Sonic STREET Chicago (Corbett Vs. Dempsey) was recorded during an evening of music and film at the Art Institute of Chicago, in March 2014. It’s a single, hour-long piece, improvised by Thurston Moore to accompany the screening of Street, a film by James Nares. (Nares also created the CD cover art.)
Corbett Vs. Dempsey tell us that Moore played with his back to the screen: “letting the sounds and images converge and diverge of their own accord.” Whether or not he’d already viewed Nares’ film we aren’t told, but it’s certainly a meticulously controlled performance, the guitarist always mindful, perhaps, that the film was likely to be the audience’s primary focus.
So, although there’s plenty of roughage in the mix, there are no real irruptions of free-style noise. Moore begins with aeolian-sounding chimes and mild sustains, soft taps and rubbings, picking up, at 5:30, a melodic motif that acts as a bridge to more assertive soundings. After 11 minutes, grainy noise intrudes – rough flecks of sound possibly ground out on pickups, and the same technique, strings now damped down, is used to mute the first effusions of resonance.
By 15:00, a plectrum-scrabble threatening to burst into excoriating freedom, Moore throws into the mix those top-note chimes that characteristically highlight his melodic traceries. The whammy bar comes into play next, and suddenly Moore is unspooling twanging serial, high-tensile arcs of sustain, some ending in gnarly detonations. Tensions between detonation, sustain and controlled feedback are exploited adroitly, and a steady pace maintained, ebbing slowly toward silence.
After 23:00, his impetus evaporating, Moore pools sound into a gritty, viscous slick with a surface opacity from which new sounds bloom, a profusion of slack-stringed bell tones, then a flourish of strings scraped or possibly ‘bowed’. A moment’s silence, then Moore begins afresh, working that base sediment of stippled sound into a cloud of notes humming with distortion.
A long minute of sustain about halfway in bridges to a passage of chordal riffing, and Moore’s FX chain comes fully into play. No longer leaving room for silence, he picks a melody out of a haze of lingering distortion that ultimately falls away, letting the bare bones of a song structure ring clear. Moments later, it’s heard only as an echo in low-string thrumming, before that, in turn, is lost in a welter of smudges. The next upswell brings a bloom of staccato, notes sharply-defined, then fuzzed-out.
In such variegated sonic terrain, Moore, whether from habitual expertise or improv nous, expertly replays ground already covered, so this piecemeal approach always sounds grounded. Not being distracted by the images playing out on the screen, he’s able to loop back, constructing a loosely-patterned sonic narrative.
At 43:22, however, there’s a pronounced silence, after which Moore sustains, for long minutes, a planar surface of volatile, shimmering harmonics. he ultimately returns to the songlike melody previously delineated, but never shades it in; rather it dissolves into glitches and electrical contact sounds, and, finally, a primal-energy spasm of raw noise serves as a coda.
This isn’t a performance that a casual listener can dip in and out of. There’s little by way of drama, and there are no fireworks, no highlights – just an hour’s concentrated sound-crafting. It demonstrates, perhaps better than anything else he’s so far committed to record, just how refined Thurston Moore’s ear for spontaneous music has become. If you’re craving something gnarlier, check out the contemporaneously-released The Thing and Thurston Moore – Live (The Thing Records/Trost, 2014).
Thurston Moore electric guitar.
The Thing and Thurston Moore – Live
Yoko Ono, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore – YOKOKIMTHURSTON + Chelsea Light Moving – Chelsea Light Moving.
Mats Gustafsson, Thurston Moore and Guests at Cafe Oto, September 2012.
Buy Sonic STREET Chicago direct from Corbett Vs. Dempsey.