Kevin Parks and Joe Foster
ipsi sibi somnia fingunt
It’s not that often that a CD (much less a self-released one) gets reviewed in Downbeat, in Wire, and over here at S21. And I bet it’s even less often that a cogent case can be made for its presence in all three publications. Kevin Parks and Joe Foster’s ipsi sibi somnia fingunt (henceforth ipsi), though, is just the CD to complete that trifecta.
ipsi is the result of a few weeks of improvising by Parks and Foster in Seoul. Across the disc, they use sounds sources ranging from a temple bell to open circuits to guitar and trumpet – all supplemented by a full battery of effects pedals. If you read that and immediately think “mess,” you couldn’t be more wrong. While the timbral palette may be what’s catching the ears of so many reviewers, it’s the musicality that’s keeping them (and me) listening. For those of you who need an argument that improvisation and composition are two sides of the same coin, ipsi offers a great one. (And, both relevantly and in the name of full disclosure, Parks and I are both students in the UVA Composition program).
Parks and Foster make it clear quickly that they know how to keep things focused. The first track, “Centralia, Pennsylvania,” achieves a slow burn befitting the title. Most music to which I’d attach the phrase “slow burn,” uses pent-up energy as a threat; an explosion always feels imminent. Foster and Parks, instead, create an uneasy, despairing flame. This is a fire that’s achieved an equilibrium. An explosion isn’t likely, but neither is a burnout. The end of the track manages to come as a surprise even after 10:30.
“Torso” finds the duo utilizing contact miking and lengthy reverb times to place listeners into an unreal space with no middle ground. The two extremes battle for the listener’s attention throughout, and their respective victories and defeats impart a nice structural arc. This piece provides perhaps the most electronic sounding music of the album, though a fair share of the glitchy sounds at the beginning are coming off much older technology: the aforementioned temple bell.
At over 27:00, “Derinkuyu” comes in as the lengthiest track of the album, but it also manages to be one of the most subtle. Here the sound sources are less varied; guitar is most prominent for a majority of the duration. Parks uses an E-bow, a slide, and a delay pedal to coax microtonal moments from the instrument. Simultaneously, different shades of noise periodically interject and occasionally take over a section of the piece. Many times throughout “Derinkuyu” Parks and Foster allow the music to gently swell, but they inevitably pull back just before the listener senses a climax; their restraint here is truly virtuosic.
Conversely, Parks and Foster let it rip with the album closer, “Takers Profs.” The first couple minutes hint at what’s to come with sounds (mostly from open circuits) darting in and out. At most points, there’s a drone holding thing together, but even it refuses to stay pinned down for too long. At about 3:00 in, just when it seems things are simmering down, they suddenly boil over. The intensity and the volume peak and dip from here on out, but it’s definitely more about the mountains than the valleys. Probably as a result, “Takers Profs” doesn’t quite have the structural coherence of the other tracks, but it’s nice to hear the duo let loose, especially since they rein it all relatively quickly.
With the multiple varieties of chops simultaneously on display, ipsi has a lot to offer listeners (and reviewers). Give it a good listen and you’ll probably come away thinking in new ways about improv, electronic music, and composition – even if you do regularly read Downbeat, Wire, and S21.