By Sean Orr
A terrifying chorus of drones swarm like wasps over a desolate landscape. Gnawing and building and growing in strength, crushing you like the weight of ice, expanding and stretching over a fast expanse. You feel trapped until the sweet release of melancholy pulls you under — the calm after the squall. This is Side A in multi-instrumentalist V. Vecker’s latest release, Coiling Flat. The masterful drone piece was commissioned by the Media Arts Committee at the Co-op Radio Station in Vancouver for a tribute to Pauline Oliveros, a pioneering American composer whose life’s work aspired to enhance sensory perception through what she called “deep listening”.
Vecker’s inspiration draws from an interview with Oliveros from the ’70s in which she describes being so upset at the political turmoil raging across America that she couldn’t bear to play any music except for a single A note. As a dual citizen, the idea of Oliveros essentially “trapped in San Diego watching the country fall apart” resonated with the saxophonist. The resulting track is a hypnotic meditation around variations of a single note on a tenor sax looped in different increments to create a foreboding atmosphere.
It’s truly a fitting tribute that draws on the early West Coast experimentation in conceptual art. As a graduate of Emily Carr, this is something that informs V. Vecker’s work. Speaking on Oliveros refusing to follow the herd to New York he says, “That was the beginning of a lot of West Coast things I think, like artists rejecting the formalism of the east coast and attempting something different. For example west coast synthesis (Don Buchla making his synths not attuned to a western style keyboard ala Moog style synths).”
Indeed that comes through on Side B and the title track, “Coiling Flat,” the product of an arpeggiation and another instant saxophone composition, this time on the alto saxophone. The arpeggiation was modified and sculpted in real time by David Rogers and opens up to you like a Lynchian mystery revealing itself. The eastern sounding alto sax slithers and traipses around while the arpeggio quietly degrades in the corner of the hotel room somewhere between Reno and Bakersfield. The insomnia is deafening.
“I seem to naturally go that way, even with guitars,” says Vecker. “I’d always get some eastern scale happening”. Also influential on Vecker’s practice is The Art Ensemble of Chicago. Similar to Oliveros’ deep listening they too can operate in some very meditative approaches. He expands: “They are a modular ensemble that took improvisations and compositions at par. They would all play like four or five instruments on a song, and seemed as egoless as possible in the commitment of creating the best music possible.”
“Bete Noire,” track three on the album, is “a nod to Sonny Rollins, in which he described his saxophone as his ‘black beast, my Bete Noire.’” It’s a fitting title as the saxophone here sounds like a wild horse writhing and bucking in the face of a plague of self-replicating nano-particles suffocating the reddish roan earth.
Coiling Flat is available on all streaming platforms. V. Vecker perform Feb. 22 at the Toast Collective as part of Fake Jazz.Coiling Flat, Fake Jazz, V Vecker, Vancouver