Brutter: Reveal and Rise

Phonophani: Animal Imagination

In all likelihood, little if anything in the Wallumrød siblings' discographies is remotely similar to the so-called ‘anti-techno' they produce under the Brutter name. Christian, a pianist, and his drummer brother Fredrik are highly regarded composers and instrumentalists who've made countless appearances over the past two decades on labels such as Hubro, Rune Grammofon, and ECM, in Christian's case as a solo artist and leader of the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble and in Fredrik's with Susanna, Squid, and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra.

Said credentials aside, Reveal and Rise has more in common with the experimentalism of an electronic group like Lithops, Jan St. Werner's Mouse On Mars side-project, than anything Norwegian jazz-related. With the Wallumrøds operating drum machines, synths, and electronics, the material amounts to a playful deconstruction of standard rhythm practice that, in its emphasis on fractured rhythms, ends up ironically being a strangely neo-funky body music of its own idiosyncratic kind. In a context where “all notes are equal,” sound elements are liberated in Brutter's world from the constraints of standard musical practice.

It's perhaps overstating it, however, to suggest that Reveal and Rise eschews conventional musical practice altogether. The opening track, “Easier Listening,” for example, grounds itself solidly in a creeping 4/4 groove, even if one given an industrial-electronic character when bleeps and convulsions batter the pulse throughout its two minutes and forty-six seconds. “Mi Tek No” likewise convulses, though in this case in a slow-motion lurch built up from an array of stuttering clanks and seemingly wayward rumblings; wails by diseased life-forms surface as the material wends its sickly way, the track somehow managing to avoid expiration during its six-minute run. With many a track unspooling at a deathly crawl, “Hide and Sink” stands out for the energized aggressiveness of its bruising, neo-funk attack.

Allusions, however twisted, to techno often emerge, but other genres are referenced, too. Dub shadows “Your House,” for instance, in the repeated use of echo, though such treatments end up amplifying the material's spacey alien qualities more than suggest kinship with anything King Tubby created. It's probably safe to say that when the history of the Wallumrøds is one day written, Brutter will be looked upon as an unusual side-project that provided the brothers with an outlet for their more experimental sides, interests that might not have been able to be indulged in the other group settings with which they were involved.

Look no further than Espen Sommer Eide himself for one of several possible ways into his latest Phonophani opus, the first since 2010's Kreken. On the release's inner sleeve, he states: “I started hammering the keyboard with my paws, the sound rushing past me like wind while running. There was no composition or reasoning, just the beating of blood in my ears. I was finally making music like a dog.” Animal Imagination, it would appear, is Eide's attempt to access some pre-conscious inner realm to beget material one might label digital primitivism. Even that term's problematical in suggesting music of elemental crudity; while Animal Imagination is sometimes raw, it's also markedly advanced in the way it pushes beyond the familiar into dramatically adventurous zones.

Every one of its eleven tracks captivates with bold gestures and unusual sound design, the album an obsessive, unpredictable, and unstable beast, one that throws caution to the wind for a music that's weird, strange, and, more often than not, transfixing. Close inspection reveals occasional traces of ambient, techno, and electronica (the smudged techno of “Firmamental” might have some listeners thinking of the glory days of Basic Channel, Chain Reaction, and early Oval, whereas “I have no subconscious” draws on the tropes of serene ambient soundscaping), but by and large the disorienting swirl Eide generates prevents the tracks from being simplistically tied to any one genre. The music shocks with the novelty of its cubistic expression in a way that invites comparison to the tremors created when Picasso unveiled his Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in 1907.

Imagine recordings of helicopter blades, insect swarms, and melodic fragments processed into some multi-dimensional collage and you'll have some idea of how “Sunrise at Bear Island” sounds. As trippy, “Untime me” merges the warped voice of Mari Kvien Brunvoll with smears and convulsions of shimmering electronic noise to generate an entrancing three-minute exercise in consciousness expansion. A relentless ten-minute barrage, the title track resembles what might result from the sped-up blending of close-mic'ed train clatter with high-intensity surges of white noise and violent string plucks, all of it cued to a seeming breaking point. Some of the music's alien character can be traced to the instruments used to produce it—Eide apparently invents his own instruments and customizes his own software—but Animal Imagination's alien nature ultimately has more to do with the sensibility of its creator than the gear used to produce it.

July 2017