Saturday 29th October

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Tonight a CD from a duo I haven’t come across before, MAR8RAM is the slightly clumsy group name of percussionist and drummer Bill Marconi and Wynan Brantley, a musician whose press release suggests he plays a lot of instruments in a variety of ways, including “software based instrumental environments” but here can be found improvising with laptop, electronics and electric guitar. The album is titled Antemeridian and was recorded live on a Princeton University radio show. All throughout the release’s packaging and press material there is a hint of academia present, but fortunately the music itself shows no sign of any such unwieldiness. Antemeridian is a long album, the nine tracks easily totalling more than seventy minutes (just how much time do these US radio shows have to spare?).

The album follows a consistent vein throughout, with Marconi rubbing and bowing and scraping assorted drum heads, metal percussion and the like, but also striking them quite often, and from time to time even finding very slow repetitive structures. I use the term repetitive rather than rhythmic carefully, as only occasionally does any sense of  propulsion appear, (usually to the detriment of my enjoyment of the album) though more loose continuous patterns do often rise to the top. Alongside this Brantley lets a basically continuous stream of processed samples blur past, perhaps involving some treated samples of Marconi’s playing in there, but with a wide variety of sounds to be heard, often filtered to a state of murky, almost featureless anonymity, but sometimes bursting forward in more recognisable style, such as the wind chime like sounds heard in the sixth track. The music does not really ever liquids enough to be called a drone however, the details remain present throughout and things shift and change often while they remain continuous, but the overall sensation is not dissimilar to what I imagine you may hear walking through a working factory- constant activity all from a vaguely similar category of sounds while still sounding different from machine to machine. Silence never really appears.

MAR8RAM then seem to use this sensation of flow and continuity to build their music. In places it all reminds me of a group like Organum, all bowing and scraping and vaguely familiar sounds tinted with a faintly industrial feel, but elsewhere something like Autechre occurs to me, not so much directly but more as if these recordings consisted of the cast-off remnants of sounds used for another, more regularly rhythmic purpose. There are moments in there that suggest blurred TV or radio recordings, others that sound like digital synthesis, others that could be instrumental recordings granulated to the point of no return. In short, while everything feels blended and mashed into a similar state, there are a lot of different ingredients in there.

Overall this is an OK listen. Its a bit long to hold my attention for its entire duration, particularly as the ninth and longest piece here is the one that veers furthest towards some kind of industrial drum’n bass with Marconi fluttering drums all over Brantley’s relentless stream of grungy sounds. Throughout the disc there are some nice moments, and the degree of skill involved, both from Marconi’s drumming, which has a light-of-touch feel about it, to Brantley’s ability to keep conjuring up new areas of sound on his laptop is impressive. What is missing however is a clear sense of structure to the pieces. Of course they are improvisations, and they go where they want to go, but each of them seems to end as they began, and do not change all that much in between, and for the most part, the epic drum parts of the last piece notwithstanding, the music tends to retain a static dynamic range throughout. The music works on a laminal basis, its interest coming from how the different acoustic and electronic sounds pile up together, but more of a narrative to it all, a sense of breathing space, some dramatic cuts or inserted silences would have upped the interest value for me personally. Still, some interesting music and its always nice to discover new names. I can’t quite tell if Antemeridan is self-released or has come out on a label, but, quite unusually for the kind of music I write about here, it seems to be available from Amazon.

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