New solo albums from two of the keys figure in Norway’s outernational experimental scene.
Kim Myhr is a composer/guitarist, Ingar Zach a percussionist and co-founder of the SOFA label. They both play in long-form improv trio MURAL, alongside Australian multi-instrumentalist Jim Denley.
Zach also plays alongside SOFA partner/guitarist Ivar Grydeland in Huntsville, records brittle folk-informed improv for ECM in Dans Les Arbres, and records as Labfield with Swedish guitarist David Stackenäs. I’ll come back to his album later.
Myhr is going through a purple patch. Already this summer I’ve reviewed both Advances and Delays from his group Circadia, and an excellent collaboration with Jenny Hval and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, In The End His Voice Will Be The Sound Of Paper.
His last solo effort, 2014’s All Your Limbs Singing (SOFA), was a collection of road-honed 12-string guitar pieces, recorded in two days with minimal edits. Taking more time over Bloom, Myhr says: “I recorded sketches for two weeks, had a break, then … worked for six consecutive weeks … a very intense and focused composition process.”
From initial close-recorded contact sounds, Myhr spins an electric, initially abstract “Sort Sol” into a sudden dizzying whirl of glitch motes, a sound-cloud grounded by cross-strummed acoustic guitar, every finger contact amplified. Aggressive spin-off strumming builds motoric tension ahead of a shimmery, tamped-down conclusion.
“O Horizon” ups the rotor impetus, and stirs metallic picking into the mix ahead of muffled beats and live sampling manipulations.
These opening cuts are the album’s most heavily arranged. From there on, for all the studied process, Myhr actually keeps his overdub orchestrations nicely uncluttered.
“Swales Fell” is a clear soundfield of patiently unfurled, but richly reverb’d washes of meditative zither. It’s a developmentally static piece, until Myhr sets up a deep, vibrant throbbing, which is presumably electronic, but could be steady circular breathing on a baritone horn.
“Peel Me” changes tack, with multi-layered electric guitar clang-and-shimmer over alarm-bell strummed cords, and an introduced heartbeat bass pulse. It promises incremental complexity, only to reprise the denuded signal response experimentation that began “Sort Sol”.
Direct strumming drives the first five minutes of “Milk Run Sky”, the album’s 10:47 long closing track, then slowly fades behind closer-recorded verité touches: bird-chirp finger-lifts, looped fx glimmer; an auricular sunset.
It’s been 6 years since Ingar Zach’s last solo album, M.O.S., but he doesn’t over-stuff Le Stanze. It is, if anything, even more admirably focused than Bloom.
Zach recorded “in a small church in Urueña in Spain and in (SOFA) studio in Madrid”, with a minimal palette of percussion and electronics, and by contrast to Myhr’s meticulous dubwork, the results are strikingly textural and concrete.
The album’s pleasurably austere tone is set early, by the dramatically ritualised, gesture-studded near silence of lead cut “La Bugia Dello Specchio”, which effectively serves as a long intro to the albums longest (15:19), and initially most direct piece, “Il Battito Del Vichingo.”
This track’s regular subcutaneous pulse and surface ripple of temple bells, all undercut by electronic drones, come under a fast, brittle rain of pointillist stick-hits. Later, a passage of airy electronic drift and twinkling slithers of percussive highlight bridges to a lengthy near-silence studded by sporadic whip gestures, echoic wood-and-skin percusssives, and small metallic chimes.
Next up, “L’Inno Dell’ Oscurità” is rich in overtones scraped up from bowed frame drums or skin rubs, producing, with carefully modulated stringency a protracted, low rubato humming, and “È Solitudine” is a variation of sorts but primarily electronic, small motor-ic, hazed by snare vibrations. It’s a tonally paradoxical piece of abrasive luminosity, and a lovely way to close.
Both albums are exquisitely crafted and emphatically musical, with any trace of indulgence trimmed away. Myhr’s production is expansive, Zach’s more close-textured; what they have in common is a delicacy in the use of electro-acoustic processing to expand the expressive potential of their primary instruments. The results, belying any complexity of process, are ravishing.
Kim Myhr electric twelve- and six-string guitars, acoustic twelve-string guitar, zither, electronics.
Ingar Zach percussion and electronics.
MURAL – Tempo.
Kim Myhr and Jenny Hval with Trondheim Jazz Orchestra – In The End His Voice Will Be The Sound Of Paper.
Circadia – Advances and Delays.
Huntsville / Labfield – Pond / Bucket of Songs.