13 June

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Eli Wallace and Ben Cohen — Evaporation (Eschatology, 2020)

Listen/Buy [Nb. I implore you to buy, financial situation permitting. Given the social isolation policies in place virtually worldwide, gigs — often a major source of income for many sonic artists — have all but stopped and many folks are struggling to make ends meet.]


T-K-4-2-1 do you copy?

Well hi-dee-hi-dee-hi-dee-ho don’tcha know yockomo, the revelry and brass has faded and tarnished and deary -o- me Marginal Brevity sure ain’t what is was…Well fear not, even though they got this global pandemic on, at Fabrik Marginal there’s still a flicker of life left.

Queue up to cue up Evaporation, the latest digital release from Eli Wallace (pianee) and Ben Cohen (tenor + alto) on Eschatology Records. Three cuts, clocking in at about 45 minutes.

No rest for the weary — the album springs on you like a sudden storm and the next thing you know, hail is pummeling the shit out of your car. Enter the opening tune, ‘Saturation’. It’s not Echo, but the opening 3’ minutes of tormenta de mierda (following Bolaño) are pretty full on – the compression on the piano is a bit like having ye olde blunt object taken to yr dome, but while this listener wuddn’t keen, I have many pals who’d find this right up their alley. Around the 9’-10’ mark, things start happenin’ and the duo are bit more playful: sporadic, squirrels-on-the-roof piano, tea kettle saxophone, and on almost on a dime (near the 15’ mark) it’s all ocean in a fucking seashell. The dynamic between Wallace and Cohen is at most points quite wonderful and the pair excel in their ability to read/hear/respond each other’s playing in a way that guides each piece through its paces.

The only detracting remark might be that I struggled with some of the recording decisions / fidelity of the recording itself. Recalling Yves Citton’s insistence that ‘to read is to be affected’, which in turn I’d adapt and expand to say, to hear is to be affected. [1] Though not particularly jarring, the fidelity affects this listener in a way that makes them feel a wee bit overwrought. Alas, this may be more a testament to the vast web of mediation* more than anything else but it also invokes the spectre of performance and makes one wonder what sort of (listening) experience is to be had if seeing/hearing the duo in a live environment…

Returning to the matter of the inter-musical/personal dynamic, however, is something worth exploring at greater length. Whilst Evaporation contains a fair number of moments of bombast, the most engrossing bits are the ones that are also the most subdued. The duo never shy away from moments of quiet rumination and seemingly never feel the need for fortissimo ripostes. The second piece of the album, ‘Respite’ — a nod and a wink o’er two minutes — furthers the duo’s commitment to a patient, unfolding musical animation. The piece is a sort of minimalist skronk or perhaps the benediction of two long-time friends parting, their interaction giving way (evaporating?) to a dulling pathos that teeters on the strange razor’s edge of the sublime – in musical form, mind.

On the final (titular) piece, Wallace’s playing is at its most guttural and so too at its most percussive. Early in the performance, the listener encounters what on first audition sounds like the piano strings being plucked. The sounds are harmonically dense, guitar like barbs whose staccato rigor and anxiously shifting tempo provide an excellent foil to Cohen’s forlorn, transient heaves. Just shy of the 6’ mark, the duo creep, sly as mice, and go all extended errr free technique: pulpy percussive scrapes, button taps, ivories tickled, and hesitant sandpaper chuffs of soft air, as the duo themselves set sights on that holiest of holies: transcendental disembodiment. And so the listener encounters a problem of some substance: what is it that is evaporating? The duo? The life world? The tape in the machine? The 10101010101010s of binary code in the machine? (The) Music? The future? All of the above?
* * *

JSES


[1] Yves Citton, “Reading Literature and the Political Ecology of Gestures in the Age of Semiocapitalism.” New Literary History Vol. 44, No. 2 (Spring 2013): 285.

*Idem est Cohen/Wallace’s aesthetic vision > engineers vision> listener’s reception (which is mediated by: historical context, personal context(s) {not limited to physical, educational, geographical considerations} and all this is conveniently mediated and informed by the general ennui that goes hand in hand with Global Pandemic 2020™®)

 

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