CD, Edgetone Records, 2010
A year following its release, Matt Davignon’s “Living Things” surfaced on my desktop, its mossy green cover with a simple drawing of a grasshopper resting on a tuft of grass pointing to the themes found therein. An experimental musician since 1993 and resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, Davignon has spent since 2004 working with a drum machine as the sole means of generating sound, though not necessarily as a rhythmic device. Instead, he plays the pads manually while using various effects devices and samplers to process the sound, which lends the results an improvisational aspect.
“Living Things” is Davignon’s third album to use this technique, the precursors being “Bwoo” (2005) and “SoftWetFish” (2006), and is as markedly organic as the title suggests. It is not simply another warmed up drone/ambient release, however, especially when considering the methods behind its production. Listeners will find themselves rapt with attention, trying to discern in all that murky, bubbling saturation where exactly the drum machine dwells. Like a patient and secretive swamp creature, it doesn’t want to be found, and that is precisely the beauty of this release.
Over its nine tracks, each named for vastly different organisms (from “Mesonychoteuthis”, the colossal squid, and “Fireflies” to “Snowshoe Hare” and “Saguaro”, for example), “Living Things” primarily explores textures – and the environments they might inhabit. Despite being populated by such abstract sounds, there is an apparent tendency toward melody, and even rhythm, embedded in its crepitating layers. The incessant little marching of “Mold”, its delicate percussion rapidly tapping in regular loops, opens the way for something like free jazz noodling, while “Frozen Hummingbirds” holds distinctly Eastern notes and drums. Oceanic bass hits bring structure toward the close of “Mesonychoteuthis” and the long, shivering string timbres of “Saguaro” are a warm presence imbued with serenity and grace.
“Living Things” succeeds especially in its intimacy, permitting listeners to scrutinize its multifaceted underbelly of staccato crackling and gurgling wetness. “Fireflies” can only be interpreted as the simultaneous fluttering of many small wings. And, while relaxing in the gentle drippings and splashes of “Freshwater Hydra”, the sense is magnified in “Blind Cave Tetra”, as if trapped in claustrophobic repetitions. In this way, each composition assumes the role of storyteller, the sounds describing the mysteries of individual life forms. Building on subliminal movement, “Living Things” sees Davignon applying the organic sounds he has discovered to create mood and texture as unexpected as its source.
— Dutton Hauhart