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Arnold Dreyblatt and the Orchestra of Excited Strings: The Adding Machine

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The founders of New York experimental music group Bang on a Can created Cantaloupe Music to provide a home on silvery disc for music that doesn’t fit easily into record-store bins. So it’s a little surprising to hear Arnold Dreyblatt’s The Adding Machine, the sixth release on Cantaloupe, and realize that these compositions are solidly within the near-canonized tradition of American minimalism. Pulsing, driving, modulating rhythmic cells; two- and three-note motives gradually expanded and elaborated to produce lush, layered textures; a near-trance state for the engaged listener, forgetting yourself in the frenetic chirping of “meantime” or the solid thump of the title track. Dreyblatt does it well, as you can probably tell, but it’s all so…1975.

What keeps Dreyblatt avant of the garde is not his compositions but his instruments, as grouped under the name the Orchestra of Excited Strings. In addition to old standbys like violin and cello, the orchestra features a “cimbalom,” which Dreyblatt describes as “a rebuilt and restrung prewar Chinese children’s piano, which is played here horizontally with hand-held hammers”; the bass violin, a violin strung with steel wire and played with a bass bow; a massively modified electric guitar; and a hurdy-gurdy. They all play in a microtonal scale (20 tones to the octave) of Dreyblatt’s own invention. The result is a never-ending succession of stimulating timbres; Dreyblatt knows exactly how to deploy his resources in ear-tickling ways, and the maximally varied sounds mesh well with the minimalist compositions.

Count The Adding Machine as yet another great Cantaloupe release, and one that proves that substance plus flavor can be exciting indeed.