Alex Durlak / Damian Valles ~ Guitar and Drums

Guitar and Drums is one of those albums that emit an aura of playfulness, an experimental mood that might just inspire the listener to go ahead and play with something they know well. In the case of Alex Durlak & Damian Valles, that something is a couple of instruments everyone already knows the sound of: guitar and drums. In this tape, however, they are recognizable only in the manner in which they are distilled into essences, with the guitar-as-strings droning like ever-so-light vibrations, expanding slowly into space; meanwhile, the drums fill that space instantly with an overpowering rhythm dissolved into a mass of dissonance. Divided clearly into two sections, the kind of sounds produced complement each other on the basis of their expression as such, with the strings section taking the form of a reflective and quiet drone piece while the drums take on a noisier, “stronger” approach. Incidentally related to music (by history, by technology…), Guitar and Drums could be better described as the answer to a very 21st century question: “how do these two instruments sound?”

The answer is not easily given, and is perhaps better given in terms not of expression of feelings or a very reasoned exposition of the physics of sound (which are out of this reviewer’s league anyway), but in terms of how the body reacts to the simple act of listening to something familiar that has been transformed by play. Beginning with “Strings”, the first thing I felt was the need to turn the volume up – there were too many low sounds I didn’t want to miss – and then realized that I was, maybe, falling into an audiophile trap, and I had to let the sounds grow and evolve all around me, whether I could consciously perceive them or not. Unlike the immediate assault of drums, the guitar takes time, and the vibration of strings could serve as one of many metaphors of the ‘organic’ expansion of its sound. The second thing I felt was that all these abstractions weren’t hitting me like most drone or ambient music does, in the manner it builds itself through layers, usually finding myself separating very decisively which sounds belong to which layer… instead, I felt enveloped by “Strings”, as if I was amidst a few sources of noise. I suppose the myriad little details and the slow engulfing of surrounding space by all kinds of reverb-like sounds worked in this way to make me feel caught within the nanosecond pauses of vibrations; every time I tried moving around while listening to this, I felt like I was in a different place.

The third and final part of “Strings” connects perfectly with “Drums” in its louder, more direct approach, but it retains the ‘growing’ quality of the rest of the piece, indicating the pinnacle of the vibration as a more defined and constant moment (it even sounds like bowed string instruments at times), an instant when everything floating around becomes connected, a whole suddenly coming into being. “Drums” starts at this point, in an opposite way in which “Strings” begun by immediately emphasizing clear-cut hits upon a prolonged electronic drone. My first reaction was to move away from the speakers; this time, the volume was too loud! Unlike “Strings”, the sound didn’t let me move with it – I had to move through it. Every place was the same, thick with rhythm and noise. Once again, the metaphors of an essential version of the instrument became apparent, bringing every strike into my ears like the regular beating of a heart. As the piece finished with an overwhelming amount of sound (like, ten kilograms of sound) I felt like I could no longer hear anything else, not even my own thoughts. It was like a moment of meditation, sheer blank in my mind, the abstract realization that every strike upon the drum and every pull of strings are part of the very same ultimate vibration that is sound, which, like color, becomes practically infinite.

When the tape first ended, I felt I had to replay it, if only to fill all that empty space around me once again. Perhaps this kind of album is not for everyone, but it certainly stands as a good inspiration to play around, to experiment along with the artists as much as you can or want to, to look at yourself listening, or to listen to yourself listening and thinking. Where most music assumes a passivity in the audience, this doesn’t, and you might find something surprising while enjoying it. (David Murrieta)

Available here

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