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HENNIES, NICK - Work

Format: CD
Label & Cat.Number: Quakebasket qb26
Release Year: 2014
Price (incl. 19% VAT): €13.00


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"Nick Hennies makes music from work - and work into music. Simply put, work is process and one of Hennies' goals as a composer is to shape the possibilities of a given instrument as well as its sonic imprint. The result is austere, lyrical solo percussion music that focuses on resonance, natural overtones, room acoustics and slowly developing structure. As Hennies' art matures, it has become clearer and more refined, whether appearing to be finely tuned adjustments to previous approaches or something altogether unheard. Hennies now lives in Ithaca, New York, though he was based in Austin, Texas for many years, where he was a member of the Austin New Music Co-Op and played drums in doom-folk outfit The Weird Weeds. Work is Hennies' latest release and first for the revamped Quakebasket label and it consists of two pieces. The first is a ten-minute solo vibraphone piece called 'Settle,' which as it evolves, brings out electrifying resonances that evoke the early piano music of Charlemagne Palestine or even the lush dogma of Brian Eno and Michael Nyman. Hennies has famously explored the shapely vibrational properties of woodblocks, making them truly sing in a way that few Western percussionist-composers have, so it should be no surprise that his coaxing of metal lamellae, cylinders and sustain pedal would result in a panoply of interlocking and unfolding shapes. These shapes are patently the result of refined action - striking, damping, and measuring intervals - but reducing their behavior to stimulus and response oversimplifies the comely beauty that his instrument produces. The bulk of Work is made up of the forty minute 'Expenditures,' which shows a side of Hennies' compositional strategy for ensemble (something that's been emerging gradually on recent releases). His vibraphone is joined by several Austin new music regulars, including bassists Ingebrigt Hker Flaten (The Thing, The Young Mothers, Scorch Trio) and Brent Fariss, drummer Chris Cogburn, clarinetist Jon Doyle, trombonist Steve Parker, and violinist Travis Weller, with the horns and strings also doubling on percussion in the piece's closing minutes. As Hennies puts it, 'the goal of the piece is for the musicians to play sustained tones on the same pitches as the vibraphone and then eventually to play 'work music,' where the players each come up with their own phrase to be repeated until the end of the piece. 'Though the first fifteen minutes are rooted in gently nattering repetition and the ghostly shapes that emerge from ringing sustained drones, the ensemble's whispers at first seem to follow suit before their weight vis--vis personality emerges rather quickly. Thus, while initially this music might seem to espouse the arid mathematics of minimalism (albeit with rare poiesis), the individualism of each player as an improviser within a surprisingly unruly collective vision emerges. The effect is something like Gunter Hampel's Galaxie Dream Band playing Terry Riley's In C. Though far from a traditional avant-garde improviser and avowedly distant from free jazz, it's entirely fair to place Hennies' piece within the pantheon of conducted/directed improvisation from such minds as Laurie Scott Baker, John Stevens, Gavin Bryars and Radu Malfatti. As Hennies said in a 2011 interview with online journal Ni Kantu, 'What I really want to do is harness my natural inclinations rather than decide to 'do' certain things, and that's why there's a wide variety of music that I've put out recently. I'm a little self conscious that I have music that doesn't sound like it was made by the same person, but I would like to think that over several years there would be a palpable connection between these things. I would like to create a body of work that gives one an example of where I was at certain points, and this is one of the biggest influences I got from John Duncan, where he says that 'all of my work is about self-discovery and trying to learn about [himself].' As singular as Work may appear, it is a fascinating outgrowth from a decade-strong book of generative themes and processes, all reflecting on a committed, physical engagement with the implements of sound production." [label info]


"Percussion player Hennies belongs currently to one of my favoured minimalist composers. His pieces are deceivingly simple and highly hypnotic. So far, I think, the pieces I heard from him where solo pieces, for such instruments as snare drum and vibraphone, but here we have two pieces, one for solo instrument and one for small ensemble. In the solo piece 'Settle' Hennies has a multi-track recording of him playing the vibraphone in his 'usual' style. Stead fast with overtones ringing through. Maybe there is some sort of post-production in this music? Like out of phase placing of the various layers? Maybe, but I doubt that. It sounds more like an exercise in controlling the instrument and various ways to play the same thing over and over. Over the course of the ten pieces the piece gradually dies out, and reaches no particular place in nowhere land.
The small ensemble piece is called 'Expenditures' and is for percussion, sine waves, clarinet, contrabass, vibraphone, trombone and violin, in which Hennies himself plays the vibraphone. This piece starts out, for a long time, to be a piece for vibraphone solo again, or so it seems, but the sine waves play very nicely along and gradually the piece seems to be falling apart - like in 'Settle', dying out - and the ensemble takes over. A very spacious piece of music then evolves - seemingly out of nowhere, seemingly going nowhere. But it keeps unfolding. One could think this was improvised rather than composed but what do I know? Maybe it's somewhere in between? The instruments bending forever, making small gestures, plucking strings, maybe with objects and all such like. It has that jazz like feel, like that recent release by The Necks, but also electro-acoustic and modern classical. It's perhaps not something I would expect from him, but it sounds no less great!" [FdW/Vital Weekly]