I’m a relative newcomer to Australian guitarist Oren Ambarchi, but after hearing two solo albums and one collaboration, it seems clear that he doesn’t like to repeat himself. He moves easily between moods and textures, from spacious ambient plucking to abrasive drones, and at this premature stage in my exploration of his discography, his truly experimental style is still difficult to pin down.
This gorgeously packaged album contains a full live set, 40 minutes or so, recorded in Holland in 2001, along with a seven-inch EP containing two “remakes” by Tom Recchion. Sounds are by Ambarchi alone, using his guitar augmented by some basic processing and electronics. The show was presumably in a gallery or theater, because the vast pockets of space that Ambarchi leaves between the notes (especially on the first side) are filled by silence alone. No background noise is detected.
The calm is important, as Ambarchi’s preferred technique on the A-side is to move between a small handful of tones, where he plucks a single guitar string and lets the sound slowly decay alongside prickly electric scrapes and pops. He alternates between a half-dozen or so notes, with silence predominating in the early going and sounds congregating into progressively dense clusters as time passes.
Because of the seemingly random movement between the small set of pitches, the first side is oddly reminiscent of wind chimes, sounding like a peculiar amplified version of a hanging clutch of tubular bells. There’s a sensation that something other than two hands is causing the notes to sound, some silent and unknowable force setting things in motion and then moving in and around the vibrations. Because the music is still surprising and unpredictable after ten spins, Triste makes for excellent repeated listening.
Both the sound and approach changes on the second side. It definitely starts where the piece left off, but the tempo is accelerated and more urgent, and sub-bass drones intrude and then take over almost immediately. The crackling taps that accompanied the drawn-out notes remains, but slowly shifting layers of sound and feedback are the focus. The rumbling bottom end combined with nasally, flanged harmonics bring to mind a chorus of didgeridoos, and then the midrange swells imparts the sonority of dueling sine waves. In the piece’s final half, wild electronic tones untraceable to a guitar bang in and out, buzzing around the space like large sheet metal insects.
Where the first side left ample space for contemplation, allowing the listener to make a minute dissection of each sound, the harshly textured blasts come and go far more quickly by the end of the show than they can be processed. Triste goes from Thursday Afternoon-style ambience to Mego-ish noise, and then, for a minute or two at the very end, back again. It’s a mesmerizing ride.
The remakes by Recchion are excellent. Ambarchi’s bell-like tones are prominent, but rather than focusing on a particular aspect of the original piece, Recchion uses the material to construct something new. Playing against the seeming randomness of Ambarchi’s pieces, Recchion adds anchoring drones and sequences, thereby softening the material and making it more conventionally musical. Recchion’s treatments are deeply affecting, occasionally even bordering on the sentimental, which is amazing considering the coolly removed nature of the source. All in all, Triste is a deeply satisfying exploration of abstract sound.