AMN Reviews: Catching Up with Reid Karris

Chicago-area improviser Reid Karris has been consistently busy release-wise over the last decade. The pandemic may have slowed him down a bit, but not much. Focusing on guitar, percussion, field recordings, and sculpted sound textures, Karris typically stays on the outside – the far outside. His improvisations are streams of consciousness, using extended techniques and prepared instruments, some of which he built.

Below, we review a handful of his most recent releases.

Reid Karris – We Enter the Circle After Dark and Are Consumed by Fire (2022; Ramble Records)

The four tracks on We Enter the Circle After Dark and Are Consumed by Fire were formulated from recordings Karris made taking walks near his studio in 2021. He manipulated these in various ways, stretching and compressing them in time. Some of the original source material remains discernable (such as a passing train early on), but most survive as textured drones. Over this, he layered electric guitar improv, in his signature disjointed and feedback-laden fashion. Some passages are outright quiet, if not for Karris’s metallic manipulation of his guitar’s body and strings. Toward the end, he emphasizes found-object percussion as well. The overall result is chaotic but not overtly in your face.

Reid Karris and the Man from Atlantis – Onomatopoeia (2022; Ramble Records)

Here we have Karris collaborating with Ramble Records label head Michael Sill, the latter calling himself the Man from Atlantis. Karris recorded percussion tracks made with skatchboxes and pieces of metal, then passed them off to Sill. To these, Sill added acoustic, electric, and slide guitar, as well as voice. Sill is a much more structured player than Karris, and his contributions approach being tuneful. They have a folk feel, even when he employs his electric in a gritty and overdriven fashion. But this effort remains far from an easy listen, with Karris playing amplified implements, cymbals, and bells with little repetition or pattern. So while there are plenty of melodies to latch on to, they rarely last and are often hidden behind noisy improv weirdness.

Reid Karris – Solo Guitars 2021 (2022; Bandcamp)

This is a massive undertaking. Throughout the COVID lockdowns and semi-lockdowns of 2021, Karris spent one Friday a month in his studio recording and live-streaming prepared guitar improvisations (not unlike his Solo Guitars release of 2020 recordings). After a year of doing so, he had 45 tracks and over 8 hours of music, all of which are on this release. He also posted videos of the sessions on his YouTube channel. Thus, this album can be watched as well as listened to. Karris laid his instrument flat on a table, sent its output through various effects pedals, and proceeded to use tools and other implements to scratch, saw, mute, and otherwise manipulate the strings while adjusting the knobs of the pedals. At times he brings out a second guitar to hang around his neck and play in only a slightly more expected manner. An unconventional approach to be sure, but strangely listenable in all of its peculiarity.

Asker – Tacet (2022; Mother Brain Records)

This collaboration includes Karris on prepared guitar and percussion, Alexander Adams on drums, Seth Andrew Davis on electro-acoustic guitar, and Kevin Cheli on drums, vibraphone, & percussion. As might be expected if you are familiar with the previous works of each individual in the lineup, Tacet is a noisy and dense set of relentless open-ended improv. One of its more notable aspects is that it was recorded remotely, with Karris and Adams in Chicago, Davis in Kansas City, and Cheli in Ithaca, New York. The quartet passed around tracks until they each had contributed to all of the pieces. Soundwise, the percussion skitters and rattles, while the guitars are spiky with heavy processing. Davis offers up angular soloing at a couple of points, which only serves as contrast to emphasize how unorthodox this album is as a whole.

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