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Dean Roberts




When New Zealander Dean Roberts first played Chicago, with the trio Thela in 1996, his "technique" included laying his electric guitar down on the stage and dropping things on it. Two years later, when his solo project White Winged Moth opened for Sonic Youth at the Riviera Theatre, he produced a rich variety of reverberations and rumbles by setting his instrument on a chair and then dragging the chair across the floor. Since then he's spent most of his time abroad, and the alliances he's formed with American and European musicians have propelled his work away from this sort of antivirtuosity. On the new Aluminium (Erstwhile), an album of improvised duets with Viennese multi-instrumentalist Werner Dafeldecker, Roberts seems to have developed a greater interest in controlling the outcome of his performances: his gestures and decisions often produce foreseeable results instead of nearly random ones, and though there's still very little conventional technique to be heard, the duo's focused interactions and broad sonic vocabulary reveal an artistry of their own. Each man plays an array of electronic devices and guitars spread out on a tabletop, occasionally tapping or scraping a shared hi-hat, and the resulting sparse assemblages of pops, hums, feedback ribbons, and sine waves evoke AMM at its most meditative. Roberts's most recent solo CD, Dean Roberts and the Black Moths Play the Grand Cinema (Ritornell), recorded last year in New York City with drummer and engineer Tim Barnes, includes plenty of this kind of contemplative instrumental work but also several actual songs, complete with vocals--the most directly emotional music he's ever made. Robert Johnson probably wouldn't know what to make of the arrangement on "You and the Devil Blues"--fragile vocals emerge from beneath a glittering, staticky surface of looped, tolling guitars and hissing cymbals--but anyone who's ever listened to the blues will recognize the desperation in Roberts's voice, as well as the melancholy that undercuts the droll lyrics on his cover of Brian Eno's "Cindy Tells Me." At the Empty Bottle, Roberts will improvise with percussionist Michael Zerang and keyboardist Jim Baker, and next weekend at 6Odum he'll present material from Black Moths with Tower Recordings bassist Matt Valentine and local drummer Glenn Kotche. Wednesday, November 8, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. Saturday, November 11, 10 PM, 6Odum, 2116 W. Chicago; 773-227-3617.


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