Starting out with a series of scratchy string noises, the scene is set for what is actually the debut solo-album (under his own name) from Dirk Serries, a prolific Belgian guitarist who has cooperated with a large number of highly profiled musicians in both the jazz- and experimental and ambient improv scenes.
I first came across Serries when Yodok III was scheduled to play Roadburn 2016, and quickly got to be very fond both of this combo, and the various other projects the 3 musicians were a part of.
Etched Above The Bow Grip is the result of a 4 hours improvised session at the Sunny Side studio in Amsterdam where “his most significant partner was the impeccable acoustics of the studio. The complete session was recorded with a carefully selected and placed array of microphones, the acoustics being the mirror and organic amplifier of what Dirk performed.“, according to the release notes.
And the album reflects this process.
Following the scratchy, sketchy Sweet Ruin is a series of wonderful improvisations, exploring both different ways to view harmony (like Thorn As Spite), the collaboration between noise and ultra-short bursts of silence in a more or less dadaistic fashion (as in Diffused Wire Appliance), experiments in drone (as in Assert Total Illusory Curve or the amazing Celestial Perfume) or variations on a truly demented and disfigured blues-riff (as in The Brutal Vortex) – but then again, given the scope of his experimentation, you would probably hear things differently.
All around the album, you grasp small beginnings of things you might think references or relates to things you’ve heard, or think you’ve heard, and they grip your attention just to leave as soon as you hear them, to be overtaken by the new direction Serries takes the music in, ever searching, ever expanding, ever changing, giving the whole thing a kind of breathtaking significance, as you try to constantly catch up.
A track like the titletrack shows this searching to be both sensitive and fragile amidst the noisy guitarwork. And for most of the work on this album the space between the notes means as much as the notes themselves. The noise and the silence are equal partners. The start and the stop seem to have equal significance. And if you miss (or dismiss) that point, I think Serries‘ work will be that much harder to grasp – and to get to enjoy.
Serries lets the album end with its two longest compositions, the two somewhat gentlest, perhaps also the easiest to grasp. The droney Celestial Perfume, and the laid-back, almost quiet and ambiently soothing The Broken Story End. And in a way the album does seem like a story, a journey even, and the fact that the story end is broken seems like the perfect incitement to have another go at the experience.
As a whole, Etched Above The Bow Grip is a delightful tribute to playful and thoughtful experimentation. It is truly not an album to get to know in a single setting or two, but rather an album that will continue to deliver strange, beautiful new experiences with every new listen, an album that will continually surprise and reveal new connections and meaning.
And as such, of course to me the perfect album to launch my series of quick, from the hip album views. So it goes.
The album is out now on Raw Tonk Records.