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Album Review

The idea of combining live performance with looped tape recordings of the performance itself is nothing new: Robert Fripp and Brian Eno were experimenting along these lines in the early '70s, and Fripp took the basic idea and turned it into Frippertronics (whereby he would loop multiple guitar lines into a densely layered repeating figure and then play solos over the top of it); in the 1980s the acclaimed art punk trio Mission of Burma had a fourth member who stayed offstage and fed loops of the band's performances back into the audio mix. But what Bill Wells (a multi-instrumentalist whose résumé includes work with the Pastels and the BMX Bandits) is doing with Pianotapes sounds very different from what others have done with this approach. Working with producer Stefan Schneider, Wells plays simple piano lines that are recorded in real time on reel-to-reel tape decks and played back to him; as they repeat, he elaborates on the original themes and improvises new ones. On several of this album's tracks, the two musicians also add in touches of synthesized percussion and glitchy rhythmic patterns. The result is something of a mixed bag, but generally pretty attractive: "PNTPS 7" opens the album on a pretty-enough but ultimately rather empty note, but things begin getting a bit more interesting with "PNTPS 4" and the mostly pentatonic "PNTPS 112." The electronic twitters and clicks begin infiltrating the sound with "PNTPS 88," and by the final track, "PNTPS 6," everything is starting to sound significantly more harmonically challenging and generally weird. More tracks like that one and fewer like the first would have made this 38-minute program a bit more compelling, but it's quite good overall.

Pianotapes, Bill Wells
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