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David Van Tieghem stumbles, Chrome chugs fiercely
David Van Tieghem x Ten
Fits & Starts
One childhood memory of being exposed to unconventional arts was seeing percussionist David Van Tieghem in the charming short film “Ear to the Ground,” broadcast in the mid-’80s on the PBS show Alive from Off Center, which showed Tieghem wandering through city streets with a pair of mallets, literally playing the street and everything in his path as if they were drums.
In line with the idea of common objects and surfaces being used as musical instruments, Van Tieghem’s latest album Fits & Starts was born from a NYC art project, where ten rookie musicians were asked to attach various items to a bulletin board, such as a muffin tin, a violin, jars and a toaster.
Van Tieghem was then recorded, striking and caressing these objects with mallets and brushes, and these recordings were given back to the ten musicians as a sort of call-and-response dialogue, who remixed and manipulated the sounds. Finally, Van Tieghem pieced these processed tracks together into two long album-side-length collages.
While “Ear to the Ground” was a fascinating look at the transformation of the ordinary, as a stand-alone recording, the album at hand doesn’t offer that same type of revelation; it’s not a total mystery, though, living in the context of a planned art project, but divorced from the visual aspect, the recording just seems too amorphous and vague. The existing video snippets of Van Tieghem beating on the bulletin boards are more satisfying, in their unadulterated glory.
“Slippery Slope” begins with shadowy soundscapes, far away from spontaneous dynamics, and the sound processing is actually a bit annoying, with foggy reverberation that doesn’t accent Van Tieghem’s talents. Things get a little more compelling at the 8-minute mark, with more furious, inspired beats, but some artsy-fartsy near-monotone spoken word bites and the conformist, metronomic ending unravel the piece.
“Cooler Heads Prevail” strips away what made the original recordings interesting by starting with a strict 4/4 time and using robotic, distracting synth notes. By far, the album’s best moment comes at the track’s halfway point, with an odd chorus and rough sample with charged scampering, before some terrible 4-on-the-floor beats take over.
With a different editing philosophy, this writer is convinced that the album could have been more memorable, but as it stands, it’s a muddled vision, perhaps with too many cooks in the kitchen.
Half Machine from the Sun
(King of Spades)
Starting before the post-punk and new wave eras and pre-dating electro-clash by decades, the American group Chrome never quite got the widespread recognition that it deserved, delivering its cyborg punk that’s far more complex and sinister than the simple notion of “punks with synths.”
Formed by the late Damon Edge, who took influence from bands such as The Stooges and his studies at Disney’s California Institute of the Arts, and joined by guitarist Helios Creed for Chrome’s prime years, Chrome made dystopian science fiction soundtracks that always conveyed the feeling that something just isn’t right, while nevertheless being propelled forcefully into the future.
Creed’s guitar work is distinctive, with damaged and restless sounds, often using a slow flange effect and distorted, controlled rhythm-guitar blasts, and Edge’s disquieting synth lines were influenced by an atmospheric quality in music he heard on a trip to Morocco.
Half Machine from the Sun is a compilation facilitated by Helios Creed, subtitled “The Lost Tracks from ’79 – ’80,” and it features unused recordings from the album sessions for Half Machine Lip Moves and Red Exposure, which were indeed lost, having been sold due to an unpaid bill and decades later reclaimed through a crowd-sourced effort.
Fans will likely love these unreleased tracks, recorded during the group’s creative peak, and they provide accurate and varied glimpses into the band’s cybernetic eccentricities. The uneasy opening track “Anything” offers alien, pitch-shifted vocals and an off-kilter rock momentum; another highlight, “Fukushima” (originally titled “Nagasaki”), delivers fierce chugging and mind-bending vocal effects, while the singing on “Looking for Your Door” strangely resembles crooning.
Rhythmically, the collection features a mix of acoustic drums and drum machines, and “Charlie’s Little Problem” even has the group banging on pieces of metal. Newcomers may want to start with the classic Half Machine Lip Moves (perhaps Chrome’s best), but really there’s no “dipping the toes in the water” with Chrome—it’s best to just cannonball dive into the group’s futuristic, visionary weirdness.