Sonic Youth - SYR 6: Koncertas Stan Brakhage Prisimini (with Tim Barnes) (Cover Artwork)

Sonic Youth

SYR 6: Koncertas Stan Brakhage Prisimini (with Tim Barnes) (2005)


Sonic Youth have always been known for their experimental jams and avant improvs, and for the past few years they have been transferring those musical pieces from the live setting to the realm of the recorded through their Sonic Youth Recordings series.

On this, the sixth volume, the band teamed up with drummer/percussionist Tim Barnes, who has most notably worked with the Silver Jews, for a 65-minute improv that was recorded in 2003. The performance took place at a benefit concert that celebrated the works of avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage and raised money for the Anthology Film Archives. The session took place while Brakhage's films played in the background, creating a soundtrack to his silent works.

Much of the performance is atmospheric and eerie. Low hums and pulses meet with scattered and varied percussion to create a suspenseful mood. In the opening movement of the piece, toy piano and falling-down-stairs percussion provide sudden discordant jabs that act like quick cuts and fast zooms, while later the improv's only vocals sound like muffled cries for help. The guitars tend to act more as another layer in a thick and warm wall of sound than as jagged striking instruments. Much of the performance feels like it is on a low simmer as it continually approaches its boiling point before cooling off yet again. There are no grand climaxes, just moments of small release.

What ultimately makes this performance an engaging listen is that Sonic Youth seem to know how to pepper their soundtrack-like ambiance with just enough avant-garde moments. At points each band member seems to be creating their own separate take on Brakhage's films, yet none of it becomes too abrasive, disjointed, or unlistenable. Instead, SYR 6 is an experimental piece that is able to stay rooted despite all of its little bursts and distractions.