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Great Expectations' goes wide! Zwerm is at its best when it can run along the borders between style and across traditions that otherwise would not necessarily intersect. The most straightforward rockers have a proggy tinge while the dreamy psychedelic songs lean more toward Richard Youngs. Produced by Rudy Trouvé.
Zwerm is a Belgian-Dutch electric guitar quartet (with a backyard rehearsal shed located in Antwerp) that operates along the borders between styles and traverses traditions that are typically not convergent. Zwerm rhymes Larry Polansky with Nadah El Shazly and are galvanized by the likes of guitars pioneers like The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth, the microtonal DYI-er Harry Partch, Middle Eastern sonorities and the prog-madness of Kind Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. ‘Musical adventure’ is not just a hollow cliché for this quartet, but a genuine commitment. Zwerm calls itself a ‘guitar quartet’, but that can be interpreted broadly as well as with a pinch of salt: “If we want to do something on instruments we don’t really master, we’ll just figure out a way to make it work.”
Toon Callier, Johannes Westendorp, Kobe van Cauwenberghe and Bruno Nelissen all met in 2007 while working on a project with Glenn Branca. A new guitar quartet was born and it became clear rather quickly that staying in the strictly contemporary compositions lane was not for this quartet-with-five-to-six-members (an organizational chart is available upon request).
An appetite for new and lasting collaborations has been a constant theme throughout their artistic parcours. The group has shared stages with theatrical producers like Walpurgis and Post uit Hessdalen, dancers such as Ecce and with the musicians Fred Frith, Stephen O’Malley, Shiva Feshareki, Rudy Trouvé, Mauro Pawlowski, Larry Polansky, Eric Thielemans, Yannis Kyriakides, François Sarhan, Serge Verstockt and Stefan Prins. These projects have not always translated into records, but they have been decisive in creating a unique musical approach. In 2015, when Zwerm was asked by De Handelsbeurs to collaborate with Fred Frith, they proceeded to pen a few new musical sketches over which Firth sublimely improvised. In 2018 ‘Badminton in Tehran’ was released, their first record that was made up completely of only the group’s compositions.
“a basket full of buttons here
and if you push the wrong one: fear
and if you push the right one: love
or maybe none of the above”
The route that Zwerm has taken is often defined by the question “What if... ?” - like a dart thrown at a musical map, not quite blindly, but naive enough to lead to unexpected endings.
“What if we play Renaissance pieces written by John Dowland, but instead of playing lutes we play these tunes with a Telecaster – and then jam it through effect pedals and an amplifier?”
“What if we connect one hundred guitar pedals and just leave our guitars at home?”
“What if we record a record with ten different one-page-pieces that we found on the Internet?”
In 2020 our metaphorical dart landed on “What if we tried microtonality?”.
‘Microtonality’ sounds a bit creepy, but actually there is nothing to be afraid of: there are no out-of- tune notes, just alternate notes. On the continents where Western musical theory is less stringently applied, microtonality is the rule, and has become the subject of many deep and thoughtfully written theories. However for Zwerm, this phenomenon occurs in many, often surprisingly lighthearted forms. A dilapidated piano that has settled into a beautiful microtonal tuning of its own accord, enthusiastic choral singing, a guitar whose three strings are tuned a quarter-tone higher, a saz (Turkishquarter-tone lute), a maddening guitar pedal, ...
"the dreams they were convicted for telling only lies reality came after for claiming to be wise what you don’t see is what you get just never light a spark I’m a crow in the dark”
“And… what if we work with a drummer?” Enter Karen Willems - dummer, extraordinaire, and ardent player in groups, projects and collaborations galore. One chance meeting and the deal was done. It was obvious before the start that Willems was the versatile and creative percussionist-in-a-toy-store necessary for this project. And in the studio, to our delight, she demonstrated an easy dexterity when switching quickly from one idea to the next.
At the reins behind the scenes was producer Rudy Trouvé, who – during previous sessions for ‘Badminton in Terhran’, when the classically trained guitarists went completely off the rails, staring deeply and forlornly into their scores, looking for answers – was able to pinpoint the problem and get the wagons rolling in the right direction again. Completing the team were Mark Dedecker (recording)and Joris Calluwaerts (mixing).
The results are in and it’s called ‘ Great Expectations’ – a title that, in several ways, fits perfectly with these strange times.‘Great Expectations’ goes wide! Zwerm is at its best when it can run along the borders between style and across traditions that otherwise would not necessarily intersect. The most straightforward rockers have a proggy tinge while the dreamy psychedelic songs lean more toward Richard Youngs. And if a nice melody dared come to close to becoming a ‘Kit-Katjingle’, then barbs-a-la-Pere-Ubu were trailed, tracked, found and promptly embedded. ‘Heavy Machinery’ sits neatly somewhere between Captain Beefheart and Richard Wagner, and ‘On My Way To Aguno’, set to an Iranian folk song chord progression, grew into a hyper-personal lullaby. Zwerm used the saz (Turkish lute) and the sinter (Moroccan gnawa bass instrument) without falling into pastiche psychedelia, but you can still sense the orient.
[info sheet from distr.]