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The Necks: Vertigo

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Australians the Necks have released 15 albums of expansive improvisation, many of them devoted to one extended piece that flows along for upwards of 60 minutes. In that regard, record number 16, Vertigo, presents a streamlined performance by the trio, since it fades out after 43 minutes. At the same time, they use the shorter length to toy with their usual minimalist approach.

The group wondered what would happen to their performance if it were augmented by a musical drone, and several such sounds rise and fall throughout the program, providing a framework for the loosely constructed soundscape. In the opening seconds, a low, metallic drone fades in, cuing a clatter of percussion and strings from drummer Tony Buck. The drummer’s brief explosions appear regularly throughout the piece, calling to mind both Han Bennink and the contents of an overpacked closet falling to the floor. While bassist Lloyd Swanton can only be heard intermittently, pianist Chris Abrahams’ activities shape most of the performance. At times, simple, repetitive acoustic piano melodies combine with the percussion to evoke rainfall. This fades into organ and synthesizer washes that summon up Brian Eno. A clear delineation between sections arrives around the 20-minute mark, when all of the above fades and Abrahams meanders on electric piano. The closest thing to a sense of direction comes soon after, when Swanton adds intermittent low notes and Buck, presumably, makes a thunk noise that sounds like a knife hacking into cabbage.

Eventually the proceedings start to sound like a blend of noises in a busy factory-whirring machines, squeaking doors, natural reverb-coming together in an unnatural symphony. Things never get downright abrasive, but the simplicity of some portions can be unsettling.

Originally Published