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Album Review

KNITTING BY TWILIGHT
Riding the Way Back

There is a lot more than knitting going on on this album. There is intensity and rhythm and drama, parts virtual flashbacks to Xenakis and Cage and even Stockhausen, but just very small parts. This subdivision of music has come a long way from the days of those composers. In earlier days, housed under a side umbrella of classical music for some reason, the whole journey into odd sounds, odder time signatures (sometimes even no time signatures), and percussion-as-music is a history in itself. Books have been written about it, university music departments have embraced it, and musicians bored by mainstream music have furthered its development. The music itself took on a life of its own and stores, struggling to find its niche, invented sections like Experimental, Electronic, and New Music to house the fringe. Flipping through albums in such a section might uncover albums by the composers mentioned previously as well as Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Stomu Yamashta, and Harry Partch, among others.

Speaking of whom, Harry Partch invented instruments for his music, some simple and others strange conglomerations of metal and wood and glass which created the sounds necessary for his musical vision. He composed pieces for music and dance and intertwined them onstage, interweaving movement and sound into performance. He wrote a book attempting to explain his music, a book most musicologists cannot begin to explain. I mention this because the spirit of Harry Partch is in Riding the Way Back, intended or not.

Yes, this “New Music” has come a long way. “Computer Music” is now “programmed,” guitar effects are handled by a number of applications (remember when the fuzz was a big thing?). Hell, just the advances in the understanding of music place us in another dimension.

Knitting By Twilight heads into that dimension with sure-handed instrumental and percussion effects that make the old days seem interesting, but primal. The two-level Shiver, which opens this EP, is an example. Loud and brash, more rock than anything, percussion extremely basic, it steps across the threshold into the ethereal and back--- twice--- four parts, every other one miles apart, until it slowly fades out. The difference in decibels alone puts you into mild shock. Next track, Mik's Glacier--- rhythmic percussion on what could be garbage can lids as much as anything build into sci-fi soundtrack music of a sort, “keyboards” (meaning eerie musical effects on the keys) and “glacial guitars” laid over a drum and cymbal beat of tension. KBT reaches way back to 2005 for a startling “detail” (She's Here) from a track on their Someone To Break the Silence EP borrowed from She's Not Here, She's Far Ahead. This is one step beyond One Step Beyond, guitar chords hitting 9.5 on the chill factor. If you have to have Blue Ink for Fountain Pens, you might as well have the alternate version--- marimba-like percussion laying bedrock for a composition (the operative word here really is composition), movements a music scenario worthy of a short piece by, say, Leonard Bernstein or Halsey Stevens, voices and an organ from a great hall providing support. Twirling Guitars and Glad Tambourines finish it all with a percussive third world bizarreness from the big city. I mean, if you walked down a street in New York City and heard this coming from a distance, you would just naturally assume a parade was heading your way.

If the five tracks here are an example of the rest of KBT's work, it might behoove you to take a step into their past. Though there may be plenty of musicians heading in a similar direction, all too few play at it rather than play it. Robert Fripp and his conspirators have come up with some impressive sidetrips and there are others, but only a few. You have to love a group which lists as instruments shiver guitar, glacial guitar, tuned and decidedly untuned percussion, blue guitar (and I guarantee you that ain't blues guitar), and twirling guitar. And percussion? To KBT, that means anything that can be drummed, thrummed or thumbed.

I was in the Army way back with a guy named Hal Whipple who studied computer music at UNLV. He told me some amazing stories about what he and his cohorts saw as the future of music. I think these guys may just be what he was getting at. Hal? If you're out there, try a little Knitting By Twilight and tell me if this is what you meant. If it is, I finally understand.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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