The group that plays Noumenon is essentially a power trio: to these ears, they’re a moodier correlation to Caspar Brötzmann Massaker or Fushitsusha, with a similar rawness and viscerality but the explosive, abrasively metallic attack of those bands subsumed into something much, much more subtle.
Raphael Malfliet is a Belgian electric bassist, and a composer who likes to dovetail improvisation and contemporary composition techniques inspired by composers as unalike as Feldman, Stockhausen and Ligeti. He formed the trio that plays on Noumenon – with American guitarist Todd Neufeld and Italian drummer Carlo Costa – in New York in 2014, and they recorded the album the following November, in just one studio session.
Lead cut “Kandy” (17:54) initially sounds like a contemporary classical piece, with spare guitar figures contrasting sharply with slowly bowed strings and spartan orchestral percussion (chimes, gongs, woodblocks). But the threatening, unstable background hum of amplification flags the territory, with occasional snare rolls and equally episodic silences maintaining a tension in austere, ascetic atmospherics.
The short, abrasively irruptive “My Name” comes as a complete contrast, reminding me of Derek Bailey’s spoken word and feedback recordings, only here with added industrial corrosiveness. And the even shorter “Kort” (02:05) is different again, the first of two elegant pieces co-credited to Neufeld, heard here on acoustic guitar in urbane duet with Malfliet’s intricate bass fretting.
“Arcana” (15:59) returns to the cold, expansive atmospherics of “Kandy”, jointly swallowing up half the album’s hour-long playing time (the shorter pieces offering vivifying release). While kick drum and cymbals provide low end and surface pulse and texture Malfliet (I assume) scrapes up strangely flute-like wraiths of sound. Neufeld injects short but clearly articulated licks of brightness and fragmented melodicism, as does Malfliet as time passes, their joint orthodoxies allowing the piece to expand into ambient/isolationist progressive rock territory.
The album proper concludes with “Samen”, the second short piece with Neufeld on acoustic, and “Rotation” (05:15), which expands that dynamic with Neufeld back on electric. When Costa comes in the atmosphere darkens, and the trio finally explore the lower reaches of out-psych dynamic, though they withdraw from any aggression.
“Boog”, the only piece co-credited to Malfliet and Costa, is a CD only ‘bonus’ cut and, at 11:42, it’s a significant extension. It’s also a new variation on the group sound, with overlapping drones drawn from strings striated by electro-acoustic static and given a metallic rinsing in a wash of amplified cymbals. That leaves a protean sound-world of near silence, from which emerges something in its texture not unlike a mutation of one of William Basinski’s disintegrating tape loops.
In Kantian philosophy, a noumenon is an object or event in its essence, not as it is perceived to be. I can see what Malfliet’s getting at. With the empathetic company of Neufeld and Costa, he has successfully arrived at a music that’s strikingly original in its blend of atmospherics and impressionistic melodic detail, balancing the noncorporeal sensitivity of musique concrète with the hands-on immediacy of rock music.
Noumenon has a striking beauty all its own.
Raphael Malfliet – electric bass; Todd Neufeld – electric guitar, acoustic guitar on “Kort” and “Samen”; Carlo Costa – drums and percussion.
Keiji Haino, Jozef Dumoulin, Teun Verbruggen – The Miracles of Only One Thing.
Linus + Økland / Van Heertum – Felt Like Old Folk.
Bambi Pang Pang featuring Andrew Cyrille – Drop Your Plans.
Buy Noumenon direct from Ruweh.