Shadowy symphonies from boundary pushing Norwegian six-stringer.
Spencer Grady 2012
To call Stian Westerhus a guitarist would be as unjust as calling Phil Minton or Mike Patton mere singers. These are musicians who extend the sonic potentials of their chosen instrument, channelling extensive (sometimes alien) languages, expressions and atmospheres in an effort to explore and undermine the limitations of their respective disciplines. By unravelling conventional approaches, and tampering with the tropes of tradition, they can fashion their fresh-fangled options.
In Westerhus’ case that means his guitar rarely sounds like one. While the pinched harmonic opening of Shine might recall the work of other six-stringers such as Fred Frith, Bill Frisell and Vini Reilly, much of The Matriarch and the Wrong Kind of Flowers dons the cloak of contemporary classicism, undoubtedly provoked by the improviser’s recent listening habits.
Dense swathes of rumbling low end crawl like swarming coastal effluence on the Ingram Marshall-like The Matriarch, while moments of near-apocalyptic turbulence tend towards the dissonant compositions of Krzysztof Penderecki, as on Like Passing Rain Through 9 Lives.
Westerhus’ recent collaboration with vocalist Sidsel Endresen, Didymoi Dreams, benefited from allowing a little light into the apertures formed by the pair’s sometimes wistful creations. Left to his own devices, Westerhus has a tendency to shroud everything in a contagious gloom. Even occasional points of disintegration fall into bouts of unsettling abstraction, as on Silver Sparkle Attraction, where the brief partitioning of the black veils reveals an unsettling cog-work conflation of Keith Rowe and Supersilent.
That much of the material on this album was recorded at the Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum in Oslo, a tomb known for its natural reverb and cold (a temperature of five degrees Celsius preserves the building’s collection of paintings), could explain Westerhus’ passion for cavernous abundance. Though, equally, it could be a product of his remote farmland upbringing.
Only at this album’s end, during The Wrong Kind of Flowers, does Westerhus actually sound like he’s playing guitar. It’s a curt reminder of just what it was that had been making all those devilishly bewildering sounds.