Radboud Mens and Matthijs Kouw have been working together for quite some time now, but “1” is the first collaborative effort I have heard from them. The album takes the form of two long-form drones, each piece ostensibly a single chord held for around twenty minutes, though in each case the chord changes substantially over that duration. The titles of the pieces seem to indicate the root notes of the chords in Western musical notation: F for the first piece, A for the second.
Each piece begins with a deep sustained bass note establishing the root of the chord. Then faint glimmers of other tones begin to emerge, and the chord builds in energy and complexity. Interactions between the notes of the chord, and between the notes and the environment in which they sound, create a rich tapestry of resonances, rings, oscillations, and overtones; the sounds transform themselves without much in the way of obvious gestural interventions from the two musicians. Indeed, I half-wondered whether the two tracks were created via some sort of algorithm that takes the starting note as its initial parameter, then builds the piece autonomously based on feedback detected as the chord emerges, though perhaps this is a little too far-fetched.
What’s interesting is that the two pieces make quite different impressions, despite the similarity of their forms. ‘F’ has perhaps the most momentum, its pulsating, thrumming mass evocative of breathing in and out or of waves breaking in slow-motion on a shore. In contrast, ‘A’ is a majestic ocean liner gliding serenely and perhaps a little euphorically into port. From what sound (probably deceptively) like such simple ideas, not one, but two weighty and attractive pieces of music emerge.