Collecting previously unissued works recorded between 2018-2021 and a side-long epic dating back to the early 80s, as the title suggests, "Drumming Up Trouble" focuses on a hitherto almost unknown aspect of Alvin Curran:'s encyclopaedic and omnivorous musical world: his experiments with sampled and synthesised percussion.
As Curran's wonderful, wildly sweeping liner notes make clear, his fascination with drumming belongs to the radical investigation of music's fundamental elements that has marked his output since the beginnings of MEV, who aimed (as he says in a recent interview) to return "in some collective way to a non-existent start time in the history of human music". Whatever kind of music our proto-human ancestors played, he writes, "drums were front and centre in the mix. Drums rule!"
In a paradox typical of Curran's approach, »Drumming Up Trouble« interrogates this most ancient dimension of music with contemporary technology. On the first side, we hear recent pieces performed using the sampling software and full-size MIDI keyboard setup Curran has refined since the 1980s. Two of them are wild real-time improvisations, primarily utilising an enormous bank of hip-hop samples. Building from polyrhythmic layers of drum machine fragments to wild cacophonies of clashing vocal samples, scratching, and frantic pitch shifting, these energetic and at times hilarious pieces occupy a space somewhere between John Oswald's Plunderphonics, Pat Thomas and Matt Wand in the Tony Oxley Quartet, and the propulsive Kudoro/Grime fusion of Lisbon's Príncipe label. They are improvisations are accompanied by two austere, minimal compositions realised in collaboration with Angelo Maria Farro: "End Zone" for orchestral bass drum and high oscillator, and "Rollings", where a snare roll is gradually stretched and filtered by digital means into "floating electronic gossamer".
The incredible breadth of Curran's output makes it pretty unlikely that a listener familiar with his work would be surprised to find it branching out in a new direction. But no degree of familiarity with his work can really prepare for side B's epic and bizarre "Field it More". It's perhaps best to let the maestro describe this unhinged and infectious offering in his own words: "It features an 8 bar funky minimal riff à la James Brown, played on synth and an-out-of-tune piano, synced to a pre-paid patch on the Roland drum machine. Over this is laid a heavily processed track of the voices of dancer Yoshiko Chuma and movie-maker Jacob Burckhardt discussing an upcoming performance of theirs at the Venice film festival, capped by a track of my playing an increasingly out of control blues over the top of all of the above". Only Pekka Airaksinen's Buddhas of the Golden Light comes to mind as a reference point that might even vaguely compare to this wild home-brew of drum-machine funk, mad improvisation and squelching electronics, which eventually dissolved into a massive, layered cluster. Ancient and modern, synthetic and human, hysterical and rigorous, Drumming up Trouble is 100% Curran.
Alvin Curran (born 1938 in Providence, Rhode Island) is an American composer, performer, improviser, sound artist, writer, and teacher, based in Rome since 1965. A former student of Elliott Carter, he is the co-founder, with Frederic Rzewski
and Richard Teitelbaum, of Musica Elettronica Viva
, a group with variable geometry dedicated to electronic and acoustic improvisation, which built one of the first bridges between the experimental avant-gardes on both sides of the Atlantic. Using mainly electronics and environmental found sounds, but also piano, Curran has established himself as one of the most original voices of the American avant-garde.