Since the beginning of the 21st century, electronic composer and multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi has been releasing an average of two albums per year. In this era, more than one per annum may seem like a lot, but throughout musical history, particularly in the fields of jazz and country in the '50s and '60s, it wasn't uncommon for an artist to release three or four. Ambarchi's music is far from those worlds, of course, and given the ready availability of cheap recording gear it's a wonder more artists aren't doing this. Then there's the other reason: he simply has a lot to say. No two recordings of his sound alike. They create music that walks on the unspeakable edge of displaced sound, space, and seemingly disembodied but utterly physical noise. On Spirit Transform Me, Ambarchi collaborates with the truly enigmatic percussionist and sound sculptor Z'ev who has been on the scene for over 30 years. The pair has released recordings separately on the same labels, but this outing represents their first union in sound. Ambarchi recorded numerous seemingly disparate source records and sent them digitally via file sharing networks to Z'ev in London. These were received on the first day after a hernia surgery, and Z'ev, according to the liner notes, eschewed the painkillers prescribed and went right to work. For the next three weeks he added percussion, mixing and sculpting these three pieces -- and numerous others that didn't make the cut -- into this release.
Fans of dark ambient -- we're talking Robert Rich and Lustmørd's Stalker and Nurse with Wound's more murky ambient excursions here -- will be utterly captivated by "Alef," the 15-plus-minute opening cut, where guitar drones and vibraphones are rendered unidentifiable in their soft, nearly impenetrable voidness. This is a black hole with life, a mysterious, seductive, even hypnotic excursion into tone, sonic blur, and tamed, harnessed white noise with minimal intrusion from percussive elements, except as more minutiae entering this gauzy wave whose other side is the clear light of darkness. "Bet" is its opposite, Z'ev's trash can, barrel-rumbling percussion is wrapped beat-less around controlled feedback, industrial soundscapes, and a viola somewhere. It's harsher, almost discontinuous, and erratic for the first four minutes or so, but halfway through its 16 minutes it becomes violent. Z'ev's rumbling tom toms and tympanis add a tribal rhythm to wave upon wave of feedback and scree. This is an unholy union of power electronics and unhinged percussive warfare. The final piece, "Gimel," consists of soft, ambient sounds created by sinister-sounding drones, tubular bells, and seemingly dropped-in noises atop a single, deep -- almost subsonic -- drone that lasts the entire work. What's so compelling is that it is far from static; in some ways, despite its deeply echoed sense of space and unnameable sound washes, it is so active it's almost exhausting. This is excellent work, unclassifiable really. It is accountable only to itself and its creators and sounds fresh after numerous listenings.