James Armstrong’s imaginative use of sustained guitar sounds places him on the near end of an artistic continuum that features Randy Roos, Steve Holland, Tony Levin, Mike Stern and more recently Brian Eno collaborators Michael Brook, Daniel Lanois and The Edge. This is the kind of company most guitarists would be happy to keep. In the case of Farnham, U.K.-based Armstrong, his contribution to the supergroup has to do with a healthy sense of experimentation.
Recording under the name Slow Clinic, Armstrong waves guitar swells together, which he processes through “an endless feedback delay pedal and then into a large reverb pedal” according to the album’s notes.
That produces a dreamy layer of guitar drone over which he’s free to improvise. We get loops, hand percussion and imaginative use of violin bows and found objects on this new recording.
It all makes for a quietly intense listen, split into two 20ish-minute parts. Armstrong strums his guitar slowly on and off. Mostly though, we’re treated to long stretches of feedback/reverb.
Over top, Part 1 offers clawing and breathing sounds familiar to anyone who’s had their garbage picked over by a hungry animal. Part 2 is more abrasive, a bit less organic. It’s difficult to tell what he’s performing throughout much of the disc, which adds to its appeal.
This project began as the first of a two-movement composition for a dance piece choreographed by Vania Gala at the University of Northampton. It’s meant “as an opportunity for discovery, to allow the long-form recordings time and space to evolve.”
There’s a more personal side to the story too. Many of the found objects Armstrong used were gifts from a former partner. “As much as James was trying to avoid thinking about that period of time, there was no escaping it when the items were physically in his hands.”
That bit of backstory makes this already fascinating album even more engaging.