Joe Grimm’s projects have always had both an ear sympathetic to melodic beauty and an interest in the formal constructions of sound – often noise. The Wind-Up Bird’s 2003 album Whips had Grimm and collaborator Jeff Smith combining a properly “experimental” or technical approach in manipulating mostly acoustic sound sources into textured drones, along with a traditional instrumental conception of the suite. Whips’ centerpiece, “This,” distills these polarities at their most extreme in one of the most unnervingly intimate moments I’ve experienced in a music recording: a female voice on an answering machine sobbing the words “I’m sorry I’ve become this monster / I love you a lot,” which are gradually processed to the limit of abrasion.
The avant-garde influence was always there, but it served tracks that were as much about melody as texture. Braincloud (released under Grimm’s given name) tips the scales the other way. It’s built of stricter edges and conceptual rigor. Inspired by his experience playing in one of Glenn Branca’s 100 guitar symphonies, Grimm became enamored with the harmonic possibilities latent in cacophony. Specifically, he means to focus on sympathetic harmonics, the “ghost tones” created by the frequency interplay between notes played simultaneously (see the piano works of Charlemagne Palestine). There are no electronics or digital treatments here other than the use of an equalizer. Rather violins, horns, throat singing and especially pianos enmesh in pieces that are often deafeningly thick. A haze looms above the instrumentation that is all natural overtone.
In the rapidly proliferating electronic and noise scenes, Braincloud is a nice reminder of how much of what we consider experimental still derives from the physical principles of acoustics rather than circuitry. The 15-minute “Braincloud III” was recorded live on three pianos, each played by three musicians, but you’d never know it. Between the three main suites (“Braincloud I-III”) are interludes for solo harpsichord that might come off as a bit monochromatic to some but – as with all the songs here – increasing the volume helps to appreciate everything going on.
This record is significantly less inviting for the uninitiated listener when compared with Grimm’s previous efforts, which are sumptuous and often instantly engrossing. But Braincloud offers a different pleasure, one that seems only to be getting more rare. It’s a pleasure that requires attention and patience, and is the richer for it.