Kevin Drumm – EarrachNovember 24, 2013
Over the last year or so I have purchased probably more CDs by Kevin Drumm than by any other musician. I mention this because to many of the people who have somehow had enough patience to read my thoughts on music for a number of years, this may come as a surprise. After being a huge admirer of his early work I stopped listening to Drumm’s music a good few years ago, not long after his noisy Sheer Hellish Miasma release both surprised and disappointed me somewhat, as at the time I was thoroughly entrenched in finding quieter and quieter music, pretty much at the expense of just about everything else. As age has brought with it common sense, so I have reconvened my interest with Drumm’s music, though as he now seems to release an awful lot of it, it’s hard to keep up and I find myself enjoying some parts of his vast output much more than others. Still, concerted efforts to stay apace over the last twelve months or so have seen some twenty or so releases pile up here. Earrach is one of them, a double CDr release issued, as much of his works tend to be, as a self-released, hand made edition, though they are also available as downloadable editions purchased from his Bandcamp page.
While much of Drumm’s music could be described as harsh, abrasive noise music, (SHM) and while other parts consist of bleak drones (Phantom Jerk) or near silent semi-conceptual exploration (Blast of silence) each album certainly has it’s own character, often quite different from other releases in his catalogue. Earrach is quite an individual release when compared to other Drumm works, made up as it is, from loops and fragments derived from cassette tapes. There are three tracks here. The first clocks in at a little over forty minutes and takes up all of disc one. The second contains two pieces lasting about half as long each. While certainly there is nothing quiet here, I don’t think I would describe any part of Earrach as noise music either. There is a strong sense of composerly arrangement present, but of a kind that feels lo-fi and raw. A fair number of the sounds we hear are clearly the result of slowed down or sped up tapes, but there is also a lot here that if I didn’t know of their origin, I wouldn’t have guessed it. What also isn’t completely clear to me is how the music has been sequenced and arranged into the forms we are presented with, a constantly changing, often suddenly cutting collage of strange, drunken wails, cloudy fields of distortion and gritty texture. It sounds as if the various sounds have been squeezed out of tape players tortured in various ways and then arranged on a computer, but it’s also possible, if somewhat unlikely given the huge amount of skill needed to create works of this length, that Drumm has improvised live with various tape decks and just captured his output.
So the first disc here focuses mostly on a steady stream of sound so far removed from its original state that once passed through the magnetic and physical processes of the manhandled tape players we have probably now travelled miles from the original sounds, though at one point I am sure I hear a chicken in there! There are parts that emerge often that start to feel like rhythms- little loops of sound of perhaps just general pulses in the music that seem to create a softy surging pattern, but this isn’t so much music based on loops as much as it seems to be music about the textures and mutations of sound possible through the medium of cassette tapes. The first disc is a constantly evolving, churning monster of a piece. Listening intently is a bit like trying to study every inch of a Jackson Pollock painting. There are subtle differences throughout, and its one big, strangely beautiful whole, but it possibly doesn’t warrant close listening.
The first track on the second disc is perhaps slightly different. It begins with a stream of digital-sounding squall, before slowly evolving into a murky grey murmur and then jumping abruptly elsewhere. Here though the material sounds less abstracted from its source, with elements of field recordings and faintly melodic sections finding their way onto the recipe. While never really coming too close, we seem to nudge closer to musique concréte on the second disc, which makes for a more settled, and to me more successful couplet of recordings. The second of the two actually takes on a far quieter, more episodic structure as the music stops here and there completely just as it uses barely audible sections in places. It also presents the most “recogniseable” music of all, with blurred and fractured voices and other familiar sounds very much present, and the twenty minute long track ends with a slowed down spoken word section in which someone comments that they never really liked Star Trek, so adding a touch of humour to it all. Earrach then is really good, both a mature, cleverly produced and neatly composed work that pays great respect to the textures and qualities of the sounds it includes, and also a vibrant, raw sounding surge of immediate activity of the kind we have come to expect from the modern, prolific Kevin Drumm. The pick of his recent releases..