AMN Reviews: “The Happiness Handbook” – The Instruments of Happiness, Tim Brady [Starkland ST-232]

ST-232 Instruments of Happiness_The Happiness Handbook_Cover_HiRes

In the 20th century the electric guitar was invented and then proceeded to globally dominate popular music for decades. But the electric guitar is still somewhat of an outsider in the world of contemporary composition. Many conservatories and university music schools still do not allow students to select the electric guitar as their principal instrument of study. But despite this situation we now have several generations of highly trained electric guitarists possessing both the skills and the interest in playing something other than popular music.

In the last forty years or so a new chamber format has appeared all over the planet – the electric guitar quartet. The electric guitar quartet offers contemporary composers a chamber ensemble with an enormous sonic palette, an instrument familiar to all kinds of listeners, a globally increasing number of skilled instrumentalists and no defined “style” or accepted common practice. All of this has led to an increase in new works for the electric guitar. The Sheer Pluck Database of Contemporary Guitar Music  currently contains more than six thousand entries of works specifically for or that include the electric guitar.

Still much of the interest from composers in writing for the electric guitar has largely stemmed from the efforts of a small group of proponents. A leader among these proponents is composer/guitarist Tim Brady. Brady has spent more than thirty years composing and commissioning new works, organizing concerts and performing new works for the electric guitar.  Whether it be for the opera, the orchestra or the electric guitar quartet, Tim Brady is a composer whose compositional eclecticism synthesizes the sounds of classical, folk, rock, jazz, noise, improvisation, and electronics into his own personal sound world.

“The Happiness Handbook” is the second album on Starkland from the electric guitar quartet configuration of Tim Brady’s ensemble known as “The Instruments of Happiness”. The album features premiere recordings of compositions from Scott Godin, Jordan Nobles, Maxime McKinley, Gordon Fitzell, Emily Hall and Tim Brady. Each of the composers explore many of the unique sonic abilities of the electric guitar and often reference popular electric guitar styles and techniques. Style wise the compositions generally fall into the new tonality and post minimalist aesthetics; making the album ideal for a wide range of audiences.

“The Instruments of Happiness” quartet members Marc-Oliver Lamontagne, Jonathan Barriault, Simon Duchesne and Tim Brady have playing skills that are deep and wide.  The quartet is extremely well versed in everything from classical chamber music to popular music to extended techniques and experimental music including electronic effects and pedals. As an ensemble they are tight, lyrical and energetic.  They play with a wide range of dynamics and control and are able to move effortlessly from an ensemble of highly independent voices to performing as one large instrument.

“The Happiness Handbook” opens with Scott Godin’s “Martlandia” which explores swelling chords and intricately articulated themes with shades of progressive rock. Tim Brady’s “Equal But Opposite Reaction” combines standard and extended techniques with electronics into a wonderful contrapuntal kaleidoscope that covers a lot of ground.

Jordon Nobles “Deep Field” would make a great sci fi soundtrack with its swells of sounds that roll by as it moves slowly through deep space. It’s as if a flamenco and blues gesture were combined and intertwined; then slowed down a few hundred times while slowly twisting and turning to reveal itself.  A wonderful piece!  Maxime McKinley’s “Reflects de Francesca Woodman” begins with harmonics bouncing and refracting off of one another that eventually builds up into jagged variations on a bluesy theme only to finds its way back into a refractive meditative state. Gordon Fitzell’s “Bomb Crater Garden” is an aggressive mix of clear harmonics and scattered noisy sounds. It beautifully utilizes extended techniques and electronics to slowly build up and then melt away into a kind of noisy slide guitar bird song.  The album ends with Emily Hall’s “The Happiness Handbook”. A suite of five short movements that covers a lot of ground as it celebrates the sheer joy of playing the electric guitar.

“The Happiness Handbook” is a wonderful album. Many AMN readers will enjoy this album, especially guitarists. I think the album should have appeal not just with the minimalist/post minimalist, new music and experimental guitar crowds. “The Happiness Handbook” may be an ideal gateway recording to introduce progressive rock and fusion listeners to contemporary electric chamber music.  So, give it a listen!

Highly Recommended!

Chris De Chiara

Sound American 21: The Change Issue

Sound American is very excited to announce a new step in our growth as one of the preeminent music journals in America. Beginning on May 6th, we’ll be releasing each issue in print form. Although we will continue to make each issue available for free online at, we are taking a step to meet the long-standing demands of our readership to make each issue available in a physical, collectible form.

Designed by Mike Dyer of Remake Designs (designer of the recent Donald Judd: Writings publication), each issue is:
– Printed using offset lithography in a special Pantone color throughout (which will change each issue)
– Bound with the highest quality thread-sewn binding, using cold glue and Otabind™, so the book lies open and stays completely flat, and will last for a lifetime.
– Printed on Holmen paper, an excellent Swedish stock
– Printed by die Keure, one of the finest book printers in the world in a limited edition of 500

Sound American 21: The Change Issue will be released on May 6th online and in print.  The Change Issue is the first in a new editorial format and features words by or about Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste, Ornette Coleman, Nicole Kaack, Bradford Bailey, G. Lucas Crane, Jennie Gottschalk, Ambrose Akinmusire, Mats Gustafsson, Peter Margasak, Terry Riley, Kim Brandt, John Cage, Josh Sinton, Edgard Varése, Marc Hannaford, John Zorn, Matthew Mehlan, Million Tongues Festival, Alex Mincek, Lester St. Louis, and Steve Lehman.

12 Women Influencing the Future of Jazz 

Source: Paste.

Last year, a group of female and non-binary jazz musicians founded the We Have Voice Collective, an organization that aims to “foster awareness, inclusion, and the creation of safe( r ) spaces for all” in jazz and improvised music scenes. This arrived in the wake of #MeToo and following mass exposure to instances of sexism and misogyny in jazz. A year earlier, the Women in Jazz Foundation began their efforts to provide a voice for women and non-binary individuals within the historically male-dominated genre. As with other strands of #MeToo-induced activism across industries, it’s not as if women weren’t in jazz before now—they’re just finally being given a voice. This list was compiled not because these artists are women, but because they are talented players who are key to the futures of jazz and improvised music and deserve representation.

Experimental Musicians as South Park Characters

Source: Dangerous Minds. A little bit of humor to end the day.

If you like your music adventurous, you’ll probably get a huge kick out of Noise Park, a Tumblr that features South Park versions of many avant-garde, experimental, and generally out-there musicians. Whoever is making these charmingly made the decision to follow his or her own esoteric musical tastes, which is a nice way of saying that a good many of the subjects are a bit obscure (Blevin Blectum, Moth Cock, Rotten Milk, etc.), which has the effect of turning it all into an inside inside joke of sorts.

But a lot of the subjects are quite well-known, covering the more cerebral end of the musical spectrum (Kraftwerk, Beefheart, Residents). I spent a fair amount of time trying to come up with a plausibly minimalist South Park episode plot involving Terry Riley, but I failed. Then I switched to Throbbing Gristle and my brain exploded.

Shortlist for Scottish New Music Awards Announced

Source: New Music Scotland.

Dorico Award for Small / Medium Scale Work sponsored by Steinberg (1-10 performers)
James Dillon – Quartet No. 9
Claire McCue – I Regret Your Sex
Lisa Robertson – The Inimitable Brightness of the Air

Large scale New Work (11+ performers) sponsored by PRS for Music
Helen Grime – Woven Space
David Fennessy – Triptych
Ailie Robertson – Caoineadh

The Good Spirits Co award for innovation in New Traditional Music
Ailie Robertson – Seven Sorrows
Grit Orchestra – Bothy Culture

EVM Award for Electroacoustic/sound art work
Louise Harris – Visaurihelix
Alex Menzies – Other World Music Vol 1
Pippa Murphy – Breathe In Me

Community/Education project
Get Composing – sound
Incredible Distance – Scottish Chamber Orchestra / WHALE Arts / Fruitmarket Gallery / Scottish Society of Artists
Lost At Sea – East Neuk Festival / Scanner / Svend McEwan-Brown

The RCS Award for Contribution to new music in Scotland
Red Note Ensemble
Enterprise Music Scotland
Fiona Robertson

Prize for Collaboration
Anthems for Queer Youth – Patricia Auchterlonie / Gareth Mattey / Savage Parade / Robert Reid Allan
Simon Thacker’s Svara – Kanti Simon Thacker Neyveli/ B. Venkatesh/ K.V. Gopalakrishna/ N Guruprasad/ Farida Yesmin/ Raju Das Baul / Sunayana Ghosh
WEAR – Alistair White / UU Studios / Gemma A. Williams

Recorded New Work
ANNO:Four Seasons by Anna Meredith & Antonio Vivaldi – Anna Meredith and the Scottish Ensemble – Moshi Moshi Music
Out of Silence – John Mcleod / RSNO / Evelyn Glennie / Holly Mathieson – Delphian Records
softLOUD – Sean Shibe – Delphian Records

Award for Creative Programming
The Night With…

The RCS Award for Making it Happen
Glasgow Experimental Music Series
Nevis Ensemble
Nordic Viola

New Music Performer(s) of the Year
Drake Music Scotland
Garth Knox

Tri-Centric Foundation / Anthony Braxton Update

Source: Tri-Centric Foundation.

Select bootleg albums will be republished as free or pay-what-you-want downloads. For starters, we now have available the two Big Ears Festival boots Trio (Knoxville) 2016 and 10+1tet (Knoxville) 2016, as well as Anthony’s solo album Solo (Kent) 1979.

Anthony’s research papers are now on our website, top right tab. This is a collection of his many eye-opening writings on various topic ranging from architecture style in West Africa to Shakespeare.

Please check them out, and please consider donating to our organization to help us keep going. We accept year-round contributions. No amount is too small. We thank you in advance, and a big thank you to the many people who have already donated. Your support is vital to our work.

Media wrap-up:

  • New Braxton House’s latest box set offering, GTM (Syntax) 2017, has sold out on Bandcamp (retailers still have copies, and we will always have DLs). We received many great reviews, the most recent of which is a superb and detailed three-part analysis available on The Free Jazz Collective site.
  • In February, Anthony Braxton and Tri-Centric were at the Edition Festival in Stockholm for an evening of his works, as described in this Downbeat Magazine article.
  • An excerpt from Anthony Braxton’s solo performance at this year’s Sons d’hiver Festival is now up on YouTube, and a review of the ZIM Sextet is available on Citizen Jazz (in French, with photos everyone can enjoy).
  • In March, Kyoko Kitamura collaborated with Japanese pianist/composer Masayasu Tzboguchi for a two-day workshop in Tokyo on the music of Anthony Braxton. Events were reviewed in JazzTokyo here and here (in Japanese, with photos for everyone to enjoy).
  • The Wire Magazine April 2019 Issue 422 (which, at this point, would be the previous issue) contains a section on music education. Nate Wooley pens an insightful article on Anthony Braxton titled “The System Of A Down” where he examines the down beat in Anthony’s music (the “vibrational down”) to explore the composer’s holistic approach.

Braxton75 events coming up include two youth ensembles performances: our ongoing collaboration with Face the Music and our new involvement with the Visionary Youth Orchestra. Please stay tuned!

AMN Picks of the Week: Karris Adams Duo / Sharp, Domene & Caratti / Neraterræ / RAIC / Monocube

Here is where I post, at a frequency of about once a week, a list of the new music that has caught my attention that week. All of the releases listed below I’ve heard for the first time this week and come recommended.

Karris Adams Duo – Nothing Stays Buried (la la la la) (2019)
Elliott Sharp / Alvaro Domene / Mike Caratti – Expressed by the Circumference (2019)
Neraterræ – The Substance of Perception (2019)
RAIC (Richmond Avant Improv Collective) – Lamentations (2019)
Monocube – Substratum (2019)