Nick Didkovsky
Ice Cream Time

(New World Records)

"The piece, Ice Cream Time, is an hour long, and is a hybrid performance using traditionally notated parts, live signal processing, electric guitar through laptop, and improvisation. These elements hang together beautifully and the piece carries the listener through an extreme landscape of sound and deep listening. Of course I love to play rhythmically and pull out some rock energy, and there's a couple of movements that deliver that. Then at a point the piece starts to sink into a seriously deep sonic abyss, where time slows down dramatically, and by the end of it all it's been a deeply transportational experience."

These words were the ones chosen by Nick Didkovsky in order to give me a brief description of his new work titled Ice Cream Time. At the moment of our conversation, which took place in June, 2003, his memory of the premiere was obviously quite strong, the piece having received its first performance about two months earlier: in April, in Liestal, Switzerland. From the CD liner notes I now learn that the music featured on this CD was recorded in a studio, about three years later. In a conversation we had in 2007, Didkovsky told me he expected the CD to go on sale very soon, though the actual release date appears to be just a few months ago.

The fact of having a Swiss premiere is not strange, after all, this work having been commissioned by the Swiss saxophone quartet called ARTE Quartett, whose members are: Beat Hofstetter, on soprano and baritone saxophone; Sascha Armbruster, on alto and baritone; Andrea Formenti, on tenor; Beat Kappeler, on baritone. One immediately notices the peculiar circumstance of having three saxophone players out of four being potentially able to play the baritone at the same time, a fact which easily explains some dark, mumbling textures which appear more than a few times in the course of this performance.

Besides the sax quartet, we also have Didkovsky himself, per his usual on guitar and laptop; and Thomas Dimuzio, on sampling, live sampling, and processing. The co-composer of two tracks, Dimuzio also acted as a mixing and post-production engineer, alongside Didkovsky. Quite dense and layered, at times sounding really "dark", the overall recorded sound is quite clean and clear. I found it useful to turn the volume knob a bit more to the right, and I also added a bit more highs. It goes without saying that this album needs a quiet room and the proper amount of attention (but the album is not at all "difficult" to listen to).

The work is extremely varied, but it still possesses an impressive thematic unity. Just listen to the brief vocal fragment which opens the album and which appears many times, though mutated beyond recognition. Or to the other main theme, an angular, Frith-flavoured phrase appearing for the first time at the start of track no. 3, and at different times, later.

Ice Cream Time Song is the aforementioned very brief vocal fragment. Then we have the brief Ice Cream Time Fanfare, which the useful, quite thorough liner notes here define as "Ivesian", but that in truth reminded me more of a certain folk-flavoured exuberance that I find being quite typical of Albert Ayler (though the baritone here plays quite la ROVA).

Meteoric Ice Pie Menace opens with the baritone, then the winds start sounding almost like strings, then the Frith-like theme performed on guitar, then a sax solo. There's a very beautiful "splice", mostly guitar and effects, from 1' 38" to 2' 49". The theme reprise here sounds - very unsurprisingly, I'd say - quite la Doctor Nerve.

Seltzer Session I is not much more than a fragment, for processed guitar and vocal particles, adding the right amount of variety. Ice Cream Time Tango has unison saxophones (and a synth?), then it's back to the Frith-like theme. Nice opposition of multiple baritones and soprano, an excellent guitar solo, "metal", then an angry riff for winds. There's a peculiar "swing" ending.

Fall sounded to me like an introduction to a second part of the album. We have an original timbral mix of one tenor and three baritones, then we have the sampler (which here, also elsewhere on this album, reminded me of that strange "accordion" sound that one had when modulating the filter on the old Prophet 5), the final result fooling one's ears in hearing strings. To me, this tracks appears to have "density" as its "thematic center".

Seltzer Session II sees Dimuzio acting as a co-protagonist. One could maybe superficially file the start of this piece under "drone", but with the right amount of attention one will get its "layered" dimension. There's also a "tabletop" guitar, vocal fragments, "metals", it's really a superb 7'.

I Cheer Pet Eater opens with a guitar that in a way reminded me of Fripp (think: Fracture), then the baritones appear. Nice "change of scene" by the sampler, then the winds develop the action, then at 4' 26" it's the "Frith" theme again.

The brief Trades is a "controlled explosion" for guitar, winds, and sampler.

Calm has a slow development (sounding almost... Ambient?) for winds and sampler that perfectly mirrors its title. Waiting brings back the "Frith" theme, this time for soprano, then the guitar and the sampler (sounding in a way like a ring-modulated... something) appear, here the whole sounds almost chamber-like. Something that reminded me of a square wave takes the listener to Rise, whose 14' act as a logical, evocative conclusion: a soprano sax, an "electronic" background, a "fat" baritone, a "layered" whole of very strong musicality. At about 2' before the end, the saxophones disappear, and a rarefied, electronic air is all that's left.

In closing, I'd like to add that those who up to this point have found Didkovsky's music to be a bit too much on the difficult side are invited to have a listen to Ice Cream Time: it's a work of substance that's maybe a bit more "user friendly"-sounding than what was the norm for this composer in the past.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2009 | Aug. 17, 2009