Sebastian Lexer extends extended acoustic piano techniques with computer-based electronics. He could wish for no better percussion partner than Steve Noble, who could play a satisfying set using drum skins only as holding surfaces for other sounding objects. Neither of them go so far as to obscure the natural characteristics of their primary instruments completely, but they do essentially rethink the box when it comes to exploiting them.
It’s incredible what strange and beguiling music they make. As well as the tinks, plinks, taps and crashes that you might expect, here are planar whorls and laminal tones closer to electronic music than anything in orthodox pianism; and amid the stacked metal clatter, percussive emphases and taut skin and rim shots of Noble’s playing sit shimmering tones and plaintively vocal-like sounds, either scraped-up or bowed from sympathetically resonating materials. These sonics out-strange anything most percussionists ever dream of. And better yet, this is all done with as much restraint and sensitivity as animation.
Lexer and Noble have only been playing together since late 2011, and the first and, arguably, the most remarkable of the two pieces here, “Pool” (28:06), was recorded back then, at Cafe Oto, London, in October 2011. The second piece, “Loess” (37:13), dates from another Oto concert in June 2014. In between, in July 2012, they opened for Minibus Pimps (Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and Helge ‘Deathprod’ Sen) at the same venue, and Lexer & Noble’s set was the stronger of the two (here’s my review).
“Pool” often lapses back toward silence as a glacial surface that can be scoured or fractured or made to gleam, with Noble’s percussion muffled but reverberant. But there’s also a starkness and clarity here that accentuates material physicality with pinpoint definition, and the performance climaxes with an explosive clash of energies after so much convergent evolution.
“Loess” is a brittler, more edgy and volatile performance, closer in effect to all-acoustic free improvisation, with Noble, relatively more assertive, making full and occasionally dramatic use of an arsenal of cymbals and gongs. But it’s a long performance, and just as carefully weighted and balanced as “Pool”. Lexer once studied under John Tilbury at Goldsmiths College, where he also attended AMM drummer Eddie Prévost’s weekly improvisation workshop*, and no doubt that helps explain both Lexer’s acuity and his evident ear for percussive interaction.
Sebastian Lexer piano+; Steve Noble drums and percussion.
Evan Parker & Seymour Wright – Tie the Stone to the Wheel.
Axel Dörner and Mark Sanders – Stonecipher + Ikue Mori and Steve Noble – Prediction and Warning.
John Butcher and Matthew Shipp – At Oto + John Coxon, Evan Parker and Eddie Prévost – Cinema.
Minibus Pimps (John Paul Jones and Helge ‘Deathprod’ Sten) + Steve Noble and Sebastian Lexer at Cafe Oto, 13 July 2012.
Buy Muddy Ditch from Fataka’s Bandcamp.
* Interview with Sebastian Lexer & Seymour Wright, August 2008 (anothertimbre.com)