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Alvin Curran
Drumming Up Trouble Dustin Krcatovich , September 2nd, 2022 08:20

The veteran composer and noisemaker devotes himself to the beat of the drum, with pleasingly frenetic and silly results

Alvin Curran is known for many things, but block rockin’ beats generally isn’t one of them. In his roughly six decades in creative music, he has been party to a wealth of heady improv, exploratory synth work, dense collage, and more besides, but Bohannon he ain’t.

Drumming Up Trouble won’t help Curran find purchase in any corner of the dance music world. But as the title implies, it is his first album-length foray into the drum (both acoustic and machine-oriented) as primary vector. It’s a wild ride, sometimes chaotic to the point of being comical, sometimes patient, and still other times veering somewhat close to a mutant form of body music.

The first half of Drumming Up Trouble is devoted to more recent recordings. ‘Bay Area 1’ and ‘Bay Area 2’ are the most manic-sounding pieces on here, with Curran using an 88-key MIDI keyboard to trigger samples in a fashion that is as deft as it is completely bonkers. This is Curran at his most playful, but it also represents decades of intensive, fastidious sample-collecting.

The other half of the A-side is based around two more minimal pieces, made in collaboration with fellow composer and sound artist Angelo Maria Farro. ‘Rollings’ starts with slowly accelerating thwacks on a snare drum, before tumbling into a roll that is eventually overtaken by time-stretch processing that morphs the sound into a ghostly moan. ‘End Zone’, a simple duet for concert bass drum and high oscillator, sounds something like prehistoric primates trying to scare off an alien invasion. These pieces are all intriguing in their own ways, and don’t overstay the welcome created by their respective concepts.

The second half of the record is given over to ‘Field It More’, an extended work from the early 1980s for synth, out-of-tune piano, manipulated samples, and Roland drum machine. On cursory listen, the piece seems to carve out a space between Ralph Records pop experimentalism and the then-contempary works of Pekka Airaksinen. Extending the experiment across twenty-five minutes, though, gives Curran ample space to voyage into new vistas, moving from the almost-funky rhythmic coherence of its first half (which, in sections, would not sound out of place as interstitial music for Pee Wee's Playhouse) into dense walls of unforgiving digital noise by its end.

The beat of the drum comes with a certain universality. In that regard, the pieces on Drumming Up Trouble could be said to be among Curran’s more accessible works. However, its perversion of the comforting heartbeat, the familiar and the known, marks it as something more brambly upon closer inspection. Either way, being largely uncharacteristic of Curran’s approach, Drumming Up Trouble would be a weird place to start for the unfamiliar. For initiates to his varied and extensive catalogue, however, it makes for a fascinating detour.