Eerie Experiments: Kevin Drumm Returns

Dessane Cassell, Staff Writer

Experimental musician Kevin Drumm returned to Oberlin this past Saturday at Fairchild Chapel for his second show since he visited in April of 2011. Sponsored by the Conservatory’s Modern Music Guild, the Chicago-based musician played a brief candlelit set of freeform improvisation that was both jarring and strangely meditative.

The evening opened with a performance by a group of students including Conservatory junior Noah Chevan, College senior Regina Larre Campuzano and double-degree senior Devin Frenze, who began the night with their own improvisation session, set against the backdrop of a triptych of projections. Illuminated by shifting images of black and white static, the trio incorporated looping rinse cycle-esque sounds alongside Larre Campuzano’s drifting vocals and increasingly fractal, aggressive noises. As the volume and frequency of sound increased, so too did the density of the projections, enveloping the performers in a wash of light and shadow that set an appropriately eerie tone for the performance to come.

Emerging from the back of the chapel wish a sly grin, Kevin Drumm strode through the rows of pews to take his place amid his equipment in the ambulatory. Framed by candelabras on either side and the constant glow of the Apple logo on his laptop, Drumm appeared almost holy — the lone standing figure in the dark chapel, bathed in warm light. His expression remained stoic as the first strains of ghostly, ambient sounds began to emanate through Fairchild’s stone interior. Ambulance sirens and instances of wavering static drifted through the chapel, bouncing and echoing before fading out again.

A veteran of Chicago’s experimental music scene, Drumm got his start in the early ’90s, quickly becoming one of the world’s most eminent prepared guitar players. His work has since expanded from the scant and quiet sounds of his early recordings to the louder, denser feel of his most recent works.

Drawing upon influences like Iron Maiden, Heavy Load and the New Blockaders, Drumm’s particular brand of improvisation can best be described as a blend of drone metal, noise music and musique concrète — a form of electro-acoustic music that derives its sound from electronic synthesizers, or sounds recorded from nature.  Unrestricted by rules of melody, harmony or metre, Drumm’s style presents an approach that is informed by its own sense of rhythm and pace.

While his performance was brief — lasting just under 10 minutes — its intensity carried the weight of what one would expect from a much longer performance. The wispy sounds at the performance’s beginning coalesced into more forceful noises, recalling mind’s eye images of machinery run amuck. While some members of the audience appeared to slip into a trancelike state, a few others quickly filed out of the room as the music’s intensity grew, indicating that Drumm’s hybrid noises were not for everyone. Unfazed, Drumm continued his experimentation as though in a trance of his own. Even after the performance’s abrupt ending, many remained in their seats, as though they had not quite re-emerged into reality. And with only a muffled “Thanks” and another sly smile, Drumm slipped out, while members of the audience remained transfixed, rooted to their seats.