Daniel Wyche excels in a variety of disciplines. The guitarist/composer uses multiple techniques for his long-form pieces, many of them rooted in improvisation. Found objects, tuning forks, the throttling of pedals and effects – they all find their way into his unique, beautifully cacophonous performances and recordings. He’s recorded both as a solo artist and with a variety of uniquely assembled outfits. Wyche’s latest album, the highly ambitious Earthwork, is a culmination of these disciplines and configurations.
The three pieces on Earthwork were recorded between 2015 and 2021 and see Wyche exploring the usual ethereal atonality he’s been known for, with an underlying theme attached to the performances. Meditations on family and childhood in working-class New Jersey, where Wyche was raised, form the basis of these songs, specifically his blue-collar family members. “My dad and a lot of my uncles were builders,” Wyche explains on his Bandcamp page, “using their hands for work.” Accompanying his father on construction sites, Wyche would often get his hands dirty with the red clay and soil and watched how the ground would become transformed through massive construction projects and the eventual creation of structures like reservoirs or bridges.
The spirit of collaboration forms the basis of the side-long opening track, “This Was Home”, as Wyche’s guitar is joined by fellow guitarists Andrew Clinkman and Michael Nicosia and cellist Lia Kohl and Ryan Packard on vibraphone. But the secret weapon of this track is the audience. Recorded live at the Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago, Wyche and the band handed out controllers with delay effects, modulators, and filters, to the roughly two dozen people in attendance, instructing them to manipulate the musicians’ instruments as they saw fit.
This blurring of lines between audience and performer creates a truly communal experience, and the overall effect is at once haunting, meditative, and oddly celebratory. This lengthy piece may come off as excessively self-indulgent in lesser hands. However, Wyche and the rest of the musicians – in addition to the audience – constantly find new avenues to explore as the different instruments come and go.
Wyche performs the title track solo – with the aid of electronics, tuning forks, and other objects, the guitarist creates a noise that is often clattering but also nicely measured. There’s an ebb and flow to the piece, which is as full of din as it is hushed and meditative. Recorded in a silo at the ACRE Residency in Steuben, Wisconsin, the song sounds dauntingly cavernous, giving off an almost church-like resonance. Found sounds and background chatter – possibly from other residency participants – make their way into this mysterious soundscape.
The final piece, “The Elephant-Whale II”, has much in common with the previous track, aided by Jeff Kimmel on bass clarinet and electronics. Wyche uses a heavy, loping guitar riff to create a spine to the piece, giving it a slightly catchier feel to the rest of the album. Wyche’s multiple tracks of guitar play off each other in a bit of chugging quasi-psychedelia, as Kimmel’s clarinet weaves in and out. It’s the shortest of the album’s three tracks, with the modest length seeming not only out of place but also a bit of a letdown. The riff is so engaging, and you wish you could sit with it for a few more minutes.
Wyche, who co-founded COVID relief initiatives like Experimental Sound Studio‘s Quarantine Concerts and has worked as curator and producer with Chicago’s Elastic Arts Foundation since 2013, is an artist whose vast sonic imagination seemingly knows no limits. Earthwork is a fitting representation of the music he’s created in various configurations over the years: unbounded, deeply meditative, and full of noisy swaths of inspiration.