Keith Rowe: guitar, electronics
Burkhard Beins: percussion
Taking advantage of the availability of a top-notch recording engineer in the form of Vienna's Christoph Amann, Erstwhile top gun Jon Abbey was able to return home after the two European legs of his 2004 AMPLIFY festival (in Cologne and Berlin respectively) with a bag full of superb recordings, the first batch of which is now out in the form of these four elegant limited edition slimline jewel box releases. Mean spirited souls could moan and groan at Abbey's decision to release as four separate albums music that could quite easily have been brought out as one double CD (the Rowe / Beins set lasts 28'18", the Rowe / Nakamura / Lehn / Schmickler 38'47", the Stangl / Kurzmann 33'03" and the Fennesz quartet a mere 23'44"), but the quality of these performances and their occasional (welcome) deviations from what was beginning to seem like a rather inflexible Erstwhile norm makes Abbey's decision to release them separately more than justified.
Guitarist Keith Rowe and Berlin-based percussionist Burkhard Beins have appeared on disc together before, on the album Grain on Ignaz Schick's Zarek imprint (Zarek 06, 2001). On paper, Beins's exquisitely-paced friction (check out his work with the groups Perlonex, with Schick and Jörg Maria Zeger, and The Sealed Knot with Mark Wastell and Rhodri Davies) along with the slowmotion grit associated with Rowe's Erstwhile and Grob back catalogue might lead punters to expect an austere Weather Sky-like affair, but this set, recorded on May 10th 2004 in Berlin (not May 13th, as the booklet states, in a rare mistake for Erstwhile) is exhilaratingly combative. Rowe's radio, which has never been all that prominent on his previous Erstwhile releases, is in full effect here, picking up Radio Canada dispatches on the Iraq war (a timely reminder that while punters sat in reverential silence in the clubs of Berlin, dirty deeds were afoot in faraway lands) and, at the 15 minute mark, a chunk of Dusty Springfield's "Son Of A Preacher Man" long enough to have Tarantino fans reaching for their Bibles in awe before Rowe and Beins blast it to shit. The torrential downpour of crippled pop and vicious noise that follows should be required daily listening for any stick-up-the-ass snob who complains about this music's supposed sterility, lack of energy and, most importantly, lack of humour. I'm normally no fan of live recordings that explode into enthusiastic cheering for minutes after the music has ended, but for once the decision to let the tapes roll long enough to catch the whoops and hollers of the delighted audience and the joyful, surprised laughter of Keith Rowe himself is to be applauded.
2004 ERSTLIVE 001 (rapidshare/mediafire)