The Squid's Ear
Recently @ Squidco:

Paul Bley Trio:
Touching & Blood, Revisited (ezz-thetics by Hat Hut Records Ltd)

Reissuing two essential and innovative piano trio albums: Paul Bley Trio's 1965 album Touching with Bley on piano, Kent Carter on double bass and Barry Altschul on drums, plus the title track from the 1966 Bley album Blood with Altschul and Mark Levinson taking the double bass roll, performing compositions by Paul Bley, Carla Bley and Annette Peacock. ... Click to View

Fire! Orchestra / Krzysztof Penderecki:
Actions (Rune Grammofon)

"Actions For Free Jazz Orchestra" was originally written by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki for the New Eternal Rhythm Orchestra, assembled by Don Cherry for the occasion and conducted by composer himself; this new extended reading and conduction of the score from 2018 was originated and directed by Mats Gustafsson, a powerful update and expansion of the original work. ... Click to View

Paul Dunmall / Mark Sanders:
Unity (577)

Despite countless collaborations in a variety of settings, UK saxophonist Paul Dunmall and drummer/percussionist Mark Sanders have never recorded one of the most straight-forward of pairings — the saxophone and drum duo — correcting their omission with his superb album of exploratory and exuberant dialogs, five tracks showing the skill and kinship between the two. ... Click to View

Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints:
Other Worlds (Greenleaf Music)

Referencing Wayne Shorter ("Footprints") and the lyrically free playing of Shorter's 60s influences, this 3rd album led by tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas, with the powerful support of pianist Lawrence Fields, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Joey Baron, was recorded following a week at New York's Village Vanguard in January 2020. ... Click to View

Donald Miller:
Transgression!!! [VINYL] (Vin Du Select Qualitite)

Legendary Borbetomagus guitarist Donald Miller takes a step back to give his listeners an unexpected album of 12-string acoustic guitar instrumentals, something that would fit well in the Imaginational Anthem series through informed pick and slide work, an embraceable album of unique guitar styles and creative rambles through avant and abstract folk & blues forms. ... Click to View

Kingdom of Oblivion (Rune Grammofon)

The productive and excellent work of Norwegian rock band Motorpsycho, releasing an album a year for 30+ years, continues with this superb example of long form and diverse approaches to the rock medium, the core trio of Saether (bass, vocals, mellotron, &c), Hans Magnus Ryan (guitar, sax, vocals) and Tomas Jarmyr (drums) extended by Reine Fiske on guitar and Ola Kvernberg on percussion. ... Click to View

Kingdom of Oblivion [2 LPs CLEAR] (Rune Grammofon)

The productive and excellent work of Norwegian rock band Motorpsycho, releasing an album a year for 30+ years, continues with this superb example of long form and diverse approaches to the rock medium, the core trio of Saether (bass, vocals, mellotron, &c), Hans Magnus Ryan (guitar, sax, vocals) and Tomas Jarmyr (drums) extended by Reine Fiske on guitar and Ola Kvernberg on percussion. ... Click to View

Kingdom of Oblivion [2 LPs] (Rune Grammofon)

The productive and excellent work of Norwegian rock band Motorpsycho, releasing an album a year for 30+ years, continues with this superb example of long form and diverse approaches to the rock medium, the core trio of Saether (bass, vocals, mellotron, &c), Hans Magnus Ryan (guitar, sax, vocals) and Tomas Jarmyr (drums) extended by Reine Fiske on guitar and Ola Kvernberg on percussion. ... Click to View

Bright Green Field (Warp Records)

Blurring the boundaries of popular rock, composed and electro/experimental/ea forms, with hints of The Ex, Gang of Four, Talking Heads, LCD Soundsystem and their own happily quirky sound, Squid was formed in Brigton by Ollie Judge (Drums & Lead Vocals), Louis Borlase (Guitars), Arthur Leadbetter (Keys, Strings & Percussion), Laurie Nankivell (Bass & Brass) and Anton Pearson (Guitars). ... Click to View

Hedvig Mollestad Trio:
Ding Dong. You're Dead (Rune Grammofon)

A scorching album of instrumental rock bridging avant, prog and jazz/rock forms, from the inspired and burning Norwegian band led by guitarist Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen and her trio with bassist Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjornstad; reference John McLaughlin, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, or just focus on the powerhouse that is the Hedvig Mollestad Trio. ... Click to View

Hedvig Mollestad Trio:
Ding Dong. You're Dead [VINYL] (Rune Grammofon)

A scorching album of instrumental rock bridging avant, prog and jazz/rock forms, from the inspired and burning Norwegian band led by guitarist Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen and her trio with bassist Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjornstad; reference John McLaughlin, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, or just focus on the powerhouse that is the Hedvig Mollestad Trio. ... Click to View

Ulrich Mitzlaff :
Transparent - fluorescent sound fibres (Creative Sources)

German cellist and pianist living in Lisbon, Ulrich Mitzlaff recorded these two solo works titled "transparent — fluorescent sound fibers" #1 & #2 in 2015 and 2020, each voiced for extended and unusual instrumental technique in an interaction with percussive objects, the first from 2015 performing on cello, the second from 2020 performed on piano. ... Click to View

Welcome To Silkeborg (Varela / Trinite):
Alba (Creative Sources)

A live recording without an audience and the start of the Welcome To Silkeborg project between Lisbon improvisers Tiago Varela (Equinox Quartet, Isotope Ensemble) on melodicas & voice, and Monsieur Trinité (Equinox Quartet, IKB, Potlatch, Variable Geometry Orchestra) on percussive objects, their first encounter finding the two in a relaxed dialog of creative conversation. ... Click to View

Satoko Fujii Tokyo Trio:
Moon on the Lake (Libra)

Pianist Satoko Fujii introduces a new trio with two younger and very active musicians on the Japanese jazz scene--bassist Takashi Sugawa and drummer Ittetsu Takemura--recording in 2010 at Pit Inn in Tokyo for their 3rd live date together, performing five lyrical Fujii original compositions, including "Aspirations" from her album with Leo Smith & Ikue Mori. ... Click to View

Jen Shyu & Jade Tongue:
Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses (Pi Recordings)

An articulate and important collection of songs devoted to the marginalized voices of women around the world from NY vocalist Jen Shyu, performed in a masterful quintet with Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Mat Maneri on viola, Thomas Morgan on bass, Dan Weiss on drums, Shyu singing and performing on percussion, piano, Taiwanese moon lute, and Japanese biwa. ... Click to View

Guillermo Gregorio / Damon Smith / Jerome Bryerton:
Room of the the Present (Listen! Foundation (Fundacja Sluchaj!))

Two performances of Chicago reedist and composer Guillermo Gregorio's graphic score "Moholy 2", inspired by the artwork of László Moholy-Nagy, recorded in two conductions at the Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago in 2007 & 2008 by the trio of Gregorio on clarinets & alto sax, Damon Smith on double bass, and Jerome Bryerton on percussion, cymbals and drums. ... Click to View

Space Quartet (Toral / Antunes / Morao / Torres):
Directions (Clean Feed)

An exploration of space, not outer, but the space we give to each other, the space between events and the space between musical expression, as composed by electronic artist Rafael Toral, using acoustic & electronic feedback and amplification with his quartet of Hugo Antunes on double bass, Nuno Mora on drums & percussion and Nuno Torres on saxophone & electronics. ... Click to View

Innanen / Pasborg / Piromalli:
This Is It (Clean Feed)

The Hammond organ takes the lead sound on this straight-up, melodically grooving and fast-paced album, with compositions coming mostly from Finnish saxophonist Mikko Innanen performed in this trio with French organist Cedric Piromalli and Danish drummer Stefan Pasborg; an album that puts one foot in the history of 60's jazz and one foot firmly in the creative present. ... Click to View

Limosa Limosa (Creative Sources)

IKB, a ten-piece reductionist electroacoustic ensemble of strings, reeds, guitar, computer, percussion, piano, drums & objects, continues their exploration of exotic animal species with this 2020 live performance at O'Culto da Ajuda in Lisbon, Portugal, long-billed shore bird Limosa through detailed, restrained and remarkable expression. ... Click to View

Michael Sarian / Matthew Putman:
A Lifeboat (Part I) [VINYL] (577)

The first of two planned volumes of studio improvisations between Brooklyn trumpeter & flugelhorn player Michael Sarian and keyboardist Matthew Putman, recorded in Sarin's home studio during the 2020 pandemic, allowing freedom in exploration as they sought out cadences, rhythms and melodies, this 1st volume presenting the finest of their investigations. ... Click to View

Joel Futterman / Ike Levin:
Live In Chicago (JDF/CLM )

An almost hour long "Rhizome" of free improvisation and a brief "Renewal" from the duo of Joel Futterman on piano and Ike Levin on tenor sax & bass clarinet, performing live at Constellation in Chicago in 2017, for a wonderfully evolving work of suspense, release, technical brilliance and exuberant expression, a dialog that only two such frequent collaborators can evoke. ... Click to View

Ian Power:
Diligence (Edition Wandelweiser Records)

Two works for solo instrumentalists by Baltimore composer Ian Power, both written in 1984: "mahrem bir eser | a private work" using microtonal harmonics and electronic noise, performed by cellist Mariel Robers and recorded in 2016 at Brandeis Univeristy; and "swathe" using overtone and microtone performed by clarinetist Gleb Kanasevich and recorded in NYC in 2019. ... Click to View

Anthony Braxton :
12 Duets (DCWM) 2012 [12 CD Box Set] (New Braxton House)

Newly Distributed in 2021: 12-CD set presenting Braxton in dialogue with three distinctive duet partners: violinist Erica Dicker, vocalist Kyoko Kitamura and bassoonist Katherine Young. Recording dates: August 14 & 15 (Kyoko Kitamura), August 21 & 22 (Erica Dicker), August 28 & 29 (Katherine Young). ... Click to View

Ivo Perelman / Nate Wooley:
Polarity (Burning Ambulance Music)

Tight interaction in an incredible weaving of creative ideas and technical prowess from the duo of tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman and trumpeter Nate Wooley, the two New York-based improvisers recording in the studio in Brooklyn in 2020 for ten dialogs, a perfect distillation of their work together after four CDs in larger group efforts; captivating. ... Click to View

Courvoisier / Rothenberg / Sartorius:
Lockdown (Clean Feed)

Recording in the studio in Switzerland, the trio of Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, Ned Rothenberg on alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet & Shakuhachi, and Julian Sartorius on drums & percussion perform a mix of compositions, with 3 from Courvoisier and 1 by Rothenberg, and 4 collective improvisations; a unified and accomplished album of diverse approaches to free improv. ... Click to View

Cortex (Hoyer / Nilssen / Alberts / Johansson):
Legal Tender [VINYL] (Clean Feed)

Seriously joyful and consequential "avant-garde party music" from the Norwegian Cortex quartet of Ola Hoyer on double bass, Gard Nilssen on drums & percussion, Kristoffer Berre Alberts on saxophone, and Thomas Johansson on trumpet, in their 6th album of irresistible, upbeat free jazz. ... Click to View

Dominique Pifarely Quartet (w/ Rayon / Chevillon / Merville):
Nocturnes (Clean Feed)

Following his ECM album Trace Provisoire, violinist Dominique Pifarély's new album with his quartet of Antonin Rayon on piano, Bruno Chevillon on double bass and Francois Merville on drums, expands on the merging of compositional and improvisational form in this set of Pifarély compositions, alongside two co-written with Bruno Chevillon and two with Antonin Rayon. ... Click to View

Jonas Cambien Trio (w / Roligheten / Wildhagen):
Nature Hath Painted The Body (Clean Feed)

Cleverly complex yet melodically embraceable, the trio of Beligan pianist residing in Norway, Jonas Cambien's trio with Andre Rolighete on tenor and soprano saxophone and drummer Andreas Wildhagen perform eleven original Cambien compositions, a mix of astute, joyful and irrepressibly creative approaches to jazz and free improvisation. ... Click to View

Hearth (Silva / Rasmussen / Rave / Draksler):
Melt (Clean Feed)

Meeting for the 1st time at the 2016 October Meeting in Holland, the quartet performance there of Susana Santos Silva on trumpet, Mette Rasmussen on alto sax, Ada Rave on tenor sax & clarinet and Kaja Draksler on piano, inspired the formation of Hearth to develop soundscapes focusing on moods and textures, as heard in these six rich, explorative collective improvisations. ... Click to View

Andre Fernandes (w/ Sambeat / Campos / Heliodoro / Pereira):
Kinetic [VINYL] (Clean Feed)

Active Lisbon guitarist and producer André Fernandes formed the band Kinetic to perform the lyrically upbeat and sophisticated works of composers he admires--David Binney, Ohad Talmor, Akiko Pavolka, Sara Serpa, Perico Sambeat and Xan Campos--in a band that includes saxophonist Sambeat and pianist Campos, along with bassist Frederico Heliodoro and drummer João Pereira. ... 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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