Thymolphthalein is an acid-bass indicator. In other words, it will change the color of clear liquids with a high pH to blue. That's a pretty fancy name for something so boring (to me). However, Thymolphthalein is also a super-group quintet of Natasha Anderson (computer, contrabass recorder — something resembling a small totem pole), Will Guthrie (percussion), Jérôme Noetinger (electronics), Anthony Pateras (piano, Wurlitzer, modular synthesizer) and Clayton Thomas (contrabass). What they change is the color of existing genres into something wholly theirs.
Formed in 2009 when asked to "synthesize our improvisational idiosyncrasies into a compositional framework" (essentially riffing through Ligeti's Atmospheres and the Penderecki/Don Cherry piece Aktions), the group offers an amalgam of electroacoustics, rhythm-heavy free jazz, concréte and massive, multi-strata environments.
They bring so many flavors to the table that it's hard to pick out what's live and what's fed through / sputtering out of machines. The nineteen-minute long "You Cannot Escape The 20th Century" broods in a low frequency, rolling wash of Gamelan, cymbals, resonant thumps, electrical misfires and squealing sound design. Near the half-way point, dive-bombing feedback intersects the loop, and the piece folds in on itself: staccato acoustic gestures strike, and then happen in reverse or some other mangled state; Pateras's muted piano smacks modulate into rhythmic pokers; Guthrie's kit is processed to ignore any type of sustain.
As a sonic contrast, "Supreme Nothingness" uses minimal brush strokes by guiding a single pitched murmur into a gigantic, undulating cloud, punctuated with the occasional bell, growing more with gong (?) rolls and ending in a crumbling synthetic sizzle. Again, who is playing what is not known, but who cares — it's an amazing take on the often clichéd drone.
"It Doesn't Kill You, It Stops You Living" focuses with a driving pulse that persists and veers into polyrhythm with several members chiming in; Guthrie adds metric modulation through bombast and freer strokes. A collision with exploding piano clusters disrupts the piece into a flurry of hisses, squeals and something that sounds as a rapidly flowing river of matchboxes. Vocal screams, ghostly chants through a pitch-shifting device appear and give way to a bastardized Tibetan religious procession rife with UFO attacks and Art Blakey freak-outs.
Though brilliant performers on their own and in smaller units (i.e. Noetinger and Guthrie's Face Off), the group challenges each other to a terrific cat-fight. The Thymolphthalein here might not be so much about goosing musical language but to the individual parts.
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