Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist, composer, and sound artist Reid Karris puts a big “E” in the term “Experimental.” Combining studio performance with field recordings, Karris updates the musique concrete of Tod Dockstader to incorporate today’s free-improv explorations.
Playing prepared guitar, as well as drums and percussion, Karris overlays tracks on top of bird song and insect noises throughout this four-track release. Karris writes, “Sometimes I consider myself more of a sound enthusiast then I am interested in traditional music and I feel that this is where my love of the sounds of nature comes from. I often find myself listening to the sounds around me whether they be animals or freight trains or whatever and drawing inspiration from them. I have tried to reflect my interest in animal song in particular with this album and use these sounds to guide the improvisations on guitar and percussion.”
Oscines et Ensifera begins with Birdsong, a percussion-heavy journey through the chaos of a forest full of chattering, hoots, and trills. Here, the multi-tracked guitar-work provides textures and atmospherics rather than notes. Inspectphase follows, a repetitive but evolving piece focusing on the field recordings more than instrumental work. Insectsong, in contrast, exhibits similarly-fitting chaotic percussion as Birdsong, but also features subtly roiling guitar lines over chirping crickets and other six-legged noisemakers. Birdphase is the final track, a reprise of sorts of Birdsong, but with more emphasis on the instruments. In places, the guitar and percussion are played slightly less experimentally, though far from what could be called conventional. However, Birdphase, also incorporates a low-volume grinding and droning, providing an ominous feel that is juxtaposed with the brightness of the singing.
While recording music inspired by bird song is nothing new, Karris’s unique compositional approach and sound generation makes this a singular effort. There is a lot going on here. Highly recommended.