: charlie charlie & will guthrie

Antboy 06, 2004/2005
Antboy 04, 2003

For some time now former Melbourne-based percussionist Will Guthrie has been developing a distinctive and arresting aesthetic in which bowed and/or vibrated metallic objects provide a semi-harmonious, sustained base into and on-top of which are placed a series of scattered scrapes, twangs, clicks and percussive stutters. Building Blocks is one of his most impressive and satisfying releases in this vein, a 3-track suite in which these resonating tones are introduced and built upon before other elements gradually intrude, finally producing a dense and nearly overwhelming net of electronic, ringing sheets and metallic fragments, peaking, lightly squealing and shaking, as they fill the acoustic space. The tones themselves are generated by placing handheld, battery-powered fans against metallic objects (cymbals, sheets of tin, steel drums, springs), which are then miked up. The proximity of the fan to the striking object, its slightly imperfect tempos and hit rate, as well as the carefully judged mixing of this material, helps to give a complicated and seductive ebb and flow to the sustained elements. Chains, toys, springs and chimes are then hit in isolation or placed upon a drum head to create the other discrete elements, causing Guthrie's live performances to resemble a virtuosic display of physical gestures and inter-twinings, as his hands leap about his assembled collection of noise-making devices. As recorded works, these are patient, subtle pieces, the CD clocking in at 50 minutes, in which one progresses from Ligetti-like choral hums and screams, to Guthrie's more distinctive, creaking and sproinging materials.

La respiration des saintes [The Breath of Saints] represents Guthrie's latest direction under the moniker Charlie Charlie, a collaboration with Erell Latimier, initiated since moving to France. Although dense and more difficult it is more sonically challenging and inventive, like some intense early musique concrète testing the limits of organized sound. On this CD-single (which sadly only runs to 14 minutes), Guthrie has smashed together scraps of text from French radio broadcasts, as well as abstract radiophonic materials, and other elements so obscure, so wonderfully perverse and strange, that it is difficult to determine how they were produced percussively—or indeed in any other fashion. It may be that, in his use of barely comprehensible text, Guthrie is referencing such classic works as Pierre Henry's Eurydice, Antonin Artaud's Pour finir avec le judgement de dieu [To Have Done With the Judgement of God] or the radio transmissions from the underworld featured in Jean Cocteau's film Orphée. Whether or not this is the case, Guthrie's composition echoes such precedents gesturing towards an uncharted, haunted realm of sound, close to both death and a collapse of meaning. Thus, unlike Building Blocks, La respiration des saintes exceeds its origins to create a new and essentially spectral, rather than performative, sonic world, unmoored from its origins in percussion and semi-improvised live composition.

The material is densely stratified with a sense of multiple spaces and worlds created and then densely impacted in a kind of sono-acoustic layer cake. It is like listening to a piece of unmapped archaeology, as the listener skates past the side of panels of rock-hard sound layers and spatial devices laid on top of each other, running parallel in a great, deformed mass. Vocals, rumbles, ringing sounds (presumably generated by bowed cymbals or other similar objects), far distant elemental cries, howls of electronics and strange swipes or deformed bleed-throughs of tape, as well as aggressive, closely miked crushings—all of these materials move about the world which Guthrie has created. The foreground tends to be small, discrete, composed of more isolated units of apparently percussive sources, while the almost never-ending sonic depths behind this tends to rise and fall with a diverse and bewildering array of materials. This is a wonderful recording which merits repeated listening precisely because of its unmasterable abstraction, the sense that it goes beyond its absent sound sources to create something truly unknowable and sublime. Although it is frustrating to have such an absorbing CD with only one medium-length track on it, La respiration des saintes is worth having. Through such works, one might yet be able to walk through the mirror with Death and be reunited with our deceased, emotional doppelganger in the Afterlife (“Vous saviez qui je suis?” “Oui.” “Dit que le.” “Ma Morte.” “Parfait.”).

Jonathan Marshall

1 December 2005