Kevin Drumm - Biography
Kevin Drumm is one of those enigmatic artists that are extremely hard to pin down. His unique approach to sound art folds in elements of classic avant-garde composition, noise, minimalism, musique concrete, improvisation, metal, and abstract electronic music. While not quite approaching the scale of Merbow’s monolithic discography, Drumm’s vast body of work can be daunting, littered with limited editions and strange formats. His most impressive, widely available releases, however, rank with the finest experimental music of the last twenty years.
Born and raised in South Holland, Illinois, Drumm relocated to Chicago in 1991. Shrugging off his past experience playing in rock bands, the musician began to experiment with a prepared table-top guitar setup. Preparing the instrument with various objects like chains, magnets, metal clips, and bows, Drumm soon developed his own language for improvised noise music. Chicago in the ‘90s is by now a legendary place and time for music. The city was filled with a rush of creativity, especially in experimental and improvised music. Drumm soon found himself at the center of this activity, working with musicians like Jim O’Rourke and Ken Vandermark.
During this time Drumm gained recognition as one of the most inventive prepared guitar players around. 1997 brought the release of his first, self-titled solo album on the Perdition Plastics label. Thoroughly abstract sounds are conjured via guitar and electronic processing over seven mesmerizing tracks. Clouds of static merge with clusters of tonal guitar feedback and acidic noise, interlaced with sections of near silence. While the album directly references the pioneering prepared guitar work of Keith Rowe, Drumm marks out his own territory. Moving through drone music, textural noise, and electro-acoustic improvisation, this record marked an auspicious debut for Drumm.
The debut record turned heads and brought opportunities to play with avant musicians from around the world. 1998 brought an excellent collaboration with likeminded Japanese guitarist Taku Sugimoto titled Duo. In 1999 Drumm recorded with Jim O’Rourke and several of Austria’s finest experimental musicians on Dafeldecker / Kurzmann / Fennesz / O’Rourke / Drumm / Siewert as well as releasing his second solo record, simply titled Second. Featuring a short track sandwiched between two long pieces, the record delves deeper into themes explored on his debut.
Over the next few years Drumm released records with many of the leading lights of experimental and improvised music including Bhob Rainey, Brent Gutzeit, and Ralf Wehowsky. In 2000 O’Rourke’s Moikai label released the stunning Comedy. Ranking as one of Drumm’s most engaging albums, the centerpiece is a throbbing, dense slab of buzzing drone music. Calling on the music of minimal pioneers like Tony Conrad, Drumm layers morphing organ drones into a swirling psychedelic mountain of sound. The record also contains several shorter pieces of inventive electro-acoustic music.
During the early ‘00s, Drumm was extremely active, releasing collaborations with Martin Tetreault, Mats Gustafsson, Axel Dorner, Lasse Marhaug, and Wolf Eyes’ Aaron Dilloway on labels like Erstwhile, Smalltown Supersound, and Hanson. At this point Drumm was moving freely between the worlds of electroacoustic improvisation, abstract electronica, and noise music. His solo music was taking a turn towards dark, churning drones and looping, caustic noise. He was also moving away from prepared guitar and began to incorporate computer software and analog synthesizers into his process. One of the first widely available examples of this is 2002’s Sheer Hellish Miasma. Released on Mego, at the time the premier experimental electronic music label, the record reflects Drumm’s love of heavy metal, folding sludge riffs into extended drones of shocking intensity. Played at high volumes this record is absolutely frightening, but it’s also defined by a carefully measured attention to subtle electroacoustic detail. Sheer Hellish Miasma arguably remains Drumm’s defining record.
Drumm remains an active player in the global improv scene with countless releases throughout the ‘00s with players running the stylistic gamut, from Jeff Parker to Jerome Noetinger. He’s also been a member of several large ensembles including MIMEO and Territory Band. However Drumm’s interest seems to be largely focused on his increasingly caustic solo work. Since Sheer Hellish Miasma the composer has released a great amount of work in this vein, all of it stunningly good and a lot of it hard to find, often released on cassette in limited runs. Standouts of this music include 2003’s Land of Lurches, 2004’s Impish Tyrant, 2005’s Horror of Birth, 2007’s immense collaboration with Prurient titled All Are Guests in the House of the Lord and Purge from the same year.
In 2008 Drumm took a left turn and released the hauntingly gorgeous Imperial Distortion. As if becoming a globally renowned improviser and one of America’s best known exponents of noise music wasn’t enough, Imperial Distortion positions Drumm as simply one of the world’s finest abstract composers. Constructing a dark world of aquatic ambient music that references Brian Eno’s On Land, the ambient music of Aphex Twin, and various early electronic minimalists, this record is utterly hypnotizing. The music manages to retain the power and latent fear found in Drumm’s assaultive noise, but envisioned as some sort of electronic post-apocalyptic lament. It’s a truly essential record. In ’09 Drumm released the equally great follow up titled Imperial Horizon.
2010 brought a 5CD boxed set collecting hard to find material as well as a set of new compositions titled Necro Acoustic. It’s a huge, crowing achievement on a massively inventive career that shows no signs of slowing.