Percussionist Ronnie Engel has taken the art of creating soundscapes and spherical sonic montages to a new level. This collection of eight pieces from hand percussion and electronic processing moves the elemental art of creating pulse and movement from rhythm and augments it into a language that contains facets of shade, color, and the illusion of "real" texture. What's real when something is aural? But it's musical language that we are talking about here and Engel has created a new syntax, forming all manner of hand drums and their distortion into a trans-linguistic continuum of dynamic and drama. While some of the pieces here are of a manageable length and offer one or at most two statements that are somewhat easy to take in, the album's centerpieces are two of its longest tracks: "Patina, Ghost and Dream" and "Plow." On the former, overlapping echo effects hover about the center of the mix where a rhythmic gong states itself. The lines bleed into one another, becoming phrases as they change tempo and syncopation becomes sentences. But all of them are illusions here because the trace effects and the slip and drag on the drums, placed there by electronic effect, change the accent all the time. Things creep to a standstill and then roll into motion again like a dream. On the latter track, deep hand drums are set far back in the mix, coaxing the listener into the dialogue, shimmering and hovering in the ether-like spirits. The "drum" in this case is an adapted banjo with amulets and rattles and comes off as a deep well, a cavernous space augmented with dancers in the distance. There is movement everywhere, but it needs to be called into the fore to be understood; meanwhile, it works on the unconscious level to distort the sense of placed rhythmic context and turn back on itself to become something other. This is a poetic record, one that some critics will be tempted to call ethno-ambient because they cannot take in the language of the drum (ancient) as it meets the drummer and his friends (technology) in a dialogue both ancient and future.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek