Oren Ambarchi – Live Knots

Released in 2015 on PAN Records

Side A recorded March 13, 2013 in Tokyo, Japan

Sides B,C recorded October 20, 2013 in Krakow, Poland


Review:

This hypnotic, noisy, and improvisatory live album from Australian experimenter, collaborator, and improviser Oren Ambarchi features two separate performances of his epic composition “Knots” (from his 2011 album Audience of One).

The more abridged performance, “Tokyo Knots”, is a 24-minute duet interpretation with drummer Joe Talia, taking up all of side A. It begins with Talia’s swinging pulse on the ride cymbal, which is eventually followed by eerie, atonal feedback drones emanating from Ambarchi’s guitar and electronics. Ambarchi slowly builds his atmospheres with drone loops and effects pedals that make his instrument often sound more like an organ or electronic noise than guitar. The way he can transform atonal noises and feedback into emotive melodies and textures gives him a truly unique voice on his instrument. The drums get progressively more intense and muscular underneath; Talia plays freely and fluidly without losing any of the pulsing momentum on the ride. The two instrumentalists symbiotically get heavier and heavier until the forward inertia snowballs, peaking with a visceral attack of guitar noises over an explosion of drums that lasts for several cathartic minutes. Eventually, Ambarchi withdraws his dense wall of sound, resorting to more subtle and transient buzzes and drones as the drum pulse again takes center stage for the rest of the journey. 

The longer performance, “Krakow Knots”, takes up the next two sides and features this same duo augmented with the Sinfonietta Cracovia orchestra, conducted by the prolific violist Eyvind Kang, who arranged the strings on the original studio version of the track. Rather than start out the gate with Talia’s pulsing drums, this version takes its time to build up atmosphere. Sparse pizzicatos and scratchy bowed strings set the stage for a couple minutes before the light pulse of the ride and Ambarchi’s electronic buzzing atmospheres emerge from the ether. Some of the noises here resemble the chopping sounds of a helicopter rotor, others like power tools off in the distance, yet the noises still feel somewhat melodic. Like being dropped off in some unexplored sonic jungle, it becomes difficult to tell exactly how or where each of sounds are being generated, especially with the added textures of Kang’s innovative viola stylings. The strings of the Sinfonietta come and go throughout the track, adding drama and color whenever present. Beginning near the end of side B and continuing on side C, the music eventually builds to a viscerally cathartic climax of erratic, pounding drums and an almost violent guitar-noise solo similar to the one described on “Tokyo Knots”, but taken to even further extremes. Whenever the climax seems to peak, it pushes itself to a higher level of intensity until it becomes a chaotic, all-consuming wall of sound. While this version does have the general crescendo-decrescendo arch as the previous performance, its extended length and the addition of the orchestra creates more opportunities for nuanced dynamics and structure. Without losing any momentum, the climax slowly begins to re-focus itself. As the drums and guitar gradually lower their volume, the orchestra enters with some lush and beautiful melodies that juxtapose and soothe the ensuing chaos, until eventually the drums gradually relent and allow the strings to take center stage. The Sinfonietta builds on this descending melodic figure for a few minutes while the noises and drums fade into the background, ghostly memories of the previous turmoil. The strings slowly deconstruct into stretched out drones, interacting with strange percussive noises created by springs and contact microphones. Just when the piece has finished its decrescendo (the point which ended “Tokyo Knots”), a noisy crescendo starts to build again between Ambarchi’s electronic sounds and the deep drones of double basses and cellos. This final coda has a unique and haunting atmosphere that is a welcome resolution to the piece.

Overall, by placing two extremely different interpretations of “Knots” side by side, this live compilation really allows the listener to appreciate all the nuance of improvisation-heavy compositions such as this and the different avenues they can take. Both the abridged and straightforward arch of “Tokyo Knots” and the windy and extended orchestral “Krakow Knots” present the piece in a unique light. 

 

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