Thursday, January 14, 2021

Eris 136199's "Peculiar Velocities"

Woke up today and looked on social media. Was surprised to see photos of sleeping National Guard soldiers sprawled al over the floors of the US Capitol building. I shouldn't have been surprised: GIs can sleep anywhere. While I'm hoping that this batch don't have to use their weapons, I'm glad they are where they are. 

It's been a week now since a lynch mob incited by the electorally defeated president of the United States -- now the second holder of that office in history to be impeached twice -- invaded the Capitol during a joint session of Congress in an attempt to overturn the results of that election. They attacked with murderous intent, killing a police officer and injuring dozens more. Several members of the mob also died, one shot by police. The members of Congress barely escaped, but were back in session hours later, fulfilling their Constitutional duty to certify the election result. It was, among other things, the largest incidence of racist voter  suppression ever carried out in a nation that has a long history of such. There is much still to be learned about this, but 160 people have already been charged for their part in the riot.

It's been hard to focus lately. Besides the political turbulence, Covid-19 is still with us. (I'm hoping to get the call to come take my first vaccination soon.) At a time like this, writing about music seems silly. Everything's online now for people to listen to and decide for themselves whether it's worth their lucre. I've barely read anybody else's music scrawl for years. (Current exceptions: Alex Ross, whose Wagner book I need to get, and Ethan Iverson.) But I write about stuff reflexively, like a nervous tic, as a way of trying to understand it. And if I dig it, and I can pull your coat to it, why not share the enjoyment? And then, surprise, a slim cardboard mailer with this CD in it arrived from distant shores. After this lengthy throat-clearing, I'll try and describe it.

To my earlier point about everything being available digitally, I'll add the caveat that I'm a 20th century guy: I'm still infatuated with the Romance of the Artifact -- inasmuch as a record collector friend of mine shared that he's been thinking about how acquisitiveness and colonialism are related; are we more introspective because of the pandemic, or just because we're old? I like looking at artwork on a three dimensional package, not a screen. I like reading liner notes in a format where I don't have to squint and pump up the magnification -- and as it happens, Peculiar Velocities has notes that are laid out in a way that reflects the creative process of the music contained in the 1's and 0's on this shiny silver disc. So when the opportunity arose to contribute to the Kickstarter that Eris 136199 prime mover Han-earl Park had set up to fund the production of this CD, I jumped on it.

Park and Nick Didkovsky share a fascination with the sonic possibilities of both electric guitars and technology -- Park as builder of cyborg musicians, Didkovsky as creator of music software -- but their approaches couldn't be more different. Park's playing is about the physicality of the instrument. He uses a heavy attack to strike, pluck, and scrape the strings, damping and muting to maximize the guitar's percussive potential, occasionally eliciting chiming harmonics, then using electronics to distort and distend the sounds so they slither and spatter like radio interference, shimmer like molten silver, or ring like a cymbal's decay. At times it seems as though under his touch, the spirit of electricity becomes a living thing. 

Like all great rock guitarists, Didkovsky is concerned with tone and texture as well as note production, and he and saxophonist Catherine Sikora -- the melodic wildcard here -- do an exemplary job of listening to each other and playing in complementary sound fields. In fact, all three musicians sound like they are continually listening to and interpreting each other's statements before responding -- the best type of musical conversation, abstract and oblique as it might be at times. Sikora's tenor has a warm, dark, earthy quality that grounds the guitars lest they take off into the cosmos. I've listened to this thing a half dozen times since I started writing yesterday, and am happy to have its company to help me get through what looks like it's going to be a very tough winter...and the hopeful spring to follow.


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