Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pat Metheny - Zero Tolerance For Silence (1994)

Last Monday night, my parents and I ended up witnessing a Pat Metheny performance in Chicago's Orchestra Hall because my aunt and uncle convinced us to drop 150 dollars on it, I guess. Apparently Metheny was there to show off some new gadgets, an incredibly complex system of automated sound-generating doohickies that coalesced to form what he called his "Orchestrion." Basically, Metheny chose from an arsenal of guitars throughout the night on which he would play in front of a wall of drums, vibra/xyla/marimbaphones, piano, some weird bottle things, and a number of other instruments that were all triggered to respond to tones that Metheny played or foot pedals that he controlled. I'm pretty sure he worked on it all with a team of brilliant engineers to get everything just right. This massive setup served him in both his composed and improvised pieces. It was so remarkable and complex that he and the audience's more enthusiastic contingent seemed to think that it was worth listening to for two and a half hours. It wasn't, though, and ultimately didn't amount to much more than Pat Metheny's New Age MIDI Orchestra. That's right, boringass music that consists of a guy happily shredding over what were more or less backing tracks that, despite Metheny and his little helpers' attempts to choke some slightly more human dynamic range out of this inherently stiff robot technology, still sounded like unengaging Casiotone demo tracks blown to widescreen proportions.

This guy, though. He's always been known to test people's patience in between the good shit. Wait, does he even have good shit? Who the fuck listens to "Pat Metheny"???? "Jazz" fans??? LOL. I bet he has a lot of "fusion" albums to his name. Hoo, that's rich.

Back to the patience testing, though. The guy is fond of exploring uncharted territory and taking YOU, the listener, along with him! Sometimes this means subjecting people to the Orchestrion and sometimes it means dicking around with weirdass custom-made eastern double neck 200 string guitars. It does not always mean "decent music" or "an ensemble unit conjuring some killer energy that might make things at least the tiniest bit engaging" or anything like that.

And sometimes it means "BLOWING YOUR MIND WITH WICKEDLY ABRASIVE NOISE BULLSHIT," which brings us to the classic recording Zero Tolerance For Silence. It's from 1994 and nobody liked it except Thurston Moore, so you know that it's maybe okay or maybe horrible but almost certainly indulgent as all fuck. The thing consists of our boy Pat Metheny overdubbing distorted guitars like crazy, turning them into five distinct "pieces," all atonal and all based around the same angular post-Magic Band guitar tone. The result occasionally brings to mind such respected elite music powerhouses as Metal Machine Music, Matt Bower/Skullflower at his/their/its most brutal (I'm thinking Tribulation here), "black metal," The Flying Luttenbachers, the aforementioned Magic Band, Mick Barr, and even Deerhoof's more obtuse work (particularly the achingly freeform masterwork known as "Look Away.")

But keep in mind... this is still Pat Metheny we're talking about here. For the most part, he's still a much bigger square than Sonny Sharrock and this stuff is about as academically wooden of a take on harsh guitar stranglings as you might expect from the dude. The moments where he slips into some bluesy leadwork are particularly hilarious and also prove that while Metheny was clearly interested in sculpting a dense pile of ridiculous noise, he could never do so with the drainingly persistent minimalism of Bower or Barr. And yet at the same time, that's what makes this album not really all that terrible and most likely preferable to, say, an Ocrilim record or some crap. For all the relentless clanging/dicking around, there's still some organization and effort to keep things somewhat diverse. Breaking out the acoustic for the fifth track, exploring slightly more calming melodic territory on the second, devoting a decent chunk of the 18 minute album opener to a surprisingly black metal-ish wall of white noise... you know what, I kind of dig it. At 39 minutes, anyway. Something tells me that while I'm not sure if hearing the Orchestrion tackle Zero Tolerance For Silence would be worth 50 bucks, seeing all the upperclass Symphony Center membership holders struggling to pretend that they enjoy it most certainly would.


Download Link: "Part 5"


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