The Squid's Ear Magazine

Tullgren, Lina / Alec Toku Whiting: Unfamiliar Ceilings (Astral Spirits)

The duo of improvisers Lina Tullgren on violin and Japanese koto player based in Boston Alec Toku Whiting, joined on one track by Ted Reichman on synthesizer & pedals, Reichman also recording these studio sessions, as the duo apply unsual techniques with an ear toward sonic assault and unexpected twists & turns, particularly some especially aggressive interaction on "Polly Chainsaw".

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product information:

Label: Astral Spirits
Catalog ID: AS176CD
Squidco Product Code: 31989

Condition: New
Released: 2022
Country: USA
Packaging: Cassette
Recorded at Subtext Sound System, in Boston, Massachusetts, by Ted Reichman.


Lina Tullgren-violin

Alec Toku Whiting-Koto, bass Koto

Ted Reichman-synthesizer, pedals

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Descriptions, Reviews, &c.

"Unfamiliar Ceilings is an excursion into unfamiliar territory alright, but it's territory where the ceilings look open like blue skies. Lina Tullgren's violin is pooled with the koto of Alec Toku Whiting, two nonconformists who seek even further nonconformity in banding together.

The term "unfamiliar" can also apply to this Tullgren's very recent plunge into experimental instrumental music after launching a two-album career as a singer-songwriter. Returning to their instrument of youth (violin) with a new-found attitude toward it, Tullgren must feel some emancipation in exploiting every tonal possibility inherent in the violin and sure enough, that's just how they sound.

Whiting is likewise a multi-instrumentalist but his childhood instrument was the koto, which he learned growing up in Japan. He's been deeply involved both formal composition and improvisation, and had previously collaborated with Wendy Eisenberg, Mark Fell, the Mivos Quartet and Ted Reichman.

On "47," Tullgren shows an abundance of resourcefulness, with some tactical looping and even manages some impactful hand-made percussion. This doesn't even get into how Tullgren attacks the strings in alien ways. Whiting sets down tonal markers that establishes the parameters as his partner runs wild. The dispersed nature of this performance lays it all to bare and both hold up well under that kind of exposure. "polly chainsaw" is more dense and abrasive, but somehow in that cacophony, Whiting makes his koto resemble, at various times, an accordion, a train horn and even a violin(!).

Reichman contributes synthesizer and pedals on the final track "every finger, an eye," immediately noticeable by the addition of this symphonic, ethereal sonic backing. Perhaps as a response to Reichman's lavish synth washes, both Tullgren and Whiting play with a greater sensitivity to harmony than on the other two tracks. There's also an unmistakable forward movement, and you're acutely aware that this piece breathes and evolves over its seventeen-plus minutes."-S. Victor Aaron, Something Else Reviews

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Artist Biographies

"Lina Tullgren is an American musician from South Berwick, Maine. Tullgren's first musical output was an EP in 2015 titled Wishlist. The following year, upon signing to the record label Captured Tracks, Tullgren re-released their EP. In September 2017, Tullgren announced plans to release their debut full-length album. The album, titled Won, was released on September 22, 2017. In 2019, Tullgren announced plans to release their second full-length album. The album, titled Free Cell, was released on August 23, 2019. The album received a 7.3 out of 10 from Pitchfork. In 2021, Ba Da Bing released Visiting, an album of solo violin pieces." -Wikipedia (

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"Alec Toku Whiting is a composer, improviser, koto player, and mandolinist from Yokohama, Japan. His work is concerned with the multiplicity of perspective, and the possibility for the shared artistic experience to be a physical site for both unification and refraction.

Alec began playing the koto at an early age with a focus on contemporary Japanese music. As he entered his teens he began to write songs and play in rock bands. His pursuit of the creative act accompanied by his niche koto background eventually led to his musical practice being entirely consumed by the fields of composition and improvisation.

The fields of composition and improvisation provide a diverse set of means in his pursuit of common musical goals. His work ranges from totally composed to completely improvised, and the intersection and possible shadings between the two is a point of interest. The exploration of notation as a method of coding, and as an opportunity to explore the possibilities of human reaction and intuition is of particular importance.

Moving from Japan to America to pursue his studies cemented the importance of physicality and geography to his work. These concerns are inseparable from his conception of art as a social and political action. Alec's work is inspired by a rich sense of intertextuality, drawn from his interest in diverse forms of artistic practice as well as 20th century history and philosophy.

Recent performances of his work include the premiere of his new Failure Parables in November 2017 as a part of New England Conservatory's celebration of the work of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. His new chamber piece Soil, Where the Feathers Are Caught will be premiered in March 2018. Alec is currently exploring the work of the father of butoh, Tatsumi Hijikata, as impetus for a new work for koto and voice. Frequent collaborators as an improviser include guitarist Wendy Eisenberg and violinist Robert Burdick.

While much of his time is spent composing, conducting, and performing his own music, Alec regularly performs the work of other musicians. Highlights include performing Shawn Jaeger's The Cold Pane in 2016 and taking part in a complete performance of Cornelius Cardew's magnum opus The Great Learning in 2017. Alec has also performed the work of Anthony Braxton, Yoshimura Hiyoshi, Tadao Sawai, Hikaru Sawai, Gabriel Kahane, and Hideaki Kuribayashi.

Alec is currently a student at New England Conservatory in the Contemporary Improvisation department, where he studies composition with Stratis Minakakis and Anthony Coleman. Other teachers have included Carla Kihlstedt and Joe Morris. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts."

-Idyllwild Arts Foundation (

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"Ted Reichman was born in Aroostook County, Maine in 1973. He began studying jazz piano at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School in 1987 and went on to study experimental music and ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University with Alvin Lucier, Sumarsam, and his most important early mentor, Anthony Braxton. At Braxton's urging, Reichman began playing accordion, the instrument that would become the basis of his work in music. After beginning his professional career with Braxton while still a student, Reichman moved to New York City where he worked with a panoply of musical greats in styles ranging from improvised music and jazz to rock and roll and various forms of Jewish music. In addition to his work with Braxton, which includes the first recordings and performances of "Ghost Trance Music," he is best known for his ten-year-plus tenure with John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet. He also founded the music series at which would evolve into Tonic, one of the world's most crucial venues for avant-garde music. He has been on the faculty of the New England Conservatory for over ten years and spent four years as an Assistant Professor of Film Scoring at Berklee. He currently lives outside Boston where he records, produces and mixes records and composes music for films."

-Ted Reichman Website (

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Track Listing:


1. 47 13:15

2. Polly Chainsaw 9:16


1. Every Finger, An Eye 17:41

Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
Electro-Acoustic Improv
Stringed Instruments
Boston Area Improvisers
Duo Recordings
Trio Recordings
New in Improvised Music
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