Andrew Lafkas

Andrew Lafkas - 1+1 = year zero (water/moon), coloured stones on a beige carpet

1+1 = year zero (water/moon)

There’s not a whole lot of information available online about Andrew Lafkas, but I gather he’s an American composer and double bassist who’s played with free jazz legend Bill Dixon and Dixon’s student Andrew Raffo Dewar, among many others. He also works closely with his Sacred Realism labelmates Bryan Eubanks and Catherine Lamb: the trio play on each other’s records, and their music seems to share a common aesthetic that brings the quiet, low-key impressions of Wandelweiser et al and the timbral colours uncovered by acoustic and electroacoustic improvisation into dialogue with each other.

The enigmatically-titled “1+1 = year zero (water/moon)” is an hour-long piece for an ensemble of electric guitar, bass clarinet, trombone, percussion, piano, viola, radio, and bass. As far as I can tell, the structure revolves around the piano, the clear tones of which punctuate a low-level surface of sustained noise from the rest of the ensemble: these punctuations begin as single notes, becoming progressively more polyphonic and complex across the arc of the piece. Silence and near-silence are used frequently, but they are incorporated into a schema that contains a range of dynamics and volumes, becoming two more tools in the toolbox rather than forming a telos towards which all energies are directed.

I listened to “1+1 = year zero (water/moon)” at various different volumes, in part because the timbres of some of the acoustic instruments seemed to suggest they were being played at a louder volume than the recording presented them at. I found that listening at a higher volume than I would normally use transformed my experience of the piece: a world of timbral detail opened up, and things became rougher and more gnarly, closer to the timbres of improv perhaps. In the end I think I actually preferred listening at a ‘normal’ volume, which produced shifts between light and dark, clarity and ambiguity that I found very appealing and engaging (perhaps that’s why they mastered it at that level — who’der thunk?!). This was my first exposure to the music of Lafkas, but on this evidence I’ll definitely be looking out for more; the piece draws on several prevailing currents in experimental music and then nudges them into thoughtful, compelling new directions. Recommended.

Cover photograph by Jaron Childs

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