How To Create Words
hen the softly, erratically burbling intro to “When You Say Go, Leave” hit its full stride during my first listen to How To Create Words, a strange thing happened: The computer I was using to listen to the CD started going haywire. The desktop flipped rapidly between the three or four programs I had running, and by the fuzzed out end of the vaguely Scannerfunk-esque “Command Control” I had given up trying to live with the now-constant seizures, and was trying to reboot the machine. I didn’t manage to before the PC calmed down during the quiet of “Unheard, Other Bands Practice” and the relatively abstract “Spool”. Once the (free)jazzy closer “Keep On” started up, though, my computer rebelled again.
Seeing as how my computer is getting relatively old and it’s been doing this kind of thing off and on for a while, I’m not actually going to blame the glitches on some supernatural power possessed by Grey Ghost. But it did seem fitting that How To Create Words’ stronger tracks seemed to have the power to reach out of my CD drive and create havoc.
The Chicago-based duo, composed of Aram Shelton on saxophone and other horns and Johnathan Crawford on percussion and occasional keyboards, have created something that sounds very studio-based, impossible to reproduce with two people. But, using a laptop, Shelton and Crawford actually do all this stuff live, from the flurries of horns on opener “Spitzacolli” to the aforementioned textured opening of “When You Go, Leave”.
Befitting a group whose members have worked with everyone from Head Of Femur to the Chicago Improvisers Group, the sound ranges from the improv fireworks of “Spitzacolli” and “Horns And Organ” to the drone interlude “Splendor” and the much gentler “Spool”. The organic instruments are clearly the center of Grey Ghost’s sound for most of the tracks here, with “Command Control” providing an interesting counterpoint, but the digital sounds applied to each track rarely stand in opposition to the horns or drums either. Shelton and Crawford attempt to have the electronics work with and enhance the playing rather than standing outside it. “Hand Down”, for example, sounds to my ears just like a fairly standard piece of free saxophone playing run through a constricting digital filter, until Shelton joins in over top of the scree of cut-up notes, accompanied the sliced up bits of his own playing.
I’ll admit fully and freely to not having the biggest background in improv (I’m working on it), so I don’t know if this compares favorably to similar works previously reviewed on Stylus. But taken on its own merits, How To Create Words is satisfying and intriguing enough that it’s thoroughly enjoyable even if you’ve never bought an issue of The Wire. In fact, I think if I sneak some of the more conventionally interesting tracks (“Spitzacolli”, say, or “When You Say Go, Leave”) into work, I might even get some converts.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2004-06-04