Bendik Giske: Cracks review | John Lewis's contemporary album of the month

(Smalltown Supersound)
The Norwegian musician mics the whole studio, influenced by everything from techno to queer theory, on his hypnotic second album

Bendik Giske is a saxophonist who doesn’t appear to like the saxophone very much. As a gay man growing up in Norway, and then attending a music conservatoire in Copenhagen, he hated the straight, male establishment that constituted the Scandinavian jazz scene; he hated the saxophone’s “thrusting”, phallic implications; he even hated playing melodies on his instrument. “By playing tunes you step into that understanding of what the saxophone is supposed to be, what it usually does,” he says. “I wanted to find my voice by abandoning the soloist role, which is a very illogical thing to do on the saxophone.”

Bendik Giske: Cracks album artwork.
Bendik Giske: Cracks album artwork. Photograph: Music PR handout

His response has been to deconstruct the tenor sax. Instead of hiding the imperfections, glitches and inner workings of the instrument, he foregrounds them, like a sonic Pompidou Centre. He places numerous contact microphones around his saxophone to amplify the sound of his fingers clicking against the keys and keypads, till it sounds like a typewriter playing techno. He amplifies his own sighs and breaths and puts the sounds through FX units. His playing uses hypnotic repetition and some Albert Ayler-style overblowing freakouts, but Giske also draws from the techniques of the didgeridoo (which he learned as a teenager), from his time as a child in Indonesia (where he learned circular breathing on a flute, and became obsessed with Balinese gamelan music), from the techno scene in his adopted hometown of Berlin (which compelled him to approach his instrument in a more physical way) and from queer theory (particularly José Muñoz’s notion of “queer time”).

On Cracks, Giske’s second album as leader, his producer André Bratten uses the studio as an instrument, exploiting odd resonances and echoes, particularly on the nine-minute title track or the ghostly opener Flutter. The LP’s stunning centrepiece is the 10-minute Cruising, where Giske plays fast, florid, extended arpeggios, sometimes adding or subtracting notes, like Philip Glass’s additive process, while his fingers tap out a machine-like rhythm. All the time, Bratten is manipulating sympathetic drones and harmonics, creating a spectral shroud around Giske’s ecstatic burbles.

Also out this month

A seasoned double bassist since the 1970s, Marc Johnson now joins that elite group to record a solo bass album for ECM. Overpass features some elegant readings of standards but the highlights use subtle overdubbing and bowing, particularly the spookily beautiful Samurai Fly and the wonderfully jagged Yin and Yang.

Eliane Radigue is best known for creating long, slowly mutating astral drones on modular synthesisers. Now aged 89, she achieves similar effects using string players, and Occam Ocean 3 features three 23-minute pieces arranged for violin, viola and cello – slow drones that shimmer, throb and resonate, moving between unity and fractional discord.

Honest Labour, the third proper album by Manchester duo Space Afrika, is a truly immersive voyage – 19 tracks of manipulated field recordings, synth drones, haunted basslines and barely-there breakbeats. The spoken-word tracks have a certain Mancunian swagger but most of the LP comprises icy, futuristic instrumentals which seem to distil the most ominous sonic implications of dubstep and drill without using any beats at all.


John Lewis

The GuardianTramp

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