Oakland experimentalist Gregg Kowalsky named his terrific new album, Tape Chants (Kranky), after an elaborate live sound project where he “played” several mono tape machines arranged around a room. The recording makes no attempt to capture the spatial effects produced by that setup, but it’s still rich and engrossing: Kowalsky manipulates tape speed, volume, and other variables, creating mutable mixes of the droning, resonant source material on each tape: piano, analog synthesizer, contact mikes, motors, sine-wave oscillators, gongs, water, glass, electronics.
Kowalsky used to work in the digital domain but liked the challenge that analog’s limitations presented; in recent years he’s given a number of similar performances, using six to ten machines.
The music on Tape Chants ranges from warm, enveloping hums to tactile crackling to vibrato-heavy washes–the original source of a sound is only occasionally identifiable–but beneath the ambient murk and glow are fractured melodic patterns and a wide range of shifting densities and colors. Because Kowalsky mixes various components in and out of the pieces with such care, the drones and soundscapes never become static or dull.
Considering how good the album is with only two stereo channels, I’m sure the live experience of the project–with tape machines all over the room–will be extraordinary. Kowalsky shares a bill with Ben Bracken and Brent Gutzeit tonight at Enemy.
Beth Carvalho, Andança (Odeon, Brazil)
Albert Mangelsdorff, Solo (MPS)
Ronnie McNeir, Ronnie McNeir (RCA/Dusty Groove)
Stan Getz, At the Shrine (Verve)
Group Inerane, Guitars From Agadez (Sublime Frequencies)