Erik Griswold Altona Sketches

Griswold works with prepared piano and music box. On the surface, this seems like well-trodden territory, but Griswold has prepared the hell out of these keyboards. His meticulous additions of bolts, screws, paper, rubber strips and bits of cardboard interact with the piano strings to create intricate microtonal scales. The sounds produced resemble kalimbas, kotos, cheap DX7 sounds and just plain messed up piano — the one with the stuck key you can’t help hitting over and over because it sounds cool. The distinctive sounds are both the highest virtue and the biggest problem with this disc. So much effort went into the preparation of the piano that the composition and playing seems secondary. Mind you, this is called Altona Sketches, and does not promise a symphony. The three long form pieces and assorted interludes play mostly with percussive effects or strange harmonic content produced by the micro-tonalities. One of the song titles, "Stops and Starts,” says it all: it’s a series of rhythmic figures presented for a minute or two each, which then stop, wander for a little while, then go into the next pulsating groove. There is no build-up or release of tension within the long songs; they would have been just fine broken up into smaller components with more track indices. At least the compositional liability doesn’t take away from the great sounds, and in limited doses, Altona Sketches is a highly enjoyable listen. (Room 40)