Somnambule - Writing About Music

The Necks ~ Drive By

This is my first Necks. I know from reading the occasional review that they’re an Australian improvising trio who play long pieces without rehearsal. Also that the resultant music is frequently rhythmic, minimal and cumulative. Some time ago, a friend of mine told me that their concert last year in London was one of his all-time most significant musical experiences. So I feel a tingle of expectation.

Drive By consists of a single track lasting an hour and seventeen seconds. It’s packaged in a minimal design comprising orange text on a white digipak background. The music starts gently with a repetitive electric piano figure laced with low organ growls and echoing Harold Budd-like acoustic piano. A couple of minutes later a patient bass joins in, then percussion and gradually the rhythm becomes more assertive in a low-key fashion. The mood remains sparing and pensive as if always on the cusp of something. After seven minutes I’m enjoying this music and I realise with a slight start that there’s another 53 minutes to go - what will happen in all that time?

The short answer might be: some birdsong, the sound of children playing, a gradual shifting of emphasis and a reconfiguration of the aforementioned musical elements. Drive By reminds me a little of The Web and Distributed Being from Brian Eno’s 1992 Nervenet album. Both share a sense of statis while presenting constant and mutating rhythms which, through some kind of feat I haven’t managed to work out, manage to refuse any implication of narrative progress or movement. Instead of an implied journey towards a particular destination, the result is a variegated holding pattern like the swapping of elements - verse, chorus - in traditional songform, but writ (very) large.

After listening a number of times, however, I find myself untransported by Drive By’s circling forms. The experience has been similar to going to visit a friend only to find that the lights are off and no-one’s home. Despite this you still you go up to the window and peer in with the hope of spying some movement, but to no avail. I’m listening to Drive By as I complete this review, I’m 39 minutes in and counting and although the experience isn’t revelatory I feel a subtle shift in perception, a gradual sense of assimilation. I begin to realise that I may need to engineer a particular reconfiguration of myself in order to become reconciled to this music. Drive By is challenging, almost frightening, in a different and intriguing way from other ambitious music. It may require the listener to make a journey in themselves.
Colin Buttimer
February 2005
Published by the BBC