General Magic & Pita
Fridge Trax Plus
Think of field recordings, and ethnomusicologist and folklorist Alan Lomax might come immediately to mind, or maybe Cabaret Voltaire co-founder Chris Watson, whose wildlife recordings include the disquieting sound of vultures feasting on a zebra carcass in Kenya.
Then there is the peculiar case of Fridge Trax—the 1995 EP that served as the inaugural release on the pioneering electronic label Mego based in Austria—which uses recordings of refrigerators as source material.
If there is a point to be made, it’s not that refrigerators make particularly interesting sounds, it’s that interesting music can be made out of anything. The source sounds are what you’d expect from the hum of an appliance, conveying a warm, almost soothing artificiality; they simply serve as a beige canvas on which to work, or to cut up into little pieces and re-purpose.
General Magic (Andreas Pieper and Ramon Bauer) and Pita (Peter Rehberg) are three of the founders of Mego, and this reissue of Fridge Trax, which collects the original EP and the album Live and Final Fridge (released on Source Records), also serves as a commemorative 20-year anniversary release.
Fridge Trax Plus is bookended with the two long pieces “Deep Fridge,” with a bleak ambiance, and “Final Fridge,” offering a robot world that manages to transform sterile sounds into soul-infused rhythms.
“Dope Fridge” uses polyrhythms, faint whistles and odd gurgles to create a strange head-nod inducing otherworldly pseudo-dance-funk, and “Funk Fridge” is a spectre that floats along with unassuming layers that form an aural fog.
“Spring Fridge” features glitchy whimsy and ghostly synthetic moans, like a child skipping through a haunted house, and “Ding Fridge” has wordless vocal snippets, echoing through the sonic meat locker. Fridge Trax Plus can be evocative or motivate movement, and it’s a testament to the belief that in the right hands, just about any premise can be made into something engrossing and worthwhile.
Film aficionados may be familiar with “The Gene Siskel Test,” which asks if a certain film is more interesting than a theoretical documentary about its actors simply having lunch together.
From one perspective, the test itself is an indirect indictment of mindless star-studded Hollywood blockbusters, but from a different angle, it shows the potential of improvisation and what each player can bring to an ensemble. At something as simple as a meal, an actor can bring his personality, upbringing, training, work and life experiences to the table, drawing from a personal history to integrate storytelling into a lively and compelling conversation.
This idea can be transplanted into the music realm and can illustrate how improvisation, at its ideal, can work in a similar fashion, and it came to mind when listening to the new album Ingress from the free-improv trio Wrest.
Wrest brings together two generations of improvisers: legendary saxophonist Jack Wright, who has exclusively played improvised music for the last 36 years, with percussionist Ben Bennett (also known for his series of 4-hour “Sitting and Smiling” web broadcasts) and double bassist Evan Lipson, also of the groups Normal Love and Psychotic Quartet, among others.
The self-released offering Ingress is available as a 2-track, 72-minute CD-R or as a 3-track, 100-minute digital download, with each track being a different live performance; listening to it in one uninterrupted session would be overwhelming, with each piece being simultaneously dense and sprawling, and it is best to treat each set separately.
Bennett uses an unconventional set with a variety of drums and small objects, striking, scraping and blowing on them to vibrate them in unusual ways, and Lipson’s range goes from sharp, violent plucking to wispy, ethereal bowed notes and wild, claw-footed scampering; as charged and inventive as ever, Wright sounds perhaps like the fascinating and disturbing results of ornithological genetic engineering, with fictional, never-before-heard bird calls.
Like friendly sparring partners, the members of Wrest are comfortable enough with each other to constantly push each other, bouncing pointed ideas and reacting with fruitful synthesis; it’s a stream of persistent minutiae, like a spirited chat with each person interjecting and fueling the conversation to make it richer.