Explorations in non-traditional music for mbira, kalimba, sansa, likembe and thumb piano.
Songs from prongs.
The songs use only experimental lamellaphones. These instruments can be seen in the Flickr set: Kalimba, Mbira, Sansa, Likembe Thumb Piano, Lamellaphone. (link in sidebar lower left)
No synths, samples or other instruments are used with the exception of a toy drum machine in the background on track #11.
Envisioned as a journey by dirigible to bring some shoes to Sasquatch, this album was put together with variety in mind in order to present a bit of what is possible with lamellaphones. There is audio recorded with dynamic mic, condenser mic as well as piezo pickup direct into a computer. There is software processed and hardware/stomp box processed audio, digital and analog fx. There is straight dry signal and fully processed wet signal, sometimes within a single track.
The songs run the spectrum of short/long, loud/soft, delicate/dense, smooth/rough, fast/slow, rhythmic/melodic, high frequency/low frequency.
Overall, the sound tends toward a minimalist and ambient sensibility.
Special thanks to Don Campau
google: No Pigeonholes radio show
THE WIRE (UK)
A lamellaphone is a sounding instrument where various types of strips or tongues are fixed at one end and plucked at the other. In the case of these 14 tracks, the lamellaphone in question is a thumb piano, on which RP Collier, from Portland, Oregon improvises for 44 minutes in total. That may seem a daunting prospect, even an unwelcome one, but with deft processing and well judged addition of electronic effects Collier makes it an involving experience. The recording brings out the resonant depth of the hollow-bodied instrument as well as its springy expressiveness. At times the music is weightless and pretty like a musical box; at other times it has the more substantial presence of a sounding sculpture like the musical mobiles of Swiss artist Jean Tinguely. There are also sequences, as on "Capriccio" where Collier crosses fully into the realm of sonorous electronica.
Lamellaphone is a showcase for an instrument builder's music, but the emphasis is on musicality rather than material craftsmanship or sonic novelty. It's obvious that Collier is profoundly familiar with the physicality and physics of his custom-made thumb pianos, but it's structures in sound that really matter here, and that embraces deliberate distortion and electronic transformation as well as the instrument's inherent acoustic properties. This modestly presented release has the feel of testimony to a man's personal obsession; fortunately it's one that's a pleasure to share in.
Portland, Oregon, might seem an unlikely location for an experimental collection of instruments that originated in sub-Saharan Africa, but Robert Patterson (aka RP) Collier not only builds them, he hooks them up to stomp boxes and wires them directly to computers. His 2008 album Lamellaphone is fourteen demonstrations of possibility, all created from his vast collection of unique handmade mbiras, kalimbas, and other lamellaphone variants.
The range of sounds from these simple instruments is impressive. Some of the tracks sound like what one would expect from a thumb piano, a vaguely wooden sound like bamboo wind chimes. More amazing are the highly processed sounds of a track like Jet Stream, where the kalimba sounds more like a rock guitar, adding a resonance that sweeps unnaturally through the pitch spectrum. Gentle backgrounds combine with more abstract leads, from clear bell tones to deep resonating gongs. Collier never samples the instruments, but plays them, so the music all retains an expressive performance quality, regardless of the processing or layering involved. Even so, the music ranges from abstract gestures to Reichian loops on Prongulator, and even a techno shuffle on Capriccio.
Collier plays standard instruments as well. Another 2008 release, Deconstruction of Twilight, is a remarkable half-hour long guitar improvisation that sounds more like a group than a solo performance. The album's web site calls it "ambient space," but Collier's guitar style is sometimes closer to Derek Bailey than Robert Fripp, not only through the spidery lines but the absence of overt effects processing to alter the sound of the guitar and the willingness to leave in extraneous noises. Like his thumb piano work, his melodic lines are a-rhythmic, disconnected notes gently meandering around the fretboard. He maintains a slow grounding theme throughout, an underpinning that provides a vague sense of structure and keeps the piece from dissipating into the expressive melody lines. As the piece progresses, sustained notes become more prominent, more important to the overall sound, softening the music into a harmonic cloud.
Collier has been making music for several years, from an early interest in guitar and flute to his more recent work building and playing unconventional instruments. Lamellaphone and Deconstruction of Twilight are the two most recent examples of a long history of independent and highly creative music making.
Review by Caleb Deupree