Mike Weis – Sound Practice (2016)
There are rare moments of encounter – recordings which defy genre, cultural boundary, and temporal association, reaching toward a universal expression – of all places and times, and of none. Mike Weis’ new LP Sound Practice, is one such case.
Weis has been a staple in the Chicago underground music community for years – issuing a steady stream of solo recordings and collaborative efforts (Good Stuff House, Kwaidan, Zelienople, etc). Increasingly stepping out on his own, he appears as a composer and percussionist of singular vision. Sound Practice is arguably his most striking effort to date. Like all great things, it evades easy definition – at once a careful and considered composition – worthy of company with many of the great historic works of Minimalism, a percussion record, and loose elegant work of complex sonorities. At first listen, the work doesn’t impose a sense of radical departure from his more recent recordings, but it’s marked by an ever increasing confidence in the strength of its own materiality – which is to say, the inherent acoustic power of its chosen objects. The sonorities (with their underlying structures) presented within Sound Practice, are progressively left to themselves – out on their own, with an assertive sense of risk, rigor, and maturity that is startling.
The album joins a fascinating cannon of recordings bubbling below the orthodox history of the avant-garde – the output of composers (often percussionists) who push beyond standard categorizations, into realms which defy our expectations of given instrumentation and cultural influence – figures like Christopher Tree, Frank Perry, Peter Giger, Alain Kremski, Alain Presencer, William Winant, Klaus Wiese, Henry Wolff and Nancy Hennings – members of what I affectionately call the Hippie Avant-garde. Weis, like others treading this path, transmogrify what might at first appear to be sonic limitation, into expansive sheets of sound and structure – drawing not only on avant-garde and experimental practice, but on a vast cultural traditions spanning the globe, and a fierce sense of individualism.
Sound Practice is an album which is foolish to describe. It’s sounds are at once familiar, jarring, and challenging. They accomplish such heights that written word is unable to do them justice. Within its grooves we find Weis transforming his chosen instruments – drums, gongs, singing bowls, etc, into an orchestra and a conduit for the human spirit. This is a percussion record which ceases to be about percussion – which writhes, howls, and clatters in a reductive world where only the essential remains – one as much about silence and tone as it is about rhythm. I’ve listened to the record an uncountable number of times during the period which I’ve owned it – reaping an endless stream of surprise and reward. It continues to pulls me back, unable to resist reentry, again and again. It is unquestionably one of the most essential, ambitious, and important albums of the year. It’s out now via Monastral. You can get it from them directly, or from the Zelienople Bandcamp page – Check it out below and grab it before it goes.