Musician, composer, and computer programmer Nick Didkovsky seems to have so many projects and possibilities rattling around in his cranium that his guitar-playing abilities tend to get overlooked. He uses interactive computer technology extensively in his Doctor Nerve group, and in their most recent recording, Ereia, he experimented compositionally with a combination of avant-rock band and string quartet. So this stripped-down trio album, recorded with longtime Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper and drummer John Roulat, is, in a sense, Didkovsky's equivalent of Frank Zappa's Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar series -- a chance for electric guitar enthusiasts to hear a great axeman at work in settings that are designed to bring his guitar front and center. However, Didkovsky's restless imagination would not allow him to settle into a predictable groove no matter what he was doing, so the overall effect of this recording is closer to Fred Frith-style experimentation than standard displays of fretboard dexterity. Musically, it covers a whole lot of territory, even if Didkovsky's instrumental prowess is the intended focus.
Techno-geek that he is, Didkovsky finds a way to indulge his interest in cutting-edge technology by never actually playing with his two fellow musicians on Uses Wrist Grab, but instead exchanging and assembling all 14 pieces on the CD through the use of MP3 and CD-ROM audio files. In fact, Didkovsky and Hopper have never even met, although their mutual interests and sympathies are obvious. Individual pieces of each composition are mixed and stacked in various combinations, with guitar, bass,and drum parts sometimes multi-tracked, and Didkovsky uses his electronic toys occasionally, such as his "Machinecore," which Didkovsky describes as "an interactive software instrument." Didkovsky establishes his credentials early in the program with "Foster Wives, Trophy Hair," with Hopper offering nasty fuzz bass riffs by way of support. On this piece, Didkovsky condenses almost the whole history of the electric guitar into a five-minute slab of controlled dementia, first making his instrument squeal, howl, moan and twitter like a roomful of insects, then layering on some crunchy power chords, slipping into some down 'n' dirty slide work, and moving to a lyrical interlude before ending with a flailing, heavy metal flourish. "Big Bombay" has more of a King Crimson quality to it, combining a sinuous prog rock theme with heavy metal energy. Roulat gets a solo opportunity on the multitracked "Hotel Romeo," a very tribal-sounding piece of trance percussion. The adventurous Didkovsky is not predisposed to ride the heavy metal horse (or any other musical horse) into the ground, so the 14 relatively short pieces on this CD soon move beyond feedback and whammy bar heroics, and into sinister ambience ("Jungle Rev"), delicate minimalist ("Sara's Wrist Grab"), jaunty cabaret/carnival sounds ("Green Dansette"), and even a warped rockabilly shuffle ("V-ram"). The pure percussive "Overlife, Part 1," for prepared guitar and drums, perhaps overstays its welcome by a minute or two, but it's really the only (small) downside to this very entertaining guitar extravaganza, which should hopefully introduce Didkovsky's instrumental abilities (and imagination) to a wider audience.