Music Reviews

Artist: Three Free Radicals (@)
Title: Travelogue
Format: CD
Label: Improtest Records (@)
Rated: *****
Minnesota-based composer and live-electronics performer Scott L. Miller and Estonian guitarist Mart Soo return as "Three Free Radicals" with their second collection of free improvisations. Their collaboration continues at a distance but the fertile avant garde improvisation scene in Tallinn makes Miller’s every visit an intensely creative journey that ends in a recording studio. This newest release on Improtest Records features Mart Soo’s fluid lyrical guitar style layered over his looped and fractured extended guitar techniques which are simultaneously feeding Miller’s Kyma system for additional digital signal tune-ups.

All of the above is one-sheet provided description. So what is Kyma system (you may ask)? It's a sophisticated sound design environment relying on complex algorithms used by heavyweight music producers most notably in the film and game industries, and also by certain music pros in live performance. It's not cheap but if you're looking for real sonic adventure, it's the thing to use these days. While I can't specifically pick out passages on 'Travelogue' and say, "ah yes, that's Kyma," overall this work does have a certain ambience to it that is different than other avant-garde guitar/electronics combos that I've run across previously. If you are expecting some kind of all-encompassing cinematic environments though, get that out of your head, because these guys aren't trodding that path.

Comprised of seven pieces, 'Travelogue' begins with the guitar-plinky "Roundabout," where Soo fusses and fidgets on the strings over a plucky guitar rhythm while sustained electronic drones play in the background. "The Flaneur" relies on controlled echo of varying types juxtaposing one against the other all using guitar as the basis. It sounds rather clockwork in its own fashion. "Passing Turbulence" begins placidly enough with sporadic guitar figures and ambient electronics but eventually wells up into something a bit more sinister. Anyone who has ever traveled by air has probably had their own "Departure Lounge Fantasy," but this one is a bit on the ominous side with fretfully foreboding squalls and wails emanating from Soo's guitar. If you like old school electronics, you will probably enjoy "Weekend Casino Junket" for it's looped electronics sequence if nothing else. Over that Soo's guitar creates long, sustained ambient drones. There's a bit more to it than that, but you'll just have to hear it. I don't know how "Suburban Tourist" got its title; free improv guitar over a monotonous rhythm that subtly shifts might make you think of something a bit more cerebral. With "Perambulation" we're back to another old school synth loop, this time with some digital distortion thrown in for good measure. Lots of dissonanc3e and not my favorite track on the album. It ends fittingly with "Passage Home," a predominantly placid number that employs sparse, simple but effectively creepy sounds that indicate all is not exactly as it seems.

The enigmatic nature of this work is bound to leave some scratching their heads wondering what it all means. Truth be told, I'm a little perplexed myself, although there were tracks I definitely enjoyed. You might just have to put aside your preconceptions in order to really enjoy this, but taken in the spirit of avant-garde improvisation, it works well more often than not.

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