L'Or documents a trio performance from the masterful Keith Rowe on guitar and electronics, Mikroton head Kurt Liedwart on modular synth and electronics, and French noise maven Julien Ottavi on laptop. The album title and songs all translate to English as "Gold" (from French, Latin, and Russian, respectively), likely hinting at the continuity of the two tracks despite the varied origins and sound palettes of the players. The trio is an interesting combination of musicians, and one that allows for the diverse approaches of these three musicians to meld wonderfully. Rowe is perhaps known best for his EAI (electro-acoustic improvisation) work on Erstwhile Records or for his membership in various AMM ensembles since the 60's. Ottavi, who has also released under the name the Noiser, has released a broad variety of work from sound installations, to electronic minimalism and digital noise, to his recent work with symphonic tamtam. Liedwart's creations also reside at the intersection of improvisation, minimalism, and noise but lean more to the analogue side, his specialties including synthesizer and cracked everyday electronics.
"Aurum" begins with minimalist electronics which are slowly (and I do mean slowly) ratcheted up in intensity. Liedwart's use of modular synthesizer is very subtle and controlled here, and he's done a fantastic job of complementing the sound palette of his collaborators. Rowe's trademark scrapes, brushes, and electronics pockmark the miasmic din of Liedwart and Ottavi. The participants grow more adventurous (relatively) as the piece progresses, the textures tangling more and more frequently. Liedwart offers some nice crunchy synth swells to the EAI flavored first half before unleashing his modular around the 24 minute mark. The listener is then suddenly immersed in a swirling, chirping sound cyclone complemented with Rowe's steel wool crackle and Ottavi's sine tone excursions. "Золото" starts with recorded bird song and a distant circular saw beneath which a subtle electronic drone hums away. A high pitched whine is matched with Rowe's guitar manipulations over the din once the field recording has faded out. Cracked electronics and the sound of dripping water coalesce into a hazy ambience, cradling the crackles and scrapes elicited by Rowe. The whirr is the only constant. Other subtle elements come and go, finding the players careful not to interrupt the conjoining atmospheres too drastically.
This, in my opinion, is a great example of successful cross-pollination in the field of improvised electronic music, seamlessly melding Liedwart's experimental techniques with the minimalist noise of Ottavi and the presence of Keith Rowe's filtered hiss and painterly tabletop guitar work. The trio does a fine job of balancing responsiveness with restraint, realizing that the sum of their parts only works if they can all be heard together. As per usual, Rowe's sound palette fits in with just about any timbral environment and provides a very human element that is difficult to describe. Despite my use of the word noise the electronic textures on this recording are not harsh, but texturally rich and active. This is a fantastic improvisation by three masters and makes great active and passive listening.
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