Nate Wooley / Chris Corsano / C. Spencer Yeh The Seven Storey Mountain

[Important; 2011]

Styles: free improvisation, creative music, drone, electro-acoustic improvisation
Others: Graveyards, Melee, Nate Wooley-Paul Lytton Duo, The Hated Music Duo

On the creative music spectrum, the concept of an artist revisiting a single work over the course of time is not anything really new. But outside of a book of compositions that might be brought to the table over many years, working through a single idea with different groups in mind is a little rarer. After all, in this music the composition is in part the ensemble; one aspect of improvisational notation (to paraphrase trumpeter-composer Bill Dixon) is the musicians that make up a particular group. The question of whether variations in personnel make a different composition is, in this sense, a valid one — the short answer is that creative composition is nakedly process-oriented.

Trumpeter and improvising composer Nate Wooley conceived The Seven Storey Mountain around the performance of various groups with a fixed tape work, which, as Wooley describes it, is based in the process of coming toward ecstatic experience. The taped sounds are reminiscent of Wooley’s work with feedback and breath, long tones brought forth through contact microphones placed on the trumpet’s bell interacting with amplifiers. The first release of this music in 2009 (also on Important) centered on Wooley’s long-standing relationship with the English percussionist and electronic artist Paul Lytton, with cross-genre multi-instrumentalist David Grubbs featured on harmonium. Here, it is reimagined with violinist C. Spencer Yeh and percussionist Chris Corsano, and taken from a 2009 performance.

When we talk about improvisation as instant composition, it’s a little easier to swallow the idea that an improviser can shuffle around the meaning and results of a work through performance and choices of personnel. Encountering music without bar lines or clearly marked structural divisions can be very challenging to a “compositional” mindset, so one might think of a work like The Seven Storey Mountain as a piece that’s open to revision or variations. There is a lot of difference between the two recorded versions, obviously, though there remain two pervasive drone elements as well as two equally pervasive action elements. Corsano and Lytton are very different percussionists, and violin and harmonium don’t share too much apart from what the players are asked to do.

Following the introduction of tape and amplifier hum, Wooley uses a language of circular-breathed fluffs and pops in a grayed burbling swath, occasionally feeding back live while (one assumes) coexisting with pre-fabricated sounds. Corsano’s initial approach of subtle hi-hat accents and cymbal scrapes builds to a feverish pitch, but it remains a relatively low volume squall; perhaps the move to England has made him more endeared to the John Stevens school of quiet motion. The ecstatic density that this piece brings about is not a high-volume fracas; instead the musicians bring their sounds closer together so that they seem bundled and snug in their conversation, intense as it might be. Wooley’s growls and sputters scream hoarsely against persistent clatter and the narrow scrabble of Yeh’s violin. Even as the stomach-pit surge of feedback mates with live scrawl, it’s not an impermeable brick of sound but a layered, nuanced, and interwoven field of loosely defined melody, rhythm, and noise. This is not to say that the music is by any means something easily cottoned to, but at its hottest there remains diversity and the clarity of three musicians working toward a common, ineffable goal.

The Seven Storey Mountain closes just as it began, with low hum and electric surges as the leavings of dense and surprisingly colorful three-part action. There really isn’t any fair comparison of this material to the previous version. Rather, two reiterations on disc of this piece make for valuable listening and show that “noise,” in the purview of three multi-talented musician-composers, can make for an extremely rewarding experience.

Links: Important

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