The Living Earth Show is described in the PR literature as “two Bay Area Indie-Classicists with a cult following”. The combination of percussion of all kinds and an electric guitar can in this case be transparent and sparing or rich in effects and fascinating sonorities. This debut album brings out the work this duo has done with four composers about whom no information is given in the foldout packaging for the CD, though each has provided their own programme notelet for their piece. Links to each name’s website can be found on the Innova website for this release.
Sparing and transparent is the level for many of these tracks. Carl Adam’s two Tension Studies frame the programme, the first an intriguing little exploration of subtle glissandi, expressive guitar and percussion overtones in a kind of ritual glimpse into the performing duo’s musical kitchen. Tuned and untuned percussion adds contrasts of texture and tonality in a time-stretching, fairly static procession. The second of these, the final track, takes us further into more surreal worlds of electronic sound, with a suggestive background landscape over which the instruments elaborate with their established slow-motion gestures. An atmosphere of mystery is maintained throughout, percussive interjections building an extra layer of ‘will they-won’t they’ tension. They never quite do, but the final moments do have their own apocalyptic subtext.
These and the second piece and third pieces in the playing order all remind me a little of Gavin Bryars. You broke it, you bought it has that lonely vibraphone tintinnabulation which goes well with the sustain of the guitar, and Family Man goes further into electronic shifts of perspective. The PR notes unashamedly announce the influences here, describing the work as “a simultaneously beautiful and hauntingly heavy bitcrushed symphony, located at the intersection between Morton Feldman and Sigur Ros.” I don’t think I would have cited Feldman in this context but I can see what they are getting at. Exotic sounding chimes link hands with fragments of soulful jukebox nostalgia, and the guitar’s attack envelope is manipulated in Ralph Towner style, garlanded with twee tinkles from the percussionist. After 10 minutes we sort of get the message, but the set-up is for a quasi-subliminal horror transition and heavenly apotheosis which makes it all worthwhile.
The odd man out here is Repetitive Stress, which we are told highlight’s the player’s “experience with San Francisco’s metal troupe Freighter.” If you like your sounds more Harold Budd then this is the track you will want to skip, but if you have that kind of long wavy hair which dries nicely to a session of headbanging then this will serve nicely. It’s not all blocks of brutal distortion rhythm, but the softer bits are musically a bit thin. If you fancy a cross between Robert Fripp with perhaps a bit of John Goodsall thrown in and a finale from Bill Frisell then this may well float your boat.
This is an intriguing first release from The Living Earth Show, and I have the feeling they will have more to show us in the future. This album has its own Tension Studies in the sense that it feels a bit like a highly polished work-in-progress - a contradiction of sorts. I like the attitude of collaboration with various composers, but would be intrigued to hear what could happen if this combi were to break out of their “Bay Area Indie-Classicist” mould, dig themselves a deeper trench and pack some bigger ammunition. The PR text ends with “this is high art without the crash.” Aiming higher might indeed risk a crash, but the launch pad is firm and these guys are ready for lift-off.