XT Palina’tufa

[Empty Editions; 2019]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: cybernetic free improvisation
Others: Nate Wooley, Paul Lytton, Container

Palina’tufa opens with sounds that make me want to laugh out loud. “A,” or, eliciting the feeling of a few drafts gleefully torn up straight away. A poke at a giggle and haunting mumbles: a wiggle. Coo to yawn and tricks of some proverbial tongue, like saxophonist Seymour Wright’s. Words like floozy and knobbly. Loose comedy. Hunches bent all the way back, like the blithe boomery of percussionist Paul Abbott. Outcroppings sent forth from the depths of moving bodies and weird, previously unheard of stresses gurgling up from within.

So, what’s the rub? The club, of course. Instruments that speak by way of technical affectation. Somewhat ironically, past XT releases have mostly been documents of live performances, and it is with this album, recorded during a two-week-long studio residency in Hong Kong, that the duo worked to tease out the potentials of the recording studio relative to their sound. I say ironically as one of my main reactions to this record was a desire to see it performed live. To tick and thrash to it. Whip and mash with it. But this desire also makes sense, seeing as it was one of their goals to explore dance music’s forms and textures as a means toward a novel form of improvisational excess. A psychic success. And I want to feel that, consumingly, in a way that can’t be captured.

The studio allows them to elicit structural silliness. Awkward humor (that intentionally insufferable squeaking that repeats throughout “A”) made to be at once more regular and completely unregulated. And like responding to a joke, a pun, a series of tricks not perfectly cut to my sense of time, it gets a bit tiresome. The publishers write of the somewhat tired tropes of the collaborative space occupied by saxophonist and percussionist, and how XT’s introduction of studio technology, to create “a cybernetic version of the classic sax-and-drums duo,” wakes this whole thing up. But still, listening through, paralyzed by release, wanting but unable, the concrete strain of these sounds eases my mind into something like sleepiness. By “B” I start to drift off. I can’t follow what they are saying anymore. The torn scraps have blown too far, and I can’t catch them before the wind picks them up again. I want a moment with all of this. A quiet one.

Distracted, a few minutes into “C” my desire for silence is ecstatically met. They stop a bit. All I get is a little scrape. What was that? Heh. Some blip. I like it. A sudden explosion suppressed. Muffled. The tiniest thoughts (are) imaginable, like a little tap on a cymbal that’s then snatched back. A stray honk from a saxophone that sounds like praxis or played so quietly because there’s a baby sleeping in the other room. It’s beautiful. They do almost nothing, which is everything, and then noise crashes back in, inevitably. But why must it be? Because it is. That swing. A state of what might fall under the umbrella of experimental sound at war with itself. A disastrous nation-wide referendum contained in a tidy, hashtag-ready portmanteau. Lo, such beauty in the silence, though.

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