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Eli Keszler - Oxtirn

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Artist: Eli Keszler

Album: Oxtirn

Label: ESP-Disk

Review date: Nov. 3, 2011

Multi-instrumentalist Eli Keszler’s three-part composition can be likened to a measured assemblage of twittering machines. Playing most of the multi-tracked sounds on Oxtirn, the composer’s interest is in layering and density. He’s pursued these ideas quite doggedly on his previous releases, and with pointed contributions from a few friends, the results are often bracing.

The heart of his sound is Keszler’s drum kit, and he often plays it with an energy that seems appropriate for an ESP disc. But he’s also credited with guitar, sheet metal, motors, mikes, spring harp, piano and bowed crotales. There is, in other words, a mechanical element to Oxtirn that makes it less concerned with the dispersal of energy or any kind of conventional instrumental exchange than with gathered sounds like metal filings to a magnet. Fastidiously notated, too, the music moves rapidly through successive phases and aesthetics, from energy music to something that might not sound out of place on an Orthrelm record to howling sound that might be influenced by Kevin Drumm.

For the most part, it hangs together fairly well. And one key to this is Keszler’s ability to leave space in his music, even at its densest. He can achieve this just with his stickwork, which avoids sturm und drang for the most part, and makes its woody, clattery way through caverns groaning, kicked reverb coils, guttural drones and feedback.

But to me, the most interesting moments are those when Keszler backs off the stickwork a bit and begins to use bows and rubbed membranes and so on to create a more dense textural weave. It’s not that the contrast and the density of the other passages isn’t compelling, but when a near-shriek emerges from the more aqueous, billowing passages late in “Part 1,” it’s far more effective and jarring. Of course, central to arresting moments like these are the exquisite low tones from Andrew Fenton’s assembled brass: tuba, trombone, trumpet, and French horn, and also the sympathetic overtones of Ashley Paul’s clarinet. Paul is much more emphatic on “Part 2,” with its head-scrambling, tone bending base of bowed metal and an almost Xenakis via Marcus Schmickler electronic sound warping. This section of Oxtirn effectively grinds down the basic materials like glass, in a steady, lengthy exploration of a specific, metallic segment.

“Part 3” finds the electronics pared back considerably, with just an occasional taut wire of feedback or lonesome ping, as if it’s an echo of the spacious piano Keszler plays. The piece moves through a section of rough, gritty wood being rubbed together before a climax where it sounds like all of Oxtirn‘s elements are gathered together, with a clattering prepared piano riding the flanged drone.

By Jason Bivins

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