Ben Bennett’s “Music for Idiophones, Vol. 1”

“Music for Idiophones, Vol. 1” is solitary music in that it seems to have materialized from the same kind of solitude that desert plants and idiorrhythmic monks know. These 10 tunes are amoral, uncivilized dialogues with the metaphysical absolute that suggest non-human persons simply being and breathing, made from objects that signify civilization at its most banal. My friend Ben Bennett often works with ordinary materials on the verge of becoming trash or even perhaps sourced directly from the dumpster. Ben Bennett doesn’t avert his gaze from the anti-aesthetic realities embedded in cultural and actual detritus. Instead, he embeds himself more deeply in these realities with a wide-eyed innocence that carves out a playful space in the waste.

“Music for Idiophones” sort of qualifies as “Noise,” but what makes this music abrasive is that the soundmass is devoid of sumptuousness and phantasy. It’s ascetic psychedelia that’s impervious to appropriation. I don’t know how music this dry can seem so wet. Post-post-post-post-industrial aesthetics that spring from a culture of clogged drains and construction sites and air quality alerts in which nature has reclaimed what we haven’t yet abandoned because we’re still clinging to illusions of a never-ending story. I’m also confident that I could successfully debate Wynton Marsalis that this is just Jazz.

When taken as semi-organized sounds coaxed into physical/cultural materiality, the lone human animal-subject that emerges from “Music for Idiophones” suggests one who is both aware of and engaged with the insane and boring politics of our time. It’s not the music of self-imposed exile but it protests the respectability of a turtlenecked n’ institutionally-sanctioned adjunct-artist fantasy. Rather than some Beckett figure floating numbly through a post-apocalyptic field designed to anesthetize, the “person” here is so present in the THICC present that they’re not here at all. Ben Bennett invites me to consider what it means to transgress amidst the illusion of complete indulgence and lawlessness.

Idiophones are just instruments that vibrate without airflow, strings, membranes, or electricity. The music’s lack of “artifice” allows us to more clearly perceive the instability of touch-activated vibration unfolding over time through space – its spirit invokes both Zen formlessness and Christian Kenosis. We can focus on the hardness or softness with which a controlled but barely contained vibration emerges and then dissipates into the big ol’ void from which it was sharted.

What I find striking (LOL) is BB’s negative capability – his poetic impulse to dive head-first into the unknown. BB treats the truly overlooked and neglected with gentleness, curiosity, and care.  BB activates, sculpts, questions, and challenges form; he allows the sounds to breathe, warp, fracture, and (mis)speak in funny ways.

I am tickled by the undercurrent of unsentimental contempt for human perpetrators of suffering (Bandcamp tag: “male manipulator music”), but Ben Bennett is not indifferent to suffering, which also speaks to me. I admire Ben Bennett’s ability to compassionately engage and even find intimacy with realities that are uncomfortable to look at (or listen to) for very long. I feel encouraged to push past the material realms of language and culture by burrowing deeper into other forms of reality.

The title of the album alone suggests folklore – sounds that are simply byproducts of everyday living. But “Music for Idiophones” also seems invested in situating human endeavor as one among infinite layers of reality, which feels incredibly healthy. I’m reminded that this layer of reality could evaporate at any moment or maybe has already evaporated, but “Music for Idiophones” makes me feel okay with that. Ben Bennett is also perhaps the least neurotic person I have ever met.

Jonathan Pfeffer
May 2024

Ben Bennett is a Philadelphia-based improvising percussionist and artist who plays a compact pile of self-made drums, stretched membranes, and other objects which are continually rearranged in the course of playing, and sounded with techniques of the hit, rub, and blow varieties. A branching path of musical de-materialization has led to other forms of performance, including self-vitiating monologues, and the long and repetitive YouTube series, Sitting and Smiling and Walking and Talking. His work tends toward themes of pointlessness, paradox, and stupidity.

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