The Splendid Ghetto Pipers make an excellent first impression. The duo’s name is intriguing, as is that of their label (Rain, Dear! Recordings and Revelations). The press release is written in an Old English Style in which Many Words are Capitalized. Then there’s the DIY packaging, most notable for its Extras (okay, I’ll stop capitalizing), including a photograph, stickers, a tiny booklet and a plaster tape (Band-Aid) with the band’s name stamped across the back. If one is injured during playback, at least one will have a bandage.
None of this would be effective without the music, which fortunately lives up to its preview. Die Gute Besserung means good improvement (according to Google), and good and speedy recovery (according to the duo). Each translation implies good will. As the new year is still relatively new, it’s easy to read these words as a challenge. What will this good improvement be? What might the listener need to recover from?
The two discs, recorded live as a single performance at an exhibition last September, offer two sides of the same answer. Both have to do with time. The modern world attempts to control time through regulation and scheduling; but time makes its own rules, which include the complete ignorance of its own existence. Time is an artificial construct shaped by perception, and perception is the key to understanding this recording. The first disc moves and moves and moves, while the second disc loops and loops and loops. Is time stagnant, or is time moving forward? Are we stagnant, or are we moving forward? The title track contains so much mutation that it seems a different track by the end. Born in a bed of ambience, it goes to sleep in a field of drone. Launched in tone, it lands in abrasion. Thin notes grow fat. The pure grows distorted. And yet, none of these changes are drastic. While listening, one thinks of the tiny, incremental, often unnoticed changes that occur over the space of a life. How did I get here? one might ask, channeling David Byrne. But positive change can also take place slowly, as in The Shipping News; an entire life can be rearranged by constant dedication to good improvement.
Conversely, one can get stuck in a loop. Recovery groups have a name for this syndrome: old tapes. Ironically, old tapes are a treasure to musicians, as are the old loops that may be found there. The title track contains one such loop, a dialogue sample that repeats, “and I have no need for them to be anything more”. Soon one notices other loops popping up as well. By the second disc, simply titled “Loops”, “the Musicians have left their Instruments, the Loops are rolling on and on, ensnared by the vernissagy Sounds of talking People and clinking Glasses”. Again, one is led to meditate on time. When one is stuck in a behavior loop, one is unable to move forward. Yet when one surrenders to the largest loop of all, the cyclical nature of time, one becomes unmoored from time itself, as part of the eternal. Such is the hypnotic nature of these loops; one can imagine them going on forever. The good improvement proposed by these two tracks: let go of the seconds, the minutes, the hours, and just be. The label promises Recordings and Revelations; to the clock watcher, the time constrained, the overscheduled, this revelation may be enough to change a life for the better. (Richard Allen)