M. Holterbach & Julia Eckhardt
Do-Undo (in G maze)
CD HMS 018

The Wire
September 2010

   As a veritable donnoisseur of drone-based music -- he's written several perceptive articles on the subject for the French magazine Revue & Corrigée and is currently working on a biography of Eliane Radigue -- Lyon based Manu Holterbach is well qualified to participate in Do-Undo, an ongoing project curated by Julia Eckhardt and Ludo Engels of the Q-02 Werkplaats soudn laboratory in Brussels. Violist Eckhardt, whose immaculate playing has graced several fine pieces in recent times, notably Phill Niblock's Valance on Touch Three, has been amassing an archive of overtone-rich G drones for other sound artists to use as the basis for their own work.
   It takes time for her viola to manifest itself at the beginning of "Julia's Ecstatic Spring Phenomenon," emerging from the delicate scraping of contact-miked wire netting, while a button gong imparts a sense of ritual to the proceedings (it reappears at the end of the album, to effect closure). The other field recordings are listed simply as 'maple tree, crickets, gust of wind and oak tree,' and accordingly there's a spacious open air feel to the music in stark contrast to the more intense and claustrophobic second track, "Two Stasis Made Out Of Electricity." Here, Holterbach's sound sources include a generator, an arc lamp, a buzzing amp, a fridge, and other electro-static phenomenon naturally sounding in G. "No pitch effects were used to make these fit the viola recordings," the composer explains.
   This is no surprise since the pitch of Eckhardt's drone is close to the famous mains hum that Tony Conrad once described as "the largest, most careful melody ever played." It recalls the story of La Monte Young's rehersals for The Tortoise, His Dreams And Journeys, where the 120-cycle hum of the aquarium motor in Young's Church Street loft was used as drone to keep the musicians in tune with the 60 Hz AC power supplied by Con Edison. Holterbach's subtitle "Pic-Nic By The High Tension Line Stepdown Transformer" make homage to Young explicit, and Howard Skempton's famous observation on Young's music -- "there's so much to hear" -- applies here too: these deceptively simple and refreshingly unpretentious recordings are rich and rewarding. You can even listen to them while the washing machine's running. -- Dan Warburton / The Wire 319