Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down is an album released on Carrier Records by a trio consisting of Fred Frith, Sudhu Tewari and Cenk Ergün that straddles free improvisation and meticulously planned composition. Before I get into the weeds of what this album has to offer I just want to say that it was a real joy to experience it. Whenever I receive a new album to review I typically listen through it a few times and take notes before I start to write the review. In the case of Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down I must have listened through the album 3-4 times before ever writing anything down, mostly because I was so taken by it I didn’t want to interrupt the sound world that was created. The album consists of 7 individual tracks and clocks in at around 43 minutes, but is experienced as a single through-composed experience. I’ll try to do it justice with the following.
With Frith on guitar, Tewari on “junk percussion” and electronics, and Ergün on additional electronics, there is a wealth of sound sources, timbres and colors heard throughout the album. At times they complement each other wonderfully, in other moments are a perfect juxtaposition of light and dark, of serenity and agitation, of beautiful and ugly (and I mean that in the most positive way!). After my first full listen of the album I immediately started it over before realizing I probably needed to give it some time to digest before diving in for a second helping, but it’s not an understatement to say that this particular album really gave me a lot of what I look for when seeking out new artists. Though it’s definitely not going to appeal to everyone’s tastes, it absolutely satisfied my personal aesthetic palette; with resonant full-bodied guitar work, gritty distortions, colorful percussion, and an abundance of electronic noises it’s like getting lost in the most sonically engaging warehouse you could imagine.
The most intriguing aspect of this album, though, is how it was created. The source material for the album came from an improvisation session between Frith, Tewari and Ergün recorded around 2009/10 in Emeryville, CA. However, what you hear on the album isn’t simply the result of that recording session. The tracks on Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down are the work of Ergün sitting with the material and meticulously extracting a library of sound objects and moments, from microsounds to long complete phrases. He then re-composed the improvisations into a more calculated and planned compositional framework, which is what you hear on the album. I had the pleasure of speaking with Ergün about the process and he explained that it was a combination of listening to what was there and allowing some of the materials to exist in longer phrases as they were recorded while adding to and enhancing the phrases - short and long - with other sounds taken from various places throughout the full improvisation. With the exception of two tracks - the title track “Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down” and “Stay Tuned” - all the material heard is created through repurposing material from the improvisation to fit into a concise musical structure.
The title track “Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down” is essentially a Fred Frith improvisation. Ergün added material from other sections like in the rest of the album, but the atmospheric and at times mesmerizing guitar work is all Frith. The other track, “Stay Tuned” is a very fun track, and is also essentially an unedited improvisation on Tewari’s Street Piano instrument (pictured below). In addition to being an improviser and composer, Tewari is also an imaginative instrument builder. The music heard on “Stay Tuned” is from recordings of improvisations on the street piano and the variety of sounds it can produce, from pitched resonances to dark muted percussive attacks.
It’s difficult for me to talk about this album the way I typically do in a review in which I say a bit about each track on the album. The reason it’s so difficult with Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down is because it truly is one extended musical experience. Yes, there are moments, there are points of contrast, there are sounds, melodies and phrases that reappear and are developed. But to talk about any one track in detail in terms of what it contains in comparison or contrast to other tracks, I think, misses the forest for the trees, and that’s part of the real genius of this album. Cenk has accomplished something truly impressive here. He created a well-composed structural musical narrative while maintaining the exploratory organic nature of improvisation. His re-composition cleverly guides the listener from one moment to another and develops motives in a manner that one would expect from a fully composed piece. And yet, simultaneously there is still a sense of listening to a group of highly skilled improvisers communicating and composing in real time. He very clearly identified the delicate balance of structured composition and the magic of improvisation. And for that reason, I find myself almost unable to really discuss this album in a track-by-track, moment-by-moment treatment, just like I would have difficulty reviewing a true free improvisation performance in that manner. My suggestion is that you check it out, listen to it in full, don’t skip tracks, and prepare yourself for repeated listenings, not because you have to, but because (if you’re like me) you’ll just want to.
You can listen to Lock Me Up, Lock Me Down on Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon Music, and can purchase the digital album on Bandcamp.
Links to band members' websites below:
Fred Frith Sudhu Tewari Cenk Ergün
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