Superlith – Plasma Cluster (2012)

Just when you think you’ve heard it all — literally — some really crafty cats come along and create sounds that hadn’t quite been previously contemplated. A couple of such musicians from Philadelphia’s fertile experimental music scene banded together to create some of this alien but strangely alluring noise. Trombonist Dan Blacksberg (Anthony Braxton Quartet, Archer Spade duo with Nick Millevoi) and transmuted Casio keyboard technician Julius Masri (Electric Simcha, Avant rock band LionsHead, Noise duo Chakra Khan/Air Pirates with Millevoi) pooled their vast experience working on the fringes of music to form a New Music duo called Superlith and recently came out with their first album, Plasma Cluster.

Each of these players brings a unique perspective to the table. Masri is a trained jazz drummer whose curiosity about electronic sounds became a passion that’s led him to compose electronic music for choreography projects. His interest specifically in circuit modified analog electronics involves perhaps more ingenuity that the heavily computerized digital landscape that it’s evolved into. Maybe even more ingenuity is involved in getting truly creative with the venerable, household Casio models with which he applies his art.

For his part, Blacksberg sees no bounds in the sonorous possibilities of the trombone; he’s a superb technician who wants to go beyond merely doing what’s been done before and push the trombone into unfamiliar territory. On Plasma Cluster, he exploits the openings he sees to do so within the realm of electronic avant garde, and finds the complements to the buzzes, drones and chiming of Masri’s circuit-bent machinery.

During these five improvs, the strategy is often Masri setting the table with his slow-moving sonic suffusions. The evolving nature of his work, with few sudden shifts, allows Blacksberg to dig in deep into his wired impressions. For “Early Peristalsis” those noises include the sound of a Harley at idle and Atari in need of repair. At other times, it appears that there’s a jet engine revving up and slowing, and an alarm from the Emergency Broadcast System going off. Blacksberg goes low with a barely audible rumble to blend in, then gets up high occasionally in a whine. The trombonist blows false notes on “Pyloric Rift”, creating a percussive effect that blends in with the static being woven by Masri. Amid scrambled electronic toy noises, the static wash evaporates, leaving a single note played over what sounds like Morse code. The dense commotion occasionally backs off to expose Blacksberg’s false notes, but otherwise, it’s hard to tell where Blacksberg’s trombone ends and where Masri’s electronics begin.

The unrelenting industrial drone of “Termination and Bow Shock” is created by Blacksberg’s ultra-low notes unifying with Masri’s own deep vibration, creating an integrated electro-acoustic bank of drones. Alternately, “Radiating Dawn Chorus,” is a bright, eerie pulsating glow. Blacksberg uses a plunger to create contrast with Masri’s church organ like chords, coming the closest so far to actual jazz styled improvising. Blacksberg’s trombone has tactfully played Roswell Rudd type enunciations on “Then Boluses Became Chyme,” as an out of tune ham radio kind of white noise appears to react to the trombone as much as other way around. This is a good representation of the unlikely partnership Blacksberg and Marsi had been able to form between a traditional, character-laden instrument trombone and the cold, modern strange noises of modified Casios.

That is what makes Superlith click. You see? There can still be something new coming out of New Music.

Plasma Cluster was recently released by Eh? Records and can be purchased here.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

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