This is a great time for guitar aficionados in the improvised music world, as people like Wendy Eisenberg ply their trade — creative younger voices thriving in the fertile ground toiled by recent innovators and promoters of the spontaneous composition/new music variety, like John Zorn, on whose label this release appears.
Intended as a kind of thesis addressing "machines: time machines, stomp boxes and computers," The Machinic Unconscious features the collaborative efforts of guitarist-leader Eisenberg, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Ches Smith, who together deliver a kaleidoscopic experience provided by the interfacing of sentient artists and machines. And there's no punch pulling here as right from the get-go the ripping distorted squall of sound launches a pulsing energy that is all about electronics-meets-musical instruments at its most meaningful, as the beating of the human heart, the spark of mind and the dexterity of hands conspire to reach creative heights.
At a recent solo concert Eisenberg bent over a guitar coaxing entrancing coils of sound and harmonically daring explorations that created a pastiche of American songbook aesthetics with street level grit and electronic conceptions, even if the instrument was acoustic. That set of music helped provide this writer with some perspective on what the guitarist is up to here, shredding and humming sympathetically, wrestling and arrestingly tumbling with rock guitar-meets-funky-bass deconstructions of the kind that sound poet bp Nichol once called "scarpturers," i.e. something holy made from fragments of things...the assembly of the whole raising the bare elements to a higher plane.
Not surprisingly, given this aesthetic, we get heavy metal-like demonology along with heavenly levitating passages, as in the threatening attack of "Depths of Locusts" with its insect scrapings and tumbling of sound waves over sound waves. The urban jungle and a drum and bass aesthetic raises its irrepressible head in the infectiously prancing cavalcade of drums, bass and guitar riffs of "Prataxis" and "Zoning," the latter adding distorted bass to the mix...almost like a classic rock power trio taken to the next creative level. "Kiln" has a keen grunge element, and "Dangerous Red" evokes a Jimi Hendrix-power-trio-meets-Thelonious Monk melodic cell line of thinking.
Not to be genre-bond, however, the trio break out all over the place, notably in "Frayed, Knotted and Unshorn" with out-side-the-box playing that is fed by the artists' imaginations in their handling of sound, as well as the raw physicality of their media. The textures of "Mycoaelia" bring us momentarily to a slightly more ethereal realm before we're thrown right back into the boisterous maelstrom of inspired contemporaneity that the album as a whole sends us to, from its shocking electric start to the feedback delights of the closer "Foresworn."
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