Tape and Paint Game


[Split Records, www.splitrec.com]

Why is geographic location so damn important?  When I utter the name Jim Denley, is it crucial that I point out this multi-instrumentalist is from Australia?  What difference does it actually make in the larger scheme of things that this flautist/saxophonist/field recording artist comes from the land Down Under?  If you think that he's lacking duo opportunities to perform with other improvisers, then these three CDs prove otherwise. His 2004 duo with trumpet player Axel Dörner is a mesmerizing exercise in subtlety.  The sense of guttural calm is only briefly interrupted by some sort of creaking sounds that originate from the trumpet or the sax or perhaps the spittle that is left behind in the mouthpiece.  Dörner needs no introduction as he's well known for his exercises in minimal playing.  His technique of "spit as much as you possibly can" while retaining a clean sound is apparent.  Their well drawn-out tones - where both men use spittle, tongue vibrations and sounds that originate in their throats - are exemplary.  The music stands still as if it had no place in particular to go.  There is no rush or hurry to get to the destination and no apparent climax exists within these subtle tones.  Air is drawn out and the saxophone in Denley's possession sounds like a bowed out horn from outer space. Trumpet tones are equally as foreign and as excitingly fresh.  The more you listen to their sounds, the more magnetic they become.  For what it's worth, "Distinctions" is one of the most warmly alien records I'd heard in a long while.
Recorded in Melbourne and Brisbane between 2003 and 2004, "Tape and Paint Game" is a similar animal, though the approach is much harsher.  Joel Stern utilizes some electronic treatments, field recordings and feedback, all to good effect.  His use of stingy feedback and high-pitched nails-on-chalkboard has a largely loud effect.  While Denley plays some multiphonic passages on his alto, his use of field recordings is ever more awe-inspiring.  Are those crickets we're listening to on much of "Non-reflective orange hens"?  Near the end of the piece, I get a picture of a very frozen Denley playing his instrument in the tundra cold of the Antarctic region, while his musical partner uses large waves of oscillating feedback.  "Small orange horizon cake" sounds as if it were recorded in an ominous cave.  Complete with slow-spittle breaths provided by Denley and electronic treatments from Stern, the piece represents a perfect snapshot of a cold, desolate place.
By the time we get to "Findings", we're back to square one.  Peter Blamey who is credited with using the mixing desk employs found bits and pieces of sound.  His modus operandi is to procure waves of oscillating sound that is as pure as it is utterly harsh.  Forget about hearing an alto sax sound that resembles the instrument.  Denley goes out on a limb to give us a wild ride that includes tongue-popping, throat-gurgling and spit-orgy of sound - anything that is everything that doesn't resemble the alto.  At the end of the disc, you hear the two meshing collective instruments into one bucket with an interesting result.  As much as I enjoy the waves of static, the gurgling barrage of white-noise and the horror of the feedback-overload, it's their common vocabulary that is the highlight.  Even when they turn down the noise factor for a bit [as during the latter part of "Kept 3"], there is still this forceful brand of unified communal spirit.  Best part is you can't tell who's playing what!  Dual improvised freak-scene show at its finest.

- Tom Sekowski

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