Edison Studio & Mahammad Ghavi Helm - Zarbing
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Edison Studio & Mahammad Ghavi Helm
La Frontiera /Rai Trade

Zarbing is a collaboration between Edison Studio, a four-person electronics group based in Rome, and master Persian percussionist Mahammad Ghavi Helm. When approaching Zarbing, the listener is best advised that the album is a collection of four different, strictly experimental and challenging composed pieces for electronics, metal percussion, and Persian drums (either the 'zarb,' carved from a walnut log, or the 'daf,' a circular drum with small metal rings; some compositions feature both). Edison Studio's intent was to provide new contexts in which Mahammad Helm would perform, and in doing so, to highlight the ancient nature of the drum itself. Therefore, there are no electronic 'beats' in these compositions; that would detract from the work of the master percussionist.

Of the four pieces on Zarbing, I found the first two (by Luigi Ceccarelli and Alessandro Cipriani, respectively) to be the most effective. Ceccarelli's contribution begins in a contemplative manner, before building to crashing waves of sound that thin out to a mechanic rotoring. Solemnity follows, then slicing sheets of electronic noise; by then, Mahammad is pounding out a deep trance rhythm on the zarb that sounds as if it is crunching through gravel. The piece ends, sounding like it dies out in the interior of a spaceship. Cipriani's composition begins with metallic chimes, and the voice of Mahammad Helm, who begins to recite an ancient Sufi poem "Bi Ma" ("Devoid of Self"). Mahammad Helm's voice eventually ends up being processed through a vocoder, so that the robotic recitation really does become 'devoid of self,' although the self is still there. The electronics begin to crackle, like a woodfire; amongst bell-like tones, Mahammad Helm's voice returns, processed higher, more ethereally, as if a cleansing has occurred. The daf begins beating, drumming the piece back down to earth, while the electronics eat up the background in a low, growing shriek, and the piece finishes as the drums dissipate into a tinkling of metal. Clearly, we are not in 'ambient' territory anymore.

With modern art, I have often found that the meaning of a piece seems to lie with grasping the underlying idea. Once you have achieved this resonance, the "a-ha!" moment, then it is on to the next piece in an attempt to understand the ideology. On Zarbing, despite the four members of Edison Studio each contributing their own piece, I could not help but feel that for all the experimentation and the interesting performances by Mahammad Ghavi Helm, the whole album oddly had little range. The use of electronics, after all, is usually to provide for a broad sonic palette; but, perhaps this was somewhat curbed due to a singular vision on the part of the artists, and the concept became buried under the weight of best intentions. Or perhaps, after an "a-ha!" moment, it was time to move on. - Lee Blackstone

CD available from cdRoots

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