the bird and the giant |cs190
[...] Anyway, I promised a CD review tonight, and there follows one, sort of…. This piece of writing is actually something commissioned from me by the Swedish percussionist Erik Carlsson to accompany the release of his second solo album on the Creative Sources label. It kind of reads like a review though, and it includes my honest thoughts about the album, though maybe it glows with praise perhaps more than it might if it was an non-commissioned piece. I still think its worth posting though, and given how light on content these pages have been recently, lets face it anything is better than more nothing! The text is as follows then:
The role of the solo improviser recording an album is always a difficult one. Inevitably (s)he will find himself in one of a few scenarios, either sticking to the limitations of the chosen instrumentation, trying hard to stretch those limits out via extended, unfamiliar technique, or utilising recording technology to bypass the restrictions of playing alone. In many ways, on his new, second solo album called The bird and the giant, the Swedish improvising percussionist Erik Carlsson manages to take all three approaches at different times.
There are five tracks here, or six if you wait and seek out the hidden bonus at the end. Each of them uses multitracking techniques to layer separately recorded, but resolutely unedited parts over one another. So we hear Carlsson improvising live, but alongside himself, perhaps several times over in places. This then avoids the inevitable restrictions that being a human being with only so many limbs presents the percussionist, but still the music has a certain vibrancy and energy to it. It doesn’t sound like a set of contrived pieces. Carlsson is one of the rare breed amongst modern improvising percussionists that is not afraid to make music by hitting things, perhaps playing percussion closer to how it was originally intended to be played than many of his contemporaries. His playing exudes a certain confidence. He is not afraid to strike objects, form patterns with his sounds, let tones hang in the air and slowly decay, and yet he also understands the colour and textures possible with his battery of sounds very well. His work on this album is sensual and richly detailed, but he has found these qualities through a combination of intuitive playing in the moment and a finely structured compositional integrity pulled together across the separate tracks.
There is a wide range of sounds put to use. The opening Could be emotional indeed does fill you with a range of sentiments, its dark, slow, struck metal sounds coming together in clouds of rich colour. Sounds repeat themselves over and over, and the sensation is of deathly slow clockwork, but even with the closest, most attentive of listening it isn’t clear if there actually are any patterns to be found in the music, or if the brain, tricked by what it expects when it hears percussion like this tries to seek out an order to the sounds that isn’t there at all.
The following Heavy rest works in a similar way, but the tempo raises very slightly and the rich sonorities are replaced by quick, abrupt sounds created by killing any decay dead immediately by hand. So we hear little clusters of sound that flow freely, but with a jagged, jerky intensity. If Derek Bailey played percussion then he may have sounded like this. Hope, perhaps feelings is the title of the track that follows, and here we witness a return to the almost ritualistic sobriety of the opening track, slow simple sounds turning slowly, but this time with the unmistakable rich warmth of bowed metal combining with deep, softly struck metallic tones breaking the surface that the music wallows just beneath.
The Dead Spirit is a far more complex scattering of tiny percussive sounds- metal chimes and wooden clicks. Here the multitracking comes into its own, generous flurries of gathered minutae, a garden full of windchimes on a windy day throwing dense combinations of shapes into the air. Again we wonder if there are patterns in there, do we hear the same thing circling around us again and again or does the mind play tricks? Following the highly recogniseable sounds of the first four pieces, we are suddenly thrown into a completely different sound world by the aptly named fifth track, Something else somewhere. Here we are not so much confronted, but gently caressed by the slightest slither of grey hiss and shimmer, more reminiscent of a detuned shortwave radio than anything we might expect from percussion. How this thin, gaseous layer of sound is created I’m not sure, perhaps the surface of objects lightly agitated by vibrations, perhaps something else, but the piece comes as a gentle reflection after the fine details of the previous track and as a clear reaction to the more traditionally inspired playing elsewhere on the album.
Wait patiently and a sixth track appears, untitled, but indeed something else somewhere. This ghost of a piece is related in form to the previous track, more cold shivers of sound rather than any percussive structure, perhaps an even more cleanly defined than the last set of sounds, though more impatient in its need to stop and start and create tension through gradual layering than the fifth track’s more static dynamic.
This is a fine album of carefully constructed, but also somehow partly unconsidered works by a finely talented musician. The six pieces each make clear musical statements, separate to one another and yet they form a well rounded, nicely balanced suite when brought together. As good an example of what can be done with simple percussion and just a sprinkle of recording trickery as we have heard in a while. Richard Pinnell (The Watchful Ear)
Percussionist Eric Carlson is a master of small sounds. His explorations of the game's minimal opportunities have previously resulted in collaborations with, among others Toshimaru Nakamura and Mats Gustafsson, and even the wayward solo album Let's Fall in Love! On this new solo album continues experiments with sound in the margin. Carlsson caution games are immense subtleties and nothing beats open dizzying perspective. Man lands on the inside of the contemplative sounds of gong and time stretched out in meandering arabesque patterns. Magnus Haglund (Göteborgs Posten)
With The Bird And The Giant releases percussionist Erik Carlsson, his second solo album. This time the productive Portuguese company, Creative Source, which allows for a slightly larger crowd than Let's Fall in Love on the small but oh so nice Bombax Bombax. And one can hope that many take the opportunity to listen to Erik Carlsson, he is a unique percussionist who curiously evokes a multifaceted world of sound.
In three of the disc's six songs (including a ghost track with no name) attack Carlsson percussion in a completely different - and a lot more exciting - ways. Here is the crackdown in force - with a relatively short reverberation. In the initial "Could be Emotional" spreading the sounds like little rings in the water. The actual raid, however, clear. There is a calm and peaceful feeling into action that leads my thoughts to something that resembles a Buddhist rite. The metal and wood hardness relaxed, becoming soft with rounded edges. One senses patterns, but they run slowly off to something else. The tempo of "The Dead Spirit 'is higher and the sounds sharper and cleaner. Although this one seems to sense patterns in the chime-like sound, also lurks the ritual. It is easy to get lost in the music, I headed off in a meditative mood.
In "Heavy Rest" is headed my associations to a completely different direction. I am amazed when I see that I partially moved back to an electronic music studio at some point during the 50's. By suppressing the acoustic harmonies and intermittently convey them, the Carlsson them sound electronic. Metal and blocks meet in a very rewarding environment.
One of the reasons I like The Bird And The Giant so much lies in its variety. How Erik Carlsson approaching harmonies, and concentrates on what he produces them is different in almost every song. New small rich place pops up all the time. On "Something else somewhere", he sounds simply different. He is back at the lengthy, but here he is - I think - treated sound in any way. A white noise spreads the sound, you listen carefully you can hear also a variety of audio sources. It is far, far from what one usually thinks of percussion ... Magnus Nygren (Sound of music)
The bird and the giant est le deuxième album solo du percussionniste suédois Erik Carlsson, proche collaborateur de Martin Küchen notamment. Ces cinq pièces (plus une, non indiquée sur la liste des titres) publiées sur le label portugais Creative Sources explorent chacune six univers différents, six paysages riches et variés, aux confins d'un pays inconnu sur le territoire des percussions et de la batterie.
Oserais-je dire qu’Erik Carlsson est un batteur lo-fi ? Sans le regretter. Au contraire, ce côté lo-fi ferait partie de sa personnalité. Il rehausserait même les morceaux de The Bird and The Giant.
La musique de ce solo de percussionniste est lente, on la dirait parfois jouée à l’aveugle. Pourtant elle est d’une précision épatante. On la dirait concrète ici (Heavy Rest) expérimentale ailleurs (Hope, Perhaps Feelings). On pourrait plus rapidement dire qu’elle peut tout se permettre : de remuer des clochettes, d’éclater de larsens, de faire des noeuds avec des harmoniques...
Qui ne connaît pas encore Erik Carlsson, Suédois qui a joué auprès d’autres Suédois (Mats Gustafsson, Martin Küchen…) devrait saisir cette deuxième carte de visite qu’il a fait éditer. Car ses contrastes disent tout de sa grande personnalité. Pierre Cécile (Le Son du Grisli)
A provision of subdued delayed bells, sporadic metallic clanging and other percussive muted tolls blended together with a sort of abyssal breathe, arguably derived from the echo of the mentioned bells, which could infer imagination into an almost motionless percussive performer, hitting its instruments while braving the stronf friction by some dense liquid from the bottom of a pool, and quite close to the music which normally accompanies Buddhist or Shintoist rites, of the track wisely titled "Could be emotional" introduce the listener to the second solo album by the talented Swedish percussionist Erik Carlsson. Its interesting experimental appeal travels through different directions: whereas the second track "Heavy rest" shows a more concrete approach - it's funny to imagine Erik playing pinball with his sticks on wooden and metallic percussions -, on the following one "Hope, perhaps feelings" there's another immersion in that kind of sound dilations he arguably manages to record with the support of a multitrack bowing sonorities with that slightly hypnotical suppleness which is going to intrigue the listener. That ritual dimension looks likehaving been reprised in "The dead spirit" where an entrancing crystalline labyrinth of clicks, tolls and drop-like hiccups aregoing to bring the listener into an imaginary cave rich f brightful charmstones. Some sinister white noises or radio frequncies interceptions begin the fifth track "Something else somewhere", where Erik climbs the steepest experimental peaks by subdividing his "subject matter" into microtonal impulses which give the idea of some transmission of a parallel and unknown universe, a rarefaction which reaches its apex in the sixth hidden track and arguably in the heavy breath (sounding more like a snoring with occasional disquieting high frequencies) keeping it separate from the rest of the recording. Highly reccomended listening! Vito Camarretta (Chain DLK)
Solo percussion and not bad at all. He sticks mostly to metals and bells, sometimes sounding a bit like certain prepared piano set-ups, keeps things calm but percolating, well-paced and, by virtue of the elements employed, very soothing on the ear. As with the trio release above, I can't say there's anything startling or "new", but no matter. It's an exceedingly pleasant recording, absolutely fine for creating a bubbly, meditational atmosphere. Also appreciate the more sandpapery final two tracks, nicely offsetting the prior sounds. Good work. Brian Olewnick (Just Outside)
A solo multitracked percussion record. Eric Carlsson’s music is mostly abstract and textural, but it doesn’t get really minimal. Interesting ideas, overlong bits – a so-so CD. François Couture (Monsieur Délire)
On two consecutive nights, I fell asleep with The Bird and the Giant on my mind. I had two vivid dreams:
1) My thumb was, for whatever reason, torn open, a bit decayed and reasonably cavernous. While grimacing at the sight, I was warned by someone in my kitchen, "Do not touch plants because they might take root inside your hand". Unfortunately, I had just smeared some sort of green mulch (resembling Chia seeds or pesto, something I ate that previous evening) and noticed a miniature forest growing inside the cracks of my digit. Squinting, I could see the tiny trunks and individual pine needles with as much detail as the best ship in a bottle or modeled landscape in an obsessive toy train collector's track.
2) My arm had itched all day. When I rolled up my sleeve, I touched the source of my discomfort: a bump just above my elbow. With microscopic eyes (I had bionic vision, like the Googlemaps zoom), I noticed that the pore on the spot was slightly agape. As I stared, a white mouse pokes his head out of the hole, and then darts back in. I did the equivalent of faint by waking up.
I credit these visions to my first impression of percussionist Erik Carlsson's work: as the polyrhythmic overdubs of metallic flicks, submerged gong rumbles, pings and thuds of the first piece ("Could Be Emotional") expand and contract, the aesthetic presents itself as the cogs, pins, rollers and whatever else makes a pocket watch tick — though one whose steady pulse has fallen off track. These are meager sounds are barely embellished and corralled by someone from the Cage school where time dictates direction; Carlsson spaces frequencies and attacks in a way that demands the listener pay attention to each amoebic blip rather than a potential frame they support. On "Heavy Rest", he favors a similar palette that leaves even more silence between his muted bells, never expedient to get anywhere beyond the present. The shimmering "Hope, Perhaps Feelings" replaces the dampened metals with a duet of freely ringing bowed cymbal and the aforementioned low-pitched gong wash. By "The Dead Spirit", the intent is deconstruction. Here, Carlsson utilizes the flavors of Gamelan without any of the idiosyncrasy of the culture / genre, simply flowing until the last note. The penultimate work revels in a restrained feedback, a melodic scream swimming below the surface, while the culminating title track gathers elements at their atomic level, literally purging them in a continuous breathy, scraped exhale.
Were my Carlsson-inspired imaginings simple holiday food-inspired hallucinations or something the artist put into my ether? Voting for the latter, I believe The Bird and the Giant is a terrific demonstration of a sonic world between the cracks of the traditional elements of music and unplanned natural events. Warmth and sterility oddly meet in unexpected intrigue. Dave Madden (The Squid's Ear)