Review: Steve Hilmy + Daniel Barbiero – Take A Sound. Do Something To It. Do Something Else To It.

Straining, I can hear the double bass improvisation that sits beneath the electronic disorientation and melodrama: the actions of two arms as they methodically negotiate pitch and attack, moving between light bow scrubs that sound like a frog hopping between lily pads and the twang of an index finger swept under the string, organic in spite of its pitch leaps and rhythmic uncertainty. Rather than just exaggerating Barbiero’s gestures, Hilmy recontextualises them – suddenly this is not an instrument interaction but a spider’s web of laser beams, or perhaps a field of torches swaying like ears of corn; I am drawn into forgetting the environment of performance (the stool upon which the double bassist sits, the room with which the tones interact and respond) and instead I’m hauled through my imagination upside-down, leaving the reality of process somewhere within the shards of oak and light.

And perhaps the album’s title is there to stop me spiralling away completely. For all the exhilaration and elaboration of its end product, the album is in fact a very simple chain of events: Take a sound. Do something to it. Do something else to it. I feel as though I want to repeat it like a mantra during the album’s most turbulent sections (namely the points at which Barbiero’s double bass disappears completely within what sounds like asteroids hitting the earth at remarkably metronomic intervals), much like someone might do in a horror movie when the mind and emotion become too vividly consumed by fiction. While Hilmy’s electronics resemble nothing familiar in shape, they feel comprised of the solid matter I know all too well – concrete, rock, barbed wire, long metal knives – and thus I feel threatened by the way they hurtle over my head and collapse into rubble at my sides, as the warmth of Barbiero’s double bass hardens and dries out to be hurtled through the tubes of Hilmy’s processing plosives.

Meanwhile, Barbiero’s own method of post-processing during “A Multiplication Of Voices (For Steve Hilmy)” – feeding a live improvisation through granular synthesiser – opts to soften the cello’s corners, bending each note round the fingers like a globule of melted wax. The composition comprises of ghosts splayed on the perimeter of the imagined and the forgotten – hollow gushes of traffic noise, electronic trains in gradual acceleration, reflections scattered by crumpled tin foil – and where the tracks on either side evoke a soundscape I can grasp with my hands, “A Multiplication Of Voices” is the ethereality and negative space that puts such fierce and bodily noise in context.