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CD Feature/ V.A.: "Resonance - Steel Pan in the 21st Century"

img  Tobias

Some people seem to think that interesting compilations need a spectacular and intellectually complex motto. As “Resonance” proves, that is a fallacy. Few samplers have been as inspiring to me this year as this one, despite its decidedly simple and sole conceptual object: The steel pan.

This instrument certainly warrants an album of its own, if only for the fact that its possibilities are still only scantly being used. The history of the steel drum and its remarkably quick introduction into the mainstream canon are fascinating stories which take us back to its humble beginnings on the streets of Trinidad and which keep inspiring artists and music fans alike. What has often been overlooked in the general perception, however, is that it is not just an addition to a regular percussion- or drumset. The steel pan has distinct rhythmical facets, but it is a melodic instrument as well and its unique sound enables the open-minded performer to include it in the most diverse styles. On top of this, it is both a solo instrument and part of various band constellations, taking on different roles depending on the context. The latter is an important point to consider when listening to “Resonance”. For this collection, Michael Vernusky of Quiet Design Records asked eleven artists from Berlin to Tokyo and from Brazil to his hometown of Austin, Texas to take a recording of source material by pannist Darren Dyke and to integrate it into their own cosmos, using it for explorative voyages without borders. As is often the case, the genre-spectrum is considerable, ranging from gentle ambient to breakbeats and pure sound art. And yet, there is a strong sense of coherence running through the CD, as the basic sounds keep reoccurring in the most unexpected places and in everchanging functionalities. While Yoshio Machida leaves the main structures of Dyke’s recording seemingly intact, only to send soft shivers of floating undulations through them in his concise dreamscape “Valley of Wind”, Paul Russel concentrates on their percussive potential in a smouldering club track. Similarly, the out-of-this world resonances and shimmering rainbows of Christopher Ariza and Cory Allen are nice escapisms from the raw experimental soundscapes of, say, Thomas Dempster. And yet, Vernusky’s own piece sticks out just a little bit from the rest, simply because he focuses on the sound qualities of the instrument in a five and a half-minute compositions which explores timbral possibilities from endless chambers of reverb to dense clouds of steel-pan drones.

If you’ve never heard of these artists, don’t worry, by the way – I hadn’t either. But all contributions awaken curiosity about their creator and the instrument at the heart of the concept of “Resonance”. That is the best any sampler can achieve.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Quiet Design Records

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