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Laurence Pike – Distant Early Warning


Laurence Pike - Distant Early WarningLaurence Pike is quite the musical polymath and one of Australia’s leading exponents of experimental drum-based music. After a number of collaborations with the likes of Australian jazz legend Mike Nock and Jack Wyllie from Portico Quartet, as well as releases by his bands PVT and Triosk, this is the first to find him heading out under his own name.

Originally conceived as a “spiritual jazz suite for drums”, Distant Early Warning could be viewed in that way, but also as much more. Recorded in a day, the album finds Laurence exploring the various interactions between live kit, repetitive electronica and drum samples, working quickly and experimenting on the hoof in a way that few people would dare to in this age of the possibilities of the editing suite.

What is interesting over the course of the six tracks presented here is just how subtle the whole enterprise is. Laurence is clearly a trained drummer and I was expecting a treatise like this to be wild drum solos for fifteen minutes at a go, like some post-modern Ginger Baker, or otherwise the skittering of Chris Corsano. I am quite pleased to say that it is neither of those things and instead we find ourselves approaching this with quiet steps and an air of reverence.

The drums are quite often rather low in the mix as if hushed by some means, and on opener “Life Hacks”, it allows more opportunity for the various sounds like double bass samples or some kind of flushing mystery noise to embed themselves in the listener’s consciousness. All the while there is a rhythm like a heartbeat pumping away in the background that gradually builds, unsettles as it becomes looser and more elements of the kit are brought into the sound. There is so much going on here on various levels that is lost on the first listen and quietly demands further investigation.

The use of effects to draw attention away from the rhythm is interesting. Some kind of woodpecker sound on the title track is nagging and is far more invasive than the drums themselves, which are almost buried as if to be merely textural, just giving something from which the electronics can hang. Without meaning to sound too out there, it is a fascinating but sparse jungle of sound that has a rhythm creeping in the undergrowth. There is a freeform element as well, but not in that kind of Corsano way of overpowering. This is much more laid-back and kind of muted, almost allowing the electronic sounds of a bed of scattered feathers while the knitting-needle drums and tight, light cymbals keep your ears to the speakers searching for the next direction.

Late night docks, a drone loop, the sound of a splash stuck on repeat, cymbals gathering on the horizon like storm clouds, threatening but not seriously: “Hard Feelings” is a little like watching mining on Mars, those huge shattering sounds reduced to a slight blow by the distance of the control room, yet you know it is happening and you can estimate the power, but just have no physical understanding. The tension gradually builds as slowly the tower approaches the area, and it is strange altered experiences like this that make the album a confusing and at times awkward listen; a tin-can motion gives random drum patterns on “Cyber Bully” something to cling to, all the different textures likely to be sucked into space if not for the gravity of the simple rhythm. It makes it hard to relax, and surely any music that causes you to sit up as if you were waiting for a roulette wheel to stop must be worth the price of admission.

I think Laurence has done quite a brave thing here and really made a success of it. Make a drum album that is not really drum-centric and invite everyone to the party; those that like drums, those that prefer their structure less structured, and those for whom a whole series of mysterious samples and noises is what the listening experience is all about. There really is something for everyone here and it is well worth dipping your toes into Distant Early Warning‘s gently swirling waters.

-Mr Olivetti-

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