Cory Smythe’s Bizarre Cyborg Music

Smythe cover

ACCELERATE EVERY VOICE / SMYTHE: Northern Cries Vowel Shift. Accelerate Every Voice. Marl Every Voice. Kinetic Whirlwind Sculpture I. Vehemently. Kinetic Whirlwind Sculpture II. Knot Every Voice. Weatherproof Song. Piano and Ocean Waves for Deep Relaxation / Kyoko Kitamura, Raquel Acevado Klein, voc; Michael Mayo, voice/looper; Steven Hrycelak, voc/bs; Kari Francis, voc/perc; Cory Smythe, pno/elec / Pyroclastic Records PR 08

I know I’ve said this before about other albums, but this time I mean it. This is a VERY STRANGE album.

The music herein will either alienate you, spellbind you, or, as in my case, fascinate you just enough that you keep trying to dope out what the heck is going on. This is not a bad thing; I accept challenges when the challenger has something to say, no matter how bizarre. But it most certainly will not “appeal” to you in the way that most music normally does.

Cory Smythe, I discovered, is a pianist who has dabbled in classical (often with violinist Hilary Hahn). experimental improvised music (often with German saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock) and multidisciplinary composers like Anthony Braxton and Zosha di Castri. Interestingly, nowhere online could I discover what album Smythe won a Grammy for, but he is described in the promo sheet as a Grammy-award-winning pianist.

On this album, Smythe blends voices (five of them, including by his bassist, percussionist and “looper,” which I would assume refers to tape loops) with instruments and electronics to create a sort of 21st-century Swingle Singers vibe. The piano runs like a golden jazz-like thread through the sea of intertwined voices, electronic sounds and electronic drums to create a weird vibe, which is enhanced by the alternating tonal-bitonal-atonal quality of the music, which seems to flow without benefit of development though it certainly does keep morphing and changing as it goes along.

Although the album is incredibly “spacey” in terms of its unconventional sound progressions, only Kinetic Whirlwind Sculpture II is spacey in the sense of its being a string of ambient sounds without a beat or development. Most of the other pieces bring you into an intricate web of polyphonic voices weaving in and out of each others’ spheres of influence as the music keeps rolling along. Often the music starts in the middle of a phrase, or perhaps, you might say, in the middle of nowhere, but it does usually go somewhere—but exactly where, only Cory Smythe really knows.

The album concludes with a purely instrumental ambient track, Piano and Ocean Waves for Deep Relaxation…or so the title says. I didn’t find it “relaxing” in the least. The constantly edgy pulsations and, more importantly, the ominous-sounding loud spikes of sound in it worked very much against my achieving any sort of relaxation, let alone “deep” relaxation. Frankly, this track sounds like a huge factory that is imploding before you ears, and this is not a series of sounds that I found the least bit relaxing. In fact, it kept me on edge throughout its nearly 19-minute duration.

But most of the album is indeed fascinating, if only as a one-time listening experience.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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