Samm Bennett – Oscillendulum

Tokyo based percussionist, songwriter and free improvisor Samm Bennett has been responsible for many a curious undertaking. Amongst his most unusual is Oscillendulum – a collection of works for Juno 60 synthesizer. Recorded in 2005, the works have remained largely unheard, only a fortunate few being invited to listen to what is an utterly unex- pected series of sonic interplays. Bennett’s curiosity for emergent rhythmic interplays expands the potentials of the Juno, morphing it into territories of phasing harmony and bending pulse…

One fine day in the year 2005 I was on my way to a recording session here in Tokyo, in a part of the city with which I was relatively unfamiliar. Walking from the train station to the studio, I passed a second hand shop, the not-too-fancy type where one never knows what one will find, do one? Such stores are irresistible to me, and at the risk of being perhaps a few minutes late to my session, I popped in to have a quick look around. And there it was: tucked away on a big steel shelf at the back of the cavernous and somewhat dusty store there it sat: a Roland JUNO 60 synthesizer. A legendary piece of gear, and one which I immediately decided to purchase due to the very, *ahem*… reasonable asking price of… 10,000 yen. That’s about a hundred bucks US. The shopkeeper asked if I didn’t also perhaps have an interest in the Casio keyboard just next to the JUNO? “Going for slightly less money, and has 100 preset songs all playable at the touch of a single button!” No thanks, I informed, “perhaps next time”.

Now, I’m not a synthesizer player, per se. Drummer, percussionist, singer and songwriter, dabbler in certain idiosyncratic string instruments, avid squeezer of rubber pigs and chickens, yes, all of the above and a little more, but synth player or specialist? No, not at all. Wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do with this relative- ly heavy and bulky 61-key beast. Truth be told, reselling it at a handsome profit seemed likely. Once I started tinkering with it, though, I fell in love with the very pleasing sounds I began coaxing out of it, and immediately began recording the results.

Now, as a drummer/percussionist, I’ve devoted a great part of my musical journey to the exploration and creation of rhythms. Drums and percussion are, of course, characterized by attack: sounds with sharp attack and, generally speaking, little sustain. A drummer or percussionist’s stock in trade is creating rhythms by the organized repetition of such sounds. I found something altogether different with the JUNO, however, and started making rhythms out of sounds with little or no attack, and, often, with continuous sustain. Rhythmic pulse was there, but without the attack. Motion and propulsion were there, but in a continuous, flowing sonic event, not a series of separate, repeated events. If percussive rhythm could be compared to a person walk- ing down the street, each footstep against the pavement a single, sharp, sonic occurrence, marking the jour- ney from one place to another, then the rhythms emerging from my JUNO were more akin to the movement of a snake, undulating down the same street as a waveform, a series of rhythmic… curves.

And what I soon discovered, upon making a number of recordings of this “soft” rhythmic phenomenon, was that these separate recordings could be combined and layered, to create a polyrhythmic sonic environ- ment. The patterns could speak to each other, bounce off each other, move through each other. This was exciting to me, because polyrhythm has always been a key interest and great love of mine. But with the lack of percussive attack in the sounds being used, there was a new freedom at work here: the elasticity of the sounds and patterns meant that there would be no clashing, no bumping up against each other at *the wrong time*. So, unlike the kind of precision ‘machine’ that percussive polyrhythm must necessarily be in order to work, the soft edges here could cross each other, could overlap, could always meet each other in a ‘friendly’ way! Sort of like a bucket of eels as opposed to a bucket of Rubik’s cubes!

So, back in 2005 I put together these pieces, and I called the project Oscillendulum, a word I coined from the words oscillation and pendulum. Oscillation for, well, what the JUNO does so nicely! And pendulum, like the kind you see in an old grandfather clock. It is the familiar embodiment of repetition, but it too has a ‘softness’ about its steady rhythmic motion: it swings continuously in the air, it brings the pulse, but it never hits anything. Hope you’ll sit back and let these soft polyrhythms, these Oscillendulums, wrap themselves around you. Thanks for listening.

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