Keith Rowe

Keith Rowe/Burkhard Beins

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One of the dicta of AMM was to the effect that a given performance actually began several minutes before any of the musicians touched an instrument. Given this, it was surprising that they issued no recording that started with the ambient sounds of the room. That missing aspect is remedied here, albeit with only one of the original AMM members present, when the first sounds one hears are the room hum, the shuffling about of feet and the two musicians discussing how they'll start, then amusingly discovering that they've apparently already begun. This entirely relaxed yet anticipatory atmosphere, this "non-music," is a perfectly appropriate prelude to an extraordinary performance, the initial release on Erstwhile's sub-label, ErstLive, devoted to live recordings. Keith Rowe and Burkhard Beins had previously recorded as a duo on the fine Grain on Zarek but this concert (from the AMPLIFY 2004:addition Festival held jointly in Berlin and Cologne) was an entirely different animal, a violent storm of popular and war-related imagery as opposed to the edgily serene ruminations of the earlier disc. Rowe makes more extensive use of radio grabs here than ever documented elsewhere, beginning with a Canadian radio-extracted discussion of the war in Iraq. Backed by a throbbing, droning undercurrent and Beins' always-to-the-point percussion, it's a chilling displacement of context that sets the tone for the performance. Rowe secures a brief loop from the radio show which weaves its way throughout the first half of the piece, gradually distorting beyond recognition save for its rhythmic character. About midway through, just as the tension level is settling a bit, Rowe happens upon a radio broadcast of, amazingly enough, Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man," imparting to it a new political resonance in this environment, which he allows to gradually rise in the mix (far longer than he normally let such song samples go) until it's the principle element in a swarm of electronics and percussion. It's an astonishing moment, one brought to a terrifying climax when Beins assaults his instruments with what sounds like handfuls of heavy chains. The surreal intensity continues however, as Rowe manages to locate, even more absurdly, Peter Sarstedt's revoltingly sugary concoction, "Where Do You Go To, My Lovely?," as uncomfortable a song as one can imagine when placed in contrast to the war-related imagery that's gone before. It's subsumed into the general din, leading to a ferocious section where Rowe uses whammy bar effects and rapidly forwarded and reversed loops to devastating effect, eventually coalescing into a thin, disturbing drone before evaporating back into the room. Lasting less than a half-hour, the length is perfect for the material and that material is some of the very strongest ever put to disc by either musician. An often brutal, sometimes sardonically funny, exceedingly profound performance and one of Rowe's very best outside of AMM.