Somnambule - Writing About Music

Chris Brown ~ Rogue Wave, Talking Drum

Formerly a student of Gordon Mumma, composer Chris Brown may be best known for his co-founding of pioneering computer network music ensemble The Hub. On the strength of these two releases, he deserves wider recognition. Rogue Wave is effectively a sampler of Brown’s remarkably varied work while Talking Drum is made up of a number of percussion recordings. Talking Drum starts with the sound of people talking. No words are discernable, but it’s clear that this isn’t anywhere western. A quick glance at the title confirms the observation: “Rumba Quinto: Havana, Cuba”. Other recordings were made in Turkey, Europe and the Philippines. It’s succeeded by the first of a series of ‘inventions’ recorded in California. Despite the background chatter, Brown’s piece is a less immediate work with a greater sense of theatrical drama. Next, the listener is whisked peremptorily to a Balinese cremation procession replete with cymbals, bells, a gamelan-like instrument and the ever-present sound of the crowd. Less than 10 minutes into Talking Drum and the richness of the experience demands pause for breath.

Rogue Wave’s opener, “Transmission Tenderloin” is a hyperspeed percussive smorgasbord comprised of slivers of hot electronic meat and the sharpest shards of broken motherboard. The hoarse cry of someone suffering from a very sore throat metamorphoses into a sclerosis of savagely dissected syllables. Awkward, refuse-to-cohere rhythmscapes are marked by sudden snare attacks like unwelcome small arms fire. Their marriage to badly abused samples might alienate some, but those whose pulses have quickened to Autechre’s recent offerings – particularly Untilted – may well sense a grin stealing unbidden over their faces. “Retroscan” begins with upwardly zinging notes joined by a piano that tiptoes forwards like a ragged reading of Cage’s early piano works. The piece refuses to settle, but multiplies into manifold, new forms. The title track fascinates for its weaving together of what sounds like live instrumentation, furious turntable scratching and spine-tingling sound manipulation. The result isn’t a million miles from the more hectic moments of The White Noise’s 1969 eponymous debut. “Flies” is a gorgeously distressed composition for orchestra which marries percussion, electronic treatments and foregrounded violin to dramatic, frequently very beautiful effect. Rogue Wave is aptly named, proffering as it does a variety of errant, but singularly interesting possibilities. Highly recommended.
Colin Buttimer
October 2005
Published by Grooves magazine