Tonight the other release from late 2011 on the Erstwhile label, a duo named Face Off by Jérôme Noetinger (Revox tape machine and electronics) and Will Guthrie (drums, percussion, microphones and electronics). The album has been a bit of a tough not for me to crack. Its quality has never been in doubt to me, and every second I have spent with it as I have come back to it many times over recent weeks has been worthwhile, but its been a CD that I have found hard to engage with on the level I would really like to. I’m not really sure why, but concentration has heen hard, and it has only really been when I have switched to listening via headphones, so really focussing myself on the CD’s sounds only that I have been able to soak it up properly. It may be the lack of flow to the album, a deliberate lack of flow I should add, that has lead to this a little. The music here is made up of primarily gritty, rough, raw sounds, either thunderous attacks at Guthrie’s drums, his familiar metallic, distorted, skittering percussion or Noetinger’s streams of raw, jaggedly acute tape sounds. If the Frenchman’s history and love is in musique concrete only slight glimmers of that practice sneak in here. There are bits of spoken word in there, maybe caught on a radio, and (I think) a short grab of some running water sounds but on the whole Noetinger’s sound here lacks reference points to the outside world and inhabits a more abstract ground. The music seems to have been recorded live over a couple of studio days, but then reconstructed from this material to form the dozen short tracks included here. Much of the rapid fluctuation of concrete can be heard- things fly about careering off of each other and the overall pace is pretty fast, but the way the music has been cut up and put back together with short silences inserted and with a clinical ear for sudden juxtapositions of sounds is the clearest pointer in the concrete direction. The palette of sounds though is decidedly more feral than we normally associate with that genre.
Where Face Off becomes a real challenge to the listener is in the way it uncompromisingly doesn’t sound like the work of two musicians seeking out common ground. It doesn’t sound like improvisation. Rather it constantly feels like a rough and ready fight, a face off if you will, the sounds arranged in post production over a long period of time but without smoothing things out or rejecting any difficult material. We can then add to this the occasional tendency here to slow things down and bring brief silences to the fore, so offsetting the generally high volume that the music previously demanded to be played at. So the end result is a nervous, twitchy set of short recordings, nothing ever feeling settled, and yet with an overall target to challenge all that come before it. Things rattle for a second, then chime out, then we hear drums, unavoidably so, crashing about, undermining the stability required by a new listener to bring his/her attention to bear. The metal percussion responds well, with that same grainy, rough and ready urge in place. Face Off sounds quite familiar to Guthrie’s earlier solo works, full of energy that has been carefully built up in the music, from the vibrancy of the original improvisations to the angular, decentering way that sounds are placed beside each other in post production.
As the album progresses it feels no less raw and no less of a personal, confrontational challenge, but this isn’t music you can just let sit, its sense of vivid physicality forces you to follow every twist and turn, feel every crash of metal, every scream of tortured tape, but its not music that you can just leave to flow past. It needs a lot of concentration to get the best out of, and that isn’t always easy. Sometimes music is like that, the rewards don’t come easy and need a little work. This one is well worth spending the time with though.