Residual Echoes: Arjun von Caemmerer reviews Residual by Peter Knight and Dung Nguyen

( ( ( (Residual Echoes) ) ) )

released on Parenthèses Rec( )ords

CD Review by Arjun von Caemmerer

Words inevitably carry their own, often personal, associations and for me the word residual carries this freight doubly. The first is a residual echo of Zappa’s unapologetically silly The Radio Is Broken, his unparalleled homage to 1950’s space movie fromage:

The cosmos at large
It’s so very big
It’s so far away
The comets… the craters…the vapors
The solar wind
The residual echoes…the residual echoes
The residual echoes
Of the giant explosion
Where they said it beginned

I was consequently deeply gratified to see Tom Mùller’s cover design for this album: it resembles a star cloud, a link which deepens with the name of the central track on this disc Minky Star.

The second residual association concerns (oddly perhaps) ablutions, and dates back to high school where, encountering physics for the first time, I still recall the teacher’s bemusement when, after asking the class for a definition of resonance, was confronted with a uniform silence which was finally broken by just one hapless student who, seemingly confusing resonance with residue, declared confidently that it was the ring left around the bath after the water had drained out. Encountering Residual my 9 year old daughter listened awhile, declared it not bad (high praise indeed for one generally reflexively hypercritical of her father’s musical tastes), and she then opined that it was the sort of music that you should let wash through you. She was quite specific: not music to merely bathe or wallow in, but specifically to wash through you, implying a deeper process where this music’s flow demands of the listener a transparent & resistless surrender.

These detours aside, I like the clever incorporation of the word within the word within the album’s title: the dual in the title of Residual. As implied, this album features dual talents, in this case those of Peter Knight and Dung Nguyen, both members of Way Out West, the group which won the 2009 Bell Award for Australian Jazz Ensemble of the Year with Old Grooves For New Streets. The theme of the title of that release, the old with the new, carries across to this one, the 2nd offering from the West Australian Parenthèses Rec( )rds, a label whose founder Alexis Courtin has positioned deliberately to sit at the crossroads between tradition and continuum.

Now based in Melbourne, Dung Nguyen grew up in Vietnam where he, continuing the family tradition of many generations, learned music from his grandfather. He is also an accomplished jazz guitarist with a background in jazz study at Monash University, and has composed for The Melbourne Theatre Company. On this album his fingers adroitly manipulate the strings of a variety of instruments: dan tranh, prepared dan tranh, dan bau, and modified electric guitar. Dan tranh is a Vietnamese zither, an instrument which carries more than one bridge — an especially appropriate feature given the multiple bridges which Dung straddles, with his incorporation of traditional Vietnamese instrumentation with an eclectic and electric jazz sensibility: a particularly convincing demonstration of the realisation of the continuum of living tradition. The dan bau, the Vietnamese monochord, has had its traditional silk string replaced with an electric guitar string, bequeathing to this instrument a deeply visceral timbre.

Peter Knight, who recorded (and with Dan West co-produced) this album, not only breathes new life into trumpet and cornet, but extends this life with real time processing via laptop electronics so that, for example, on the title track there is a cyclic breath-like loop, movement in stillness, like the drone in Indian classical music. According to Jonathon Cott (in the liner notes to Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan’s Ragas) the drone functions as the primal source, that omniscient, omnipotent cause from which proceed the origin, subsistence, and dissolution of the raga. The raga form contains all the joy and grief of being truly human, yet the final absorption of the emotions into the Brahman, the drone, transports us to a state in which the universe is perceived as neither good nor bad. It does not seem coincidental that Knight has investigated the disciplines of yoga and meditation in relation to music, especially in its performance, looking at the ‘limit experience’, that gifted state of consciousness where dualities (of subject/object; inner/outer) dissolve. The foundations and faculties of body and breath are central to yoga and meditation practices, and the album’s liner notes remind the listener that even where electronically processed the sounds are the outcome of this embodiment: all the raw sounds on this recording were made using our fingers, our breath, and our instruments… An exception is made for the sound which opens Minky Star (the name of this track’s title is probably a contraction of Minky Starshine, a sound synthesiser), but even on this track the synthesiser’s unhurried squonks, sounding like the exhalations of an electronic harmonium, are balanced with the backwards-sucked (as though literally inspired) guitar sounds. The spittle-rasp quality of Knight’s trumpet sound and its echoic exhalation means that even in this milieu where all manner of sound manipulations surface, the organic origins of these sounds are still apparent.

This is a nuanced and multi-layered disc of deceptive brevity (5 tracks, 39 minutes) which repays repeated listening, an album full of unusual and beguiling sounds and cycles. At times (Autumn Music), some of the combinations of trumpet, sound treatment, and guitar seem happily proximate with Khmer, the terrain of ECM’s Nils Petter Molvaer.

The fabric of movement and stillness, like the cyclicity of breathing, is deeply stitched, reflected somewhat even in the track titles, and in the alternation of their content: following the dynamic stasis of the title track Residual is Travelling: here Dung’s zithery impulsion plects within a minefield of plosive percussion — if you wish to feel what Wallace felt whilst wearing the wrong trousers, then this is the piece for you!

Some days after my daughter’s comment, walking home, unprepared for the abrupt rainsquall, snow low on the foothills of Mount Wellington, listening yet again to Residual, insulated only by headphones, surrendering to the effects of weather, sluiced & saturated, I encountered unexpectedly & bodily a simulacrum of the album’s cover: little droplets of water had coalesced on my spectacles, and rounding a corner into sudden sunshine the angle of my glasses was just such, so that right before my eyes, yet not obstructing my vision, these multiple deposited droplets magnified into hazy spheres of light, a star cloud, another residual echo, through which I walked and walked back home.


Residual on the Parentheses Records website

Other writing by Arjun von Caemmerer on