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Review

Bruce Gilbert/Ron West

Frequency Variation

Of the many Wire-related archive recordings rescued from the vaults, Frequency Variation is of unique interest, being the only one so far that predates Wire. Conceived in 1974 for a live performance at Watford Art School where Bruce worked as an audio-visual technician, this collaboration with Ron West has little in common with Wire's earlier records.

Recorded using two oscillators and a reel-to-reel tape recorder, the two long pieces which make up Frequency Variation have more in common with Bruce's later work, in particular The Oval Recording and In Esse.

The idea was apparently inspired by a lecture given to the college by Brian Eno, although the sound is definitely Gilbert and West's own. In fact, Frequency Variation almost works as a dark negative to Eno's unassuming Ambient series. Whereas Eno's records were conceived as background music for day-to-day activities, Frequency Variation seems designed to pin the listener to the ground.

Harsh atonal frequencies rise and fall throughout the piece as it veers from menacing noise to disturbing calm, at times recalling a more dissonant version of Do You Me?, although it lacks that piece's sense of structure or any real climax. Despite this, Frequency Variation sounds fresher today than most music from the time, although anyone unfamiliar with Bruce's noisier records would be better advised to start with Ab Ovo or Orr.

Graham Larmour (June, 2002)

Cover artwork