The Squid's Ear
Recently @ Squidco:

The Locals (Thomas, Ward / Thomas / Lash / Hasson-Davis):
The Locals Play The Music Of Anthony Braxton (Discus)

An upbeat and energetic performance at the Konfrontation Festival, Ulrichsberg in 2006, featuring six early compositions by Anthony Braxton, arranged by pianist Pat Thomas and performed by the quintet of superb improviser and interpreters Alex Ward on clarinet, Evan Thomas on electric guitar, Dominic Lash on electric bass, and Darren Hasson-Davis on drums. ... Click to View

Roscoe Mitchell & Mike Reed:
The Ritual and The Dance (Astral Spirits)

An ecstatic and intense album of saxophone and drum improvisation from the duo of AACM legend Roscoe Mitchel and drummer Mike Reeds, also performing on electronics, the two Chicago mainstays performing at the Oorstof concert series Zuiderpershuis in Antwerp, Belgium in 2015 for an extended single improvisation of passionate and penetrating dialog. ... Click to View

Roscoe Mitchell & Mike Reed:
The Ritual and The Dance [VINYL] (Astral Spirits)

An ecstatic and intense album of saxophone and drum improvisation from the duo of AACM legend Roscoe Mitchel and drummer Mike Reeds, also performing on electronics, the two Chicago mainstays performing at the Oorstof concert series at Zuiderpershuis in Antwerp, Belgium in 2015 for an extended single improvisation of passionate and penetrating dialog. ... Click to View

Ivo Perelman Trio:
Garden of Jewels (Tao Forms)

A meeting of three master improvisers but also the three friends and frequent collaborators of Ivo Perelman on tenor sax, Matthew Shipp on piano, and Whit Dickey on drums, their familiarity showing in a collective compatibility and assurance heard especially in this studio album of exploratory discourse, each piece aptly dedicated to a precious jewel. ... Click to View

Helary / Rayon / Gilbert / Lavergne:
Glowing Life (Ayler)

French flutist Sylvaine Helary's new quartet explores a more electric branch of her work as a composer, in compositions that bridge improvisation and rock forms with song-like structures and narrative, performed with Antonin Rayon-Hammond Organ B3, Moog, piano & clavinet, Benjamin Glibert on electric guitar & bass, and Christophe Lavergne on drums. ... Click to View

Jeremiah Cymerman / Charlie Looker:
A Horizon Made of Canvas [CASSETTE + DOWNLOAD] (Astral Spirits)

A series of ominous duos on the dark side from NY improviser Jeremiah Cymerman on clarinets & pedals, and Charlie Looker (Extra Life, Psalm Zero) on guitars & piano, each of the five pieces exploring murky caverns of warmly bleak environments rendered through Looker's deep piano & guitar work, perforated by cracks of light through Cymerman's riffs & exclamations. ... Click to View

Jeremiah Cymerman / Charlie Looker:
A Horizon Made of Canvas (Astral Spirits)

A series of ominous duos on the dark side from NY improviser Jeremiah Cymerman on clarinets & pedals, and Charlie Looker (Extra Life, Psalm Zero) on guitars & piano, each of the five pieces exploring murky caverns of warmly bleak environments rendered through Looker's deep piano & guitar work, perforated by cracks of light through Cymerman's riffs & exclamations. ... Click to View

Tomas Fujiwara (w / Brennan / Reid):
7 Poets Trio (RogueArt)

Drummer Tomas Fujiwara composed these compositions specifically for his trio with Patricia Brennan (vibraphone) and Tomeka Reid (cello), beautifully orchestrated for the unique combination of instruments and the extraordinary technique of each player, resulting in lyrical improvisation performed with a clarity appropriate for each piece's dedication. ... Click to View

Gus Garside / Herve Perez:
The Unexpected Visitor (Orbit577)

Saxophonist Herve Perez and double bassist Gus Garside spent much of the pandemic lockdown recording these intimate duos, interpretations of a 13th Century Poem, "The Guest House" by Rumi, recording in their respective homes using software designed for real-time audio collaboration, as they developed this introspective set of dialogs with strong lyrical affinity between the two. ... Click to View

Various Artists curated by Nick Vander:
Walk My Way, Volume Two (Orbit577)

The second of a five-volume compilation series curated by Nick Vander, a testament to the incredible musical range of the guitar and the imaginative possibility of guitarists around the world, with tracks from David Stackenäs, Jessica Ackerley, Jorge Espinal, Usui Yasuhiro, Scott Fields, Sebastian Sequoiah.Grayson0, Sam Shalabi, Shinobu Nemoto and Nyctalllz. ... Click to View

Natsuki Tamura / Satoko Fujii / Ramon Lopez:
Mantle (Not Two)

While on a tour of Japan in 2019, Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and Spanish drummer Ramon Lopez asked trumpeter Natsuki Tamura to join them, and to join in a challenge to write a new piece of music for the trio each day while on tour; this studio album selects the finest of those compositions, performed with nearly telepathic control in a mix of fire and lyrical beauty. ... Click to View

Step In (Carlo Morena / Joe Fonda / Felix Lecaros Herrera):
Voila La Tendresse (Not Two)

Pianist Carlo Morena leads this lyrical and energetic piano trio with bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Félix Lecaros Herrera, performing 6 Morena compositions and one piece by Emil Boyd, recording at the Firehouse 12 studio in Connecticut for the 3rd album under the Step In name, and the first with drummer Herrera; upbeat but never cloying, a very compelling album. ... Click to View

Mars Williams / Vasco Trilla:
Spiracle (Not Two)

A truly unique duo album of sax and drums from Chicago reedist Mars Williams and Spanish percussionist Vasco Trilla, using their immense technical skills to pivot reflective and meditative playing around exuberant free jazz spirit, maintaining a sense of journey and sonic introspection through unusual and extended technique; a beautifully balanced album. ... Click to View

Georg Graewe / Sonic Fiction Orchestra:
Fortschritt und Vergnugen (Random Acoustics)

First introduced at the "Konfrontationen" festival in Nickelsdorf in 2006, German pianist and composer Georg Graewe's Sonic Fiction Orchestra developed these diverse works of jazz, fusion-tinged, and chamber improv during a residency at the 2018/19 Porgy & Bess in Vienna, recording in the studio in 2020 for this impressive album, particularly the large "Redshift E" composition. ... Click to View

Souchal / Nick / Lazro / Cappozzo:
Neigen (Ayler)

An album of explorative and restrained improvisation, primarily acoustic but also using object and an electro-acoustic octave violin, from the quartet of Nicolas Souchal on trumpet & flugelhorn, Michael Nick on violin & electro acoustic octave violin, Daunik Lazro on tenor & baritone saxophones, and Jean-Luc Cappozzo on trumpet, flugelhorn & objects. ... Click to View

Gary Lucas:
The Essential Gary Lucas [2 CDs] (Knitting Factory)

A retrospective of the work of guitarist and one-time Captain Beefheart Magic Band member Gary Lucas, in two CDs, the first devoted to songs recorded with Lucas' psychedelic jazz-rock band Gods and Monsters, the second devoted to solo works, rarities and collaborations, with an incredible list of performers reflecting Lucas' diverse 40-year career. ... Click to View

Vasco Trilla:
Unmoved Mover (Listen! Foundation (Fundacja Sluchaj!))

A dramatic set of improvisations performed on timpani and gongs from Spanish percussionist Vasco Trilla, from the quietest of moments to massively profound and encompassing events, Trilla's timing evoking both meditative passages and moments of power, in a rich and spiritual album that impresses by both technical ability and by the sense of story he reveals. ... Click to View

Alex Cunningham :
Echo's Bones Were Turned to Stone [CASSETTE] (Storm Cellar)

A muscular album of improvised "fiddling" from St. Louis violinist Alex Cunningham, five works of assertive playing based on recurring and evolving figures, often rapid string patterns that show Cunningham's skill and stamina on the instrument, interspersed with quirky expressions and extraneous instrumental sound that keep his listeners on edge and captivated. ... Click to View

Steve Baczkowski / Bill Nace:
Success [CASSETTE + DOWNLOAD] (Notice Recordings)

A rough-and-tumble improv encounter between Steve Baczkowski performing on tenor & baritone saxophones and Bill Nace performing on electric guitar, captured live at The Wild Detectives in Dallas, Texas for two extended improvisations, the first a cantankerously energetic exchange, the second mysteriously evolving from introspective to barbed interaction and back. ... Click to View

Montgomery & Turner :
Sounds Passing Through Circumstances [CASSETTE W/ DOWNLOAD] (Astral Editions)

Chicago sound artists Jayve Montgomery on saxophone & flute and Nick Turner on Mellotron, present an epic two part work of effected sound, two contemplative pieces of twilight environments, the first mysteriously punctuated with distant percussive elements, the second a hopeful work of glacial melody and harmonic tones; a great sonic companion under the influence. ... Click to View

William Parker:
Migration of Silence Into and Out of The Tone World (Volumes 1-10) [10 CD BOX SET] (Centering Records)

A 10-album collection in a solid box set of vocal and instrumental suites recorded expressly for this set between late 2018 and early 2020, with women's voices at its core (both on voice & other instruments), taking a vast view of music from around the globe through free improvisation and re-imagined sonic collage, performed by groupings of extraordinary performers. ... Click to View

Gerrit Hatcher Group (Hather / Ernst / Gay / Jackson / Kirshner):
The Good Instinct of the Morning (Kettle Hole Records)

The first album as a bandleader from Chicago tenor saxophonist Gerrit Hatcher in a full quintet of well-known Chicago improvisers -- cornetist Ben LaMar Gay, tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson, bassist Katie Ernst, and drummer Julian Kirshner -- in an album that would fit well in the ESP/Ayler free-jazz mode, tipped off by a cover of Charles Tyler's "Man Alone". ... Click to View

Udo Schindler / Damon Smith / Karina Erhard:
The Munich Sound Studies Vol 1 (FMR)

Performing at the Gottfried Duren/arToxin at Galerie ar Toxin in 2019, the trio of Udo Schindler on clarinet, bass clarinet & alto horn, Damon Smith on double bass, and Karina Erhard on C flute & alto flute present a sophisticated set of free improvisations with a chamber improv feeling, using tremendous technique and intent listening through six fascinating dialogs. ... Click to View

Schindler. Udo / Damon Smith / Jaap Blonk:
The Munich Sound Studies Vol 2 & 3 (FMR)

Refined and free ranging improvisation between German reedist Udo Schindler performing on bass clarinet, tenor & sopranino saxophones and also on cornet, and US double bassist Damon Smith, recorded 3 days after the first volume in this series, presenting two sets from the same day of informed and diverse dialogs between two masterful improvisers. ... Click to View

Udo Schindler / Jaap Blonk:
Lakefront Discussions (FMR)

Extremely well paired in their unusual approaches to their instruments both acoustic and electronic, this live recording between Udo Schindler on reed & brass instruments and Jaap Blonk improvising with his voice and using computer electronics, results in eight diverting and inspired recording of extreme creative approaches and impressive technical skill. ... Click to View

Schnee (Christof Kurzmann / Burkhard Stangl) :
Cher [VINYL] (Mikroton Recordings)

The fourth album in 20 years from the Schnee duo of guitarist Burkhard Stangl (efzeg, Polwechsel) and Christof Kurzmann performing on lloop, voice and "ruber bands", creating music for films that have not yet been created through intensely moody electroacoustic environments, Kurzmann's voice sometimes guiding the narrative of their visionary sound. ... Click to View

Jeam Van Schouwburg Nichel / Lawrence Cassserely / Yoko Miura:
Arcturus Sverdrup Balance On Tour (FMR)

A collection of live recordings from Sverdrup Balance, the trio of Lawrence Casserley on signal processing instrument, Yoko Miura on piano & Melodeon, and Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg on voice, recorded during their 2019 autumn tour in U.K., Belgium and North Italy, a skewed but generally optimistic group of ea- and voice improvisers with a wealth of creative inspirations. ... Click to View

Hali Palombo:
Cylinder Loops [CASSETTE W/ DOWNLOAD] (Astral Editions)

Using early cylinder recordings from the UCSB Cylinder Archive, Chicago composer Hali Palombo creates twelve brief and diverse compositions by looping each scratchy and sometimes strange recording, audio phantasms from one of the earliest forms of audio recording, repurposed into fascinating vignettes of experimental and intuitive approaches to sound art. ... Click to View

Werner Durand:
Schwingende Luftsaulen 3 (ANTS Records)

A beautifully hypnotic album of wind music, especially on the Pan-Ney, an instrument developed by Berlin composer Werner Durand, along with electronics and a piece using the talking drum as performed by Marika Falk, presenting early works from the 1990s that bridge both improvisation and composition with an embraceable sound that reveals underlying complexity. ... Click to View

John White:
Electric Music [2 CDs] (ANTS Records)

English experimental composer and musical performer John White recorded the pieces on this 2 CD retrospective set between 1980 and 1995, a combination of serious, popular and novelty pieces, often exploring areas of contradiction, particularly linear and rhythmic, within an unlikely sound-world in which parameters such as volume, timbre, texture and speed remain fixed. ... Click to View

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  2009-19: A Decade Reviewing Unusual, Experimental, Improvised, Composed, Rock, Folk, and Other Musics for Squid's Ear  

By Dave Madden 2020-01-02
2009-19: A Decade Reviewing Unusual, Experimental, Improvised, Composed, Rock, Folk, and Other Musics for Squid's Ear

2020 will be my eighteenth year working as a music journalist. Well, define "work" as a hobby that gets me free CD's and a few dollars now and then. I used to write for the free concerts, opportunities to interview bands and other famous types of people, opportunities to hang out with bands, free everything and movies at Sundance, very random stories that come from free everything and hanging out with band members and famous people. All the lingering with professional musicians made me feel like I was part of their story — I could at least be a contributor via my compliments, blog posts...I guess I was simply an asexual groupie. With Squid's Ear, however, I stick around because I continually find brave, new stuff just when I think I've heard it all. You suppose you know what Avant-Garde is, but there is a basement in that club. And a tunnel leading from there, and a fork in that tunnel, and a cave behind that wall, etc. You know of John Zorn? Great, now dig deeper. Keith Rowe? That's just the start of the anti-guitarists. Find that cave — and keep your eyes open along the way.

I put together a list similar to this in the mid-2000s. That one outlined a musical road map from my birth (Magical Mystery Tour in the womb) to grad school, so the group of artists mentioned therein is a more wide-eyed, sometimes fashion-forward, "there is a big world out there" choice of a young person mentally escaping the ick of a conformist, religion-saturated town. That is, this music was crucial, but the whole package is what cultivated my range. There is the arbitrary fifth grade field trip to a Japanese temple - punctuated with lunch at Chucky Cheese — the first time I heard Depeche Mode (age thirteen), learning about sampling from Art of Noise (also age thirteen), watching a Throbbing Gristle video (I thought it was gross), officially claiming to be goth after five minutes of Bauhaus, finding out that Jazz can be really sexy if it's Bitches Brew, being immersed in a wall of color and sound of Tibetan non-secular music, and having George Crumb's daunting Black Angels murder my thoughts of writing for string quartet. When writing that account, I had barely discovered Jason Kahn's revelatory Cut label, Japan's Onkyo collective (i.e. Otomo Yoshihide, Taku Sugimoto, Tetuzi Akiyama) and label Ambiances Magnétiques, specifically the boxset Montréal Free. And off I went.

What have I gained during my ten-year residence with Squid's Ear? I'm a few steps closer to comprehending:

1) The word "music"

2) The possibilities that sound is capable of

3) Awareness of the illusion of pitch relative to each living organism's brain (I believe our tastes can be swayed by this phenomena)

4) The ever-widening definition of "consonance"

With each epiphany, I add another pin to my philosophy sash. And I understand that music becomes my emotional support animal when someone can create an environment, or a heterotopia (a world within a world), or otherwise convince me of a new reality, universe, microcosm, wormhole, etc. On the downside, I always squint and fidget and force my mouth shut while thinking "I'll be the judge of that" every time someone says the words "experimental", "atonal", or the worst, "unlistenable"; I'm tolerant but I won't suffer loud, uninformed chumps who assign pejorative definitions to something they want to dismiss while under the influence of being cool. It physically hurts me — ask my former chiropractor.

(But I haven't increased the number of synonyms for works, music, sound, record, album, disc, sonic, pieces, performers, players, guitarist, listen, hear, strings, frequency, bow, trumpet, horn, and instrument. I can never remember the rule about apostrophes after singular and plural S's. These are my frustrations.)

While there are plenty of other albums that made a substantial impact on my relationship and approach to sound since 2009, reviewing these CD's - doing it right — forced us (me, the CD) to get in there under a blanket and be intimate. Ahem. Looking down at the list below, I remember the moments when, after sequestering myself with headphones, time and patience, I allowed this often genre-agnostic music to tell me what it's about. With each, I figuratively went cross-eyed as I felt the universe expand, and / or saw the Hand of God, and / or had a peak behind the curtain that hides all of life's answers.

So here are the records I was most intimate with. Ahem.

1) Fünf: La règle (Ambiances Magnetiques)

Who and what: Brace yourself. Magali Babin (amplified objects, tape deck, nebulophone, field recordings), Andrea-jane Cornell, (amplified objects, field recordings, accordion, loops and voice), Martine H Crispo (circuit bent toys, iDensity, electronics), Anne-F(rançoise) Jacques (rotation, objects, amplification), Émilie Mouchous, (analogue synthesizers, electronic fabric), and Erin Sexton (oscillators, electromagnetic fields, microphone) each sit back, toss a little spice, debris, paint, clay, or whatever they have to build sonic collage.

What it taught me: Lessons in space and pause. You don't have to constantly speak to convey a message, and you don't have to use everything you packed in your stick bag (the results of this sextet have the potential to be an impermeable wall of noise). Everyone in a band should have to abandon ego and adhere to these règles (they should have to pass a test). I spent a while playing in Jazz combos, and the maddening competition in that world felt like a contest of "the best soloist wins at music!" As one does with a fickle, delicate garden, I am still trying to figure out how to groom and feed when playing in an ensemble. This record is a benchmark for that.

2) Håvard Volden & Toshimaru Nakamura: Crepuscular Rays (Another Timbre)  

Who and what: Håvard Volden (prepared 12-string guitar) and Toshimaru Nakamura (no-input mixing board) in an articulate mix of acoustic versus electricity where both sides find a balanced middle ground. I called them "godlike contrarians" in my review. I also said that Volden "...has ingested his instrument's history — including chapters written by Keith Rowe — circumvented the potential for dominance via amplitude and rendered it to a post-language whisper." I assume most reading are familiar with Nakamura's "outputs of a mixer plugged into inputs, put some effects in the middle of that chain, wait for the brilliance that no other no-input mixer performer can measure up to."

What it taught me: More lessons in space and pause. There is an awesome, tremendous confidence that accompanies not playing a note, especially on a recorded medium where the audience can't see you holding your breath or scrunching and twitching your eyebrows (the "thinking of the next move" face). The same applies to holding a note or repeating gesture: How long should it last? Perfecting this is a life-long struggle. And I'm still trying and failing but inching forward with my no-input mixer work. I might feel comfortable showing it at some point in the distant future (after someone goes back in time and forbids Nakamura access to electronics).

3) Tim Olive & Anne-F Jacques: Dominion Mills (845 Audio)  

Who and what: Tim Olive on magnetic pickups, aka his prized ramshackle one-string guitar, and Anne-F Jacques on "rotating devices", those being anything from hacked turntables to toy motors that make brushes flick against strips of cardboard to a sardine can soldered to wire and springs.

What it taught me: Tim Olive's The Specialist is something that thoroughly expanded my idea of "sound art". His aesthetic is a grumbling, mostly-mono, inimitable affair, and it's what I imagine will be heard on the daily once technology fails and we adopt simpler, more focused means; his language increased my awareness and admiration for city noise (it might have helped me speak thousand-foot crane and jackhammer). I am forever indebted to him for what he does with his collaborative, curatorial 845 Audio label. These are the worlds within worlds I reference above. They are self-contained ecosystems, largely free of outside influence, wherein I can meditate or disappear. And did I mention "rotating devices"? I read this phrase and had to know more and more and more about Anne-F Jacques. I wish I could inherit the time, tools and talent of a welder or renaissance craftsman capable of forging immaculate noisemakers à la freaking Harry Partch; not having the ability to build these contraptions means my mental invention vault periodically dries up. But rotating devices can be anything, and they don't have to be hard to assemble and transport. In fact these devices are (I think) a reaction to our complicated tech that can play itself without human guidance. Like the individual parts of a Rube Goldberg project, the interest of Jacques's modest-looking creations sinks in only after watching and hearing them do a thing. There is an "a-ha!" moment with each when my brain's LED lights brighten, and I laugh, or double-take, or think "I would have never thought of that — well played, Anne-F", and then I usually fall into the emotions cycle every artist has when seeing something they wish they did. Check it out yourself

4) Kuwayama Kiyoharu & Urabe Masayoshi: Heteroptics (Songs From Under the Floorboards / Intransitive Recordings)   

Who and what: Kuwayama Kiyoharu on cello, viola, percussion i.e. metal junk, wood sticks, etc. and Urabe Masayoshi exploiting alto saxophone, percussion i.e. chains, metal joints and bells. Captured in one of the many of the abandoned warehouses found in Nagoya Port.

What it taught me: One can make the activity between what we think of as music as important as the music. The anticipation during the journey is equal to that of the arrival (smacking a snare drum). What we think of as tension and release might invert. Use everything around you as an instrument. These guys stomp through an abandoned building, kicking up crap, plunking out a few raw gestures on whatever happens to be in hand, and lean heavily on natural reverb as part of the ensemble. They create those sonic environments I mentioned in the introduction. As with Jeph Jerman and a bunch of other people (more on Jerman later), there are no wrong notes, there is no wrong production, experimental actually means to experiment. About Heteroptics, I said, "...the techniques and craft of the artists we review here all generally attempt to offer both a new voice and queries about 'What is music?' Kuwayama and Masayoshi further pose 'Where is music?'"

5) Evan Parker / John Wiese: C-Section (Second Layer)

Who and what: Evan Parker on soprano and tenor sax, John Wiese on electronics, tape and Max MSP, laptop as "guitar pedal", both churning out an intensity I compared to watching a real-life caesarean section. I only made it about 40 seconds without covering my eyes. It was the definition of horror.

What it taught me: I didn't learn as much as I'm in awe of what these two can do. Hearing Parker do his circular breathing mania for the first time (via a "Jazz" channel on random in 2004) left me figuratively breathless. He works with some of the most virtuosic acoustic players (i.e. Derek Bailey, Tony Oxley), and the marriage is generally even parts without compromise. On the processing / generative side, Wiese acts as a champion bronco rider who capably takes on Parker's brunt and returns with just as much force. Don't get it twisted: This is aikido (maybe Muay Thai), not Godzilla vs. Rodan vs. every standing city structure. C-Section made me want to be a better musician. And I started treating my laptop as a guitar pedal.

6) Tatsuya Nakatani: Abiogenesis (H&H Production)  

Who and what: Percussionist (and maker of intricate bows) Tatsuya Nakatani attacking everything from standard drum kit (he has serious Free Jazz chops) to rows of enormous gongs. His solo work — especially here — is borderline supernatural in its ability to take an aggressive, idiosyncratically overpowering instrument and make it spiritual. I wrote, "Nakatani's bow meets gong to birth an elegant swirling exhale of distant thunder and polyphony of pitches and harmonics; his further elaborations on this gesture invoke everything from Siren Song to mournful wails (sic) to passing jets to static whirs..."

What it taught me: A former professor / improvising sparring partner once told me that playing live will teach you more about theory, your skill, your limitations, and your potential than reading about it-hand (I could have saved $40K in tuition had I heard that sooner). Like many other nerds across the country attending Nakatani's shows, I had the opportunity to perform with the man. I brought a bunch of drums, sticks, cymbals, bows, brushes, rubber balls, an Indian harp, and a corny effects rig that made the bad kind of feedback when turned up enough for humans to hear. Within a few minutes, I figured out that he could double anything I had to offer; for a bit, he anticipated every direction I took, mirroring it a microsecond behind me. What's that analogy about the big thing toying around with the little thing and the latter having hope? Nakatani schooled me without being a dick about it, though, and it is a highlight in my life. My damned professor was right, and I immediately went to work planning for a rematch.

7) Jeph Jerman: The Angle of Repose (No label) 

Who and what: Jeph Jerman on "shortwave receiver, pot lids, bao dijian tshon, saw blades, eggs in bowls, bowls and cup in sink, cassette recorders, digital 4-track, and laptop." He amplifies rocks, tosses things around, spins things, makes the floor creak when walking across the room, and spills things into other things. His brilliance is found in the way he can organize this mess to be...natural (I called him a deft "observer of the quality of sound"). To me, "natural" means something forged by time and the elements — sans direct human intervention - that you find under a log in the forest. The arrhythmic patterns of wind chimes is another example. Or it can be the really amazing portrait taken of someone when they weren't aware the camera was on. I'm still not great at explaining this concept. Many people call it "honest", but I don't trust that most of them have anything to back up that word.  

What it taught me: 1) Stop being so precious when recording 2) I don't have to make rocks, cutlery, and chunks of metal be something they aren't; stop sampling and transforming everything into something else when the original source can be interesting if I give it a chance. I can sum all this up with "be a better listener". And learn the dialectal difference of the language of river rock versus electric fence.

8) John Cage Cartridge Music (Another Timbre)  

Who and what: Stephen Cornford, Alfredo Costa Monteiro, Robert Curgenven, Ferran Fages, Patrick Farmer, Daniel Jones, and Lee Patterson interpret Cage's "earliest attempts to produce live electronic music". The score shows minutes and seconds and some shapes, and each performer uses a turntable cartridge wherein they can insert objects of their choice. Different materials against other materials, lots of variables.

What it taught me: Another of the ninety-nine things I learned from Cage, this particular reading of Cartridge Music made me (it was a command) understand more about the illusion of sonic elements (i.e. as I said earlier, pitch is sensed uniquely per each conscious being's audio receptors and the way their brain handles it), how sound here can cease to exist when the article is pulled away from the cartridge; it's a microphone, but there is very little air, hence no echo or residue or proof it was just there, like a baby's (or dog's?) idea that leaving a room makes a person disappear into the ether. I started thinking more about séances and animation of the inanimate. It also ties in to my obsession with miniature things, like ant footsteps. When I close my eyes and listen to this Cartridge Music, I picture how much motion is happening a few feet under the surface of my backyard — and how amazing it would be to hear this almost-microscopic commotion. Kind of like A Bug's Life, but cool and without Kevin Spacey or Dennis Leary. Anyway, I started thinking of contact microphones and turntables as (magical?) conduits after this. The fact that we can process sound is a miracle, man.

9) John Cage: Four4 (Another Timbre)

Who and what: Simon Allen, Chris Burn, Lee Patterson, and Mark Wastell, all billed as "percussionist". Sure it's percussion as long as you count moans and every bubble's pop in fizzing water its own note.

What it taught me: While Cartridge Music is about the composer, this version of Four4 is definitely a showcase of the players, specifically Lee Patterson. He is just a few degrees away from one of my DIY instrument designer heroes, Hugh Davies, and the latter's essence flows through the former's approach. I read that Patterson is very much into the sound of burning nuts, which sparked an obsession with hearing all of his music — I was so fanatical that, after listening to his use of amplified discarded street sweeper tines, I dreamed that I saw Ice Cube haphazardly driving a street sweeper through my neighborhood; I chased it, but could never catch up to Cube to ask what the fuck (and I never found my own tines). Patterson is remarkable with other tiny sounds (i.e. "Nine Lucifers", built from recordings of "nine match burns") and arranging field recordings in a way that transmogrifies the source enough to be different but not too different or unidentifiable. But don't forget about the importance of Cage here. I wrote, "Ultimately, (this disc is) just an admirable, synergistic patience: 4' 33" was the catalyst but the impact of the relationships of blanks to landmarks in Four4 is the former's message in practice."

10)  Michel F. Côté and Isaiah Ceccarelli: Vulgarités (Ambiances Magnétiques)

Who and what: Michel F. Côté and Isaiah Ceccarelli took the joking phrase, "What can we do when we're just two drummers?" and made a challenge out of showing what can be done.

What it taught me: Because of David Tudor's Rainforest series, I spend a great deal of time trying to make found objects, junk percussion, contact mics, feedback, and speakers do something remarkable. However, I reached a point in the mid 2000's when doing that wasn't interesting anymore. I felt stagnant and bored, and was often crippled with feelings of "what's the point of this crap that no one will hear, anyway — you don't even like it" (depression is a motherfucker). Looking back, I wasn't thinking big enough in my investigation of cross-species breeding between electro and acoustic. This duo gave me the desire to revisit my methods and analyze where I was stunted. I needed to stop imposing so many rules on whatever I was working on. I had to stop acquiring a zillion pieces of ceramic, glass vases, bells, cymbals, and sticks made from twenty distinct materials and focus on creativity. I'm still searching, but I'm not lost. Also, I followed Côté's rabbit hole to YouTube and watched him improvise a set where he pressed microphones against drum heads. It pulled a few levers in my head. The information contained in those few minutes made me rethink how to use feedback in neat ways (though that's one more life-long struggle).

11)  Broken Consort: Done (Quakebasket)

Who and what: Mark Wastell (violin, cello, preparations, amplified textures), Rhodri Davies (harp, preparations) and Matthew Davis (trumpet, electronics, processing) coupled, solo, and playing as a trio.

What it taught me: About this record, I said, "Done is four situations where the ultimate active work is mental, Broken Consort deciding how to make the most impact with minimal means..." Slow down, Dave. Stop rushing through your set, trust yourself and take as long as you need while considering your next move — so, more lessons in space and pause. And I learned how much I love Rhodri Davies's work. Like love it so much that I would rather not describe it with words because that would rob it of its charm. I throw a few versions of this superlative around, but I mean it here: His sense of form — on the micro and macro level — and ability to bend his instruments into other characters is not-of-this-world level — playing the harp, a mythical, intimidating instrument (go try and write for it), also adds to his prowess. And he occasionally sets harps on fire and records the results, and it doesn't come off as a novelty.


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