight examples of live recordings made last
year in a New York studio, served up raw and without edits; I pleased to hear
the duo sparking off each other in very disjunctive and angular ways, rather than
settling into comfortable droning as some electronic duos find all too easy. But
these players mean business; Hamilton is a veteran of late-1960s electronic composition
(and is a fixture of the Robert Ashley opera ensemble), and Eisenbeil is coming
in from a free jazz background. When their two sound-worlds collide and bounce
off each other, these performances really catch fire.
On their first CD as a duo, Tom Hamilton (playing a Nord modular synthesizer)
and Bruce Eisenbeil (on electric guitar with preparations and effects) have forged
a strong free improvisation partnership. Despite the demanding approach and the
abstracted nature of their work, they come through with bouncy and witty music.
Hamilton, especially, knows how to pace the awkwardness of his modular synth,
infusing a healthy dose of humor in his delivery without stripping away the density
of the music. In this case, "density" doesn't mean a wall of noise
the duo's music leaves room for silence and space it translates a high
level of eventfulness. Sounds bounce back and forth, as Hamilton's synth jerks
and spits out a wide array of short-lived sounds (Thomas Lehn's style comes to
mind), while Eisenbeil achieves pretty much the same effect with his guitar. Plus,
the latter rarely sticks to an idea more than a few seconds, varying his techniques,
not unlike the restlessness of a Derek Bailey. By now you may be picturing something
tiresome (restless, dense, jerky, ever-changing) wrong. Shadow Machine's
best feature is probably its conciseness: nine nicely-defined tracks, all in the
four- to eight-minute range. Another thing going for it is an interesting form
of interaction between the musicians. Hamilton and Eisenbeil are clearly listening
closely to each other, but it sounds like they have agreed to disagree, follow
their own trails, and meet again at different spots along the way. This results
in more risk-taking, and a lively set of improvisations. - by François
Couture, All Music Guide
Shadow Machine Tom Hamilton/Bruce Eisenbeil
Hazily speaking, electronicist Tom Hamilton emerges from a modern classical
realm, while guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil inhabits the jazz improvising zone. On
this album, such stylistic concerns are very nearly unimportant, as the pair
are engaging in their own language of free improvisation. There's more space
in this music, although Hamilton and Eisenbeil never cut back on their particular
type of fluid hyperactivity. The synth-man uses a Nord modular device, which
operates in vintage analogue mimicry mode. He scoops himself out from the heart
of electronic interference, his palette taken from the sounds of internal malfunction.
Eisenbeil spiders around, sounding comparatively traditional as he shies away
from the overuse of effects and devices, almost adopting a kind of contained
"Dot Dot Dot" has an almost melodic quality, with both players aping
marimba plinks, while the event-packed "Walleye Spawn" provides the
most varied textures, with its tightly-stuttered ping-pong compressions. Hamilton
and Eisenbeil have found a level of speed-dialogue, which moves from the prolonged
hovering ascendance of "Little Left On The Left" to the stripped pricking
frequencies of "Silver Through A Straw."
The duo effectively launched its album at last month's Rhythm In The Kitchen,
a three-day festival held at the Church For All Nations in New York City's Hell's
Kitchen. They were the second act of four and for a Saturday night, attendance
was thin, seeming particularly so in the high-vaulted and brightly-lit space.
Hamilton and Eisenbeil's sonic field isn't plump with bass sounds and came across
as being particularly trebly when issuing from the small PA setup.
Even so, by making their set compacted and bright, the pair still delivered
a sharply focused sequence of pieces, kept to short tune-length, as on the album.
When viewed in the flesh, it was easier to attach sounds to guitar and keyboard,
with Eisenbeil less abstract and more rooted in obvious string activities. Hamilton
would flash fingers across his knobs and keys, aiming for sheer disembodied
electro-chatter, often percussively insectoid in nature. A location lying somewhere
in between a church and a bar would have been best, but this naturally intimate
music still fared well due to the sheer resourcefulness of the players. - Martin
Longley, All About Jazz
A penchant for virtual grimacing, the indomitable tendency to irrepressible dissonance,
the now-scientific-now-burlesque approach to improvisation are just three amidst
the thousands of different facets contained by Shadow Machine, first recorded
collaboration of Tom Hamilton (Nord Modular analogue synthesizer) and Bruce Eisenbeil
(guitar). The enterprise works great - and not surprisingly, despite the practically
opposite artistic backgrounds. What links this odd couple is the insightful searching
for the right balance between discordance (also to be intended as fearless
abandoning of well-trodden paths) and intuition-driven surprise in scarcely
familiar acoustic territories.
Hamilton has forever been interested in analyzing how parallel combinations
of unpredictable sounds behave in a predefined environment, his music often
perilously nearing the borders of incomprehensibility but still typified by
a perspicacious audaciousness which distinguishes the seriousness of those experiments
from the mass of wannabes running Max/MSP without knowing what a composition
actually is. Eisenbeil is the archetypal no-barrier guitarist, a man who designs
apparently abstruse new theories and applications of instrumental techniques
that instead reveal the seeds of a superior musical intelligence. One does not
collaborate with people such as Cecil Taylor or Evan Parker for nothing.
The respective personalities might be separated by the obvious timbral differences,
yet the resulting fusion is totally unproblematic. Although theres not
a single consonant moment to be found in the entire disc, the rationality behind
these abstract figurations is enough to prevent discomfort, the musicians following
their instinctive propensity to the disaggregation of conventional harmonic
codes while establishing a series of regenerative, if barely stable patterns
informed by a firm willingness to remain interconnected.
A lesson in maturity, shared suggestions and immediate responsiveness at the
basis of an interaction whose value is directly proportional to its compactness,
innumerable deviations and refractions notwithstanding. A courageous effort,
worth of your utmost attention. - Touching
Detached from the not-so-tender blandishments and showy gimmickry of pop music,
the synthesizer can be a highly pliable improvisational tool in the right hands
as these superlative duo sessions demonstrate.
Like any instrument used by a particular musician, its the individuality
of the performer that angles sound towards the unexpected. Plus the autonomy
implicit in Free Improv means that the synthesizer players here use their machines
differently. New York-based Tom Hamiltons program on Shadow Machine is
more spatial, while Kölns Thomas Lehns improvising on Lausanne
is more spectral.
Someone whose interests include sound installation and multi-media, Hamiltons
disc captures his ongoing playing situation with New York jazz guitarist Bruce
Eisenbeil, usually found in pure improv situations. On the other hand Lehn,
who began his career as a jazz pianist developed his individual approach to
the synth with collaborators ranging from drummer Roget Turner to sound-singer
Phil Minton. Part of the coterie of present-day reed explorers, Lucerne-based
tenor and soprano saxophonist Urs Leimgruber has exposed the unexpected contours
of his instrument(s) in many situations including those with bassist Joëlle
Léandre and pianist Jacques Demierre.
On Shadow Machine, Eisenbeils angled and flanged twangs often accumulate
into banjo-like abrasions as they face Hamiltons burbling concentric signals.
Or the guitarists scrubbed chording and string-tapping become wrenchingly
staccato as synthesizer pulses radiate microtonal notes that finally coalesce
into high-pitched room-filling drones. A track such as Little Left on
the Left, for instance, suggests musicological rather than political commentary,
with the dualism of the title reflected in parallel narrative strategies from
both men. String plucks seem to enter the sound field from two different loci
with the eventually isolated licks from Eisenbeil sharply outlined as Hamiltons
patched-in splays diffuse and broaden into near-organ-like slurs.
Alternately moving crab-like across the strings with slurred fingering on the
sardonically titled Mars Fell on Alabama no sign of a contrafact
here Eisenbeils shifting harmonies match Hamiltons swelling
and contracting oscillated buzzes until the timbres are virtually indistinguishable
from one another..
Adagio mitosis such as this is even more prominent between Leimgruber and Lehn,
who have worked together in other circumstances. Many times on the five tracks,
particular timbres or tones will advance, waver and be resolved in different
pitches and speeds almost before you can figure out which was actually produced
by a saxophone reed rather than the synthesizers innards, and vice versa.
Luckily there is no way a synthesizer can produce a tongue slap or a reed bite
or a saxophone can mix signals or patch mechanized drones into an improvisation.
Still, even such common tropes as twittering or percussive impulses arrive from
either side; as do timbres you could swear are patched into the improvisation
but are as often acoustic as electronic
Still a track like Quatre is more problematic. Its initial echoing
glissandi is eventually defined as being from Leimgrubers reed
that is once it constricts into a single vibrated node that is barely breathed
by the saxophonist. On the other hand, the blurry growling thumps and squeaks
that can be attributed to ring-modulator manipulation must come from the synth.
Similarly Deux only resolves the conundrum when you note that since
the saxophonist is already producing irregular vibrations, doits and cries from
within his horns body tube, then the bird-like chirping and chalk-against-the-blackboard
squeaks must be from the synthesizer.
Liquid and looped, Lehns ramping reverberations and voltage crackles
set up a proper backing to Leimgrubers staccato and fortissimo yelps.
Following a protracted path of silence, the interface is redefined once again
with barely there ghost-note patterns from Leimgruber and shattering synthesized
timbre crackling from Lehn. Finally both tones fade into stasis.
With the two players from the Old World and the two from the New World all
operating at top form, there is no winner in this synthesizer-plus match up.
Choosing one over the other is, like this improvising, completely personal.
- Ken Waxman, Jazz Word
Noise, unusual timbre, texture, duration and percussives...these are some of the
key elements in Tom Hamilton's (electronics) and Bruce Eisenbeil's (guitar) duo
set Shadow Machine (Pogus 21051-2). I reviewed Maestro Eisenbeil's 1999
CIMP recording Mural some time ago (see posting for March 23, 2011). The
2008 duo we look at here shows a definite movement into more abstract territory.
In part it is organic movement and in part it is a logical, creative counterpart
to the sound and timbre-oriented electronics conjured by Tom Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton
puts together soundscape symphonics of a noisy, ambient and well developed nature.
Bruce responds with post-Derek Bailey virtuoso guitar avantics. He impresses with
his well executed, fully controlled coaxing of unusual sounds and interesting
noting. He sounds harmonics in abstracted clusters, plays below the bridge, mutes
the strings and gets various electronically enhanced swoops and dives in a full
spectrum of exotic electric guitar possibilities. It's some of the best avant
guitar improvisational forays I've heard.
What's especially striking is the two-way Hamilton-Eisenbeil interactions and
how they are both double solos and double accompaniments at the same time. They
cover much aural ground in fascinating ways and with such deliberation that
there is nothing that sounds tentative or experimental. The vocabularies are
full and the musical conversations filled with impact.
It's the sort of "free" music that relates palpably to cutting-edge classical
avant, yet has the sort of x follows y intensity of jazz.
It may be a sleeper, but it's a winner, start to finish. Highly recommended.
- Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate
Guitar and Bass