Keith Rowe

Weather Sky

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At the time of this session, Keith Rowe, as a member of AMM and on his own, had been recording for some 35 years at the absolute vanguard of improvised music. His ability to continue to find fertile, unexplored ground is nothing short of astonishing. Teaming with Toshimaru Nakamura, a leading member of the Japanese onkyo scene who performs on a no-input mixing board, he once again produces an album of supremely creative and beautiful music unlike the conception of anyone else. Nakamura tends to provide extended drone-like sounds, varying in frequency from ultra-high to subsonic but always consisting of a layered, remarkably subtle number of elements. At first blush, the listener may hear only one dominant aspect, but a closer aural inspection inevitably uncovers at least one if not several more strata. It's rather like looking at an everyday stone, seeing only gray at first, then looking closer and discovering a universe of shapes and colors. Rowe almost seems to take Nakamura's sounds as the general ambience in which he's working and proceeds to offer discreet accents, suggestions of molding, and insightful commentary from his prepared guitar. It's a testament to his ongoing search for new conceptions that little of what he contributes here even sounds Roweian; indeed, it's often difficult to tell who is doing what, so seamlessly interwoven are the improvisations. The first piece is, in a surface sense, narrowly constrained, with a sustained (if infinitely varied) drone throughout, occasionally interrupted by eerie squiggles of noise. It's unrelenting at the same time as it's luxurious, bathing the listener in complexities of sound, and is as fine and wondrous, arguably, as anything produced by AMM. The relatively brief second track, with it's almost tonal drone, functions as a respite between the two longer, more demanding improvisations, but is delightful in and of itself. It serves, in this heady context, as kind of a pop song, though it's light years removed from that genre. The final improvisation returns to the general territory of the first, though with a more darkly hued drone. Rowe somehow supplies what sounds for all the world like an ultra-quiet cello continuo underneath, providing an urgency and anticipation that's palpable. A rumbling, throbbing tone predominates, surrounded by a cloud of high-pitched whistles, like a generator in a haze of oil and steam. When it finally subsides with an irritated buzz, the absorbed listener awakens into a world where the sounds of modern life may never be heard exactly the same way again. Weather Sky is a signal document of electronic improvisation at the turn of the century and sets a standard that may well last for the foreseeable future. No one interested in the state of contemporary creative music should be without this disc.

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