Kevin Drumm / Daniel Menche
Styles: drone, noise
Others: Phill Niblock, Michael Schumacher, Damion Romero
Theoretically, a drone is anti-narrative. It's about sustainability, repetition, harmonic stagnancy -- all elements that ensure any musical narrative is, at best, implied or imposed. But while understanding the distinction between listening to something as opposed to for something aids in appreciation of these non-narratives, drones in practice -- at least the modern, 'experimental' kind influenced by noise, modern classical, metal, etc. -- always have a beginning and an end; the medium ensures this. Consequently, what theoretically began as an anti-narrative becomes an implied one, and critiques are then usually based on such interpretations (e.g. "the drone creeps up from behind and suddenly slits your throat 7-minutes in"). But in a style of music already overflowing with like-minded practitioners, interpretations only serve to underscore our desire to "figure out" the music, while the more compelling significance of drone is not how it's told, but why it's told.
Unsurprisingly, the musical story of Gauntlet, the first collaborative release from heavyweights Kevin Drumm and Daniel Menche, isn't particularly unique. Fading in and then traversing through a series of textural moments, the 28-minute track expands, occasionally contracts, and treads harmonic territory resembling the precise ambitions of laptop artists and modern classical composers more so than the lo-fi approach of, say, Hive Mind or Double Leopards. The predictable story elements are there -- sudden short-circuiting of tonal growth, slow and gradual builds, etc. -- but this collaboration isn't so much a subsumption of harmonic totality as a compliment of each musician's strengths and weaknesses. This collaboration actually makes musical sense.
With Drumm mainly proffering high-end guitar and noise and Menche the low-end organ fuzz, the textural whole is so pristinely executed the sound nearly takes on a physical form. The tangibility is felt in smeared blocks of sound, flowing into one another as if the drone's porous skin were somehow involved in some impossibly incestuous ritual. At parts, you can even nod your head to the natural rhythmic patterns produced by the dissonant tones battling for resolution. But despite any smudging of sonic seamlessness characteristic of many drones, Drumm and Menche's forté is density. The music is actually more like an enveloping tornado than the crushing gauntlet the album's title promised, and as is often the case with drone music -- to be played at high volumes, of course -- changes in texture are felt not by addition but by subtraction. Even while listening intently to "Gauntlet," it's hard to catch that rumbling bass that slowly fades in over a 10-minute stretch; you only note its presence after you feel it drop out.
Both Drumm and Menche have released superior musical statements in their solo efforts, so Gauntlet is neither a summation of their abilities nor the album I'd recommend to first-time listeners. Instead, Gauntlet is a testament to their achievements in restraint and versatility. It'd be easy to garner critical applause if they unleashed all their tricks on this Editions Mego release -- and we'd probably all like it more on an aesthetic level -- but this collaboration, despite its ability to "consume" the listener, shows restraint as a formidable approach, something far too rare in a world of overt excess and pastiche. However, appreciation of drone extends beyond its individual sounds. Yes, Gauntlet's implicit narration isn't singular and the theoretical aspects of drone are overshadowed by a functional one, but the importance is not in its implied or imposed narrative, but in the narratives surrounding the project. There are reasons drones exist in relative obscurity, and attempting to understand why is the most exciting part. Gauntlet, then, is best understood not as a story itself, but as a continuation of the same story frequently told but rarely listened to.