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Tom Hamilton / Bruce Eisenbeil - Shadow Machine (Downtown Music Gallery)

Annea Lockwood - Thousand Year Dreaming/floating world"TOM 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 (Pogus Prod.)

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 banjo resonance.
"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 there’s 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 Extremes

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, it’s 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 Hamilton’s program on Shadow Machine is more spatial, while Köln’s Thomas Lehn’s improvising on Lausanne is more spectral.

Someone whose interests include sound installation and multi-media, Hamilton’s 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, Eisenbeil’s angled and flanged twangs often accumulate into banjo-like abrasions as they face Hamilton’s burbling concentric signals. Or the guitarist’s 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 Hamilton’s 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 – Eisenbeil’s shifting harmonies match Hamilton’s 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 synthesizer’s 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 Leimgruber’s 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 horn’s body tube, then the bird-like chirping and chalk-against-the-blackboard squeaks must be from the synthesizer.

Liquid and looped, Lehn’s ramping reverberations and voltage crackles set up a proper backing to Leimgruber’s 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

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