Title: take a sound. do something to it. do something else to it.
Artist: Steve Hilmy & Daniel Barbiero
Release Date: November, 2013
Genre: Experimental / Improvisation
License: CC BY-NC-SA
Release Label / Page: Pan y Rosas Discos

It’s sometimes difficult to know how to review a release. ¬†This is definitely true when the release is on the cutting edge of experimentation, and improvised to boot. ¬†Such is the case with this release from Steve Hilmy and Daniel Barbiero.

So, before going into reviewing this work, let’s talk about credentials a bit. ¬†It’s somewhat rare for me to be completely floored by the credentials of the artists on a release. ¬†However in this case I am. ¬†Steve Hilmy is a Scottish composer, who turned from violin to electronics some years ago. ¬†He was born in Scotland, and moved to the united states in 1979. ¬†He is currently the Director of Electronic Music at George Washington University. ¬†He has numerous awards from organizations like Southeastern Composers League, ASCAP, BMI, the Peabody Conservatory, and The Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and more.

Daniel Barbiero is from New Haven, Connecticut. He works in experimental, minimal, modal and non-genre improvisation. He has been a composer, leader and musician in many ensembles, such as: Shape Memory Alloy, Third Object Orchestra, and The Subtle Body Transmission Orchestra.  He is currently the Music Director of the Nancy Havlik Dance Performance Group.  He recently contributed to the Haiku series on Subterranean Tide; a piece which really caught my attention.

The TL;DR version is: these are two artists that have been in their fields for a long time, and have honors and lots of experience.  And, they are veterans of releasing works in the Creative Commons and Netlabel communities.

So, that background is important in understanding this work. ¬†It’s not the typical pop-rock, or pure shaped noise work that come out on many Netlabels.

Instead Hilmy and Barbiero present us with a pair of tracks where there is exquisite interaction between Double Bass and electronics.  Each artist listening to the other, exchanging ideas and reactions.  Each shaping and re-shaping the space around them.

In some cases, like partway through ‘take a sound. do something to it. do something else to it.’ they end up with an 8-bit sound that gives the listener the impression of a old-school video game that has gone off the rails. ¬†Yet, in ‘coda: watching the watchers’ there is a sense that they are creating a space: the double bass lays out the foundations, while the electronics defines the walls and shapes within the space. ¬†Then suddenly, it’s almost as if the roles are reversed: the electronics have defined the space and left the double bass to fill in all the nooks and crannies. ¬†It’s this role reversal that I believe is where the title ‘watching the watchers’ comes from.

The sound achieved during their improvisations reminds me of another artist: Karlheinz Stockhausen. ¬†Particularly in his electro-acoustic piano pieces, such as Mantra. ¬†Certainly this isn’t the same style, and yet I can’t help but feel a loose relationship between the two works.

Daniel Barbiero also contributes a solo track dedicated to Steve: ‘a multiplication of voices’. This track reminds me of the manner in which Frank Zappa would take an improvisation by one of his band members and manipulate it in the studio afterwards. ¬†In this case, it appears Daniel is acknowledging the impact of Steve’s work during their live improvisations, and using the concepts as a variation on their work.

Overall, an excellent, and engaging recording.  It is not so dense that you get lost trying to tease out all of the details through a density of layers.  It is definitely not the typical listening fare for most people, but I found it to be an easy and approachable work.  I even listened to it in my car, or while I was working, and yet still find that it I can find more subtlety and detail listening to it when I am not working on anything else.

If ambient, electronic, experimental music is not something you generally listen to, I would suggest giving yourself a challenge and listening to this recording.  It may not be obvious at first, but on several listenings you may find that you remember parts, and get a structure a structure behind the pieces.  That is something that is a difficult thing to achieve, and speaks volumes to the background and experience of these musicians.

Steve Hilmy & Daniel Barbiero: take a sound. do something to it. do something else to it.




Posted by George De Bruin

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