Defining Communicating: David Van Tieghem x Ten “Fits & Starts”

rvng-logoRVNG Intl.’s release of X Ten – Fits & Starts is the 10th volume of the FRKWYS series, and is the result of a project that seeks to answer the question “what can a communication be?” In 2012, as part of an on-going series called Bulletin Boards, percussionist and composer David Van Tieghem improvised a solo performance at Venus Over Manhattan, using only an assortment of objects, ranging from bamboo chimes and water cans, to spaghetti strainers and firecrackers, attached to a 6×4 foot bulletin board. Recordings were made of the performance and sent off to ten musicians (who each had contributed an object to the bulletin board) to manipulate, remix, and interpret however they wanted. The results were sent back to Van Tieghem to edit and assemble into a final draft, resulting in a collage that spans two sides of a 12-inch vinyl.


David Van Tieghem

David Van Tieghem, who has performed with artists and composers such as Steve Reich, Laurie Anderson, Robert Ashley, Robert Fripp, and John Zorn, is no stranger to creating a continuous dialogue with the space around him. In 1981, Van Tieghem released a video called Ear to the Ground, in which the percussionist engages with and responds to the various surfaces of downtown New York City. In the 1981 video, the communication was spontaneous and direct: The viewer is witness to the process, as the performance and process were the same. However in Fits & Starts, the listener only hears the final product, with only small bits and pieces of the initial performance in tact.

The two tracks on Fits & Starts each take up a side of the LP release, and true to the name Fits & Starts, feature short-lived and isolated moments of timbral exploration. In between each of these moments, one gets the feeling of traveling down a corridor, en route to each new section, very much like the promenades and scenes of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Such a comparison is only in design, however, as the transitional journey from one moment to the next on this release is dark, droning, and with no pulse. With a tendency towards electronically manipulated takes on the raw sounds of Van Tieghem’s performance, the overall sound of Fits & Starts is something similar to that of 90’s era industrial music, with a tone that is comparable to Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. This is something of a surprise with this release, as both the album art and the liner notes seem to suggest a larger emphasis on both Van Tieghem’s role as a percussionist and the unplanned use of the bulletin board’s objects. If the question of what communication could be were to be answered by this project, then the answer lies somewhere in the transformation of the raw sounds of Van Tieghem’s improvisation into the layered, electronic manipulations supplied by the ten contributing musicians.

While both tracks share a common compositional process, the general structure and feel of each side contrast one another. Side one, called “Slippery Slope,” is subdued, and seems to slowly billow as each new moment is presented. Every now and again, over the course of the 17 minute track, there is a short moment that is beat driven and groove laden. One even hears hints of melody and harmony, but such moments are brief and never quite develop into a sustained idea. Side two, on the other hand, focuses much more on the creation of repetitive beats and grooves through the layering of various sounds and instruments. On this track, called “Cooler Heads Prevail,” individual moments are much more rhythmic, and the use of instruments outside those from the bulletin board is made more obvious. Synthesized ostinatos are used to lay the foundational layers for the track’s longer, more repetitive moments, where rhythm and harmony are now in the forefront. While layers build and recede, it is hard to pinpoint any clear point of tension or climax. This is true of both tracks.

fits-and-starts-coverartFits & Starts can be bought as a limited edition LP as well as a digital version, although the vinyl copy does come with a code card for a digital copy. Included with the digital release is a bonus track, with the name “Fits & Starts Remix.” This bonus track was produced by Maximillian Dunbar, who was one of the contributing musicians to supply both an object for the bulletin board and a remix of Van Tieghem’s live performance. Also with the vinyl release is a 16-page booklet with notes about the project, a list of the items included on the bulletin board, and black and white photos of the board in various stages of assembly. The jacket artwork prominently displays the bulletin board in its final, performance-ready state.

While the jacket artwork and liner notes give a greater significance to the bulletin board and David Van Tieghem’s performance, it is the dialogue between contributing musicians and Van Tieghem, over the course of the many contributions to the project, that should really stand out. One can clearly see where the project began and hear where it ended, but the manner in which individual performances and parts were passed back and forth are somehow lost in the final product.

FRKWYS Vol. 10: David Van Tieghem x Ten – Fits & Starts (CAT #: FRKWYS10, Nov. 2013)

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