Sticks, Stones & Breaking Bones – Will Guthrie

13 Jul

Will Guthrie
Stick, stones & breaking bones

Antboy Music 2012

One thing must be said about Guthrie’s percussion work: he has relentless drive.
The propulsion is inimitable.

I recall seeing him play in Melbourne many years ago with three-piece Assumptions along with the wonderful Stephen Magnusson on guitar and towering Julien Wilson and being struck by his posture and presence which reminded me of an Energiser bunny who might have been over-charged overnight. But despite his arms moving in vertical lines his sticks seemed to spray every which way to create the audial splays.

The opening clammer-stanzas of the first track Sticks on this album of solo-drumming are rhythmic and almost pastoral which is quite extraordinary given its almost nervous a-syncopation. At first I thought that this might be simply explained due to the types of cymbals used and the almost ceremonial and tribal tom-toms which are present in the beginning and become a large part of the second cadenza, which is also trance-like. On second and third listen I decided that it was something different despite the obvious parallels to a frenzied African dance in the dirt. This sounded like some kind of frenetic spiritual chase across from the Vatican to Istanbul perhaps. What was clear though was the anxiety soaked barrage of sound that Guthrie works us into is intoxicating with the cymbals runs that he envelopes you with. Drumming crescendos can often seem a touch cliche in most solo works but I found nothing of the sort here, he is as refreshing and original as he was when I first came across him.

I hadn’t heard Guthrie’s music for some time until I ordered this new issue from his Poitier-based label Antboy music. The exploration of percussion is still there, the rattle and clank which gives his music such personality has grown even more organically and expanded over the last decade. Like other Australian drummers of his ilk that I admire such as Tony Buck (the Necks) and Laurence Pike (PVT) there is the use of similar tools to create the sounds. What sets Guthrie apart in my ears is his use of pause which gives his solo drumming such drama, occasionally verging on Opera in its scope, whilst still sounding like it was played in a small space such as in the second piece on this album Stones, which is far more spacious in its beginnings after the euphoric climax of Sticks. But Stones goes travels the path differently from thereon in faster and faster towards a break-neck snap, clatter and crack and further again to semi-echo of the drum-runs of Sticks in communion with this new collection of tones and rings which I can only liken to a broken type-writer made of balsa finally petering out to the noise of it being massaged by rosary beads.

Breaking Bones is a different beast entirely and is a fitting way to round up this extraordinary album in minimalistic grandeur of tom-banging rapture. I couldn’t help my ears searching out something somehow melodic throughout the drawn out slow march of this piece. Guthrie achieves that difficult task of introducing arhythmic elements which evoked Steve Reich’s phasing without bothering too much about the finer details (not to imply that Guthrie should have done so, the beauty here is the incautiousness of his expression). It’s at this point that I feel I should talk about the experience that I had in listening to this with my headphones – halfway through this track of rollicking toms and snare and bass and bluster I experienced an something of an elevation of mind – This extraordinary piece dragged me willingly upwards and upwards on an irresistible trend. The ecstatic punchline at the end is still ringing in my ears even now as I write these words.

An altogether exultant album that does not deserve to be ignored.
Bravo Guthrie.

Joshua Santospirito

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