Music Reviews

Artist: Pękala | Kordylasińska | Pękala
Title: Werke für Schlagzeug und elektroakustische Geräte
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Gagarin Records
This album, translating as “Works for Percussion and Electro-Acoustic Devices”, comprises six pieces- one original, and five reworks of pieces by Frank Zappa, Thymme Jones, Steve Reich, and two parts by Felix Kubin.

All of this is transposed into the sonic framework of percussionist duo Milosz Pkala and Magda Kordylasiska. (Why Pkala gets two mentions in the artist name is not made clear.) This is a small, tightly recorded blend of sounds mixing traditional percussion instruments like marimbas and vibraphones with short-waveform found sounds and extremely short digital noises, with the latter tailing off substantially in the second half. While the fashion nowadays seems to be liberal use of reverb and recording in the largest open space you can find, there’s a very close and intimate tone to this studio recording, and that works in its favour.

“Renaissance Gameboy” has a very quirky electronic production that’s got a slapstick sense of humour and a strong love of 8-bit chiptune-style noises. It’s nigh-on daft but loveable, blurring or completely ignoring any line between bedroom programmer’s novelty chiptune and ‘proper’ avantgarde art-music. Fans of the sillier side of Planet Mu or Venetian Snares should lap this up.

The interpretation of Zappa’s challenging “Black Page #1”, complex rhythm patterns played on everyday objects underpinned by the steady sound of a dripping tap, is impressive to the extent that I can’t fathom how any of it would have been performed live. Originally a drum solo, this is a frantic collection of found sounds.

Thymme Jones’ “Smells Like Victory” is a substantial gearshift. This is a percussionist duo’s album, yet for over four of these eight minutes, the percussion is gone, tangibly at least, replaced by a windy, ominous drone, and heavily processed tones that may once have been cymbals, washing like waves. Rather abruptly it jumps into a much more understandable marimba-led piece that, if I’m being honest, reminds me of school A-level music composition. Things are suddenly much more traditional, and the end of this track almost serves as a prelude into the Reich piece.

Steve Reich’s “Vermont Counterpoint” re-arranged for vibraphones and glockenspiels (with the electronics seemingly given a day off) is as mesmerically repetitive and hypnotic as you would expect. The super-long sustain of the vibrating metal builds and builds into a wall of pure complimentary tones, like the finest music box, scaled up- even more so once there’s a notable upping of tempo before the six minute mark. It’s a sound you’ll have heard before, but it’s still deeply pretty.

The self-penned “Modular #1” takes a fast-repeating glitchy tone generated by a modular synthesizer, which frankly sounds like a tiny robot with a broken motor, and uses it as a bed for a percussive duet that gradually gets more busy, until before long the base note is inaudible and we are back in ‘classic percussion solo’ territory to the end.

The CD includes a bonus track not included in this promo, without which at 36 minutes this is a succinct little package but still diverse. The first half goes to show that an album can be avantgarde and still raise a smile, while the second half has the looping-pattern form of percussive pieces that fit the label ‘traditional’ better than the label ‘experimental’, serious percussionists with their straight faces on. As a package it certainly works though.

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