Toby Driver’s discography is widely referenced for its eclecticism and obscurity, yet the amount of attention his albums receive tends to be directly proportional to the extent to which they appropriate metal influences. On this basis, his 2014 release Ichneumonidae
is one of the more generally disregarded works in his canon, a half-hour modern classical piece written to accompany a butoh dance piece. I’m broadly unfamiliar with butoh, but the few recorded performances I’ve seen are rooted around a protracted sense of ultra-laboured movement that brought to mind both Brechtian alienation of movements and actions from their naturalistic applications and Theatre of Cruelty-esque contortion. Butoh was apparently conceived after World War II by Japanese dancers who had studied in Germany but wanted to produce a form firmly rooted in their own culture, so take my associations with a strong pinch of salt and do your own research as appropriate.
The key takeaway is that this scope seems entirely cogent to the music here. Ichneumondiae
consists primarily of two long pieces developed in an extremely gradual fashion, led by a solo string arrangement and supported by sparse percussion and keys. The term ‘developed’ may bring to mind misleading connotations for those only familiar with Driver’s more immediate works; these pieces do undergo harmonic developments sense alongside a range of permutations in dynamics and tempo, but they are not structured in a way that clearly signposts a progression from a distinct point A to point B. Their tone and structure are cold and reflective in a manner entirely appropriate for the qualities of butoh outlined overhead; each motif is mulled over in an uncompromisingly cyclical fashion as though scrutinising a certain mood through a long series - but not a wide range! - of near-interchangeable iterations, and I can see this as a natural fit for butoh. The final track “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun” is a brief culmination of both the music and, presumably, dance in a violent rejection of the previous tracks’ restraint and reflection, condensing their translucent sense of occasionally uninviting tonality into something at once more challenging harmonically but more exhilarating in its pacing. People on Rateyourmusic have called this album a range of enjoyably unflattering things, and I imagine this piece is a convenient scapegoat as to why. As a conclusion, it’s certainly anything but indecisive.
While it’s hardly as listener-friendly as the likes of Choirs of the Eye
, Coffins on Io
or They Are The Shield
, there’s a lot to enjoy here for anyone on board with Toby Driver and his various projects. The compositions are as firmly imprinted with his style as ever, with their motifs invective of the likes of Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue
or even Part the Second
’s more spangled stretches. For bonus points, I also catch a few phrasings on “Supercrescentus of Eros” that could have come straight off a number of John Zorn albums. “Supercrescentus of Eros” in general is one of Driver’s more underrated tracks, a beautifully winding reflective piece for which reason alone I’d recommend Ichneumondiae
to anyone looking to dig further into his discography. The album as a whole remains something of a curio, but its irregular specificities are no reason to pass on it.