AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant – Sèances (2022; Pyroclastic Records)

Trevor Dunn’s new Trio-Convulsant release is not just the work of a trio. In addition to Dunn on bass, Mary Halvorson on guitar, and Ches Smith on drums, this “trio” also includes Carla Kihlstedt on viola and violin, Oscar Noriega on clarinets, Mariel Roberts on cello, and Anna Webber on flutes. Thus, S​è​ances is perhaps better thought of as a trio plus chamber quartet.

The last time we heard from Trio-Convulsant was on 2004’s Sister Phantom Owl Fish. At that time, Dunn was mostly known as the bassist of avant-rock group Mr. Bungle, while Halvorson and Smith were new on the scene. Fast forward to today, Dunn has deviated afar from the deviances of Mr. Bungle, while Halvorson and Smith have established themselves as leaders in the New York creative music scene through dozens of albums and countless live performances. Indeed, perhaps the most notable aspect of this reunion is that Dunn was able to convince the other two to find time in their busy schedules.

In short, this album is wonderful. It contains Dunn’s deft compositions for this extended trio, fully-packed with ideas. S​è​ances rarely slows down and often involves simultaneous contributions from all seven players. As just one example, Restore All Things begins with a rather involved bass / drum line from Dunn and Smith, accompanied by subdued picking from Halvorson. Slowly the wind and string instruments join with quiet washes and flourishes. As the piece evolves, the playing gets louder and more frantic. Halvorson hits a few angular chords then rips through an effects-laden solo. Beyond the halfway point the structure changes to a jagged rhythm supporting drones and a brilliantly disjointed solo from Webber before returning to the general approach that opened the track. As Dunn puts it, “[y]ou can’t get more apocalyptic than a single-note drone, glissandi strings, and micro-tonal flute.”

And as a final note, S​è​ances is based on the Convulsionnaires of Saint-Médard. Dunn describes how each piece came about, and in doing so pulls away the curtain of his process in a fashion that is rarely shared, adding further degrees of color to this release.

Album of the year candidate? Yeah, I can see that.

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Rainer Bürck – Without Fear (1999; earsay)

Without Fear, released in 1999, may or may not offer a glimpse into Rainer Bürck’s baby steps that eventually led to the Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten collection.  I use the word “may” here because I “MAY” be completely off base since Without Fear, on its own stands tall enough to make this a valued addition to my electroacoustic world.

Like Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten, Without Fear has both mixed medium pieces and strictly acousmatic works.  I found the general “feel” of this album more subdued, less frenetic and heart-pounding with darker, blurrier, and more mysterious moments.  The album opens with a short, 3-minute tape piece, “Hommage à S…pour S”. This is a deconstruction of a work by Domenico Scarlatti played by one of Bürck’s students.  It has everything I love about acousmatic music… the creative processing of an acoustic piano and various other interesting, and very alien sound structures makes this the perfect foil for what comes next.

The 14-minute “Des Ombres de la Nuit” is where the shadows leading to complete darkness make their grand appearance (as the title suggests).  I think the story about how this piece came to be is too good not to share, as Bürck tells it…

In a very cold winter night in December 1992 I went to the Frauenkirche in Esslingen together with organist Christoph Bossert to record sounds from the organ of the church. Since the church borders on a major street, the recording session had to take place in the middle of the night. We treated the organ in many ways, the results mostly sounding dark and uncanny, just like the atmosphere of the environment. There was the clatter of the action and the pedals, the howling and whistling of the organ-pipes, the hissing and moaning of the wind in the tubes and pipes… The piece wants to re-create some of the eerie atmosphere in the dark, lonely and cold church. Shades of the night…

… and indeed, it does!  I think a headphone listen to this track is in order.  There are parts that are extremely quiet, but within its shaded volume there is a roiling intensity that threatens to crack open the sonic landscape.  This planet-breaking threat is acoustically presented by the low rumble of continent-sized, subterranean rock plates moving against each other in their pitch-black purgatory.  Meanwhile, on the surface, a midnight confluence of soulless, mindless puppets has decided (if they can actually do things like, “decide”) to wander their Ligottian landscape hoping that crack does open… if only to rid the last microscopic vestige of human consciousness of its miserable existence.  Yep… dark!

There are two mixed medium works on Without Fear, “STRINGendo” (Günter Marx on violin) and “Flautando” (Miriam Arnold on flute).  These pieces are noticeably less frenetic than their mixed medium contemporaries on Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten although no less compelling.  The same technique of transforming live performances by feeding back inputs to be treated in real time is used on these works.  Likewise, the same optimal results happen, just a bit more reserved and subtle.

“Improvisation PCV” is a tape composition built from improvisations of piano, cello, and voice.  I haven’t heard Bürck utilize voice till this work and the results are quite stunning.  Like the opening piece on this album, this work pushes all my acousmatic buttons as sound events are pulled apart and re-assembled in ultra-creative ways.

A final tape composition, “…ohne Schrecken” closes the album on a more joyful note.  The piece is dedicated to his son and was composed on his birth.  Leaving the dark and menacing vibe behind, we get a much brighter feel.  The inclusion of a choral section is a great touch to end an excellent electroacoustic experience.

I wasn’t familiar with Rainer Bürck till very recently, so I consider myself fortunate to discover him.  Enthusiasts of acousmatic music that may also be unaware of him may want to (and hopefully will) hop on both Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten andWithout Fear.  These albums are top notch, and I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on his “electroacoustic trio”, Trionys in a near future write up.  In the interim, check these two out!

Mike Eisenberg
Twitter: @bigaudio999

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Rainer Bürck – Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten (2022; earsay)

This is some high rez music right here!  Anytime I get the opportunity to drop Natasha Barrett’s name…well, I’m gonna seize it!  Take the “hyper-reality” of Barrett’s microclimate pieces and port it over to Rainer Bürck’s real time live performer processing and you got something that is SO in your face that you may want to offer it a breath mint!  (That’s a compliment, OK?)

And it’s not just in the mixed medium works.  He also works in a straight acousmatic style; these pieces similarly deliver a high level of detail.  As an analog, think pushing the sharpness and contrast sliders in Photoshop to the right, the soundstage becomes a panoramic, high (acoustic) pixel environment.  Listening to Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten is like overdosing on sound and vision, and it’s one of the most pleasantly dizzying experiences that is still legal.

Rainer Bürck is a German composer and pianist whose recent focus has been in the electroacoustic space.  He also performs in a trio of keyboards, violin, and percussion that creates music (at first) by way of improvisation which then eventually becomes cast in stone. This trio, Trionys, works extensively with electronics and has two albums out, also on earsay.  They will most likely be the subject of another one of my installments.  While sounding nothing like The Necks, the exploratory, sympathetic nature of their sound shares the same qualities.  

I’m not a fanatic when it comes to process, but sometimes knowing how music is created aids in my appreciation.  In Bürck’s case… since his sound is so crystal sharp and well rendered, I found it interesting to learn a little about the “how” that quality is attained.  Please be warned that the following few sentences are going to be steeped in extremely high-level technical jargon (which I’ll highlight with bolding and caps) and if that is going to be a problem… well, sorry.

Ok, so for the last couple decades, Bürck has been developing a technique, and the software to go with it that captures the “inputs” of a live performer.  He runs said “inputs” through his MAGIC BLACK BOX which then SPITS the “outputs” back in a manner that is highly composable in a LEGO BLOCK manner.  This composability provides a limitless number of options for Bürck (as well as the performers themselves) to maneuver this spectral content in a PLAY-DOH like fashion, thus creating new and exciting textures out of previously undiscovered combinations of sound events.

Exhibit A:  Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten has two lengthy mixed pieces where his acousmatic sounds mingle and cavort with a live performance… a very modified live performance via the technique described above.  Bürck is an experimenter at heart and his primary tool is the studio, his laboratory.  Like any good scientist, one must have a desire to search, to explore, make mistakes along the way, and recognize what works and what doesn’t.  This may all sound very cold and clinical but let me suggest the opposite as Bürck displays some very well-developed musical talents within this context.  The sound structures created and the way they are organized flow in a logical manner (in retrospect) but contain unexpected twists and turns providing refreshing surprises.  Bürck’s lab is NOT an unemotional, sterile clean room, rather a place to explore rich interactions and experiences. This album shows the fruits of his efforts! 

On “Locust Wind, rattle and hum” he collaborates with 10 string guitar player Stefan Östersjö, the results are rather brain re-wiring.  (For Natasha Barret fan’s, Östersjö should be no stranger as he was featured on her Black Bile Extempore album back in 2009.) Östersjö explodes all over the sound field and whether he is laying down straight speed-demon runs or surprising with various extended techniques, the result left me numb, and indeed… rattled.  The frenetic energy on display would have, and certainly should have been enough to leave my jaw permanently dragging on the floor but no… Bürck, in his white lab coat strategically “treats” Östersjö’s “inputs” resulting in “outputs” of pure bliss.  The acousmatic work that lurks over, under, and around this madness should be overkill but, remember… a good scientist recognizes what works, and in this case, Bürck’s razor sharp textures elevates the whole experience to exospheric levels.

But wait, there’s more!  On the 13 minute “In Zungen” he is paired with accordion player Marko Kassl.  I don’t know how… but the unhinged energy unleashed on this piece may overtake the previous one.  Kassl plays like a man possessed while Bürck molds it into a kaleidoscopic sunburst of light and dark with a healthy dollop of menacing and alarm.  I occasionally caught glimpses of the early avant chamber-prog sound of Univers Zero and Art Zoyd in his darker hued moments

Both “In Zungen” and “Locust Wind, rattle and hum” are not so much pieces to listen to (no matter how attentively) but rather, to let them impose their will (on body, mind, and soul). 

Submission > pick up the pieces > rinse and repeat (many times).

Electroacoustic to get the blood pumping for the cardio set… who would ever think!

Exhibit B:  The three acousmatic pieces on this album sent me into Francis Dhomont land.  The way sounds were built into longer phrases, and then airbrushed into the next idea in a very seamless manner reminded me of Dhomont’s excellent Frankenstein Symphony (1997).  This is especially apparent on the last piece, “Capriccio con fuoco e riflessi”.  I effortlessly fell into this work and immediately found myself world building, which of course is a situation I hope to attain whenever I listen to acousmatic music.  Like Dhomont, Bürck is another one of those great facilitators of perceptual enlightenment.  (Consider myself enlightened!)  This piece has some very well-placed violin textures contributed by Günter Marx mixed into the overall acousmatic framework of which, sources of sound remain a mystery (as they should).

“Alleluja” opens the album with Bürck offering the listener a safe, welcoming passage through this adventure.  (Little do they know what they are in for.)  As he explains:

These materials are mainly based on two sources: sounds I had recorded from the bells of the St Amandus Church of Bad Urach and a Gregorian Alleluja. Using this chant from the origins of Occidental music and transforming it into contemporary music, I wanted to mark the time span of Occidental music – a period of incredible musical creativity and output.

An alchemy of the archaic and the modern (perhaps even the future), “Alleluja” situates the listener in his (Bürck’s) space and hints at what is to come.  On its own, the piece served to ignite an air of anticipatory enthusiasm for whatever comes next, and in that respect, a perfect choice as the album opener.

“Lamento industrial” was composed in conjunction with an open-air festival that featured various sculpture works made from industrial materials.  Subsequently, the piece was made from sounds of industrial spaces like quarries, scrap yards and metal fabricating plants.  Like its other two acousmatic brothers, “Lamento industrial” flows smoothly, although perhaps murkier… evoking shades of dark grey’s, muddy browns and smeared blacks.

Feuer Zungen Glocken Saiten offers pieces dating as far back as 2000 up to the present.  It’s a collection that needs to be heard from an artist you may not (but should be) familiar with.  Big thanks to earsay for pushing it out into the wild, it may very well be my favorite electroacoustic record of the year.  No hesitation on giving this a high recommendation if that hasn’t been obvious by now.

Mike Eisenberg
Twitter: @bigaudio999

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: John Zorn – Multiplicities: A Repository Of Non-Existent Objects (2022; Tzadik)

It is hard to keep track of how many John Zorn releases are drawn to particular themes or that feature particular bands or lineups. But if the math is correct, this is the third release from Chaos Magick, an ensemble consisting of Brian Marsella on Fender Rhodes, John Medeski on organ, Kenny Grohowski on drums, and Matt Hollenberg on guitar. Chaos Magick is essentially the addition of Marsella to Simulacrum, a longstanding Zorn trio that has recorded ten more albums.

Multiplicities is just the first ten tracks of twenty that Zorn has composed based on the writings of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Thus, there may be a follow on release in the coming months or years, though it is not clear whether the lineup of recording musicians will be the same.

In any event, you can expect the usual heavy riffing, blistering solos, and on-a-dime tempo changes from Chaos Magick on this release. The resulting amalgams of metal, jazz, and blues are punctuated by bursts of sheer noise and energy. Zorn sets forth tuneful melodies and themes that the band expands upon with its collectively staggering technical proficiency. In between the more structured passages, there are a few interludes that seem largely improvised. In short, Multiplicities is similar to other Chaos Magick and Simulacrum releases in its brain-feeding information density as well as its general approach. And to that point, the album is also full of echoes of earlier pieces. Zorn quotes himself quite liberally, incorporating familiar bits and pieces from the Simulacrum discography.

Even though this release is somewhat cumulative when viewed in that light, Multiplicities is another enjoyable and worthwhile offering. Solid recommendation.

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews:  Patrick Shiroishi – Evergreen (2022; Touch); Colin Stetson – Chimæra I (2022; Room40)

Layers upon layers.

Previously hidden details emerging everywhere you choose to focus your attention.

Sound objects materializing against the negative space they were spawned from, establishing shape, form. Single acoustic tones making dramatic entrances and displaying their pure spectral content like Peacocks on parade.

Continually shifting and rearranging combinations of acoustic colors connecting and disconnecting.

Fluctuating waves of dynamics building, engulfing, fading.

Deep melancholic sadness giving way to jubilantly uplifting earth spirits.

All these fragmented micro-thoughts can easily apply to the excellent new albums from Patrick Shiroishi and Colin Stetson.  Take the above as disjointed, stream-of-consciousness impressions that I feel are common to both recordings.

On Evergreen, Patrick Shiroishi delivers an emotionally charged sonic movie based on recent trips to the Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles where family members are buried.  There are four long tracks on the album with the genesis of the first two built around field recordings in the morning, and the second two, in the evening.

The field recordings…natural sounds, thunder, a gentle summer rainstorm is also augmented by some soft radio transmissions and a narrative voice reminiscing about earlier generations of Japanese immigrants during WWII.  The terrible, no-win situation was either becoming stateless by being drafted into the U.S. Army and pledging allegiance to America while they are still Japanese citizens or, put into something very close to concentration camps if they chose not to.

These quiet sounds provide a memory trigger, a foundational base to build a rich sound world teeming with detail on top of them.  A beautifully rendered ecosphere of drones and melodies come alive as various synths and reed instruments collect en masse to fully flesh out these memories.  Evergreen is shot through with raw honesty as these structures…maybe even shrines of remembrance are built.

As the multi-faceted drones grow larger, louder…they gather force like a snowball in an avalanche.  Tension, intensity, and volume build as the sound space fills up, as the very nature of the combined sound structure morphs and changes in real-time.  Sometimes uplifting and joyful as the positive memories are grasped and held on to, other times more plaintive and longing for thoughts and recollections on the verge of fading.

On the alluring second piece, “there is no moment in which they are not with me”, the breathy sound of a single tenor saxophone separates itself with an assertiveness of a Grand Marshal leading the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  It enters the sound space from a backdrop of quiet sustained textures and, from the very first notes…its majesty is revealed in absolute pureness.  A second sax eventually enters in similar fashion embellishing and dancing around the first with busier movement.  The emotional effect that is revealed is exquisitely magnified because of these contrasting spaces and, may be the highlight of this wonderful album (although that would short shrift the many other moments that reach these heights). A similar uplift occurs on the final piece, “here comes a candle to light you to bed”.  This time, a clarinet takes the lead with a simple and very rustic melody…a melody that evokes simpler, happier times perhaps.  Again, the reeds are vividly highlighted against a quieter sonic background for maximum contrast.  This whole aural photograph eventually fades into a gentle evening storm providing a finality that is perfectly satisfying.

The emotional realms visited on Colin Stetson’s Chimæra I are much less earthbound, instead choosing to reach out into deep voids.  But, like Shiroishi’s Evergreen, Stetson’s efforts are no less evocative and compelling…especially for the attentive listener.

Chimæra I has two 20+ minute detailed and very elaborate saxophone drones along with two 8+ minute “reductions” of the longer pieces.  To be honest, I’m not sure what these reductions are but I think they may be stitched together edits of the longer pieces.  I will say that they work very well as stand-alone tracks if you are inclined (or pressed for time) to experience the album in shorter doses.

As stated on the album notes regarding what mental path Chimæra I suggests, i.e., “imagined caverns”, “hidden hollows” and surging magma flows” …I had a different cinéma pour l’oreille (although I do find it very interesting to hear the composers own personal thoughts on such things).  My own personal ear flick did not have a basis in geologic structure or terra firma groundings, instead opting for a cold, dark, airless, and lifeless non-being, a canvas marching toward times end.  A nothingness that echoes…but from what?

But listen again.  Those loops and layers of long sustained bass sax tones, occasionally interrupted to form a series of short, swirling bursts…they remind me of giant buzz saws.  The extended bass sax layers themselves…I can’t help but think of the rumble of a giant generator.  A power source rejuvenating from the wreckage and remnants it was created to level.  A humongous battery driving a massive tank-like mech that ponderously crawls over the surface of a landscape, disintegrating everything in its path with an outer skin of jagged, spinning circular blades.  A berserker with no purpose other than subsuming everything in its path… but why?

But listen again.  A walk down and through a tunnel…a long one.  One that becomes harder and harder to breath the deeper you go.  Nothing but smooth, stone-gray walls…leading to what?  (I’ll pause here and admit that maybe Colin’s geologic references above do have legs to them.)

But listen again…

Ok, point made.  Chimæra I strongly beckons and compels the willing deep listener to come back, again and again.  Different cinematics, different experience.  Sometimes physical, sometimes mental, sometimes both…but always gripping and mesmerizing.

I decided to do both of these albums in a single write-up, initially because of the common saxophone theme.  As it turns out, there is a much more relevant theme than just a shared instrument.  Patrick Shiroishi’s Evergreen and Colin Stetson’s Chimæra I have a more important superpower in common, the ability to transport.  They accomplish this in two very different and distinct styles, but the endgame is the same.  Touching on different emotions, different thought centers… both artists are vividly molding their own distinct narratives, creating a sense of place in their own very personal way. These sounds allow us to interact with a world of ultimately, our own making, but one we would never have found without the artists as guides.

It’s this sense of potential that is so appealing about these recordings.  Shiroishi and Stetson are not only acting as world builders but, they are also offering the listener a golden ticket… a ringside seat to share and interact right alongside them. Ultimately, the freedom and power of experience.  Both come very highly recommended.

Mike Eisenberg
Twitter: @bigaudio999

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Christina Ruf – STR​Ø​M (2022; iapetus)

STR​Ø​M begins its journey with pastoral chamber ambience, almost a dreamlike state. From there it heads toward the edges of modern experimentation, while never losing its poise or listenability. The album is cellist and composer Christina Ruf’s first full-length effort. A solo recording with generous use of overdubs, on it Ruf employs electric and acoustic cellos, synths, bass, piano, mandolin, and voice. To these, she adds effects and processing.

Most tracks employ several instruments, such as one or more cellos, piano, and synth. Their sounds are layered upon one another in subtly shifting patterns of short and long-held notes. The use of drone terminology would not be out of place here, though Ruf’s offerings move too much and too often to fit squarely in that camp. Instead, her music is cinematic and melancholy, exhibiting both smooth and rough textures.

Case in point, Train combines the aforementioned instruments with notable swells from a lightly distorted electric cello and low-key electronic pops and crackles. In contrast, Intertwined is more of a vehicle for the acoustic cello, with an initially brighter theme that slowly darkens through use of lower registers and effects. Issues of Time, Space and Dreams is the most overtly experimental piece on the album. While less than two minutes in length, Ruf evokes harsh noises through processing and looping. Emmets is another short track, pushing the boundaries with electroacoustics atop a percussing pattern before ending in birdsong. Tal is largely focused on processed cello, and gently wafts along for eleven minutes with high-pitched accentuations as well as short echoing motifs. This return to pastoralism continues on Lie, with the addition of wordless vocals.

​STR​Ø​M is a powerful and meditative exploration of emotions – sadness and loss can be felt, along with hints of peace and joy. Let’s add Christina Ruf to the growing list of solo cellists (e.g., Jo Quail, Raphael Weinroth-Browne) who are extending the range of that instrument through both technical proficiency and compositional sophistication. Very well done.

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Gebhard Ullmann / Steve Swell / Hilliard Greene / Barry Altschul – We’re Playing in Here? [No Business Records NBLP 149]; Kirk Knuffke & Michael Bisio – For You I Don’t Want to Go [No Business Records NBCD 158]

“We’re playing in here?” is something every improvising or experimental musician must’ve said at some point, given the all-too-often unavoidably shoestring-run venues that tend to host the music. It’s also the name of an album of impeccable contemporary acoustic jazz by the quartet of saxophonist/bass clarinetist Gebhard Ullman, trombonist Steve Swell, double bassist Hilliard Greene, and drummer Barry Altschul.

The album’s five tracks, all but one of them written by Swell, strike a balance between free flights of solo improvisation and tightly scored melodies for ensemble. The post-bop swing of the opener Planet Hopping on a Thursday Afternoon leads to La Mariposa, a feature for Ullmann’s vocal-like acrobatics on bass clarinet. Like Ullmann, Hilliard on this track reaches into his own instrument’s upper register, which he plays with a beautifully clear articulation. Sketch #4, the third track, is like the first track driven by Altschul’s propulsive swing, but at a higher velocity. The title track moves from an opening gambit of extended technique for trombone—air notes and other unpitched noises—into a loosely structured, collective polyphonic improvisation that culminates in an unexpected unison melody. The final piece, Ullmann’s Kleine Figuren #1, is a high-energy piece that includes a long-lined melody and a solo for Altschul. Superb music from four superb musicians.

No Business has another release of high-quality acoustic jazz with For You I Don’t Want to Go, a duet of cornetist Kirk Knuffke and double bassist Michael Bisio. The recording consists of a single 37 minute-long track that flows seamlessly from a free improvisation to Knuffe’s composition For You I Don’t Want to Go, back to a free improvisation and then into Bisio’s composition Sea Vamp. The playing is energetic and thoughtful, moving the music along with a momentum that never lags. Knuffke and Bisio complement each other well over the course of the performance’s many evolutions, with Bisio’s rapid pizzicato put on particularly prominent display.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Various Artists – Dracula – Music Inspired By The Bram Stoker’s Novel (2022; Eighth Tower Records)

Given its fame as perhaps the most well-known and well-studied example of gothic horror, the story of Count Dracula and the vampire hunters who eventually slay him is part of our modern consciousness. With multiple film adaptations and an absolutely massive sphere of influence, Bram Stoker’s story undergirds an entire sub-genre of not just literature but also television and movies. Its premise is simple, its horror is efficacious, and scholars still debate its statements on gender roles and immigration, two topics that remain of import. While Stoker did not invent vampires, he introduced them to popular western culture so effectively that they persist today.

Music about Dracula and vampires is also not new – this is ground well-trodden in heavy metal, for example. While the dark ambient genre has a handful of albums under the vampiric influence, these number relatively few (I fully expect someone to disagree with this statement and provide a list…). Now we have Dracula, a compilation of dark ambient material from Eighth Tower Records that specifically targets the Stoker-verse.

Contributors include, among others, Dead Space Chamber Music, Onasander, Michael Banoventure, Grey Frequency, Rapoon, Kloob, Mario Lino Stancati, and Howlround. And on the very first listen, this effort defied my expectations – there is rather little in the way of loud, grating, or unduly angular passages. Instead, these tracks are subtle, their horror psychological rather than overt. There is a strong emphasis on synth and drones, with various accompaniments. On the other hand, the album does get stranger and more abstract as it progresses.

For instance, Dead Space Chamber Music (a UK-based quartet) employs a simple yet haunting theme overlaid with airy lines from acoustic instruments and indiscernible vocalizations. Subterranean Source (Andrea Bellucci) follows up with a track that features animal noises, deeper drones, rumbling, loops, and effects. Grey Frequency (Gavin Morrow) provides the sounds of waves on a beach being slowly consumed by long-held synth chords and rattling object percussion. David Strother takes things in a different direction with woodwind-sounding lines over quiet drones and a sparse beat.

Moving on to the second half of this compilation, Rapoon (Robin Storey) contributes a track that is one of the most overtly experimental, with large shifting masses of metallic sounds. Dani Kloob’s piece is a suffocating amalgam of dark horror, with dense drones, chanting voices, and aleatoric percussion. Mario Lino Stancati explores higher-pitched noises that are largely acousmatic and impressionistic in nature. Howlround continues this trend with a set of gritty loops and patterns of sculpted sounds. Henrik Meierkord rounds things out with a return to ominous dark ambience.

Needless to say, this is another must-have release from Eighth Tower Records, and it arrived just in time for Halloween. Like many electroacoustic / ambient offerings that exhibit subtlety, this one needs to be experienced at high volume to appreciate the details.

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Catching Up with Reid Karris

Chicago-area improviser Reid Karris has been consistently busy release-wise over the last decade. The pandemic may have slowed him down a bit, but not much. Focusing on guitar, percussion, field recordings, and sculpted sound textures, Karris typically stays on the outside – the far outside. His improvisations are streams of consciousness, using extended techniques and prepared instruments, some of which he built.

Below, we review a handful of his most recent releases.

Reid Karris – We Enter the Circle After Dark and Are Consumed by Fire (2022; Ramble Records)

The four tracks on We Enter the Circle After Dark and Are Consumed by Fire were formulated from recordings Karris made taking walks near his studio in 2021. He manipulated these in various ways, stretching and compressing them in time. Some of the original source material remains discernable (such as a passing train early on), but most survive as textured drones. Over this, he layered electric guitar improv, in his signature disjointed and feedback-laden fashion. Some passages are outright quiet, if not for Karris’s metallic manipulation of his guitar’s body and strings. Toward the end, he emphasizes found-object percussion as well. The overall result is chaotic but not overtly in your face.

Reid Karris and the Man from Atlantis – Onomatopoeia (2022; Ramble Records)

Here we have Karris collaborating with Ramble Records label head Michael Sill, the latter calling himself the Man from Atlantis. Karris recorded percussion tracks made with skatchboxes and pieces of metal, then passed them off to Sill. To these, Sill added acoustic, electric, and slide guitar, as well as voice. Sill is a much more structured player than Karris, and his contributions approach being tuneful. They have a folk feel, even when he employs his electric in a gritty and overdriven fashion. But this effort remains far from an easy listen, with Karris playing amplified implements, cymbals, and bells with little repetition or pattern. So while there are plenty of melodies to latch on to, they rarely last and are often hidden behind noisy improv weirdness.

Reid Karris – Solo Guitars 2021 (2022; Bandcamp)

This is a massive undertaking. Throughout the COVID lockdowns and semi-lockdowns of 2021, Karris spent one Friday a month in his studio recording and live-streaming prepared guitar improvisations (not unlike his Solo Guitars release of 2020 recordings). After a year of doing so, he had 45 tracks and over 8 hours of music, all of which are on this release. He also posted videos of the sessions on his YouTube channel. Thus, this album can be watched as well as listened to. Karris laid his instrument flat on a table, sent its output through various effects pedals, and proceeded to use tools and other implements to scratch, saw, mute, and otherwise manipulate the strings while adjusting the knobs of the pedals. At times he brings out a second guitar to hang around his neck and play in only a slightly more expected manner. An unconventional approach to be sure, but strangely listenable in all of its peculiarity.

Asker – Tacet (2022; Mother Brain Records)

This collaboration includes Karris on prepared guitar and percussion, Alexander Adams on drums, Seth Andrew Davis on electro-acoustic guitar, and Kevin Cheli on drums, vibraphone, & percussion. As might be expected if you are familiar with the previous works of each individual in the lineup, Tacet is a noisy and dense set of relentless open-ended improv. One of its more notable aspects is that it was recorded remotely, with Karris and Adams in Chicago, Davis in Kansas City, and Cheli in Ithaca, New York. The quartet passed around tracks until they each had contributed to all of the pieces. Soundwise, the percussion skitters and rattles, while the guitars are spiky with heavy processing. Davis offers up angular soloing at a couple of points, which only serves as contrast to emphasize how unorthodox this album is as a whole.

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Martina Verhoeven Quintet – Driven – Live at Roadburn 2022 (2022; Bandcamp)

The Roadburn Festival has, in recent years, expanded from a metal-oriented set of concerts to include classical, jazz, and ambient / drone music as well. What’s more, Roadburn typically books outside-leaning artists in these additional styles of music.

Enter the Martina Verhoeven Quintet, consisting of an all-star lineup with Verhoeven on piano, Gonçalo Almeida on bass, Onno Govaert on drums, Dirk Serries on guitar, and Colin Webster on sax. Driven is a near 50-minute, single-track excursion into cacophonous free improv with quieter textural interludes that was recorded at Roadburn 2022.

The trio of Verhoeven, Webster, and Govaert take the fore, with dense, polyphonic interplay. Each seems to be pulling the group in their own respective direction while still managing to contribute to an overall sound that is simultaneously tearing itself apart and reconstituting into new forms. Almeida’s bass rounds out the low frequencies with offerings that are felt as much as heard, while Serries’ abstract chording is deeper in the mix.

This approach changes in the less structured passages, where Almeida plays with a bow and Serries employs extended techniques, while Webster’s sax hovers in the background like a giant insect. Verhoeven and Govaert share a percussive role with punctuated bursts and disjointed patterns. But even when the tempo is modest and not all instruments can be heard, there is a burning intensity throughout that foreshadows future blowouts.

Driven is a prime example of modern creative improvisation. This is tight, information-rich music that is sure to keep the synapses crackling.