Charlemagne Palestine & Z’EV Rubhitbangklanghear Rubhitbangklangear

[Sub Rosa; 2013]

Styles: minimalism, ritualism, ambient, noise
Others: Steve Reich, La Monte Young, Bang on A Can, Harold Budd

If I were a lazy musical reductionist, I’d simply hyphenate the album title above and tell you that the consequence — Rub-hit-bang-klang-hear Rub-hit-bang-klang-ear — is probably as faithful a representation of the lawless music it denotes as any sophomoric review I’m ever likely to pen. But I have a self-image to perpetuate, so please indulge my pretensions while I inscribe this latest collaboration (the first to be recorded) between Charlemagne Palestine and Z’EV in a wider/narrower field of significations and allusions. I promise I’ll be quick and to the point.

01. The six pieces on this 2CD album (honed down to three pieces if you buy the vinyl) all emphasize the impossibility of a pure audition and knowledge of the musical instrument. Featuring Mr. Palestine on the outsized, baton-operated bells of a carillon and Z’EV on an assortment of appropriately monumental drums, the two sets of instruments permeate and color each other’s movements, disabling the listener from ever hearing one in isolation or innocence. Of course, all music features this interpenetration of sounds, this intractable priming and conditioning of the perception of one note through the other notes that precede it. What makes it distinctly transparent on “Rub-hit-bang-klang-hear” is the characteristic minimalism of its authors’ methods: Palestine almost always employs his by now trademark dyadic tremolo, producing an alternating, binary current of single notes, while Z’EV complements this disproportionately immobilizing spareness with a primitivism of his own, rubbing-hitting-banging, and klanging his percussion to cavernous and colossal effect. Because they’re otherwise unaccompanied and uncluttered, the creeping and bleeding of each of these two elements into the other is decidedly more vivid and impressive, with the hulking drums impregnating the fleet chimes of the carillon with portent and foreboding, and the latter sullying the former with a kinetic restlessness and impatience. Together on “Duo C / Z #1,” they generate a mutual tension, instability and drama, as if Palestine’s ringing is struggling to escape the definition and contamination of Z’EV’s pounding, and as if both men believe that existential autonomy and independence isn’t a chimera.

02. Beyond the seeping and infiltration of one sound-set into another, the failure of either Z’EV’s or Palestine’s instruments to attain full self-articulation or self-presence is hindered by their primal, visceral timbre and tones. Both are allied more with the unconscious and the id than with the conscious and the ego, as is witnessed by several core features that pervade the album. First is the absence of any fixed meter or key signature, meaning that the patient yet abrupt veerings and vergings of the carillon — its sudden raising or lowering of pitch — forge no predictable, regular pattern that could be easily interpreted and narrativized on its own, and in turn this rolling caprice fosters an edgy, vaguely jarring unease, which is only exacerbated by the feral rumblings of the drums. The sonics of these drums is the second component of the LP’s primeval nature; they vibrate, burr, shake, groan, and rattle, never producing a systematic beat that could be read in any traditional way, but always pulsing the “compositions” forward with weight and gravity, and always tempering the bells with a lurching heaviness, or &mdsah; on “Duo C / Z #3” — with a scattered discord. Their primordiality is completed by the third source of “Rub-hit-bang-klang-hear’s” instinctive colorings, which is the sheer repetition and semiotic poverty of the pieces, their antisocial restriction to the same two notes and the same loosened thumps for a minute or more at a time. In theory, this may sound like a huge turnoff, yet the emotional and impulsive focus it engenders, disconnected from any cerebral encumbrance or interference, more than compensates for the lack of melodic embellishment and polyrhythmic detail, creating the niggling sense that both instruments are trapped in their own stunted, perpetual cycles, unable to emerge with anything that might deliver wholeness, self-sufficiency, or consummation.

03. Such repetition has been a cornerstone of Palestine’s work since at least 1974’s piano-based “Strumming Music,” although it’s less frequently understood that his oeuvre — and also “Rubhitbangklanghear” — is more about the impossibility of repetition than anything else. If what I have so far been saying about the external sources of identity is true (i.e., that a note or instrument is heard and constituted as much through the series and context in which it appears as it is through its materiality), then no note, regardless of its pitch or duration, could ever be repeated, since by definition no note could ever occupy the same place as another in a musical configuration. Much of the momentum and subconscious power of the LP seems to derive from this fact, with the three solo numbers in particular often coming across as endearingly futile attempts to play exactly the same note twice in succession. In “Solo Z #2,” this enterprise is taken to absurd extremes, with Z’EV’s modest intention to replicate and maintain himself in quasi-permanence ironically provoking an exponential cascade of batterings, crashes, and thuds, all of which erase and bury the initial sound(s) he may have hoped to clone in a blizzard of discomfiting noise that lasts for an exhausting 46 minutes (exhausting in a good way, I swear). It’s probably with this improvisation more than any other that it becomes apparent as to why Palestine and Z’EV chose to collapse the title of the album into two onomatopoeia, rather than put hyphens or spaces between each individual word.

04. As for this title, and by way of summarizing, it’s not too outlandish to suggest that, with its deviation from “ear” to “hear,” the two musicians are continuing to acknowledge the irretrievable discrepancy between the instrument/note itself and all that intercedes in its ever-changing reception. But even though I’ve repeatedly pointed towards the obvious context-dependency and therefore subjectivity of sound (and everything), I want to go out on a limb and say that your experience of Rubhitbangklanghear Rubhitbangklangear won’t be so wildly divergent from mine, and that, despite the challenge it represents for easy notions of musicality, you’ll find plenty in it that’s musical in its own uncivilized way.

Links: Charlemagne Palestine & Z'EV - Sub Rosa

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