Steve Roden / Small Cruel Party - Stratégies Obliques Ø LP (Ferns Recordings)

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Ferns Recording, FR

Over the last few years, we’ve been graced by a steady trickle of material from Steve Roden and Small Cruel Party, each drawing to power and creative rigor of both artists into the forefront of our minds and hearts. Now, the French imprint Ferns delivers an incredible split LP, Stratégies Obliques Ø, encountering these two veteran experimentalists weaving startling tapestries of sonic abstraction, created by deploying Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s “Oblique Strategies” deck. Creatively challenging and a joyous, stunning adventure in listening from start to finish, once again Steve Roden and William Ransone take us to the outer reaches of perception and experimental sound.

Both located on America’s west coast, Steve Roden and Small Cruel Party - the working moniker of William Ransone - emerged within the shadowy realms of the 1980s experimental scene. Roden is a pioneer of Lowercase music, a movement which uses amplification as a means to address the quiet and unheard sounds of objects and environments, whose practice - in addition to music - spans the fields of painting, drawing, sculpture, film/video, sound installation, and performance. Ransone, on the other hand, graced a number of Seattle’s more interesting experimental ventures - Blowhole (with Jeph Jerman, etc), Yeast Culture, and Gamelan Pacifica - before venturing into the rich experimental territory - largely defining his solo practice since the late '80s and early '90s - of non-instrumental sound sources / physical objects manipulated in acoustic space, focused on provoking the mysterious through his emphasis on the raw materiality of sound and its environments.

Roden and Small Cruel Party’s work has existed in close proximity since the '90s, often being supported by the same record labels and concert bills, as well sharing space on two self-titled CDs documenting a small number of live sets by the artists, in connection with Toy Bizarre, that were issued by G.M.B.H., the precursor of Ferns, in 1999. More recently, both graced the Bidödaren compilation. While not an explicit collaboration - offering one side the LP to each artist - Stratégies Obliques Ø encounters Roden and Small Cruel Party in closer dialog than has previously been heard on record, each working within the same set of perimeters of chance via Eno and Schmidt’s legendary “Oblique Strategies” deck. With the titles of each respective work referencing the chosen card, the distinction between each comes into sharp focus, highlighting the breadth of possibitliy activated within a fairly narrow field of experimental practice and approach, as well as the originality of each voice.

The first side of the LP, comprising 5 works by Roden, is nothing short as astounding. Within each gesture, rich sonorities of tone and dissonance bristle against the next within astonishing structures and arrangements; objects appearing as unnamable totems in a series of discrete landscapes joined as single force, conversing with remarkable musicality across the spaces which they fall. Small Cruel Party’s 4 efforts, gracing the second side, while belonging to roughly the same sonic universe, venture further toward ambiguity and spacial ambience, with almost imperceptible shifts of texture and tonality taking on a monumental presence through the subtle delicacy of their interactions, each tense and challenging, while feeling entirely so at ease and natural that might have appeared without the intervention of a human hand.

Resting within a near indefinable creative space of its own, Stratégies Obliques Ø is an endlessly surprising body of sound, encountering two veteran artists at the peak of their game, pushing the possibilities and perceptions of experimental music into endlessly exciting new zones. Highly recommended on every count. Out via Ferns in a very limited edition of 200 copies on white vinyl. (Soundohm)