The Location Ensemble is a motley 9-piece guitar ensemble whose membership reads like a who’s who of experimental Albany-area musicians. It currently includes Thomas Lail and Patrick Weklar from soundBarn, Tape Drift owner Eric Hardiman, Ray Hare from Century Plants, other Albany Sonic Arts Collective regulars Holland Hopson and Matt Weston, an Albany rock club owner Howard Glassman, Tara Fracalossi, and Jason Martin. The group came together in 2010 when soundBarn joined with other ASAC members to perform Rhys Chatham’s “Guitar Trio,” which has been expanded since it was composed in the late ‘70s to allow for six to ten guitars.
This self titled CD out on Tape Drift is the debut release of the group and captures their performance from last year in Saratoga Springs where they performed original compositions by three members of the band.
Thomas Lail’s “Untitled (All the Times She Loves Me),” is a gamelan-influenced take on alternative tunings used originally by Sonic Youth. Inspired by a live performance of Sonic Youth’s “I Love Her All The Time,” Lail took the multiple tunings found in the Sonic Youth song and split them between members of the ensemble creating two distinct tuning groups with one half of the ensemble using one tuning and the other half using another.The effect creates a haunting and dissonant sound that is still somehow ephemeral–at least as ephemeral as eight guitars can be over the course of 18 minutes–with different parts shimmering for brief moments only to disappear as the piece moves through its three distinct segments.
Eric Hardiman’s composition, “Diversion #3,” takes an almost Krautrock approach in that it is propelled by an internally forceful minimalism. While “Diversion #3” lacks that steady motorik beat of a lot of Krautrock, the piece chugs right along driving you forward with it as it incrementally speeds up. The piece lurches around, speeding up as if everything was frantically trying to move at once then suddenly locking up, only to do it all over again. The performance is tightly fused together but always on the verge of overwhelming itself and having everything be torn apart.
Drummer Matt Weston, the unsung hero in this guitar ensemble, shines here, pummeling his way through the song, dragging the guitarists along with him faster and faster in this big insane machine. His drum patterns are very physical in nature contorting the listener to the music, the repetition pulling them along.
While “Diversion #3” has a manic machine-type cohesiveness, Holland Hopson’s “Six Chords Every Rock Guitarist Should Know” has a much looser feeling almost to the point where the piece seems to be in danger of decaying right in front of you. It is, in a way, a call and response piece with Hopson playing a phrase and the rest of the group playing it back in turn. This creates a dizzying sound that spirals up with sheets of sound whipping around, building up and then falling apart.
Throughout all of this, one wonders what was lost of the performance in the recording. With seven or eight guitars fighting for space in a mix you can’t help but feel that the recording must fall short at times trying to capture those moments where all those instruments coalesce into something much larger. For those who have yet to catch one of the all too rare performances by the group this recording will have to do, and–make no mistake–it does it well. Each piece is great and the album as a whole is a fascinating listen for the three different takes on the sonics of mass guitar. But for the full impact of these pieces, one can’t help but think that this recording is nothing more than a tease for the live experience. Fortunately, the ensemble will be opening for Disappears (Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth and Brian Case of The Ponys) and Lotus Plaza (Lockett Pundt of Deerhunter) on April 18th at Valentine’s Music Hall in Albany.
Review by Andrew White