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Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt
Made Out of Sound Dustin Krcatovich , May 14th, 2021 08:16

Two giants of post-whatever improv join forces for long-distance a set that is both measured and cathartic

I had to take a couple years off from listening to Bill Orcutt, whose music I love, after working behind the bar at a gig he played in Portland a few years ago. Orcutt had borrowed a Fender Twin amp from my then-boss (an old pal dating back to Orcutt's Harry Pussy days) for his set and, apparently, dimed every last knob on the fucker. It was one of the most painfully loud shows I've ever seen in a small room, and I've attended more than my share of sets by notorious ear-bleeders (Dinosaur Jr., Pharmakon, Phill Niblock, Big Freedia, EyeHateGod, an endless/nameless parade of basement noiseniks… pick your poison).

An idiot, I'd forgotten my earplugs that night, and the napkin bits weren't cutting it. At a certain point, it felt like something popped inside my skull, and I was overcome with something like vertigo. SInce that day, I've suffered from tinnitus; it's singing its shitty song in both ears as I write this, two little oscillators always just a little out of tune. A few years on, I still need to have old episodes of The Simpsons playing in the background to ignore that ever-present “eeeeee” enough to fall asleep.

Mind, I was mad at myself, not Orcutt — hell, he played a surprise duet with Sir Richard Bishop that night, who could be mad?!— and if it hadn't happened on that night, it was gonna happen on another. I was overdue. Still, I had to quit that job, and I basically can't listen to 80% of "noise music" comfortably anymore (insert your dumb jokes here). Like "your song" with an ex-lover, listening to Orcutt just brought up some bad emotional shit for me.

Leave it to Chris Corsano, my favourite living drummer, to bring me back around to where I belong. I wasn't ready upon the release of Brace Up!, their first studio LP together, but Made Out of Sound is the roar of two titans, I'd be a fool to miss it (even if I have to listen half as loud as a lotta people), and so too would you.

The production of this album is unusual for what is, on its face, an improv record. Corsano recorded the drum tracks in Ithaca, NY and sent them to Orcutt, who proceeded to improvise dual/duelling guitar tracks in California, watching the waveforms to prepare for peaks and valleys that he might normally predict by watching Corsano himself. This approach, which might bring stilted results out of other players, seems to have instead worked a special magic on these two. The performances on Made Out of Sound showcase an even greater sensitivity than is normal for either player, and more of a willingness to dip at least one pinky toe into the dreaded groove. Not that this is an Eddie Harris record or anything, of course, but neither is it 100% wailing free-for-all.

Orcutt's Sonny Sharrock/Rudolph Grey soundblasts are still a part of Made Out of Sound, as are his splintered evocations of folk and tin pan alley melody. The squall here is tenderized, though, by a greater emphasis up-the-neck leads that more recall nothing so much as Television's majestic interplay, and buoyed by crumpled riffage at times comparable to the fabled wriggle of Zoot Horn Rollo and Antennae Jimmy Semens on Trout Mask Replica. Corsano is consistently one of the most musical drummers in the improv world, but he brings an extra-special polyrhythmic pummel here, really making the kit sing and inviting Orcutt's best impulses in doing so.

While it is not surprising that these two work well together, there are surprises here in exactly how they work together, and what one brings out of the other. 'Thirteen Ways of Looking' is curiously both kinetic and elegiac, like the extended solo break in 'Marquee Moon' tumbling down a flight of spiral stairs. 'The Thing Itself' indulges in repetitive, hypnotic guitar figures that evoke a platonic ideal of "post-rock" that that nebulous form has never, to my knowledge, achieved, and even touches the hem of the aforementioned Sharrock's garment (ca. Ask The Ages).

Look: my ears are fucked for most live music, sensory deprivation tanks, whatever, but I still know a great record when I hear it. Made Out of Sound might be one of the finest things either Corsano or Orcutt has done, which is no mean feat. I'll probably stand outside and watch through the window if I ever see Orcutt live again, but one simply can't let themselves miss an album like this, and it makes me even more excited to hear what these two get up to next.