AMN Reviews General Opinion Releases Reviews

AMN Reviews: Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl – Artlessly Falling [ Firehouse 12 Records FH12-04-01-034 ]


“Artlessly Falling” is the latest album from guitarist, composer Mary Halvorson’s group Code Girl. Halvorson has received a great deal of recognition for her unique guitar style and her unpredictable improvisational skills but it is her writing that really shines on this album. For the eight songs on “Artlessly Falling” Halvorson first wrote the lyrics, with each lyric written in a pre-existing poetic form and then set them to music. Halvorson’s songs balance poetic lyrics rich with imagery set to elaborate melodies over challenging but supportive accompaniment. “Artlessly Falling” is an evocative set of songs that will really grow on you with each listen.

For this edition of Code Girl Mary Halvorson is joined by longtime creative associates Amirtha Kidambi on vocals, Michael Formanek on bass and Tomas Fujiwara on drums, plus new collaborators Adam O’Farrill on trumpet and María Grand on tenor saxophone and vocals. They are joined by guest vocalist Robert Wyatt, who appears on three songs that Mary Halvorson wrote especially for him. It is really great to hear Wyatt’s voice on something new! Halvorson considers Wyatt to be a major influence on her and on this particular recording.  The influence is clear on the tracks Wyatt sings on but it is felt throughout the album.  The production of “Artlessly Falling” has a warm, very even, and somewhat dry sound reminiscent of albums recorded at Carla Bley’s Grog Kill Studio by Bley, Michael Mantler, and John Greaves / Peter Blegvad that featured Robert Wyatt.  It’s a great sound and Code Girl really extends that sound with their incredible imagination and musicianship.

The opening track “The Lemon Trees” begins with a nod to Wyatt’s “Sea Song”. However, this quickly becomes a very original piece. As Wyatt sings the lyric, each verse alternates with a probing trumpet commentary. That becomes a trumpet solo accompanied by the rhythm section that slowly develops into a trumpet and drum duo that transforms into a drum solo and then suddenly the ensemble is right back to the lyric. The tag ending features a bass solo beautifully accompanied by just the two female voices.

The album continues with “Last-Minute Smears” which is most likely the only song to ever use the congressional testimony of a candidate for the US Supreme Court as a found lyric.  It opens with a very “downtown” improvised intro that slowly develops into a striking ballad beautifully sung by Amirtha Kidambi. It has colorful ensemble writing plus a soulful tenor solo from María Grand. 

On “Walls and Roses” Wyatt and Kidambi sing the same introspective verses back to one another. Halvorson frames the verses with a contrasting section that allows her to wink at Jimi Hendrix as she sails off past the straits of Sonny Sharrock and Shockabilly era Eugene Chadbourne only to return with a winding melodic counterpoint between her and Kidambi.  I hope these brief descriptions of the first three tracks leave you with a sense that on “Artlessly Falling” each track is filled with surprises.

As a group Code Girl’s playing is solid and adventurous. They very easily move back and forth from the written to the improvised. This allows Code Girl to continually shift and transform their sound. It is this combination of Halvorson’s writing and the group’s interaction with both her music and one another that makes “Artlessly Falling” such an interesting listen.

Highly Recommended!

Chris De Chiara

AMN Reviews General Opinion Releases Reviews

AMN Reviews: exclusiveOr / Architeuthis Walks on Land / International Contemporary Ensemble – “modules” [Carrier 044]

Jeff Snyder and Sam Pluta have been working together since 2006 as the duo exclusiveOR.  With Snyder performing on analog synthesizer and Pluta on live electronics. Their work explores the intersection of composition and improvisation with live electronics. For “modules” the duo is joined by some of today’s leading creative musicians: Architeuthis Walks on Land (AWOL) which is Amy Cimini – viola and Katherine Young – bassoon, and members of ICEPeter Evans, Nate Wooley – trumpets, Ryan Muncy – saxophones, Weston Olencki – trombone and Ross Karre – percussion.

“modules” was commissioned in 2014 by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) as part of their ICELab Series. It is a concert length work that utilizes both improvisation and strictly notated material. The piece covers a lot of ground as it flows through its fifteen modules in which seemingly opposing materials (pitch, sound and noise) and methodologies (composition, improvisation and live electronics) seamlessly interact with one another to create a unified whole. 


The fifteen “modules” are comprised of five composed by Pluta, five by Snyder and five improvisations from various small groupings of the ensemble. Each of these tracks or modules has its own distinct character, color and instrumentation. Pluta’s modules tend to be more aggressive and noisier, while Snyder’s are often more harmonically focused. The improvised sections are all sonically oriented and very original. Despite the contrasts within each module they really seem connected and many segments flow into one another in a conversational like manner.

Here is an earlier performance with brass quartet, analog synthesizer, live electronics, and percussion.  It’s interesting to hear both of these versions because it makes clear the significant contributions that improvisers can bring to pieces like “modules”.

For those that need some kind of categorization I would put “modules” under the banner of “creative music”; in that the sound worlds that the composers and improvisers create, freely explore many different contemporary and historical musical ideas without any allegiance or deference to any of the “school’s” associated with these ideas. This is a trend that has been growing for quite some time and I think the composers and improvisers on “modules” are among the best of a new generation of musicians continuing this exploration.

Highly recommended!

Chris De Chiara



Artist Profile General Interviews Opinion Uncategorized

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.

General Opinion Releases

Shelter Press Releases “SPECTRES”

Shelter Press with the support of INA GRM has published the new book “Spectres Composer l’écoute / Composing listening”. This book is the first in an annual series. The first edition features writings in English and French by François Bayle, Jim O’Rourke, Daniel Terruggi, Stephen O’Malley, Elaine Radigue, Chris Watson, Brunhild Ferrari, Beatriz Ferreyra, Espen Sommer Eide, Drew Daniel, François J. Bonnet, Régis Renouard Larivière, and Félicia Atkinson.

Each issue of “SPECTRES” will have a different subtitle / focus.  “This book has been conceived as both a prism and a manual. Following the “traditional” arc of electroacoustic composition (listen—record—compose—deploy—feel), each of the contributions collected together here focuses in on a personal aspect, a fragment of that thrilling territory that is sonic and musical experimentation.

Although the term “experimental music” may now have be understood as referring to a genre, or even a particular style, we ought to hold on to the original use of this term, which was based more on an approach than on any particular aesthetic line to be followed. The experimental is first and foremost a spirit, the spirit of the exploration of unknown territories, a spirit of invention which sees musical composition more as a voyage into uncertain territories than as a self-assured approach working safe within the bosom of fully mapped out and recognized lands.”

More info at Shelter Press

Interviews Opinion Reviews

Sound American 15 is Out

Source: Nate Wooley’s Sound American has a new issue covering:

Mazen Kerbaj and Raed Yassin
Marshall Trammell
Trevor Dunn
Roundtable Discussion
James Hoff

Artist Profile Interviews Opinion Releases Reviews

February Point of Departure

From Point of Departure:

Issue 27 – February 2010

Page One: a column by Bill Shoemaker

Jemeel Moondoc + Muntu: a history by Ed Hazell

A Fickle Sonance: a column by Art Lange

The Book Cooks: Up From the Cradle of Jazz: New Orleans Music Since World War II
by Jason Berry, Jonathan Foose and Tad Jones (The University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press; Lafayette, Louisiana)
Creative Life: Music, Politics, People and Machines by Bob Ostertag (University of Illinois Press; Champaign, Illinois)

Far Cry: a column by Brian Morton

Moment’s Notice: Reviews of Recent Recordings

Ezz-thetics: a column by Stuart Broomer

Travellin’ Light: Michael Zerang

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Opinion: The Decline of the Music Review

At one point I wrote music reviews. However, about fifteen years ago, I became dissatisfied with doing so and stopped. However, for a while, I still read them. Today, I rarely do.

Today I think that the value of the music review is in decline.

Twenty years ago, back when music was relatively expensive, not only to buy, but just to find (it had a high acquisition cost), reviews had an important role. Buyers could read reviews, come up with a list of albums that they’d like to purchase, and then try to find these album in stores or via catalogs.

Today, when we are recommended music, it usually comes along with a sample that can be freely downloaded. Whether 30 seconds or a whole track, the sample is infinitely more valuable than the review, because you can hear the music and form your own opinion. And, music is fairly cheap. For a few bucks you can just download a whole album. At that point you don’t need the review.

That’s not to say that reviews are dead. Nor am I advocating that people should stop writing reviews. In fact, I think that vibrant reviews help the avant music ecosystem.

Perhaps my view on this topic is not representative of many, as one of the most popular topics on AMN is reviews. So, we’ll continue to link to reviews and review sites. Nonetheless, evolutionary forces have replaced reviews with something else, and that something else is often more useful.


The Music Industry isn’t Dead – It Just Changed Its Address

Rock Band
Image via Wikipedia

If you haven’t played Guitar Hero or Rock Band yet, you should stop reading this, and head out to invest in one of these game systems. Why? They allow a relatively talentless guy (like me) make, or pretend to make, real music.

Sure, right now the selections are mostly classic and modern rock. There’s no jazz, free jazz, classical or electronic compositions, and the instrumentation is limited. But aside from being a lot of fun, these games demonstrate the power of participation.

From the New York Times:

Both Rock Band and Guitar Hero have helped the ailing music industry by licensing songs and using online networks to sell additional tracks for gamers to play along with. Those tracks, which usually sell for around $2 each, are more profitable for record companies and musicians than iTunes sales.

MTV, which has focused more than Activision on selling additional songs online, recently announced that it had sold 15 million tracks, and sales are especially impressive for hard-rock bands. During the week in June when Motley Crue released Saints of Los Angeles,the first single from its new album, the song sold 14,000 copies on iTunes and 48,000 on Rock Band through Microsoft‘s Xbox Live network, said Allen Kovac, founder of the group’s management company and record label.

Perhaps more important, Rock Band is introducing young listeners to older bands they might not know. Mr. Kovac said that Motley Crue‘s exposure in the game helped it sell more albums because gamers spend significant time with the band’s music. “I credit Rock Band for bringing in the younger audience,” Mr. Kovac said. “The people who downloaded that song aren’tt just listening to it, they’re interacting with it.”

If this is where the music industry is heading, perhaps that’s a good thing. Now that the new or next generations of Rock Band and Guitar Hero allow gamers to compose their own music and share with others, how long will it be before bands release the unmixed tracks of their songs for these games? Players would then use their favorite artist’s songs as a basis for creating new music, and thus completely blurring the distinction between artist and listener.

Oh, and apparently the artists can make some money in the process.

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AMN Picks General Opinion

AMN Picks of the Week

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.

Note: I missed last week because I was traveling and didn’t get a chance to listen to a lot of music.

Bang on a Can – In C (2001, modern classical)
Dhomont, Francis – Cycle de L’errance (2000, electroacoustic)
Mitchell, Roscoe – Roscoe Mitchell Quartet (1975, free jazz)
Dolden, Paul – L’ Ivresse de la Vitesse (Intoxicated by Speed) (2000, electroacoustic)
Dixon, Bill – Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra (2008, free jazz)
Ferrari, Luc – Didascalies (2007, electroacoustic)
Normandeau, Robert – Tangram (1994, electroacoustic)
Palestine, Charlemange / Tony Conrad – An Aural Symbiotic Mystery (2007, experimental)

AMN Picks Opinion

AMN Picks of the Week

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.

Migraine – 52-Grasshopper (2008, avant-jazz, improv)
Daniel Carter – Chinatown (2008, avant-jazz)
Festin Sagital, Un – Pharmakon (2006, avant-rock)
Festin Sagital, Un – Epitafio a la Permanencia (2007, avant-rock)
Fulminate Trio – Fulminate Trio (2008, jazz)
Finn, James – Great Spirit (2008, jazz)
Controlled Bleeding – Golgotha (1991, dark ambient)
Taylor, Cecil – The Cecil Taylor Unit (1978, jazz)