The Seattle-based trio Triptet calls themselves “a meeting of minds and spontaneous electrical impulses between Michael Monhart (saxophones and percussion), Tom Baker (fretless guitar and effects), and Greg Campbell (percussion, french horn and cheap electronics).” I call them, simply, a trip.
A trip in a good way, and anyone who likes strange and clashing noises put together in artful ways would likely enjoy this trip, too. Formed at the beginning of 2009, this production threesome have made a record a year ever since, and recently produced their 2012 offering, Figure In The Carpet, their second with Engine Studios. Since all three play both acoustic and plugged in noisemakers, it’s often hard to know where the handmade sounds end and where the circuit bent sounds begin. That’s part of the beauty of this record, the near seamless integration of technology and handmade to form odd, often chilling aural shapes that are music but music without melody, tempo or sharply defined structure. But it’s fun to marvel at the whole alien-ness of it all.
That’s how “External Rhyme” greets you when you walk into this carnival house of sound. An electronic hum doubled with probably a french horn emits an eerie drone that actually defines the root over which Monhart improvises with his saxophone, as exotic sounding percussion rustles beneath.
When investigating the rest of the album, I realize that Monhart’s Rollins ruminations on “Rhyme” are the closest they get to jazz on the whole album. Not that they were actually trying to play “jazz,” anyway. This is the un-categorizable stuff, and they play the stuff with no conventions applied, leaving it to others to sort out how to pigeonhole it. “Gates of Glass” doesn’t even bother with a stinkin’ root, the mixture of organic and electronic percussion create timbres that are independent of what the sax is playing although you can sense there’s some sort of communication going on between the two tonal areas. “Figure On The Carpet” is kind of creepy with its low, foreboding rumble, underpinned by increasingly volatile drums. Drones high and low blend with surging electronically modified horns. It’s a little like Nils Petter Molvær without producer Manfred Eicher around to smooth out the rough edges.
“Rain Tractor,” on the other hand, is remindful of David Torn’s Prezens band, with what is probably an alto sax fluttering around with hand beat drums as Baker’s guitar moans and yawns at a glacier pace. Eventually, the sax spars with scratchy sounds from guitar amidst various electronic buzzes and howls. No tonality, but tones abound. The spooky, nocturnal “Ode To The NightWatchman” is music you play at a graveyard around midnight. The cries and moans heard on “Tuning The Blue City” conjure up images of killer whales on barbiturates, but then there’s some really deft drum work that emerges from that hazy noise. “The Myth of an Ordinary Man” blends a jungle beat, an overdriven guitar and a sax/electro drone to form this thick, relentless circular slab of noise rock. And lastly, the chimes on “Surfactants” contrasts with an ornery guitar, which is already far out of the ordinary when out of nowhere appears an accordion-like sonority that appears to be achieved by some combination of sax, french horn and an electronic whirr.
With Figure In The Carpet, Triptet races to the frontier of what is generally considered music, and if you’re willing to follow them out there, the provocative alchemy of sounds they put together will draw you in.
Figure In The Carpet was released last November by Engine Studios. Visit Triptet’s website for more info.