Review: Ted Byrnes – Tactility (Arkeen, Mar 27)

If you don’t already, make sure to follow Ted Byrnes’ Instagram account. One of his greatest strengths as an improviser and performer is his ability to retain the assaulting physicality of his approach in audio recordings, but seeing the techniques, setups, and speed he uses is a wonder to behold. Seriously, it seems like I always need to pause his videos to make sure he doesn’t secretly have more than two arms. Something else gained from witnessing Byrnes play is that, no matter how abstract and alien his work often sounds, much of it is generated using a standard drum kit setup. This element is crucial to Tactility, his most recent full-length on Cincinnati’s very own Arkeen imprint, a new venture from Fantastique Distribution. Not only are these all drum set improvisations, but some of the pieces are even dedicated to much more conventional drummers whose styles and music have influenced Byrnes: Jamie Muir (King Crimson) and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin). Byrnes’ reverence for the latter is especially palpable in the corresponding track (“JH Bonham”) which sees him executing a dexterous hand solo reminiscent of Bonham’s legendary “Moby Dick” performances. The following tracks are less conventional; “Shells” is a brief but detailed array of pleasing clatter ostensibly generated using strings of the titular objects, while “Small and Large” demonstrates some of Byrnes’ most awe-inspiring acrobatic phrasings as he transforms simple metal-on-skins percussion into a lush, enrapturing sonic environment. “Auto Parts” is another illustratively titled track much sparser than the cacophony conjured by Byrnes’ project with Sam McKinlay (a.k.a. The Rita, whose remix of Tactility is included on a 3″ in the deluxe version of the album), Cackle Car. By the end of “Fix It,” the album’s longest and most eclectic piece, you’ll feel as battered and bruised as if you were just another one of Byrnes’ objects—but also exhilarated and astonished.

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