Album: just 3 organs
Author: Roger Mills
Frank Rothkamm is an artist that traverses the boundaries of all the media he works with. Composer, conceptual artist, and number cruncher, he manages to infuse everything he does with a seeming unlimited experimental verve and humour. His recent release Just 3 organs is no exception to this, and one could be forgiven for thinking that while his tongue might be planted firmly in cheek, there is a very serious, considered stream to his output.
Invoking childhood scenes of discovering an organ in a remote mountain chapel for the first time on a family holiday in the Swiss Alps, he states he never played one again until he saw a Yamaha Electone organ in a thrift store in his city of residence, Los Angeles. How they became 3 for this album is not that clear, but we can pass over such pedantry as the results clearly speak for themselves. According to the sleeve notes, each of the organs were tuned 33 cents apart, which explains the teeth grinding micro-tonal variations in their pitch. This adds a slight finger nails scraping on blackboard timbre to the tracks, which is also like the taste of your first cigarette, bitter, but leaving you craving more.
High flung analogies aside, there is an interesting discourse to be had on the philosophical issues of tuning and culture, and he has kindly submitted an excellent and informative article elucidating his ideas on the subject. This is also published in the current issue.
In Nebula Temperament – on the tuning of Just 3 Organs, he writes:
'The critique of the tuning system is a critic of the status quo with the assumption that there is a truth beyond equal temperament; a truth which has been compromised. Hence, the mere tuning of instruments presets the kind of music that will be played, presets its temperament.'
There is a touch of the Futurists in this observation, and he is making an interesting point that is rarely considered with much depth in contemporary sound culture.
Back to the album, the tracks themselves sound like composed improvisations, conjuring cinematic visions of Captain Morgan having a jam with Vincent Price, while Morticia serves up cups of psilocybin tea. California Pink-A-Pades would have to be my pick, and features free wheeling sequenced arpeggios, couched in off centre chord voicings and punctured by abstract melodies and single key note stabs. At the other end of the spectrum, Sleepy Bullet is a collage of sinister 'sci fi' tension and release, redolent of early radiophonic workshop, while Younger Critics Of New York is a short assault on the senses, possibly hinting at a satirical retort ?
It's hard to escape the anachronistic timbre of these organs, carrying as they do the cultural qualities of the late fifties. However the sheer inventiveness and deranged humour that Rothkamm threads throughout the album endears it from first listen. Just 3 Organs is released on his own label Flux Records and is available as a download with printed cover from his site.
Read - In Nebula Temperament – on the tuning of Just 3 Organs
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