Review: Symbiotique – The Maximal Effect (Mother Brain, Apr 2)

Much like an album with a similar approach I reviewed quite a while ago (Nathan Corder and Tom Weeks’s Anaconda), the pairing of instruments that characterizes Symbiotique seems like it shouldn’t work. By that I mean the idea of coupling extremely abstract, atonal electronic synthesis with largely conventional reed and brass playing doesn’t look very auspicious on paper, at least not to me, but The Maximal Effect immediately won me over regardless; not only does Seth Andrew Davis contribute lush layers of plasticky, artificial effervescence, but he also processes Michael Eaton’s saxophone and/or flute in real time, rendering even the most straightforward licks and runs in an unstable, fragmentary light. After the opening title track, each of the lengthy improvised pieces arise from some sort of conceptual inspiration—e.g., “Accumulation by Dispossession” from the ideas of David Harvey and Karl Marx, “Via Affirmativa” from Barth’s “A Few Words on Minimalism”—which may be why they never feel noodly or aimless. These are musical conversations first and foremost, and one imagines what a fascinating spectacle seeing the duo perform live would be, but in more holistic terms the swirls of sound always seem to flow from a single source, as if a mysterious pressurized gas canister has sprung a leak or someone lifted the lid of the devil’s toybox for a bit too long. The sprawling “Plastic Capitalism” is a great example of this and a clear standout on the album; the momentum of the interplay that mounts in the first half is exhilarating, and even when the pair calms things down the music quietly but stubbornly persists, seeping under the doorway with a creeping hiss.