Trey Gunn has a name reminiscent of an Old West outlaw. He is also one of current progressive rock’s go-to soundmakers, mainly wielding his Warr guitar (a Chapman Stick-like instrument built to explore notes from bass to guitar range with a tapping technique), touring and performing with the likes of Tool, Brian Eno, and, most famously, prog giants King Crimson, of which he was a member for nine years and four studio albums.
On Modulator, the music is a thick, weird, pulverizing, battlefield of touch guitars, spacy sound effects, and free jazz drumming. The concept is even weirder—for Modulator, the writing took place backwards, with Gunn writing and overdubbing soundscapes and riffs on top of “rhythmic illusionist” Marco Minnemann’s 51-minute drum solo, recorded live in Senden, Germany in 2006. Gunn spent years toying with the material, literally re-thinking the process of songwriting before finally settling on an appropriate method of deconstruction: 22 tracks of controlled chaos.
Modulator won’t win over any doubters. If your idea of proggy experimentation is “that Coheed album with all the sound effects”, this ain’t gonna float your boat. But if you’re up for the challenge, Gunn, Minnemann, and Modulator offer a headphone-absorbing headfuck that only gets better the closer you listen. If the idea behind “progressive rock” is to literally “progress” rock music beyond its normal confines, exploring the limits and possibilities of what the genre is capable of, then Modulator is one of the most progressive (and interesting) things you’re likely to hear this year…or any.