: rice corpse

Dual Plover/Kwanyin-Sub Jam 029, 2009
www.dualplover.com, www.subjam.org
Lucas Abela has been exploring noise performance using a variety of self-constructed instruments for over a decade. Since 2003 Abela’s instrument of choice has been a sheet of glass, which he plays by humming, squealing and raspberry-blowing against it, the miked signal subsequently fed through a utility belt of effects pedals. The performance is spectacular and concludes when he smashes the glass over his head. Showmanship aside, the sounds Abela elicits in his improvised onslaughts are often extraordinary.

After touring extensively across Asia and Europe as a solo artist, Abela has settled on China as the home for his latest project—a band. Rice&#23630Corpse sees him join with experimental rock drummer Yang Yang and improvising saxophonist Li Zenghui trying his hand at piano. After four rehearsals and minimal language-based communication, the trio made a recording and went on a tour of China (courtesy of an AsiaLink residency). The resulting six track CD, Mrs Rice, is co-released by Abela’s Dual Plover label and Kwanyin, the sub-label of SubJam, run by artist and promoter Yan Jun.

Abela admits that this CD sounds nothing like anything he’s done before and he’s right. The use of piano and drums lend many of the tracks what could be described as a more accessible melodic and rhythmic drive than we have come to expect. This is established immediately in “Mountain”, where almost genteel piano notes are met by subtle under rumbles from Abela. These notes quickly develop into discordant jabs and a rocking drum section kicks in establishing a chunky middle section in which Abela takes a lead break squealing the track to a new intensity. It’s a catchy and romping jazz-fusion piece that you could actually dance to if you were so inclined.

This comfortable zone is immediately undermined by “Stamp on my balls.” Discarding tight cohesion, it reveals the artists on exploratory journeys with occasional collisions. Abela purrs and sucks, the piano skitters, there are sudden drum punctums along with distant howls and caterwauls in Mandarin. This is call and response—the artists getting to know each other musically, offering and borrowing, creating a spacious piece that shifts through a variety of dynamics.

In “Desktop Frog” there's a collective launch: a brittle scattering of drums, washes of piano notes and growing undulations on glass creating the effect of bad weather approaching. Abela takes over, producing tones akin to organ notes but with a metallic edge, wailing and moaning, until a four beat drum count down introduces splatter hysteria.

Several of the tracks are tangibly gothic, a mood amplified by the morbid newspaper story reproduced on the sleeve about Mrs Rice, a woman from Bristol in a past non-specified, whose body was disinterred for its organs not once but twice. The title of track 4, “Resurrection Men”, is taken from the same article and its pounding piano progressions, primal drum rolls and the mounting intensity of Abela’s freeform swirls certainly suggest the Boogie Man is coming to take us away…This track is wild and expansive and yet completely integrated. My personal favourite.

“Peking Duck” could be called a song. Abela sings along, matching piano and drums note for note, sounding like Rolf Harris’ wobble board crossed with a duck. It’s a short pounding track showing yet another kind of conversation between the artists.

It’s hard not to read the gruesome body snatchers narrative into the final track “Mrs Rice.” Low piano notes and wide handspan chords offer a silent film ambience, while Abela creates low burblings and deathly moans. Yang Yang's drums come to the fore with sporadic bass drum thumps like hands banging on a coffin, accompanied by cymbal skitterings and the track ends, again, in an all out squall.

As a whole Mrs Rice is a fascinating experience. It certainly has its moments of noise assault but the dynamics between and within the tracks are testament to the improvisatory skills of the artists, and a sense that they are seeking new territories. The persistence of Zenghui’s piano stabbing and jabbing wears thin by the end, and I feel that Yang Yang’s drums often get lost in the mix with the recording muddied every now and then by total overdrive. What is most interesting about Mrs Rice is the intense cohesiveness of the ensemble and the range of explorations encapsulated on the six tracks. Doubtful he'll be able to bring the Chinese artists to tour, Lucas Abela is in the process of exploring a similar band format in Australia.
Gail Priest

17 July 2009
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