AMN Reviews: Reid Karris – Solo Guitars (2020; Bandcamp); Basura (2020; Friendly Otter)

Each Friday night in April, Chicago-based improviser Reid Karris put his kids to bed and then sat down with a beer and pair of prepared electric guitars for a Facebook Live broadcast. Each of the four sessions lasted about 30 minutes, and featured Karris playing the guitars with a combination of bowls, blocks, metal rods, tools, and various other devices. The guitar output was run through distortion and delay pedals to create waves of discordance, twisted notes, multiple voices, and chaotic textures. He often evokes percussive elements to accompany sculpted feedback by manipulating the guitars’ pickups. This, along with echos and rattlings, embody a little over two hours of extemporization that manages to be both exploratory and cogent. High points include where the effects allow Karris to produce two or three distinct and complementary layers of sounds.  He has also posted the videos to Youtube, and these are worth watching as this sort of implement-based improv is (or should be) a spectator sport.

While Solo Guitars provides something resembling melodies here and there, this offering falls squarely into the harsh noise wall (HNW) category, and thus does not. HNW is known for being based on unrelentingly consistent blasts of white noise, and thus it shares some spectral properties with thermal vibrations, radiation, and other naturally-occurring processes. Psychologically it represents negative space – the frequencies between radio stations, the lack of structured sound. Basura is an hour-long onslaught broken into two equal-length tracks. Despite its virtually unchanging structure, a theme or two linger in the background for a few moments here and there. Then they are gone. The Spanish word for trash, the physical cassette of Basura is manufactured from all recycled materials and was released on April 26.