The New & Avant-garde Music Store

Review

Jonathan Bunce, Musicworks, no. 125, June 21, 2015

The Squiggle Game is that rarest of beasts, the free-improv disc you can air-drum along to. Its absorbing rhythmic heft, especially on tracks like the lead-off That Gum You Like, is unsurprising when you realize that it’s the brainchild of a drummer. Alexander MacSween has been a part of the Montreal music underground since the late 1970s, working on every shade of the spectrum between rock and jazz: with punk and indie icons such as The Nils, Pest 5000, and Bionic; numerous improvised music collaborations, such as Detention, his ongoing duo with guitarist Sam Shalabi, founded in 1998; as well as music for dance, theatre, film, and multimedia pieces. The Squiggle Game is an anti-concept album, in which MacSween aimed to overcome a writers’ block consisting of a surplus (rather than deficit) of ideas. He asked &records co-owner Fabrizio Gilardino to design an album cover in advance, including titles, durations, and even guest musicians. The plan initially worked well to help the artist overcome his block, but soon he felt creatively constrained by the parameters and began colouring outside the lines, so to speak. He’d just read English psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s description of “the squiggle game,” created for his child patients, in which he would doodle on a piece of paper and get the children to continue the drawing. MacSween’s pieces indeed have a childlike sense of playfulness, squiggling across the border between composition and improvisation. MacSween, who commands the drum set, marimba, keyboards, and rhythm programming, is joined by frequent collaborator Shalabi on electric and nylon-string guitar, as well as Ratchet Orchestra bassist Nicolas Caloia (who also adds some Korg synth action), and the revelatory playing of percussionist Corinne René, who fills in much of the tonal space between the other players, turning aural doodles into sonic paintings.

The Squiggle Game is that rarest of beasts, the free-improv disc you can air-drum along to.

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