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Zbigniew Karkowski - Nerve Cell_0

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Artist: Zbigniew Karkowski

Album: Nerve Cell_0

Label: Sub Rosa

Review date: Oct. 24, 2012

Zbigniew Karkowski doesn’t patronize his audience by making his music easily accessible. From the opening notes of Nerve Cell_0, listeners will be alternately assaulted, soothed, confused and bewildered, and it’s all the better for it. Based around fierce manipulations of cellist Anton Lukoszevieze’s already-abrasive string scrapes and drones, the single track on Nerve Cell_0 develops into a claustrophobic labyrinth of unexpected sounds, fleeting bursts of noise and caustic textures. It takes patience, but the rewards are substantial.

The opening stages of “Nerve Cell_0” are dominated by Lukoszevieze’s ragged cello notes, which are incrementally absorbed by Karkowski’s electronics, the sound gradually getting warped, looped and extended. Close-mic’d, the venerable string instrument is gradually transformed, sounding at times like a creaking Marie Celeste, at others like the rattling of rusty machinery. With such proximity to its resonating body, the listener’s own metabolism is soon rattled — this is music that is felt as much as it’s heard, with every rattle of the wood and wires reverberating like faltering heartbeats, or the pounding of weakened blood as it edges its way around your body. Such is the immediate sense of proximity of the music, one could almost imagine that Nerve Cell_0 was recorded in an anechoic chamber. For all the electronic manipulation and cleverness on display, Karkowski and Lukoszevieze’s combined approach feels decidedly organic.

Karkowski’s presence on the first side of the album is elusive, even phantomatic, as he prefers to interject woozy drones and sheets of noise with casual precision, as if leading Lukoszevieze in a bizarre musical waltz. On the second half, however, his dense clusters of electronics move to the forefront of the mix, transforming and overwhelming the febrile sound of the cello to unleash a desolating tidal wave of brutal, extreme noise. Lukoszevieze’s recommendation in the liner notes to play the album loud pays different dividends than before; rather than connecting the listener to the sound of the cello via amplification, Karkowski surrounds him or her with sounds driven way beyond recognizable parameters. It’s not all brutalist assault, mind you; the piece evolves with the unpredictability of a rollercoaster, taking in post-industrial screes, bleak and unexpected silences, colossal wall noise and juddering electronic drones.

Nerve Cell_0 is certainly a difficult listen, but not by being vulgarly abrasive. Rather, it’s in Karkowski’s intricate, musique concrete-inspired evolutions that it most effectively, and successfully challenges modern musical preconceptions.

By Joseph Burnett

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