Sounds Heard: ensemble et, al.—When the Tape Runs Out
If you tend to conjure programmatic stories while listening to instrumental music, even where no clues as to the composer’s intent are on offer, Brooklyn-based percussion group ensemble et, al. is shortcutting some of the imaginative work for you. With track titles such as A Beautiful Walk Through an Industrial Wasteland and Confessions of an Honest Man, the ear is set up to translate the sounds along a certain storyline. That said, this music by Ron Tucker is simple, direct, and clear enough that these proffered banisters need be nothing more than artful suggestion.
A collection of five short tracks adding up to just 20 minutes of music, this EP feels like more of an amuse-bouche than an image of the ensemble’s full reach, but the character of the music is enchanting enough to make it an attractive listen. Each piece rings out as if the lid has been lifted up on a new music box, the lines mixing vibraphone, marimba, and glockenspiel with percussive sounds made using less traditional wood, metal, and glass objects. With these raw materials, the ensemble employs a musical vocabulary just quirky and mysterious enough that it would comfortably fit into the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Across the board, the pieces seem to project a whimsical profile, never straying into violent or oppressive sonic terrain. Where A Beautiful Walk Through an Industrial Wasteland rambles along a clear path while tossing in enough new timbers as the scenery changes to keep the ear engaged, In a Crowded Room With Nothing to Think About traces and retraces material, highlighting new colors on each pass. With its airy, reverberant tones, Confessions of an Honest Man turns out to be less angst-ridden and more transcendental that the title might have implied, but Finding Simple Wonders as the Day Turns the Night delivers exactly the kind of twilight magic you might expect—well, if you often find yourself in a darkly magical world at sundown, at least.
The EP includes a final “hidden” track—an arrangement of Für Alina by Arvo Pärt. The compositional voice here is obviously a diversion from what has come before, yet it still connects, even considering its heavier, more circumspect tone and the deep piano drone that underscores the track. At first it feels like perhaps too weighty an anchor, but its inclusion serves as a neat nod to Tucker’s musical influence.
And then the tape has indeed run out, leaving us to wonder where Ron Tucker and ensemble et, al. will take us next.