Downtown composer David Van Tieghem appears, Zelig-like, across an adventurous strata of New York music dating back to the ’70s. Van Tieghem’s percussion acumen propelled albums like Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, Eno and Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Laurie Anderson’s Big Science, Arthur Russell’s Instrumentals, and Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues.
In fact, it is Van Tieghem’s knack for being a through line across such albums that informs RVNG’s latest entry in their experimental FRKWYS series. Taking cues from an early music video in 1981 featuring Van Tieghem drumming on every surface he encountered while strolling through downtown NYC, on Fits & Starts he taps out rhythms on inanimate objects ranging from coconut water cans to bamboo chimes to a toaster. The 10 additional participants — ranging from Brooklyn up-and-comers like Helado Negro, Future Shuttle and Megafortress to D.C. house head Maxmillion Dunbar — make distinct songs out of these impromptu drum tracks, which Van Tieghem wove into sidelong suites. Drifting chords lead into clanging percussion, which then funnels into a lo-fi punk rant which then further evolves into a spasmodic Mouse on Mars-like clatter on the 17 minutes of “Slippery Slope,” while “Cooler Heads Prevail” meanders between song fragments, analog synth haze and clattering techno. But it’s Van Tieghem’s sense of space and pacing that acts as aspic, holding everything together and connecting these dots so as to make it holistic.