Getting to see Ohio-based improvisational collective KBD last week was a treat. Though performances and recordings most often consist of Michael Kimaid’s drums and electronics and Gabriel Beam’s modular synthesizer, that night they were joined by Ryan Dohm on trumpet and electronics. KBD takes a do-it-yourself, less formal approach to the spacious, sometimes noisy electroacoustic improvisation style pioneered by groups like AMM, Morphogenesis, and Gruppo d’Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, with some pieces even approaching the former’s ideas of “meta-music.” Idyll, a tour c40 that features Kimaid and Beam, presents fluid instrumental conversations between the experienced collaborators and, like many other albums, demonstrates the power and possibilities of the drum and synth combo. Beam takes the lead most times, his patching resulting in percussive oscillations and almost gunfire-like chatter, and the versatile synthesizer provides a sustained atmosphere with dynamic textural interjections. Kimaid’s playing is more subtle but no less rich, with the softly tapped drums and droning loops flitting between foreground and background. I couldn’t help but smile at the voices heard near the end of side B; whether from an actual radio or not I’m heavily reminded of Keith Rowe (whose biography was featured in the background of a picture showing these very tapes).
It’s been a while since this tape actually came out, and there’s not really any excuse for me waiting this long to write about it other than I just recently was able to really dig in. I bought it after hearing (and enjoying) the twentieth anniversary reissue/remaster of the first Validine Chronus album, Ultia. The long-running solo project of composer Eric Bertrand incorporates a plethora of experiments and styles in each release, and Transdermal is no exception. These pieces unfold in a controlled manner, especially in relation to their haphazard construction from “samples, field recordings, and partially finished tracks,” each one exploring a particular sonic pairing or progression. The longer compositions on side A, as well as the nearly ten-minute “Digital E. coli” later on, are patient drones, with the former built on sustained tones that are surrounded by curling, washing strands of mechanical sound, while the latter slowly descends into beautiful, distorted chaos like a dying machine. It took me a while to come around on the rhythmic elements on “Tiny Hands” and “Atomic Clock,” but once I did I realized that they advance in equally interesting ways, with the structure provided by the percussion collapsing as each track becomes more and more hectic. Transdermal is a long album but doesn’t feel like it, and with so much ground covered across the nine pieces it’ll be one I’ll return to many times.