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Gunn, Trey & Marco Minnemann: Modulator

As concepts go, it may be a hard sell to convince anyone that an album that began life as a 51 minute drum solo could be a fantastically involving and rewarding piece of music. The drum solo in question was recorded by world renowned drummer/percussionist Marco Minnemann, before he approached a selection of talented and eclectic musicians with the challenge for them being to construct and compose music around that percussive framework. Among those he took the piece to was Alex Machacek, Mike Keneally, John Cziajkowski, Mario Brinkmann, Phi Yaan and of course one time King Crimson man and Tool and Brian Eno collaborator Trey Gunn. At first Gunn had to be convinced that this was a project for him, however after his initial misgivings, he experimented with some short excerpts from the drum solo and with more encouragement from Minnemann then spent almost exactly two years piecing together the music-scape that Modulator has become. It is also worth noting that the other people Minnemann approached will be releasing their own interpretation of his solo as well.

This concept should always be viewed as one singular piece of music that ebbs and flows from manic bass drum driven cacophonies to sparse percussion with atmospheric support. However the album is split into twenty two tracks, which could be better described as movements. Gunn approached these sections separately before knitting them together with passages, pauses, or effects that seamlessly weld the segments to great effect. A master of unusual techniques, Gunn employs guitars both normal and fretless, bass, keyboards and samples alongside his signature Warr Guitar, which is like an extended Chapman Stick and is gently struck, rather than strummed or plucked, hence the term "touch-guitar", to build the themes and atmospheres that can seldom be called "songs" in the sense that the term would usually imply. In fact the overall effect is one of a soundtrack to a futuristic silent film as an automaton discovers the joys and futilities of human life. All through the piece the rapidly altering time signatures and musical themes take you on a journey that leaves sparks of ideas in your head of images and scenes that match the vision and scope of the music itself.

Cleverly Gunn has avoided aping the percussion at every turn, sometimes the sounds and rhythms disconnect before they clash and collide in a manner that almost becomes a battle for supremacy that is only reconciled when the two merge together once more. Unlike many purely instrumental albums that are not song based, Modulator never falls into the trap of becoming background music, with the opposite being true. The more attention you pay to the meticulously constructed layers of sound, the more evocative and cohesive the journey becomes and in turn the more immersed you become in the music. Dense themes thick with tension and atmosphere carry you through the different phases of the piece and by the end you really do feel as if you have travelled with the musical thoughts.

It is a great testament to both Gunn and Minnemann that at no point does Modulator actually sound like a long drum solo that has been composed over. Instead the impression left is of intricate, challenging ideas that refuse to conform to the normal concepts and expectations of progressive music and therefore becomes more progressive for doing so.

Track Listing
1. Contact
2. Flood
3. Spray I
4. Fall Time +/-
5. Fall Time -/+
6. Lumen
7. Switch
8. Daughter
9. Pole
10. Scatter
11. Up Spin
12. Down Spin
13. Spectra
14. Superstish-a-tron
15. Californ-a-tron
16. Spray II
17. Mono-Punkte
18. Coupling
19. Incantation
20. Slingcharm
21. Twisted Pair
22. Hymn

Added: May 4th 2011
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Trey Gunn Modulator Web Site
Hits: 2090
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Gunn, Trey & Marco Minnemann: Modulator
Posted by Mark Johnson, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-05-04 15:16:28
My Score:

This is an album featuring Trey Gunn, on guitars, fretless guitar, basses, keyboards, samples, and arrangements; Marco Minnemann, on drum kit, and Michael Connolly, with Uilleann pipes and fiddle. Trey's mission was to try to lay guitar bass, keyboards, and other instruments over a 51 minute drum solo by Marco, laid down without interruption before the other instruments were added. This album is part of Trey and Marco's "Normalizer Two" production. No editing of the drum performance was made, only the instruments laid on top of the drum track. A unique idea and it comes off very well. The feeling is as if Marco was there with them and they're all playing one long track.

"Spectra", with its Uilleann pipes is a standout, along with "Flood", "Superstish-a-tron", "Spray 2", "Incantation" and "Californ-a-tron" were the standouts for me.

Very original and different idea for an album and full of good highlights and interesting instrumental riffs.

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