Thomas Brinkmann & Oren Ambarchi - "The Mortimer Trap (excerpt)" (The Mortimer Trap)
The Mortimer Trap is the first collaborative work by the duo of Australian guitarist and sound artist Oren Ambarchi and German experimentalist Thomas Brinkmann, who met while working with Mika Vainio in Japan last year. Studio-recorded in Australia and Germany, the album (which refers to a famous chess move) consists of one unbroken 77-minute piece. A modulated, mid-frequency tone persists in one form or another throughout, waxing and waning in volume or evolving into slightly different forms. Unlike your typical drone, this one sits right up front in the mix, never settling into the background. It creates the constant sense that something is happening deep in the mix, below the everpresent hum.
The effect is the aural equivalent of seeing the world through a veil. Maybe this is how sufferers from tinnitus experience the world, its sounds always obscured by their own ever-present buzz. So, beneath the drone, the unmistakable sounds of throbbing guitar chords can be heard intermittently, at times so indistinct that they are reduced to low frequency sounds that could be mistaken for muffled tympani. Midway through the piece, the persistent drone does subside somewhat, allowing a window onto what lies beneath — namely a hi-hat and rhythm guitar. But it’s not too long until the drone surges to the fore again, reclaiming pole position. As an enhanced drone piece, The Mortimer Trap is very effective, but it contains tantalising hints that it could have been so much more.
The most curious thing about The Mortimer Trap is that Ambarchi and Brinkmann claim it to be a variation of Morton Feldman’s “For Bunita Marcus.” Maybe “variation” is being used there in a different sense to its normal usage, but it bears no resemblance to the Feldman solo piano composition, certainly not to the recordings by Stephane Ginsburgh, John Tilbury or Hildegaard Gleeb. While those versions are recognizably different from each other, they all retain the composition’s essential features: the all-important silences between the notes, the repetitions of small melodic fragments and its meditative tranquillity as it slowly unfolds. By comparison, The Mortimer Trap features no piano amid the electronic sounds, there are no melodic fragments, and there is not a second of silence. Its 77-minute duration does match that of Tilbury’s performance of “For Bunita Marcus,” so at least they got that part right. But anyone attracted to The Mortimer Trap on the basis of that laughable Feldman claim is advised to beware.