This is the most overwhelming release I've been sent to review, namely because it's a 6 disc box set by an artist I'd previously been only vaguely familiar with (I'd heard Arco Flute Foundation on WFMU once almost a decade ago but that was it). This thing is monstrous: very exquisite packaging, booklets with glyphs on them and full liner notes... such an extraordinary amount of work was put into this thing, I just hope the music lives up to it!
As soon as I pressed play on the disc entitled "The Tenth Gate" (the discs aren't numbered, but this was the first one in the box), I knew that it was totally worth it. The disc is a single 32 minute piece for hammered dulcimer, an instrument that is featured on most of the discs here. Tamburo truly is a master of the instrument, creating intricate patterns and textures and generally just sounding incredible. Tamburo says in the liner notes that this is his favorite hammered dulcimer piece of all time, and I think I might have to agree.
Which is not to discredit the other hammered dulcimer pieces contained in this box. "Vitvivatora", as the liners explain, is dedicated to a friend of Tamburo's while he was going through a pain of extreme pain and loss. On the contrary, another disc, "Alchemical Marriage", was composed for a wedding. Both discs are extremely heartfelt, revelatory pieces of music.
While most of the discs on this album consist of music for one instrument, two of the discs find Tamburo using effects, other instruments, and minimal overdubs in order to produce a bit more varied sounds and atmospheres. "The Ballad Of One Hung Glove", as the booklet explains, is about when a psychic gave Tamburo a glove supposedly worn by Michael Jackson, which ended up curing him of a curse. The piece combines hammered dulcimer with guitar, vocals, and effects, and the way the instruments are looped and layered make them sound like they could be the work of a full group. It says the guitars are acoustic, but there's plenty of use of feedback, so that must be the effects transforming the sounds. Through two acts, the piece goes from quiet melancholy to a climax of droning layered guitars, and then stripping back to minimal guitar or dulcimer.
"Screwing Six Bolts Into Last Tuesday" also makes use of multiple instruments and effects, including piano, keyboard, e-bow and string. This piece actually dates back to 1999 and has been released in small editions a few times since then. This is the most schizophrenic piece on the disc, making much use of multi-play and echo pedals, and manipulating acoustic instruments. Some of it reminds me of some of Terry Riley's electroacoustic experiments. Piano takes center stage around the fifteen minute mark and tries to straighten things out, but ends up getting lost among the delay chaos.
The only disc of the 6 here that I'm not crazy about is "Teachings Of The Crowned Eternal". The liner notes don't explain what instrument is being used here; instead it includes instructions for meditating to the pieces. The instrument makes a very sharp buzzing sound, and while it does sound cool, there doesn't seem to be as much range of sounds and moods created from it, so it gets pretty irritating listening to a whole disc of it.
Other than that, this whole box is just a marvelous accomplishment. It's obvious that a ton of labor was put into the creation of this, and it really shouldn't go unnoticed. 8/10 -- Paul Simpson (10 February, 2010)