Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
Album assigned by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
‘Music and Dance’, this one is called, and it isn’t a lie – there is music and there is dancing on this record. So, it must be some groovy stuff to get your ass moving then, something like Boney M or KC and the Sunshine Band, right? Wrong. Indeed this is music with dance, but both of these art forms are pushed to the very limits of their conventions (or maybe even beyond that). Or, let me translate the previous sentence to English: this album is basically 53 minutes of one guy drawing out weirdest possible sounds out of his guitar and another guy stomping on the floor and occasionally panting (cause that’s what dancing on an audio record sounds like, if you were curious). However, let’s get to basic facts.
Derek Bailey is an avant-garde guitar player who is considered the leading figure of the free improvisation movement, which basically means there is absolutely no logic and rules to the way he plays his guitar beyond the logic and rules he puts in it himself. On this album he is joined by Japanese dancer Min Tanaka, who does with his body what Bailey does with his guitar, meaning that he also breaks all possible conventions and just dances the way he thinks (or feels) appropriate.
And… this is probably all you need to know. The rest is there, on this record – Derek plucking the living hell out of his guitar, making it scream, squeak, shriek, creak and even meow, and Min dancing (yes, it’s him on the album cover, stark naked and pummeling against a wall). The other sounds present are the raindrops drumming on the roof (which is why the first five tracks are called Rain Dance), some outside sounds like passing cars and random noises, and coughs from the audience. And nothing more! So, looks like there is every reason to dismiss this album as a bunch of pretentious crap, as about an hour of nothing pretending to be something, if not for one thing. IT SOMEHOW WORKS.
This album is hypnotic, atmospheric and mysterious, and the utterly minimalistic sound collage it creates has some twisted brilliance about it. On repeated listens I began noticing that even the seemingly random sounds (like rain tapping against the roof) play an important part in the whole experience – Bailey actually utilizes every foreign sound and makes it his own. If you listen carefully, you begin hearing strange patterns in the dissonant sounds of the guitar, and you wonder whether these patterns were intended by the musician or they just formed by coincidence, with the help of your imagination. Speaking of which, this is one record that tickles with the listener’s imagination a lot. The whole “let’s leave the mic on and record everything” thing does make it incredibly atmospheric, which means it is very easy to picture everything in clear detail (yes, that’s why the dancing actually works here). First you see the guitar guy and the weird nude dancer in the small studio and the rain behind the window, then the guitar sounds become more and more dense and frantic, and you start seeing things beyond that – stars falling, Earth turning around its axis, weird alien creatures on distant planets or whatever else your imagination allows you to see. So, in the end, does it really matter whether this sounds like ‘normal’ music and dance or not? For me it doesn’t, because whatever it is, it took me places I’ve never been to.