porous structures was the third part of a 2019 triptych for Belgian multi-instrumentalist and avant garde composer Ruben Machtelinckx. First came the debut album of Poor Isa, his duo with his countryman Frederik Leroux, who also plays guitar, banjo and more. Then a cassette (!) of field recordings, improvisations and compositions titled Sualme. porous structures features a new quartet with Machtelinckx and Bert Cools on steelstring acoustic guitars, Joachim Badenhorst on reeds (clarinets and saxophones) and voice, and French percussionist Toma Gouband.
Machtelinckx is also a co-founder of the Eurocentric label Aspen Edities and plays in a number of ensembles that feature in its catalog. Most of the acts on the label are aggressively experimental, which is in keeping with Machtelinckx’s vision and practice. This is about as far from commercial popular music as you can get and still call it music – although some people might even balk at that.
I stumbled upon Machtelinckx via Norwegian hardanger fiddler Nils Økland, whose ensemble recordings have been among my favorite of the past half-decade. Økland has been a guest on a couple of recordings by the group Linus, which consists of Machtelinckx and saxophonist Thomas Jillings plus a varying cast of collaborators.
Of the guitarist himself, his website says (in translation), “In general Machtelinckx’ music has evolved from sweet and gentle melodies and folk influences to music with more frictions and a hidden discomfort, without however letting go the power of songs and strains.” Frictions and hidden discomfort I think captures the essence of this recording.
The general theme of porous structures is airy minimalism, as implied by the title. Each of the eight performances recorded here is a variation on gently plucked guitars, high-pitched droning from reeds or voice, and a compendium of percussion. Four are numbered “structures” that are pretty far from melodic. “Structure 1” for example is an exercise in overtones from long, sustained guitar chords and saxophone notes overlaid by lightly clattering percussion like bones in a ceramic bowl. “Structure 6” after a brief solo guitar intro that sounds like it could be a march, quickly veers into a jumble of rattling and rustling percussion and the rasp of implements drawn over drum heads, breathy notes that could be human or reeds, and two guitars plucked in staggered rhythms.
Compared to those, the other tracks are more or less song-like. The best is “mémoire,” which has a lovely, lulling effect and is rather cinematic – minimal plucked guitar that hints at those “gentle melodies and folk influences,” plus wordless falsetto vocals, airy soprano sax, and some rattling and slapping percussion with the occasional thumping kickdrum – all conjure up for me visions of wandering in the vacant ruins of an old, old house, with fresh air and spring sunshine streaming through the empty windows.
But the general effect of all of this music is airy, open, minimalist – porous structures through which your own thoughts, feelings and interpretations come to fill the gaps. Recommended for the adventurous.
(Aspen Edities, 2019)