After half a dozen spins, I still needed convincing that this album was recorded without overdubs. A quick Google search, and I found a live video as evidence. Yes, Vienna-born Katharina Ernst is the real thing: an exciting, polymetric solo drummer. There are fewer around than one might think, for a simple reason; far too many find it impossible to resist the cliched drum solo. Ernst prefers music that sounds electronic, and urges people “to dance to their own tempi,” which we suspect is a fascinating sight at concerts, like peering into the guts of a steam engine.
While drum synthesizer and guitar effect pedals create an illusion of multitracking, the key is in the resonance of gongs. The cover art conflates gong and cymbal, and portrays an echo of Ernst’s right hand, implying that she moves too swiftly to track. Does the artist have eight arms? No ~ but she is able to set things in motion, allowing layer upon layer to accumulate. The opening track, “x_01,” is a rhythmic example, sounding like the work of a small band, perhaps two drummers, a guitarist and a bassist. But there she is at her drum set, looking regal. When the tempos split at 2:30, the track blossoms into a celebration, closing with a shimmer ~ which is where the next piece opens.
The tracks investigate timbre and technique, in the artist’s words more “études” than compositions. “x_02” demonstrates Ernst’s skill as a straight-up drummer, ironically the one thing she is not ~ but this establishes her credentials. Kalimba and tapped cymbal launch the effervescent “x_03” (these tracks deserve better titles!), and concentrates on one of Ernst’s favorite facets ~ the groove. One can imagine the artist falling into a trance, which makes one grateful for the length of these pieces, severed from the trap of self-indulgence. The longest track concentrates on the timbre of gongs, and still taps out at under eight minutes. This is where Ernst earns our fullest respect, as she builds on the work of Harry Bertoia, albeit without the use of a barn. On the one hand, an entire album of such works would be welcome; on the other, we’d rather not sacrifice the rhythm of the other sounds. Suffice it to say that we love the well-rounded approach, leaving Ernst poised to head in whatever direction she chooses. Extrametrik has been seven years in the making, but it’s one of the year’s best debuts. (Richard Allen)