The Necks: Aether
Bob Burnett: There are some listening experiences that seem to be like star-aligning moments. They become a permanently etched memory.
One of those moments happened for me several summers ago while driving along the Oregon coast. I have to preface this story --- there wasn’t anything remotely romantic or otherworldly in the set-up of the moment; I didn’t have an out-of-body experience where I figured out which Egyptian Pharoah I was in a past life or see a beckoning tunnel of light. In fact, I was returning from a morning errand of getting a few things at a grocery store about 15 minutes from the little A-frame on the coast where my family was staying. Suddenly there was a floating fog, a crashing grayish-green ocean and a rolling, open road. And The Necks Aether was playing.
The Necks are Australia's premier instrumental trio. Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (drums), and Lloyd Swanton (bass) create long form improvisational moments that are sublime and almost chemical in the way the elements within their compositions and instrumentation react to each other. Their work defies description in many ways--sometimes they are floating and ambient, sometimes they create grooving vamps, other times they are spare, sharp and somewhat dissonant. The common thread in their work (more than 13 albums to date since 1989) is that their CDs are made up of one lengthy composition—frequently clocking in at an hour or longer.
Aether is an album that reflects their slowly evolving, ambient side. I say "ambient" but that's not to be confused with fluttery, "new-age" type pseudo-spiritual styled music. There are subtle, evolving peaks and valleys in this music; slight cymbal rolls, sustained organ chords, a slight piano cycle of chords. This is music that reflects strongly for me to thoughts of landscapes, the color of light and movement within nature. Their work raises comparisons to Terry Riley, Eno, Steve Reich, etc. Actually, to me Aether connects to some of John Zorn's long format minimal compositions such as Redbird and Duras-Duchamp. I also link the overall concept within Aether to Morton Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet.
Even if I didn’t have an imprinted memory of a moment in time with Aether I'd still consider it one of my favorite contemporary listening experiences. Although expensive here in the USA I recommend pursuing The Necks diverse body of work.