CD Arson w/ Denman Maroney

arsonRecorded 2012, released 2013 on OutNow Recordings. Total Time: 69:41 Minutes. Denman Maroney – hyperpiano, Hans Tammen – endangered guitar, electronics, live processing. Recorded June 2012 by Peter Karl at Peter Karl Studios.


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Denman Maroney and Hans Tammen have been regularly working together since 1998, as a duo and in other formations. In 1999, they released their first duo CD “Billabong” on the French label Potlatch. This year, they celebrate their collaboration with a new release on OutNow Recordings, “Arson”,  premiered in concert at  New York Electronic Arts Festival. In this work, Denman Maroney’s dizzying and diverse palette of piano sounds is electronically captured by Hans Tammen, and processed into radically contrastive and fascinating noises emanating from Tammen’s interactive software.

denman maroneyNew York City Jazz Record (Kurt Gottschalk)

Denman Maroney and Hans Tammen are a wonderfully well-suited pair of sound makers. At their core they comprise a piano/guitar duo, but both of them stretch their instruments far beyond the natural voices. Perhaps more significantly, they each occasionally employ those natural voices for strikingly dramatic effect. Their shared commitment to such “extended techniques” is made evident by the fact that Maroney calls his piano preparations and inside-case playing “hyper-piano” and Tammen refers to his approach as “endangered guitar”. ARSON is their second release as a duo (following BILLABONG, released way back in 1999 on Potlatch), although the duo have worked in larger settings as well. The album is a great mix of melody and density, with bowls and slides on piano and guitar strings (and other such strings) creating an ever-shifting bed over which fragmented phrases and further mutations appear. The album opens with the excitingly pounding “Dynamo Meat” but explores many more ethereal arenas over its 11 tracks. Tammen fills the field with so many sounds of indeterminate origin that the music rarely feels like a duet – or if it is, maybe a duet in a windstorm where the two can’t quite hear one another. By the eighth track, “Ornamenta”, the music almost sounds residual, as if the players were gone but have left some directionless noises behind them. The penultimate title track comes off as a solo piano piece, only with shards of sound breaking off and bouncing around the room. “Mad Rhyme”, the closer, sounds more like an arson attack, at least in a building filled with elastic bands and bubble packaging. Such impressions don’t take away from the duo’s purposeful approach to their work, but rather underscore it. The vessel is, of course, their creation and the music it carries very evocative. At the Rhythm In The Kitchen Festival this month, they’ll be presenting another layer of discovery, with Tammen leaving his guitar behind and processing just the sounds of Maroney’s hyper piano, for what promises to be another exciting exploration of texture. New York City Jazz Record June 2013, Kurt Gottschalk.

The Squid’s Ear (Massimo Ricci)

Changeable opinions can be expressed on Arson, except that it’s a soft listen or an easy-to-portray release. The budget of rational elbow grease necessary for its analysis is expanded by the decisive materiality of its digital impurity, a consequence of intensive computer processing. This obliterates one’s ability of delineating “orchestral” traits, as most of the aural constituents get fried in a pan of indeterminacy augmented — if needed — by pitiless noise. Tammen and Maroney — this being their second recorded collaboration besides 1999’s Billabong on Potlatch — just don’t care about comforting an audience, coldly proceeding through methods that vindicate the adjective “experimental” in comparison to the majority of what today is superficially fixed as such. Laptop-based ambient folderol this ain’t.

This does not mean that the record is not fascinating (in its own way). It’s not ugly, either, in spite of the reiterated disfigurement of the initial substances. The sources, after all, are harmonically wealthy instruments: piano and guitar, respectively “hyper” and “endangered” according to well-known definitions attributed by the artists to their main machines. The opening “Dynamo Meat” might let someone think of Conlon Nancarrow suddenly going bonkers, destroying his player piano with one hand and hitting the extreme left area of a regular keyboard with the other, while the subsequent “Harmony Dame” is a borderline expedition across squealing bowed strings and chips of normal notes, its disposition oscillating between unkeyed minimalism and compositional illegality. The title track revolves around neurotic repetitions of truncated pitches in a feverish trance; “Ornamenta” is somewhat forbidding, a spectral preamble to some sort of begrimed acoustic guerrilla. “Amnesty Dharma” sounds like the springs of an improviser’s psyche attempting to escape from the cerebral mattress, then instantly returning inside as if frightened by the hypothesis of a punishment for the rebellious act.

Clumsily challenging materials from reputable sonic questioners who fully understand the resonant properties of a given setting, but do not content themselves with instantaneous approachability. Play this CD as a mere background, and the music’s pricking temperament will irritate straight away. Sit on the sofa, turn on the brain without distractions: storms of dissonant bewilderment and slippery boisterousness will irremediably alter whatever individual perspective there is. The Squid’s Ear June 2014.

AllAboutJazz (Eyal Hareuveni)

Arson , recorded in Brooklyn during June 2012, features the highly sophisticated musical language of the duo. Maroney’s hyper-pianism— his own method of playing inside the piano— redefines and dramatically expands the piano’s sonic vocabulary and offers a new, colorful palette of sororities and timbral options. The surprising orchestrated sounds of the hyper-piano are electronically captured by Tammen then transformed and processed into radically contrasting, noisy textures emanating from his interactive software and the imaginative sound processing of his own endangered guitar. On eleven varied pieces, Maroney and Tammen weave delicate, nuanced electro-acoustic soundscapes that do not sound even remotely close to the conventional piano and guitar vocabularies. They structure their pieces carefully and patiently as enigmatic puzzles comprised of chaotic, colliding concrete sounds, white noise, atmospheric blips, industrial, resonating pulses, and occasionally light, common touches of the piano keys while still avoiding any form of playing the keyboard in a linear progression until these pieces acquire a distinct and cohesive character. The thoughtful, immediate process of improvising these fleeting sonic capsules is often more arresting than the end result. Interaction is fast, supportive and dense. Maroney and Tammen are determined to expand any given sonic thread, even the most simple, spare or abstract ones, as both demonstrate on the long pieces “Anemone,” “Shaman” and “Ornaments.” They transform it into their own language, varying that with unworldly sounds, raw, disturbing noises or silence, and succeed charging these pieces with tension, evocative cinematic qualities and compelling presence. Challenging and demanding, yet highly unique. AllAboutJazz April 2014, Eyal Hareuveni

JazzWord (Ken Waxman)

Q: When is a guitar not a guitar? A: When it’s endangered. No one would imagine that the guitar, probably the most popular instrument in today’s world, is any way endangered. But German-born, New York-based Hans Tammen uses that term to describe his instrument, which involves a standard guitar that also functions as controller for live sound processing. These duo CDs outline his interaction with Dom Minasi, who plays what could probably be called a non-imperiled six-string; or Denman Maroney, whose so-called hyperpiano playing involves using different implements to strike the prepared strings to produce unexpected timbres. During the course of 11 tracks, Maroney and Tammen produce a cacophony of unique sounds which bubble and bustle with barely contained exuberance. The pianist’s plucks, scrubs and slides not only propel abrasive timbres that are fascinatingly distinctive, but when he uses the full keyboard, usually in tandem with the preparations, the results ring with thickened authority. For his part Tammen’s usual game plan is outlining spindly and focused themes, often with bottleneck guitar-like stabs, while tremolo pulses from his guitar-extensions provide the ostinato for the performances. Even though computer oscillations and string quivers permeate all the tracks, the two instruments’ interfaces can be radically varied. For instance compare “Shaman” and “Ornamental”. The former begins with what could be a parody of portentous piano chording straight from an impressionistic recital. Almost immediately however the ostentatious cadenzas are slashed by knife-style guitar slices. As Tammen further unsettles the interface with electronically oriented watery pulsations, tremolo crackles what could be tin foil crumbling, Maroney responds with whining plucks and rugged inner-string stimulation. Following a mutual crescendo with every string imaginable stroked, plucked, stopped, scraped or scrubbed, the two settle into a finale of minutely expressed plinks and plucks. The basic human affiliation on “Shaman” appears to vanish completely on “Ornamental” with the track mostly consisting of flutters and flanges, granular whizzes and blurry wiggles that appear to be processed as much from piano preparations and odd-guitar tuning as additional electronics. As the sound patterns constantly expand and deflate into atoms, a machine-like regularity is most prominent – fascinating in its way, but alienating as well. Overall, although the point of the exercises is to create novel forms of timbral synthesis by subverting the expected sounds of the guitar and piano, those tracks which cunningly contrast the instruments’ acoustic and altered properties are most credible. Thus if the methodical keyboard centred piano line can be made out on “Harmony Dame” despite string vibrations and scrapes, the contrast is that mush more striking. Moreover when “Mad Rhyme”, the final track, climaxes with oscillated extensions from the many strings in play, the previous wood-and-metal distortions give way to rough yet authentic piano and guitar textures. Experimentation isn’t transformation. In this case the propriety of altering guitar and piano playing is made clearer when the acoustic antecedents are audible. JazzWord April 2014, Ken Waxman.