Steve Ricks and Ron Coulter are longtime collaborators, having performed experimental improvised music together in RICKSPLUND + Coulter and CRAG. Precipitations is their first recorded project as a duo, zeroing in on each of their hybrid setups, enhancing Ricks’ trombone and Coulter’s percussion with various batteries of electronics, effects pedals, and microphones. The result is a constantly percolating dialogue between two composer/performers who know each other’s language instinctively. Coulter Ricks marries noise oriented examinations with characterful instrumental playing, an engaging counterpoint between a style of phrasing that is influenced by the Chicago free jazz scene with a more technology driven exploration of granular timbres.
Tap, Rattle, and Blow is an apt opener, with both the title and the musical materials serving as a presentation of the kinds of standard material we will hear coming from Ricks’ and Coulter’s instruments. Coulter interrupts burbling material on the toms with disjunct punctuations on cymbals, gradually building up concurrent layers of activity. Ricks introduces himself with truncated phrases run through a harmonizer before he lays out for a Coulter solo. A flute sample emerges midway through the track, opening up a more expansive dimension to the sonic space. Ricks lays into some bluesy material on the horn, before he adds processing that transposes the instrument down in register and adds a washy reverb, revealing haunting, underworld sonorities.
Late Night Call revels in the subtle timbral distinctions in non-pitched electronic sounds; early dial-up modems, bad telephone connections, and poor TV or radio reception come to mind as we listen to this ecology of resistors, currents, and connections. Mechanics’ Choice establishes a four note ostinato as a pad over which Coulter improvises on found objects and gongs. A reverse processing effect turns the texture inside out, distorting it as the sound envelopes fold back upon themselves.
Charming Ways uses a varied vocabulary of samples including recordings of spoken texts (from radio or television) as a backdrop for soloistic material on trombone. Coulter focuses on friction based material in accompaniment, dragging, scraping, and rubbing on surfaces to create sounds that are taut. The final section of the track switches to discrete, isolated percussive attacks, pops and clicks that call as much attention to the air around them as to themselves.
Button Drop is percussion focused, featuring non-pitched sounds played by Coulter and electronic sounds that inhabit the same soundworld. A rich and asymmetrical counterpoint develops that exists somewhere between polyrhythm and energetic symbiosis. I-S3eM is the longest track on the recording, and as such takes a longer view on charting out its structural arc. Many of the musical ideas are present throughout, fading and remerging in different guises. Disembodied sounds characterize the extended opening, as Ricks’ trombone peaks out from the depths with a gurgling passage. Coulter’s choice of timbre helps to frame the sectional divisions, as he moves to more prominent snare and tom material midway through the track and the eerie high register flute sample fractures into prismatic shards. We hear a return of Ricks’ low register, poignant trombone work to close the track, a fitting end to a piece that retains a cyclic orientation over its seventeen minute length.
The opening of Slurry gradually crossfades from a texture foregrounding bird chirps to bell and chime sounds. As the texture becomes more dense, we hear momentary harmonized trombone evoking organum. Sped up recordings of spoken voices appear in the mix — as the texts are further obscured the amalgam fuses into a swirling gesture. Slurry closes with a serene passage on glockenspiel, a strikingly simple ending to an album that covered such complex timbral territory.
On Precipitations, Coulter Ricks occupy an effective middle ground between timbral sonic examinations and performance driven, motivically focused improvisation. The album finds time to inhabit specialized sonic spaces, only to zoom out and travel to unexpected places. Not surprisingly, it’s improvised music by two adventurous composers, not content to be restricted within any codified vocabulary, but instead pushing against boundaries to find new territory, always framed by their collective intuition about what makes a satisfying whole.
-- Dan Lippel
released May 19, 2023
Steven Ricks: trombone, electronics & compositions
Ron Coulter: percussion, electronics, & compositions
New Focus Recordings is an artist led collective label featuring releases in contemporary music of many stripes, as well as
new approaches to older repertoire. The label was founded by guitarist Daniel Lippel (who is the current director), composer engineer Ryan Streber, and composer Peter Gilbert in 2003-4, and features releases from many of new music's most active performers and composers....more