on tholl / fogel / hoff’s conditional tension


Tholl / Fogel / Hoff – Conditional Tension (2015)

In the early days of The Hum, I drew lines in the sand which time has obscured. The first was a desire to break with the basic temporality of music journalism. Records are usually written about when they’re hot off the presses, dropping from view when newer releases take their place. I felt that it was important to shine light in their direction months or years after the fact. If music stands the test of time, it should be recognized. Recently I’ve been failing in this department. I also hold a strong preference toward analog releases (tapes, and vinyl). I stopped buying CDs years ago after forming a distaste for them as objects, and when I began to recognize their relationship to cynical capitalist tendencies within the larger body of the recording industry. They were designed to maximize profits. I wanted no part in it. This later sculpted my feelings about digital downloads. Given the vast quantity of music that I buy and listen to, this became a convenient mechanism for self-control and editing. I could ignore releases on digital formats, while offering my attention to others. As my abilities and sense of responsibility evolved, so too did this position. There’s too much incredible music being released on CD to ignore. I may not like them as objects, but art has to come first.

This week a record crossed my path that helped illustrate these changing perspectives – a collaboration between Andrew Tholl, Corey Fogel, and Devin Hoff, released last November on CD. It’s a doozy, and too damned good to ignore. Both Tholl and Fogel are based in LA, while Hoff is based in NY. Despite distance, a number of collaborations have put them in orbit through the years. The three have a pretty diverse range of output behind them – each often skirting between modern composition, free-improvisation, Punk, and Indie Rock. This record finds them plunging into some of the most elegant free-improvisations I’ve heard in a while. Over roughly 65 minutes, during a performance recorded at the Hammer Museum in 2012, the trio scratch and rattle out carefully responsive sonorities, continuously weaving toward a brilliant totality. I’m particularly fond of this arrangement of instrumentation – violin, bass, and drums (The Revolutionary Ensemble being the obvious example). Their relationship produces something with few equivalents.  While the violin operates with remarkable sustain, range, and dynamics, the bass (also being a string instrument) establishes a harmonic bridge, while delving toward rhythm and the drums. Conditional Tension isn’t Free-Jazz. Though there are overlaps, the trio’s work shouldn’t be confused. The sonic relationships extend from a European tradition begun by The Scratch Orchestra, AMM, and Musica Elettronica Viva – all of whom have roots in avant-garde gestures of Western Classical Music. The American Free-Jazz tradition grew from advanced, individualized expressions of song. There is little of that here. Despite the clear responsiveness, and sensitively, the trio appears to be in constant battle, producing a delicate, brittle, sonic assault. It must have been a great night. Tholl’s violin continuously chips at the sonority of Hoff’s bass, while Fogel breaks the resulting sum to bits. There’s nothing inviting about this record, yet you can’t help getting sucked in. There’s a mastery which few their age could duplicate. Filled with energy, ambition, and brilliant sonic relationships, I can’t recommend it enough. Have a listen below, and pick it up here from the band.


-Bradford Bailey

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