As masters of electric guitar processingOren Ambarchi and Richard Pinhas have much in common, but this, their first collaborative album, is notable primarily for its motorik, directionally rhythmic propulsion.
Pinhas was the founder of a 70s avant/progressive rock group, Heldon, which I doubt many people, in the UK at least, ever heard of until Cuneiform got behind Pinhas’ latest string of ‘solo’ albums, all recorded with the assistance of noise luminaries as Wolf Eyes and Merzbow: Ambarchi was just one of a number of guests who contributed to his 2013 epic Desolation Row. For his part, Ambarchi is a guitarist, drummer and sound processor whose multifarious collaborations include guest membership of avant-drone metal band Sunn O))).
I was prompted to check out Tikkun after recently enjoying a four-hour, deeply immersive installation/duo performance by Ambarchi and Johan Berthling (Tape; Fire) in which Berthling processed electric bass over Hammond drones, while Ambarchi controlled the slow swell and ebb of oceanic electronic sound stirred, in a central movement, by brisk, propulsive waves of kit percussion. Tikkun presents four relatively condensed pieces, constructed along similar lines but cleaving closely to Pinhas’ signature aesthetic of striated FX.
The Tikkun package includes a CD and a DVD. The CD has three pieces, each recorded live at a different venue; the DVD adds a fourth, and allows a visual insight into the duo’s process. Actually, the three performances on the CD aren’t duos. Joe Talia plays alongside Pinhas and Ambarchi in what’s denoted as the ‘first circle’, and there’s also a ‘second circle’ comprising Masami Akita (aka Merzbow, “loop, noiz and FX”), Duncan Pinhas (sequences, FX) and Eric Boreiva (additional drums). It’s not specified, but my guess is that these ‘second circle’ contributions were either (and this is most likely) incorporated by Pinhas during at the mixing stage, or live, as sampled or pre-recorded sound; at any rate, their individual effects aren’t immediately apparent.
Track titles are partially self-descriptive: on the CD there’s “Washington, D.C. – T4V1”, “Tokyo – T4V2”, and “San Francisco – T2V2”. The first and last are each around half an hour long, the second a concise thirteen minutes. Possibly cherry-picked to present an ideal set, they form a very nice arc. The Washington performance is bright and buoyant, mostly uptempo, kick into instant life by a throbbing, urgently insistent synth/bass line, and later fizzing along on Ambarchi’s rippling cymbals as looping, serpentine guitar figures thread through the performance. Much attentive triggering, tweaking and gating of FX layers of sound into a masterfully controlled, gradual accumulation and equally gradual dissipation of tension.
The San Francisco performance, though less kinetic and more darkly-hued (it starts slowly, and builds from raw noise), is constructed in much the same manner, albeit Pinhas introduces some tasty, proggy analog synth guitar flourishes once the performance has plateaud; so the relatively brief, more relaxed and spacious performance at the album’s centre is highly effective. Heard in isolation, the Tokyo piece is pretty intense, but in sequence it functions as a more limber counterpoint to the American performances . A focus on kit percussion gives it a looser feel, while the layered guitar and synth parts simultaneously wend their hypnotic deep drones and weave spectral melodies in the sonic ether.
The DVD’s live duo performance, “Paris – Part One – TnVO” was filmed and recorded at Les Instants Chavires in October 2013. Constant red lighting and the editor’s occasional recourse to kaleidoscopic split-screen effects don’t make for particularly rewarding viewing, but it is interesting to see how Ambarchi and Pinhas interact, so it’s a definite plus. At just over forty minutes this is the album’s longest and rangiest piece, combining the various impulses and textures of the others into a single, more discursive performance with more space for Pinhas’ prog-rock synth flourishes.
Oren Ambarchi guitar, loops; Richard Pinhas guitar, synth guitar, effects; Joe Talia drums, effects + Masami Akita (Merzbow) loops, noise, effects; Duncan Pinhas sequences, effects, noise; Eric Borelva additional drums.
Buy Tikkun from Cuneiform via Bandcamp.