Rothkamm – “Just 3 Organs”

I’m blogging through aftershocks here, so I figured I’d review something appropriate. For the past week or so, I’ve had Frank Rothkamm’s “Just 3 Organs” laying about in my computer, enjoying the somewhat random intervals VLC will decide to spool up and start playing it. With the nice subwoofer I have hooked up, it’s pretty apparent when the album starts; the ultra-low rumbling kicks in like some sort of ominous film cue. The track, “Kris Kristofferson of the Avant-garde,” is quite physical– the sort of thing that demands attention, and receives it.

Frank Rothkamm \"Just 3 Organs\" cover art

In an earlier playlist, I described “Just 3 Organs” as “hypernumerally-obsessed,” which is true… due to my general ineptitude with mathematics, I’ll let Rothkamm show you why:

“Just 3 Organs is 33 minutes and 33 seconds or a 3 times 3 tracks long long-player played with 3 times 2 hands and feet on the 3 times 2 manuals and 3 pedals of 3 vintage Yamaha 205D Electone home organs each assigned a primary color and tuned a micro-tonal 33 cents apart then amplified with 3 speakers for each organ suspended in mid-air in a triangle just in front of the observer with a monophonic reverberation phantom channel circling at 3 rotations per minute between all speaker triangles.”

Got all that?

The fact of the matter is, though, that “Just 3 Organs” is far more than a mathematical gimmick. There’s also a bit of fate, combined with an artistic openness I love to find in others. While on holiday with family, a young Frank Rothkamm had an opportunity to play a reed organ he found in an unlocked chapel of a Swiss village he was visiting. Finding nobody about to tell him “no,” he did what I would have done: played that organ like it was nobody’s business, finishing with some held tones. As he left the chapel behind, the idea of floating “tone shapes” occurred to him, a concept that stuck until 23 years later when he encountered an organ in a thrift store– an organ that had been built exactly nine months following the conception of his tone-shape idea.

What listeners end up with is a compelling album filled with odd shapes, bold movement, and a wide range of unusual technique. In “Sleepy Bullet,” a large portion of the track is played on the lower third of the keyboard, allowing for a bumpy low-end filled with key clatter. A few tracks make extensive use of the fast release available to the organ, with a chirpy and intermittent sound not irreminiscent of a skipping CD. Spacial effects and phasing play a large part in the final track, “B and B plus 33.”

All in all, this is a masterfully-rendered work, with excellent sound quality. Drone fans may find a leaping-off point here, especially in regard to reproduction quality and nuance. Recommended.

Preview \”Just 3 Organs,\” courtesy of Frank Rothkamm

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