Nicolas Felix Kauffman and Stefan Geoffrey Neville - OWL LOW

Foxy Digitalis

Once again, New Zealand's musical chameleon Stefan Neville (solo as Pumice, and a collaborator with what seems to be an entire musical microcosm) proves that he – quite literally – plays well with others. On "OWL LOW" he's teamed up with Nicolas Kauffman, a member of Denmark's Family Underground. FU specialize in creating thick, blackout-inducing, sky-high walls of extended, malleable drone. This recording was laid down live to Walkman in a large concrete room in Copenhagen in early 2005. Both Kauffman and Neville agree that the environment is the true star of the recording; the natural echo chamber was a vehicle, accentuating their drunken 'cosmic delusions.'

Musically, "OWL LOW" resides more in Pumice territory than in the miasmic drone world of Family Underground, but there is definitely no clear captain of the ship. This is a true collaboration: the influences of both musicians are unmistakably reflected in the recording. The first track (the track names are all blank, perhaps an invitation for us to fill them in) features guitar, flute and bells and evokes an afternoon prayer session in an East Asian temple. The guitar is minimal at first, leaving vast spaces for the other instruments to occupy; gradually, the tempo increases and a mysterious percussion element provides a subtle rhythm. The guitar disappears entirely and the room fills with the clatter of numerous bells. Spectral voices groan out from a dark corner of a forgotten ruin, calling to us to join them in their agony.

For some reason I find this music extremely comforting, as if I'm being wrapped snugly in a warm blanket. Perhaps it's the raw nature of the recording, or the delicate simplicity of the song structures. Or perhaps it's the echo effect created by the giant concrete room. Whatever it is, it makes the recording worthy of repeated spins on the CD player.

The fourth track features some signature Pumice-style fuzzed out guitar scrapings overtop mournful organ tones. The music quickly swells into an amorphous bubble of high-pitched sonic madness that somehow dissolves into a lone hand drum keeping a steady beat. A persistent buzzing drone permeates the sixth and final track of "OWL LOW," along with ringing bells and some murky unidentifiable percussive sounds. The latter half of the album is definitely noisier and more abstract than the first half.

The CD-R comes encased in a silk-screened cardboard cover with a self-closing flap, and a paper envelope with the Carbon Records address stamped on it. I've been seeing more and more of these self-closing cardboard CD covers popping up lately, and I like the utilitarian design that they offer. The artwork calls to mind the photocopied cut-and-paste 'zines of the eighties and nineties. "OWL LOW" is certainly a welcome addition to the lengthy discographies of these two prolific artists. Collaborative improvisations such as this one prove that the concept of synergy is in full force in this small world of ours. 8/10 -- (11 September, 2006)

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