Greg Davis and Keith Fullerton Whitman: Yearlong

Another facet of Greg Davis's musical ability is unveiled in this collaboration with compadre Keith Fullerton Whitman (aka Hrvatski). While Davis recently issued folk tunes and Beach Boys homages on Curling Pond Woods and drones on Somnia, Yearlong is the most experimental-sounding of the three, though that's hardly surprising given its improv origins. Whitman likewise brings to the project an almost staggering history of recordings released under his own name and Hrvatski alias. And admittedly the pieces, all typically short (with one exception), sound like improvs, with the two musicians charting explorative pathways through mostly electronic thickets (album photos show them wielding guitars and one presumes an arsenal of hand percussion and other instruments found its way into the material too). Of course, the mere fact of laptop presentation enables the possibility of an infinitely vast sound field to emerge and, with its plethora of static bursts, smears, and spacey blips, the disc doesn't disappoint on that level.

Recorded between 2001 and 2002 in Germany, Holland, France, and primarily the US, the recording moves through contrasting moods and styles, some pieces dense and aggressive, others more reflective. On the one hand, the pair's Knitting Factory stop yields two pieces, an abstract field of prickly flutter and detonative belches plus an affecting drone of becalmed harmonium tones, while a San Francisco visit produces flurries of organ glimmerings and Merzbowesque drills. Yet the duo has a clear affinity for quieter settings too, judging by the gentle gamelan tinklings, lapping clicks, and gentle guitar picking that appear elsewhere. At ten minutes, the longest piece (recorded at a WNYU radio station) unfurls unhurriedly, the duo allowing the sparse and spacious sound to meditatively develop, with steely clatter offset by tonal glimmers and tolling bell strikes.

There may be a bit of conceit at work here, since eighteen hours of material were edited down to the album's more palatable 47-minute duration. Whether that means that a given four-minute piece is an excerpt from a performance or a construction distilled from intermittent bits isn't clarified though the pieces sound continuous. Regardless, Yearlong documents explorative and advanced sensibilities at work and play. Needless to say, anyone seeking conventional song structure or melody is looking in the wrong place, though that shouldn't be construed to mean the album isn't listenable and engrossing. These are sound worlds sometimes so alien sounding, they not only challenge conventional modes of description but maybe even surprised their creators too.

April 2005