1: 25 October 2018
Ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding. A blunt metallic chime runs throughout the first track on Extrametric. Even as the surrounding landscape utterly transforms, the chime persists – unphased by the changing direction of gravity’s pull, as a gridded 4/4 reconstructs itself into a giddy 6/8. In its continuity, the chime is a reminder that rhythm is the subjective matter of listener emphasis. As some elements transform and others stay the same, it is my decision whether I maintain my focus on the original rhythm or allow my attention to be charmed by change, promoting certain drums to governors of tempo and relegating others to the status of rogue syncopators, travelling away from the centre as disobedient slants of alternate possibility. I’ve been fascinated by polymetric music since I was a teenager (initially through the intersecting rhythms of Meshuggah and similar such metal bands), compelled by how a simple switch in listener focus – say, fixating on a hi-hat instead of a guitar – the rhythm can appear to completely transform. The sky becomes the earth; the background becomes the fore.
On Extrametric, Katharina Ernst dedicates herself to this phenomenon of colliding time. Synthesisers and distorted kalimba are a decorative metallic plating – brandishing the textures and colours of iron, rust and bronze – upon a study of skeletal dexterity. Without melody to soften the edges of the beats, those moments of reframed understanding hit me like jolts of locomotive gear change: the snare drum changes position on the fourth track and suddenly its simplicity becomes clear, dredged up from beneath my feet, formerly concealed within a criss-cross of off-beats and amplifier gasps. And if I turn my ears to that innocuous distorted popping on the final track, the album thrusts open the doors to reveal a waltz happening in secret. Remarkably, the record can be played live as a solo composition. As a listener I’m gifted the freedom to switch my focus between each rhythm in turn, yet solo performance requires Ernst to spin all of these plates simultaneously, dividing her attention so that each limb can attend to a different time signature. It’s a truly three dimensional album; each listen presents the chance to change the angle from which I observe it, placing moments of intersection where there previously were none, revealing patterns that formerly lay dormant outside the lights of my attention. I’m excited to explore these possibilities over the coming weeks.
2: 30 October 2018
Today I want to talk about the passages of relinquished precision on Extrametric, when Ernst allows polymetric discipline to give way to improvisation. For example, the second track: a duet with the labouring hum of large electronic devices, with snare rolls slipping into almost-rhythms, falling silent upon the punctuation of crash cymbals, finding sturdy footing and then deliberately losing it, battling the hum like intense concentration forced through a headache. The album’s eight-minute centrepiece is a further example, sounding like a gong pelted with stones of various sizes, its undulating cascade in direct opposition to the firm, angular movements elsewhere. And that’s very much the point. These are reminders of the human energy that drives Extrametric. These tracks place the rest of the album upon a tightrope of human fallibility; in hearing raw spirit unspooled like this, I come to understand the other pieces as the incessant avoidance of failure. In its exact timing, each beat is its own victory over the lapses and failed approximations of the animal mind. And thus, the record alternates between falling fluidly and governing the timing and dosage of every energetic joule, capable of both submitting to the present tense and orchestrating it.
3: 06 November 2018
Discovering this album often resembles a search for secret passageways, running my hands along the walls until I encounter the ridge of a concealed entrance. Today, I found a hidden lever on the fourth track: that simple hi-hat puffing away to my right, the manipulation of which allows for two entirely different readings of the same piece. If I perceive the hi-hat to be accentuating the downbeat, the piece becomes lumbering and heavy-footed, stumbling down a mild decline in steel-capped boots, cautious to prevent the legs from running ahead of themselves. Yet I only need to reframe the hi-hat as an off-beat rhythm to render it confident and agile. Suddenly the beats seem to slip out of my hands; the deception feels deliberate. Meanwhile, those bell-like bursts provide a melodic analogue to this rhythmic ambiguity: non-committal, suspended, ripe for comprehension.