MODULES is a collaboration featuring three groups: exclusiveOr, the electronic duo of Jeff Snyder and Sam Pluta; Architeuthis Walks On Land, the duo of violist Amy Cimini and bassoonist Katherine Young; and the International Contemporary Ensemble, of whom trumpeters Peter Evans and Nate Wooley, saxophonist Ryan Muncy, trombonist Weston Olencki, and percussionist Ross Karre appear here. It’s a 42-minute piece broken into 15 sections, the longest of which runs nearly seven minutes and the shortest of which blips past in a mere 42 seconds.

The music was commissioned by the ICE and composed by Snyder and Pluta, but a full third of the tracks are (mostly brief) designated zones for duo improvisation. exclusiveOr go first, followed by Muncy and Evans, Cimini and Snyder, AWOL, and finally Wooley and Olencki.

The opening piece, “Module 1,” is the longest track on the disc at 6:51, and it sets the stage for all that follows. Rumbling electronic drones are flanked and interrupted by eerie zaps and skittering noises, tiny rattles and clicks, and disruptive shimmering waves of static. Intermittent, tentative ripples from Evans and Wooley, and soft figures from Cimini, add a human element to the otherwise otherworldly sounds, as though the crew of a self-disassembling spaceship had decided to play themselves off like the band on the Titanic. “Module 2,” which follows directly (all the tracks flow seamlessly into one another), is shorter, more staccato and more generally aggressive/entropic.

Because of the continuous nature of the piece, the paired improvisations don’t draw attention to themselves until they’re midway through or almost over, but they are frequently fascinating. The combination of Snyder’s electronics and Cimini’s harsh, grinding violin is a particularly evocative three-minute passage that recalls Thomas Köner‘s Arctic ambient tracks, made with closely mic’ed, bowed cymbals. It leads directly into “Pavan,” a mournful multi-horn chorale that’s like a fanfare played at half speed.

In its second half, the piece becomes substantially more energetic, and even threatening. Beginning with “Galliard,” percussion comes to the fore and horn lines flex aggressively. The five-minute “Estampie” is a sustained outburst of clatter and boom, stabbing horns, and reality-warping electronics; it’s like a jazz track remixed by Skinny Puppy, and could soundtrack the scene in a horror movie about a murderous 1970s cult where the members are stalking the Final Girl through their bunker/temple/compound at midnight.

MODULES is a fantastically creative piece of music, performed expertly by everyone involved. It sounds like nothing else, and is absolutely worth any adventurous listener’s time.

Phil Freeman

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