What’s your framework? Every creative musician, even the freest, operates within one. Consider Scott Fields, for example. There’s a lot of spontaneity in the Chicago-born, German-based guitarist’s music, but it arises from carefully selected structures. In the case of Drawings, he has both internalized and responded to another artist’s process in order to stoke his own. Each of its 99 brief performances is an immediate response to an image by Swiss artist Thomas Hornung.
The album’s sleeve notes portray Hornung, who is apparently so obscure that he is virtually Google-proof, as a man of rigid habits. He spends each day following the same schedule, lives in two identically furnished rooms, and each night he spends an hour dashing off images on one piece of A4 paper every minute or so, with time out for cigarette breaks. Fields, in turn, took a sheaf of Hornung’s drawings (which are reproduced on the tray card) and tried to play for as long as Hornung had drawn; the denser the inking, the longer he played. But nothing lasts too long, and the whole CD runs just 46:20.
This brevity may be a formal triumph, but it makes for frustrating listening. There’s a fair bit of variety, from Nels Cline-like shredding to swelling feedback to elegantly plucked shapes to music box-like chimes. But none of it develops. Of course, these tracks weren’t supposed to, but the result is still a choppy and unsatisfying listen. Ironically the soundtrack to an accompanying video by Arno Oehri, which shows Hornung and Fields at work, is more engaging. It is comprised of raw material from the sessions, drastically slowed down and pitched so low that it doesn’t sound like guitar anymore. Since the video has no other sounds, one has plenty of time to savor Fields’ slow-mo gestures, and plenty of motivation; the video’s 55 minutes is way too long to watch Fields play divorced from anything you here.