Tabs Out | Alex Cunningham – pas de deux & Armor

Alex Cunningham – pas de deux & Armor

8.5.21 by Matty McPherson

Doctors from around the world have cited St. Louis, Mo based violinist Alex Cunningham as a leading practitioner in the arts of dispossession. The last time I checked up with Cunningham, I was learning about “social capital where I [he] grew up,” and by that I mean I was knee deep in a liturgy of string semantics propelling a most excellent sonic exorcism. It cleared me of my back aches! Cunningham approaches the violin in all its clandestine glory. He can keep his violin strings at bay, pacing and feeling out the acoustics, or he can lay down a sudden jolt of sonic horror with a most haywire solo; it’s concrete and unrelenting. Cunningham’s sound transmutates appropriately in art form, where his collages separate and render bodies down to their mouths or arms, packing them into an omnibus that seeks to overtake your senses. 

These details are important to the tapes Cunningham has been crushing here in 2021, where his ideas still teeter in a liminal space of unclassifiability. The C20 “pas de deux” tape (released through Richmond, VA based label Working Man Lay Down), finds that beyond the violin Cunningham is emphasizing “objects and electronics.” On paper, this may not really surprise you or me. I mean, I use objects to wind my tapes up and electronics to talk about tapes. Yet, the second the ferric hits that tape head with “tensile strength,” it becomes rather apparent that Cunningham has discovered a new source of energy. The violin’s vicious string patterns are chopped up and warped until they reflect the sound of an Amtrak locomotive running on pneumatics. The percussive blasts give a sense that we are traveling at 300MPH. As the piece progresses, the loops become more sensory depraved, moving further into blank spaces. It’s as if suddenly the train was meticulously zipped into a body bag to be sunk at the bottom of the ocean. “bones turned coral” is a welcome companion, a slow-burn working through a litany of found sounds in its first half, before seeking out and finishing with classic Cunningham violin dronery. 

Meanwhile, the second release on Storm Cellar, Cunningham’s shiny new imprint, is “Armor.” Armor is a bit longer than “pas de duex,” yet still centers on two main pieces for each side. And without masquerading a Cunningham violin solo under layers of industrial debris, he’s simply bookended with devious intros and outros that emphasize found object textures. The main piece of Side A, “I Saw My Devil,” opens like the sweltering sun on June asphalt, encompassing everywhere and aching all over; sublime kind of dissonant heat therapy. As Cunningham continues down his improv, midway through he hints at a breadcrumb of a softer song, but quickly refracts, savoring in moments of string drone and meticulous, frantic silence. Side B’s Armor is simply a furious whirlwind of a solo. One that starts practically en media res, without any hindrance towards becoming enraptured in the jittering peaks and cantankerous crescendos that Cunningham chases down. Fit for weddings of all occasions/occults, ages 6+

Small press edition for “pas de deux,” with collage zine j-card insert available at Working Man Lay Down’s Bandcamp page. Edition of 100 for “Armor” available (in shrinkwrap!) from Alex Cunningham’s personal Bandcamp.

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