Thing of the Day

Rutman's Steel Cello Ensemble

MAY 17th 2011 

Rutman's steel cello ensembleRutman's Steel Cello Ensemble feat. Ginsberg, Hentz & Irmler - s/t (Klangbad)
A massive coruscating drone, sorry, DRONE... a drone so big it demands capitalisation.  This is what you get when you create a stringed instrument that appears to be taller than some people's houses. Not just any old bowed giant sail of steel strung with fishing cables, but an instrument evolved over decades and decades by a Zen master of bowing giant steel sails.

   Bob Rutman was blowing giant bubbles of throbbing harmonics with these things when mere rock n roll was still radical. Rutman is a respected fine artist, a sculptor and painter and these instruments are as much sculpture as instruments of music making - in fact the sculptures came first, created in his Manhattan art gallery (which was called "A Bird Can Fly, But A Fly Can't Bird) in 1966. It was there that he made the discovery that they could be brought to life by the bow or by shaking, and began the long process of creative evolution of the Steel Cello and a sculpture with bowable steel rods called the Bow Chime.  Rutman founded the US Steel Cello Ensemble in 1975, released several albums over the years (the original records selling for silly money now). Now in his 80s, (actually, it's his 80th this week) he's had quite a life, fleeing Nazi Germany with his mother as a Rutman 70s?child,  escaping via Poland to England and travelling to the States in his twenties to study art in New York.  After growing tired of city life, he moved to Maine, where he built a house that was said to be as much a sculpture as a drone, and grew a garden of giant metal flowers... After years of being the starving pioneer, Rutman returned to his birthplace of Berlin in the mid 80s, where his work was finally appreciated.

   Now put all that out of your mind.  Here is the DRONE, wordless, mind-blanking and all-encompassing, rippling with infinite harmonics. It is captured throughout the eight tracks on this album together with a magnificently authentic Krautrock rhythmic foundation and deeply empathic sonic collaborating.  This driving, skipping, shuffling drum (Kirsten Ginsberg) joins (Faust veteran) Hans Joachim Irmler alternating on hypnotic guitar,  and distorted organ, and the gibberings of Mike Hentz's Jew's Harp and throat singing, to amplify the intensity of that drone, to pin down its huge, sky-sized globular form amd give it some legs.  They do so in many different ways, ringing changes and feeding off the intensity emanating from the Bow Chime and the Steel Cello.

Many times the rhythmic 'band' part of the Ensemble back off to give the drone the lead.  The final part of of track two, Sonic, sounds like nothing on earth... unless you've ever Rutman with steel celloheard the uniquely rich propeller throb of a World War II bomber pass over head.  Make that bombers, plural. A deep contradiction: a sinister and exciting sound that should encapsulate the coldness of deadly machinery, and the cold purpose behind it, yet warm, alive; and as endlessly detailed as a living organism. It can also be as soothing and lulling, a machine surrogate for the white noise of the womb. (Rutman released an album in the '90s called Music To Sleep By). Like the chaotic complexities that happen when  changing wavelengths join with and clash with each other, there's a lot of meaning out of the simple action of a bow drawn across metal... all, in a word, resonance.

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