The three Austrians who make up Trapist have been remarkably efficient in their short history together. The trio's debut recording, Highway My Friend (Hatology), was made at its debut performance (recorded in 2000; released in 2002). Guitarist/electronics manipulator Martin Siewert and drummer Martin Brandlmayr then teamed up for 2003's Too Beautiful to Burn (Erstwhile), and those two records caused a bit of a stir in the small circle of electro-acoustic improvisation enthusiasts.
For its second album, Ballroom, Trapist moved to Chicago's Thrill Jockey label. The band's name was inspired, in part, by the Trappist concept of devotion through silence. (They chose to drop the extra "p" so the word would be a reference to the German word for a free-flowing trapeze.) And while the recording opens and, nearly 50 minutes later, closes with the austere and isolated sound of Siewert's guitar, in between Ballroom is far from silent. The trio blends its own delicate, slow-dancing acoustic improvisations with a remarkably nuanced field of electric hums, static and flutter-tones.
The group seems to begin with tapes of the trio improvising, which they subsequently layer with electronic elements. When Trapist lets both elements peacefully coexist, the results can be stunningly beautiful. On the 12-minute long "Time Axis Manipulation (Part 1)," Siewert's spare, repeated chords and gentle melodies sit alongside a warm field of buzzing electronics. Williamson's unobtrusive bass lines give the music shape and thrust, and Brandlmayr makes his drums sound like no one else's. He can make them rattle and snap, but he'd rather make them huff and sigh like a weary beast.
Elsewhere, as on "Time Axis Manipula-tion (Part 2)" and "Observations Took Place," the band goes overboard with its postproduction. Trapist plasters over the acoustic source material (assuming there was much to begin with) and turns out a flatter, less challenging electronic music. This may appeal to listeners of ambient electronic music-which may or may not be the point-but it will at least partially disappoint electro-acoustic improv listeners who've followed Trapist this far.