More solo percussion from Weighter Recordings, this time from Tim Feeney, whose work I had been unfamiliar with up to this point. The long, drawn-out drum rolls from which the album’s two tracks are formed invite immediate comparison with the work of Weighter director-in-chief Nick Hennies, with whom Feeney performs in the trio Meridian. However, much as artists of the Sixties and Seventies explored the shared format of monochrome painting with very different concepts in mind, so in this case does a formal similarity reveal contrasting aesthetic concerns upon close listen.
While Hennies’ recent output raises subtle questions related to the presentness and coherence of the performing agent (as indicated by the playful notion of ‘duets for solo performance’), Feeney seems on the evidence of this release to focus his attention on the sounds that can be produced using percussive instruments. On “Caroline” he uses a single modified drum, played with the hands, to produce sustained broadband washes that resemble ambient drone textures more than anything the mainstream music industry would think to use a drum for. However, the shininess of the new and unexpected is not the album’s point, a fact made clear by the extension of each ‘roll’ over a substantial number of minutes: after a while the novelty fades away, leaving the timbral qualities of the sounds standing clear and open for examination. The structure of the album traces an arc from smooth to gritty to grittier, ending with a sonorous subterranean growl that shrugs off the dryness and ascetic purity often intended by the label ‘noise’, without collapsing into the embarrassingly naff theatricality sometimes offered up as the antidote to such rarefied tendencies.
“Caroline” accomplishes more with a single drum and four timbres than other works do with entire orchestras, confirming that there is indeed a rich variety of ideas to be explored through this approach. The specific, sophisticated questions and concerns articulated by artists such as Feeney put paid to any notion of merely imitating a ‘minimal-experimental’ style. What links his work most strongly with that of Hennies, perhaps, is that the rigour of their respective conceptual approaches never becomes decoupled from a deep and full commitment to the possibilities and limitations of the instrument they have to hand, and it’s precisely this that makes “Caroline” a great solo percussion album.