Electronic Music, Jazz, New Music, Rock
Reviewed by Tim Rollinson, July 1st, 2014
Network of Lines is a suite in ten parts, nine of them written and arranged by composer/trombone player Tilman Robinson. The tenth is an arrangement by Robinson of a piece by songwriter Sean O’Neill. There are no distinct beginnings or endings, each track slowly and effortlessly dissolves into the next. The music is played with great heart and subtlety by an outstanding and sympathetic nine piece ensemble. The suite is “in response to”, but not a literal translation of the 1979 novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino.
The album’s elements are finely crafted; composition, arrangement, improvisation, production and artwork mutually combine to present a work that can be robust and rhythmic, but also delicate, abstract and spacious. There are plenty of stirring and epic moments but also layers that travel deeply into a macro level where subtle musical gestures, timbres and textures are generated both electronically via laptop, or by non-conventional methods of producing sounds from acoustic instruments.
The jazz tradition is represented. There are shades of Ornette Coleman, Art Ensemble of Chicago or Miles Davis’ Nefertiti era, where group improvisation and long melodies that repeat with shifting emphasis, take precedence over soloing. However, there are also some beautiful instrumental solos such as Berish Bilander’s piano on In Search of an Anchor and the expressive muted trumpet on The Void and the Iron Bridge. True to its post-modern literary inspiration, the album is not shackled to genre or era. There are traditional European folk references, syncopated Balkan rhythms, a Yiddish waltz which appears twice – the second time collapsing as if drunk. If there is a consistent musical device, it could be a representation of the tendency of things to fall apart and then regenerate. Calvino was experimenting with literature that could dissect our notions of reality using absurdism; he was also an avid collector of Italian folk tales.
There is much of the zeitgeist in this music; the album is fascinating to listen to, it is clever and intricate but also at times, heartbreaking and poignant. If it were a soundtrack, it would be for a Spike Jonze movie or a contemporary surrealist tale such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. There are touches of whimsy in the understated percussion, a bicycle bell, a whistled melody, fractured banjo and pizzicato strings, a naivety of tone that is romantic yet not overly sentimental or ironic. There are some propulsive interlocking figures that build crescendos which often culminate in epic melodies in the style of Iceland’s Sigur Ros.
Although it’s quite complex, the music would be very accessible to a contemporary audience versed in independent or post-rock, electronica or new music. Network of Lines is a very impressive debut album from a young Australian composer/sound artist.
Tilman Robinson – trombone/laptop
Peter Knight – trumpet/laptop
Callum G’Froerer – trumpet
Erkki Veltheim – violin
Judith Hamann – cello
Brett Thompson – guitar/banjo
Berish Bilander – piano
Sam Zerna – bass
Hugh Harvey – drums