Although he has worked with rock bands (albeit freaky ones such as Pere Ubu and the Residents), his solo work isn't about keeping time. Filling space is more like it - creating a sonic fog in a specific room, before a particular audience, improvising his compositions using a lot more than the standard drum kit.

Though his vocabulary of sound is gargantuan, Cutler is proud to say that (aside from the occasional CD in the background to spice things up) it's all created before your eyes: "There are no samples, pads or triggers, just acoustic drums amplified and modified with standard electronic processors; there's a table with a few tambours, a frying pan, and an egg-slicer - also amplified - a miscellaneous collection of sticks,

Chris Cutler playing solo.

brushes, screw-rods, beaters, violin bows, battery operated cocktail mixers, some Ping-Pong balls, a fire bell, and a massager."

That laundry list is taken from the liner notes of the percussionist's engrossing disc, Solo: A Descent Into the Maelstrom (on his own ReR Megacorp label). Made up of a handful of live recordings, it's a dense thicket of clangs, rattles, clicks, and whirs that go bingle, bang, pop for just under an hour. There are stretches of near-silence, too, and short fragments intended to perform an "ear cleaning" effect. The record works in a variety of ways: as the subject of close scrutiny, as a free-associative trigger device, as background music for a really hip party. At the moment, I'm enjoying listening through it with my ears tuned to pick up nothing but the little rapid plastic click that Cutler's Ping- Pong ball makes when he bounces it.

Aside from his tenure in Pere Ubu, Cutler's main claim to fame is his membership in the prog-rock (for lack of a better label) group Henry Cow. While some of Henry Cow's contemporaries - Pink Floyd and Genesis, for example - went on to stardom, Cow alums such as Cutler

Chris Cutler's album Solo.
Monday, Mar 10
811 Art Lounge (Robert Tatum Studio)
811 South Flores
and guitarist Fred Frith went the opposite direction, playing to a fanatic, but small collection of fans who wanted their experimental music undilluted by radio-friendly vocals or giant inflatable pigs.

In the liner notes to Solo, Cutler implies that this kind of improvisation wouldn't even exist without an audience intimate enough to interact with him:

"Why live recordings? Because I could never find the motivation to improvise in an empty studio, except as the preliminary to compositional work, while at a concert, the pressure, the public, the physical acoustics, and the strict unalterability of the event make improvisation - at least for me - a meaningful and social act; I can see the point of it as an end rather than the beginning of a work."

Ironically, the result of this communal-experience recording is something of an experimental-music rarity: a CD that actually holds up for the solitary home-bound listener. But that shouldn't keep you from going to see him do his thing live. •

More by John DeFore



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