CD Reviews

Joe Panzner, Greg Stuart – Dystonia Duos

May 26, 2013


The first release on Jon Abbey’s new offshoot of his Erstwhile label then, a new imprint that seeks to be somewhat mysterious about its identity and intentions. We are meant, I guess, to ponder over the cryptic meaning of the label’s acronym name, AMM style. Slightly more peculiar to me, is the decision that appears to have been made to only include American musicians (some home-based and some ex-pat) on the new imprint, or at least on the first nine releases anyway. I’m not really sure what is to be gained or sought to be achieved through including/excluding musicians because of their nationality, but that would appear to be the case here. All the same, the policy has thrown up some intriguing combinations of mostly younger musicians, and this disc, the coupling of the electronics and laptop musician Joe Panzner and the percussionist Greg Stuart produces a fine set of three tracks. Stuart is best known for his work with Michael Pisaro. His highly crafted, percussion work has generally speaking focussed on painstakingly detailed masses of tiny sounds that build together into usually neatly composed arrangements. His link to Pisaro, and therefore the Wandelweiser collective tends to see him considered a quiet musician, but actually listening with open ears to his work with the composer reveals anything but, and this duo with Panzner, whose Clearing, Polluted solo disc was one of my favourites from last year goes further to allay such perceptions. Dystonia Duos is, for a large part, a noise music disc, but its also music that resists simple classification.

However like all of the best noise music, to my ears at least, while the music on Dystonia Duos does in places follow the standard pattern of starting quietly and gradually building to a relentless cacophony, it is built from masses of detail, and here, even when the loudest moments hit, there are still holes left in the music for the streams of tiny parts that are piled together to be heard. Panzner seems (I am guessing) to provide the more digital sounding and perhaps the more harsh moments here, wrenching sheaths of processed electronic noise and squalls of feedback, but even here, in the music’s wilder realms, there is still a sense of control and placement. The three pieces were recorded in four cities, and so a degree of composition, or certainly post-production splicing has taken place, but there is certainly a strong feeling of immediacy to the music. It feels improvised even if to some degree it isn’t. So we get periods of crackling, tinkling, electroacoustic calm- all rattles and low buzzing, small things dropped on amplified surfaces, brooding electronic atmospheres, and don’t get me wrong, there a lot of these, particularly in the tense, pregnant atmospheres of Case de Pedras, the closing track, where long gauzey layers constantly threaten to erupt but never quite do. This isn’t purely a case of everything turned up to eleven by any means.  However we do also get long passages of distorted, blistering cacophony, the same details all in there, but masked by a smear of fuzziness and distortion. Listening to Dystonia Duos is like how pulling a long, messed up fax from a fax machine used to be- you can read the top lines clearly, but then things start to blur, the message gets warped and legibility is blacked out by thick smears of ink that obliterate everything.

There is a real sense of energy here, that has been cleverly preserved as the original recordings that were presumably improvised in some way  have been spliced together, thrown into a melting pot, and yet somehow still come out sounding thoroughly vibrant and alive, positively seething in places, awkwardly uncomfortable elsewhere. If perhaps Dystonis Duos doesn’t quite match the emotionally draining catharsis of Panzner’s Clearing Polluted, or the finely crafted perfection of Stuart’s work with Pisaro, it finds a neat space somewhere between the two. There is immense depth here, both sonically and I suspect also intellectually as I would say that this music, while not tightly composed has been created through a collection of collaborative processes that have set out with a particular end in mind. Thoroughly enjoyable music then, a great start to an interesting new sublabel and a rewarding opening point for a duo that could go on to do great things together.

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