Album Review: Powerplant – Import/Export

[Nonclassical; 2010]

If you’re the kind of person who likes to start jamming out on a table with nothing more than your hands as drums sticks or if you’re one of the people who stop doing the dishes because you started making chimes out of the cutlery and glass then the Powerplant record Import/Export might well appeal to you.

From the mind of Nonclassical creator Gabriel Prokofiev and the unconventional percussive abilities of Joby Burgess comes a record created entirely by unconventional means via Fanta bottles, plastic bags, oil drums and a whole host of other things that can be labelled as “Global Junk.” Essentially it’s a drummer’s album without any actual drums of the typical sense. It’s also more of an exploration of sound than an exploration of the melodic themes that are brought up in the album. Then again, being an album of percussive sounds, there’s little in the way of melody here and instead the focus is expectedly on rhythm. If there’s any consistent praise to be given to the album then it has to go to unfaltering and deliberate beats that come out when the objects are hit, smashed, tapped, smacked, rolled and blown into.

But that isn’t to say there isn’t any kind of melodical aspect to Import/Export. The album plays off the clever idea that anything can have a tune in it if you play it right: a glass bottle becomes akin to a set of panpipes, some wooden object is turned to sound like a xylophone on “”Vogaye VII – Memories Of A Wooden Workhouse.” On album centrepiece “Vogaye V – Fanta®” the bottle is hit over and over and sounds strangely like a high note on a piano being struck over and over. These instances help carry along the album which can at times get a little lost in its own exploration.

It’s still interesting nonetheless. The sounds created are unique and recorded wonderfully; filling both speakers in stereo without sounding like it all came together with studio trickery. If anything it sounds strangely natural, like a warehouse coming to life on its own. Noises come and go and so do thumping crescendos such as the fleeting “Voyage III – Cloudburst” which sounds like a thunderstorm building overhead and unleashing all its fury much like the title suggests. “Voyage V – Plastic Invasion” is perhaps the most intriguing number here overall again sounding much like the song title suggests. Of all the unconventional objects you’d have thought you could get a musical quality out of, kudos to Prokofiev and Burgess for getting it out of a plastic bag. Ruffling it and punching it by the sounds of it along with blowing into it and getting speaks out of the stretched material, they sound like they’re doing everything they can to fill the three and a half minutes. The actual end result comes off a little more frustrating than anything else but much like the rest of the “songs” here it does make me wonder what the scores look like and how you can actually write music like this.

But as interesting as it is, the novelty wears off too quick and things like the thrill of hearing the echoing hit of an oil drum lose their magic all too swiftly. The great sound is always there but working your way through the whole thing can begin to feel like a chore, despite being just over thirty minutes long. This is where the second half of the disc comes in. Consisting of seven remixes they take parts from each track on the original album and present and condense them into reworked versions that range from three to six minutes long. They don’t really compare to the album as a whole but if you’re looking for a quick reminder of elements of Import/Export then they serve as helpful additions.

The doubt you’re likely getting from my tone is because, again, as interesting as these remixes are, they don’t feel like necessary explorations of the subject matter. There are one or two exceptions: Murcoff’s remix seeks to and successfully makes the album as creepy an experience as possible, making each sound rattle and tremble, adding the word “haunted” to the earlier warehouse comparison; Matt Fairclough adds in some extra heightening flickers of electronic buzz to make his “Splinters and Shards” remix sound alert and curious. But elsewhere the artists just seem to play about with a single idea without making any real development. GP’s “Last Wooden Dance” remix much like Joby Burgess’ remix of his own performance sound great initially and really get you believing they might start making some terrific builds but both seems to shoot down any excitement when it appears.

Overall though, Import/Export is, initially to the listener, a successful exploration of sounds that touches on the musical sides of numerous different cultures. Had it been all performed on a typical drum set then the sound would likely get stale very quickly but because of it’s different approach it adds that level of intrigue which will make you curious to return to it a few times. But the lasting power is where the album falters. I also imagine this would be so much more brilliant to see than to just hear making me feel that the fact I don’t have the accompanying DVD slightly unfair. Much like those street acts you see pummelling food crates or waste baskets, it’s great to stumble upon and stop and watch for a while but like getting beats out of kitchen counter or saucepans while you cook, the original infatuation only lasts for so long.