THE ELKSThis Is Not The Ant
PHYSICAL | CD
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Dammit, those Elks are exploiting their instruments for no good again. While Marta and Billy seem to have gotten it all wrong regarding their very strange collection of machinery, it's just a careless abuse how Liz and Kai handle their horns. Perhaps from the experimental music scenes of Berlin and Vienna one might expect a rather reduced and elegant sound world, but these Elks have some other ideas in store, and don’t mind to get their antlers a little dirty. There is no fear here of the loud, the dramatic, or on occasion, some boorish braying (though they may still tip-toe gently on their hooves or whistle a delightful tune to mock some clueless humans.) BEWARE, “This Is Not The Ant” will take you to the sound areas you chose to keep away from.
Marta Zapparoli has recently become one of the most interesting musicians working with radical technology and tape machines, employing a wide range of techniques and equipment in her work. She builds strongly narrative, imaginative sonic pieces through improvisation with real-time tape manipulation. Besides solo work, projects include duos with Alessandra Eramo and Emilio Gordoa, PXPRD with Martin Kuentz, TOWA with Julie Rousse, ZAPPAROISZ with Billy Roisz, PAREIDOLIA with Liz Allbee, and CIRCUIT TRAINING. Additionally, she plays in Splitter Orchester - their Creative Construction Set™ was her first release on Mikroton.
Billy Roisz, from Vienna, is an audiovisual and music artist who has been manipulating her video in various formations since 2000. She is a co-founder and member of NTSC / RISC (with dieb13), AVVA (with Toshimaru Nakamura), Skylla (with Silvia Fässler) an Ona (with Ilpo Väisänen). She works with video feedback and audiovisual interactivity exploring the ways sound and image coalesce to form a sprawling experience. That is her fourth release on Mikroton, following Scuba (with dieb13, Burkhard Stangl, and Angélica Castelló), Feedback: Order From Noise, and Borderland (with Angélica Castelló).
Kai Fagaschinski has leapt to prominence in the improv world over the 10 years, with well-received duo projects such as Los Glissandinos (w/Klaus Filip), The International Nothing (w/Michael Thieke) and Kommando Raumschiff Zitrone (w/Kurzmann). His self-taught command of the clarinet is both subtly lyrical and thoroughly modern. This is his third Mikroton release, following 2012’s stunning album by Here Comes The Sun trio, and Creative Construction Set™ by Splitter Orchester.
Liz Allbee is a composer-performer who works with the Imaginarchic potential of sonic material. Recurring themes in her work include extensions & embodiments and their interplay with instruments, everyday objects, and high and low technologies. Besides solo, other projects include Ganzfeld (with Sukandar Kartadinata), The Liz (with Liz Kosack and Korhan ‘Liz’ Erel), Pareidolia (Zapparoli), and Splitter. This is her third release following her contribution to Echtzeitmusik Berlin compilation in 2012 and Creative Construction Set™ by Splitter Orchester.
Does humor belong in music? More tellingly, does humor belong in electroacoustic improvisation? If you name your collective The Elks and your group photo for the inner CD gatefold paints you as refugees from a Black Oak Arkansas revival, then I guess the answer is yes. The interior collage is a real hoot — enthusiasts of both EAI and electronic music in general haven't seen anything like this since cut'n'paste techno-pranksters Rancho Relaxo Allstars mucked about the Disko B stable. The album title also revels in a sort of hysterical perplexity. What is the meaning here? The four tracks contained within this record's fairly concise duration (just over a half-hour running time) surely scrapple about far more luxuriously than even the most industrious insect, and the attendant noises, rattles, bleets, and blurts suggest an army of loose-limbed critters, so perhaps the title is a realistic analog to the music. If not, well, then the joke might very well be on us.
It wouldn't be germane to the aural plotline to classify The Elks as your typical EAI japesters. Clarinettist Kai Fagaschinski has amassed quite the dossier, appearing on a large number of dates across the improvisational/avant spectrum, as has bassist and electronics player Billy Roisz, who's done solid work with the remarkable digital-daytripper outfit Efzeg. Marta Zapparoli, who acquits herself quite demonstrably here, is The Elks's resident dadaist, bringing her broad collection of sounds to the table via a wide manipulation of tapes, tape machines, and various other sundry devices. And Liz Allbee completes the 'horn section' thanks to her errant trumpet spittle and splatter, the outgrowth of which is subtly altered through any number of discrete 'preparations' (as the digipak's back cover notes). Much confrontational affect, fire-stoking deliberation, and plain old exploration is brought to bear by this engaging quartet, a mischievousness that's on full display.
Sorry, though — japesters these characters sure as hell ain't. The Elks are drop-dead serious, but their tongues are soldered firmly in cheek, regardless. "Gremlins in Space" works a slow-burning miasma of hard drive hum pelted by stinging acid rain and the staccato breath-burps traded between Allbee and Fagaschinski. The fourteen-minute "Noise for Slugs" finds the foursome getting their hands oily thanks to a preponderance of expelled valve gas, slippery silicon leakage, and exposure to the kinds of glitched-out digital effluvium beloved by the likes of the old Mego crew, or Musica Elettronica Viva in a particularly randy mood. "Oceanic Bathtub" would have you luxuriate in its 50s sci-fi faux theremins and Forbidden Planet-birthed moodstates while your psyche shucks off this mortal coil, while the closing "Scuba Diving Elephants" recasts the last 15 years of EAI with breathtaking sweep, weird as all get out, content with letting the sounds themselves dictate the finale irrespective of the players. It's as if a new sonic playing field opened up in the digital ether, self-sustaining, self-replicating, experimental music's singularity writ large.
All chuckles, guffaws, and smirks aside — this is brilliant stuff.
Of the quartet The Elks I heard a while ago for the first time (Vital Weekly 1083), here they return. We have here Liz Allbee (trumpet, preparations), Kai Fagaschinski (clarinet), Billy Roisz (electronics, e-bass) and Marta Zapparoli (tapes, reel-to-reel tape machine, devices), and they recorded the material on this release already in April 2014. All four players have an extensive background in improvisation, impromptu playing and in groups that have been around for some time. Their previous release came as pleasant surprise as I expected something quiet and introspective, but it was altogether louder and noisier than anticipated. What I have to keep in mind also is that on this CD the recordings are older than on the cassette I reviewed some twenty weeks ago, and perhaps that is the reason this seems the kind of thing I expected back then; the careful and introspective playing. I am not sure how these four people are playing together as The Elks (to which I should add [sic], as the plural of ‘elk’ is ‘elk’), but maybe these are the earliest recordings of this band? Unlike Vrba and Mayer this is however not exclusively about some very quiet music and sounds as there is much to enjoy, using a volume that is a bit louder altogether, even with a touch of noise (in ‘Noise For Slugs’). That is not to say this all very traditional improvised music as there are elements that are a bit ‘odd’, to say the least. Things like a beat of something, the heavy synth like sounds of ‘Oceanie Bathtub’, which adds a psychedelic flavour to the music; repeating sounds is something they seem to like as it is happening on a few more places, and makes this a very varied dish of musical interests. Composed, improvised: all of these lines are blurred here and it makes up for some truly wonderful music. Hearing is believing.