The Squid's Ear Magazine

Smith, Damon

Whatever Is Not Stone Is Light

Smith, Damon: Whatever Is Not Stone Is Light (Balance Point Acoustics)

Taking his title from a poem by Octavio Paz with titles from translations by Lysander Kemp of other Octavio Paz poems, this solo album from double bassist Damon Smith is his definitive statement on the instrument: 23 tracks from 46 seconds to 5 minutes 50, developed over 15 years and displaying Smith's incredible technique and creative intent; incomparable.

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product information:

Label: Balance Point Acoustics
Catalog ID: BPA -10
Squidco Product Code: 29348

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2020
Country: USA
Packaging: Cardboard Sleeve Sealed
Recorded at Bird Cloud Recording, in Edwardsville, Illinois, on April 30th, 2020, by Ryan Wasoba. Mastered by Weasel Walter


Damon Smith-double bass

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Descriptions, Reviews, &c.

"Whatever Is Not Stone Is Light is the long over due definitive solo statement from double bassist Damon Smith.

56 minutes & 23 tracks of material developed in over 25 years of improvising on the double bass. The album features an outstanding sculpture by Houston artist Jillian Conrad and stunning design by Alan Anzalone. It is a hi fi studio recording, mastered by Weasel Walter for maximum impact."-Balance Point Acoustics

"Damon Smith's first solo album, Winter Solos for Robert Ryman (Balance Point Acoustics, 2019) was recorded live in February 2019 at Cafe Fixe, a place where "cafe sounds are as much a part of improvised music as pure silence." It's just the latter we have on this studio session made on April 30, 2020 at Bird Cloud Recording in Edwardsville, Illinois at a time when public gatherings had been suspended under the lockdown. The album consists of 23 tracks over 56 minutes, many lasting less than 2 minutes, with evocative titles taken from Lysander Kemp's translations of poems by the Mexican poet, Octavio Paz, a line from whose poem "Piedra Nativa" (Native Stone) lends the album its title.

Music and poetry abound in oblique allusions, often just at the edge of things - the penumbra of experience - so that their tendency to suggest rather than state can make for a comfortable fit. Paz's poems embrace sensual images, ambiguities and surreal conjunctions which glow with a nuanced intensity, to which Smith's aphoristic studies might be thought distant musical relations. They can also trace their ancestry to the Études of Chopin, Debussy, Ligeti and others as a compendium of short exercises where each piece focuses on a particular articulation, sonority or playing technique in order to explore discrete musical ideas. In other words, during the lockdown Smith chose a freedom to express within self-imposed limitations. Interpret that as you will.

To take some examples, during 'Limitless Autumn' the bow is threaded through the strings producing a rattling accompaniment; 'Noon Nests In Your Inner Ear' is dominated by multiple glissandi; 'Broken Mirrors Where he World Sees Itself Shattered' is a made up of glittering harmonics produced pizzicato and by strikes of the bow; arco harmonics and overtones play a similar role on 'Night of Wheat'. 'Conduits of Bone' is a slow percussive crescendo using the back of the bow, col legno, followed by 'Erasing Landscape', a perpetuum mobile employing squeaky sol ponticello bowing, on the bridge; 'Uncertain Foliage' appears to be a double pizzicato with both hands throughout. There are varying timbres and moods: 'The Eye Retreats' uses dense chords moving across the spectrum of the bass ending as a reverberant growl in the lowest registers. 'Heat Rested' is song-like with a poignant vibrato, and 'From Green to Yellow' accelerates and slows but never stabilises at a fixed speed.

Some of the longer deliberations probe the expressive potential of more diffuse textures. In 'Flayed Sun' a complex thicket is followed by the bow being drawn so slowly that it generates pulsating oscillations and the piece ends by laying down thick coatings of sound. 'From Dream to Watching' features hard, scratchy bowing relieved by more lyrical passages, and there's something of everything during 'Kneading Trough', a virtuosic display of what the bass can do.

Notwithstanding their relative brevity, as a collection these pieces go beyond mere academic investigations of playing methods and elevate the minutiae of how a performer can engage with the double bass, an instrument of genuine diversity. And like the course of our everyday lives they range from the eloquent to the jumbled, the transitory or provisional to things more deeply rooted."-Colin Green, The Free Jazz Collective

Get additional information at The Free Jazz Collective

Artist Biographies

"Damon Smith studied double bass with Lisle Ellis and has had lessons with Bertram Turezky, Joëlle Leandré, John Lindberg, Mark Dresser and others. Damon's explorations into the sonic palette of the double bass have resulted in a personal, flexible improvisational language based in the American jazz avant-garde movement and European non-idiomatic free improvisation. Visual art, film and dance heavily influence his music, as evidenced by his CAMH performance of Ben Patterson's Variations for Double Bass, collaborations with director Werner Herzog on soundtracks for Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World, and an early performance with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Damon has collaborated with a wide range of musicians, including: Cecil Taylor, Marshall Allen (of Sun Ra's Arkestra), Henry Kaiser, Roscoe Mitchell, Michael Pisaro, Wadada Leo Smith, Marco Eneidi, Wolfgang Fuchs, Peter Brötzmann and Peter Kowald. After many years in the San Francisco Bay Area, and five great years in Houston, Texas working regularly with Alvin Fielder, Sandy Ewen, David Dove & Chris Cogburn, Damon will move to the Boston area in the fall of 2016. Damon has run Balance Point Acoustics record label since 2001, releasing music focusing on transatlantic collaborations between US and European musicians."

-Balance Point Acoustic Website (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

Track Listing:

1. Limitless Autumn 0:56

2. The Embers Of The Year 1:24

3. Noon Nests In Your Inner Ear 1:14

4. The Sky Hides All Its Birds 1:10

5. Broken Mirrors Where The World Sees Itself Shattered 1:40

6. Flayed Sun 4:57

7. Night Of Wheat 2:33

8. Conduits Of Bone 3:00

9. Erasing Landscape 1:40

10. The Eye Retreats 3:57

11. Kneading Trough 5:50

12. Uncertain Foliage 1:29

13. Three Clouds And These Few Words 5:05

14. Heat Rested 1:54

15. Waiting Water 1:16

16. From Dream To Watching 4:19

17. Fire And Lichen 1:21

18. Edicts Of Salt 0:46

19. Thirst Wakes And Builds 5:06

20. From Yellow To Red 1:58

21. From Green To Yellow 1:44

22. Word With No Back To It 1:46

23. I Sun-Bone 1:06

Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
Stringed Instruments
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