By the time Boston rock experimentalists Cul de Sac release an album, theyíve usually moved beyond it, adding new elements to their sonic Petri dish to see what breeds. So it seems with their new Death of the Sun (Strange Attractions Audio House), a disc inspired in part by the groupís exploration of sampling. That interest was triggered by the arrival of new member Jake Trussel, a sonic manipulator who works solo under the name Electro Organic Sound System.
Around a spine of nature sounds, field recordings, and the scratches and pops of old 78s, Cul de Sac fashioned a delicate architecture of mostly acoustic instruments for Death of the Sun. But live at the Middle East a week ago Wednesday, that restraint gave way to jolting electrified volume as group founder Glenn Jones channeled his precise guitar lines through a big amp and a chain of effects pedals, Jonathan LaMaster made broad strokes with his violin and churning bass, Robin Amos generated bent-metal shrapnel from his antique synthesizer, Jonathan Proudman churned and fractured rhythms on his drum kit, and Trussel jumped among melodica, bass, and his laptop computer.
The effect was transporting, with LaMasterís melodies and Jonesís guitar lines ó which split the difference between Eastern modality and the blues as filtered through the influence of the late-í60s guitar spelunker John Fahey ó defining the music as a durable and distinctly American-sounding branch of psychedelic rock. On stage, Trusselís sonics fared better as part of the canvas for Cul de Sacís all-instrumental improvisations than they did during his Electro Organic Sound System solo set, which opened the night. His textural constructions were at times both soothing and expansive little head trips, but watching him play his laptop on a club stage wasnít much more interesting than watching somebody type as an album plays in the background. Despite technological shifts, “performance” remains an important aspect of live performance.
Mark Dwinell of the band Bright fared better in his second-slot solo spot, playing bare-bones versions of the droning-and-chiming Syd BarrettĖinspired songs from his new solo debut, Nonloc (Ba-Da-Bing), on acoustic guitar. He was joined by LaMaster on violin for one electric number, using an E-Bow to vibrate violin and synth sounds out of his strings as he sparred with LaMasterís instrument on its own effects-laden terms.
After their own brief, ripping set, Cul de Sac returned to the stage to back Damo Suzuki, the cult-hero singer from the pioneering German art-rock outfit Can. What should have been a special event became a mire. Cul de Sacís volume, though serving its own instrumental drama, buried Suzukiís beat-derived poetry. It was impossible to discern Suzukiís voice as much more than another instrument in the mix, though you could tell that he can still ricochet between clear, high tones and a low Howliní Wolf growl.