We would do a disfavor to Live At Café Oto by calling it a “drone” album, although Mark Wastell’s exploration of gong resonance has by now become a trademark of sorts in this district. Accompanied by Joachim Nordwall on a Roland S1000 modular synthesizer, the London-based double bassist and percussionist — manager of the renowned Sound 323 mail order on one side and unapologetic fan of The Who on the other — sets a definite border between what’s inconsistent and what is not when the nuptials of pulse and metal are celebrated.
After a few introductive moments with chattering people, the recording’s engine is started in surprisingly substantial fashion, as we’re very soon wrapped by thick slabs of a matter consisting of an unvarying throb in the subsonic neighborhood (by Nordwall) and slow washes of tam-tam, the timbre occasionally verging on those of regular cymbals. There’s cohesion but also contrast in this juxtaposition, a touch of legitimate grittiness separating the big vibration from the mellowness of everyday’s “therapeutic” wallpaper. You can’t join thumbs and indexes and close your eyes while being inundated by this rumble, which puts the speakers in a bit of trouble even at not excessive volume.
The central section is perhaps the album’s top: menace leaving room for concentration, fake asceticism all but inexistent. Obscure overtones set the stage for a dormant consciousness to step forward, helped by the surrounding stillness. It’s exactly here that the equipped listener will distinguish both the class and the cultured ears with which Wastell and Nordwall treat the spirit of these frequencies, kneading them with sensible hands, directing the music to the only possible route. The mass returns huge in the final third (synth and sharp clangors adding their own grain quite clearly this time), just to die unseen in a gradual fadeout. The audience’s absolute hush — thirty seconds, at least — is impressive, before convinced clapping ends the whole. It is deserved.