Getting lost in Oren Ambarchi’s strobing rhythmic labyrinths

Written By: 
Randall Roberts
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The experimental guitarist’s latest album Shebang! has arrived on Chicago-based independent label Drag City.

To discover Oren Ambarchi’s discography is like coming upon a shimmering labyrinth in the thick of a forest. Once its sparkly vastness is revealed, it’s impossible to not take a tentative step in for a brief look-see, then another, and another, until you’ve wondered your way into its depths and started to lose track of time, space, and conventional reality.

With at least 85 studio albums — including collaborative projects with artists including Voice Crack, Otomo Yoshihide, Jim O’Rourke, Sunn O))), Ricardo Villalobos, Keith Rowe, Thomas Brinkmann and dozens more — in his discography, you can easily disappear into his work for weeks or months on end. Add in the remarkable records that Ambarchi releases through Black Truffle, his record label, and prepare yourself for exploratory spelunking sessions that forge new pathways with each listen.

Last month Ambarchi released Shebang!, a mesmerizing album of four extended instrumental pieces that seem to bend time and space with their repetitive fluidity. A drummer-guitarist who early in his life experimented with guitar by tapping it with drumsticks, he’s built an oeuvre structured less on melody and standard conventions than on rhythm — lots of hypnotic cymbals and bass-kicks — and subtle evolutionary progressions.

Which is to say, on the video for the new track “II,” director Andrew Lampert’s skittering collage of traffic edits moves with a similarly magnetic energy as Ambarchi’s music.

Earlier this year, Ambarchi teamed with musicians Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin for an immersive album of percussion and guitar. Called “Ghosted,” it too features four numerically titled instrumental tracks (“I,” “II,” “III,” “IV”) that move with subtle-but-fierce undercurrents.




In 2021, Black Truffle released a recording of him performing with O’Rourke and genius guitarist Keiji Haino. The trio have long been intertwined. The release of Each side has a depth of 5 seconds A polka dot pattern in horizontal array A flickering that moves vertically was their tenth as a unit, recorded live in Tokyo in February, 2017.

Notes Black Truffle in release materials:

While many of the trio’s recent works have seen them focussing primarily on their core guitar/bass/drums power trio format, on Each side has a depth of 5 seconds A polka dot pattern in horizontal array A flickering that moves vertically these three multi-instrumentalists strike into new territory, utilising an almost entirely electronic set-up, with Haino on electronics, drum machine and suona (a Chinese double-reed horn), O’Rourke on synth, and Ambarchi on pedal steel and electronics.

Last month our friends at Aquarium Drunkard published a fascinating interview with Ambarchi. Among other insights, Ambarchi said that both Ghosted and Shebang! shared a similar fascination.

“The thing that connects them is my interest in rhythm, for sure, and to an extent, repetition. Definitely on Ghosted you can hear that. All of us are interested in that,” Ambarchi said. “Also, things evolving slowly over time, where changes occur and you don’t even realize that they’re occurring. Both albums have that sort of a long duration way of slowly exploring something. Maybe those are the similarities.”

He also said that he grew up among vinyl, and that he was perfectly positioned to explore and create.

“My grandfather had a store. He had a lot of used stuff. Amongst other things, he had effects pedals and reel-to-reel machines and records, too. He was really amazing. He spoiled me. I could go there, and this was when I was seven or eight years old, and I could take stuff home and try it out. It was super fun. That’s how I ended up playing drums. But at the same time, I’d take guitar effect pedals and reel-to-reel machines and microphones and stuff like that and do these really crude—I wouldn’t even call it musique concrete—but just these really crude electronic, cut-up tape things.” 

Feel like getting lost? Here’s Ambarchi’s artist page on Discogs. And here’s Ambarchi performing part of his brilliant album Hubris live in London in 2019.

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