AMN Reviews: RAIC – Chance Operations [Bandcamp]; Ask the Trees – The Heart’s Message Cannot Be Delivered in Words [Bandcamp]; Stephen Vitiello & Molly Berg – I Drew a Fish Hook, and It Turned into a Flower [IKKI 010]

For a good number of years, Richmond, Virginia has been home to a lively, if not always well-enough known, alternative music scene. As is true of most such places its venues hospitable to experimental and creative music come and go, but its artists persist. Groups like New Loft, Ting Ting Jahe, Hotel X, RAIC, and others evolve, mutate, merge and diverge, but what doesn’t seem to change throughout all these changes is a commitment to the art and the community. Three new releases demonstrate the diversity and appeal of Richmond’s alternative music scene; what all three have in common is a spirit of collaboration that seems deeply ingrained there.

RAIC is the Richmond Avant Improv Collective, whose current core membership consists of Samuel Goff, Abdul Hakim-Bilal, Erik Schroeder, Zoe Olivia-Kinney and Laura Marina. For Chance Operations, a two-CD set inspired by the philosophy of John Cage, RAIC assembled twenty musicians of various backgrounds and genres and put them together in a series of small groupings whose memberships were determined by chance operations. As could be expected, the music is extremely varied in instrumentation, atmosphere and style, but the one constant is that the participants seem to be listening to each other. A sample of its twenty-one tracks, chosen in an appropriately random manner:

(You Got the Wrong) Eleanor Friedberger (Jimmy Ghaphery and Brandon Simmons, flutes): nimble, birdlike phrases punctuated by air notes, hisses and overtones.

Complicated Advisory (Laura Marina, vocals; Richard Schellenberg, percussion; Lucas Brode, guitar; Brandon Whittaker, drums; Levi Christian Flack, bass; Madeline Billhimer, baritone saxophone): an abstract piece whose human presence—in the form of Marina’s voice—is nevertheless to the fore.

La Grande Odalisque (Samuel Goff, percussion and keyboards; Abdul-Hakim Bilal, drums; Erik Michael Schroeder, keyboards; Jimmy Ghaphery, alto saxophone and flute; Nat Quick, selo; Kyler O’Brien, bass): a slightly menacing, noirish ambience advancing on measured footsteps, culminating in an intense freakout for sax and keys.

Oblique Strategies (Jacob Courington, bass; Kyler O’Brien, drums; Benjamin Schurr, guitar; Madeline Billhimer, baritone saxophone): guitar and sax noise over a tight drumbeat and mobile bassline.

Materia Prima (Lucas Brode, guitar): the hum, pop, shimmer, and creak of electric guitar as a percussion instrument.

Irrigating an Arid World (Samuel Goff, drums and percussion; Laura Marina and Maura Pond, voices): visceral cries in the desert answered with tom-tom, snare, cymbal, and rattle.

A spinoff of RAIC, Ask the Trees are a newly formed quintet comprising RAIC’s Erik Schroeder on tenor and soprano saxophones along with New Ting’s Jimmy Ghaphery on alto and sopranino saxophones and bamboo flute, Sam Byrd on drums and Fred McGann on Nord keyboard, along with Richard Schellenberg on bass. Their first album, The Heart’s Message Cannot Be Delivered in Words, is in the tradition of the post-Coltrane, metaphysical jazz that flourished in the early 1970s. Consequently, the music is meditative but intense, ranging from the serene flute lines introducing Air and Sky, to the expressionistic collective improvisation of Flight. There’s excellent chemistry here: the two horns complement each other with thoughtful counterpoint, as in Essence, or engage each other in pointed dialogue, as in The Path. Byrd’s drumming is noteworthy for its compressed energy, whether undergirding the Phrygian-flavored Wisdom in Imperfection with a loose, free swing, or enhancing an introspective mood with precise brushwork. McGann’s keyboard and Schellenberg’s bass are also essential components in this highly atmospheric and ultimately inspired contemporary take on an evergreen subgenre of jazz.

I Drew a Fish Hook, and It Turned into a Flower is the third collaborative release from electronics artist Stephen Vitiello and clarinetist/vocalist Molly Berg. On this recording, they are joined by drummer Justin Alexander, violinist Jennifer Choi, bassist Marcus Fischer, and lap steel/pedal steel guitarist Mike Grigoni. As with Vitiello and Berg’s previous collaborative recordings, I Drew a Fish Hook is what Vitiello describes as an “edited improvisation.” Separate parts were recorded in separate locations and mixed together; there are loops and some other types of audible processing as well. But the resulting music doesn’t sound abstract or artificial—far from it. It’s mesmerizing, atmospheric, lush and melodic, often unfolding slowly over drifting harmonies and languorous washes of electronic sound. Berg’s voice is evocative and nicely complemented by the resonant sounds of Vitiello’s guitar and Rhodes piano, as well as by Choi’s violin and Grigoni’s steel guitars.

The sound recording is the audio half of this IKKI edition; the other, visual, half is a set of images from Los Angeles photographer Jake Michaels.

Coming to the ISSUE Project Room

From NY’s ISSUE Project Room:

07/30 @ 8pm – Dan Senn Stephen Vitiello with Molly Berg
Stephen Vitiello is an electronic musician and media artist. His sound installations have been presented internationally, including the 2002 Whitney Biennial, the 2006 Biennial of Sydney (in collaboration with Julie Mehretu) and the Marfa Sessions (in collaboration with Steve Roden) and in solo exhibitions in NY, London and Paris. CD releases include Bright and Dusty Things […]

07/31 @ 8pm – Morton Subotnick
Morton Subotnick is one of the pioneers in the development of electronic music and an innovator in works involving instruments and other media, including interactive computer music systems. The work which brought Subotnick celebrity was Silver Apples of the Moon [1966-7], was commissioned by Nonesuch Records, marking the first time an original large-scale composition had been created specifically for […]

08/04 @ 8pm – MEM (Soundart in the Basque Country today) Baseline
Lecture: “Soundart in the Basque Country today” by Txema Agiriano A short lecture explaining sound art in the Basque Country today: Artists, labels, works, festivals,… Presentation of MEM Festival Bilbao. Video MEM is an annual cultural festival celebrating local and international electronic, extreme and experimental acts. MEM festival happens in November in Bilbao (Basque Country Spain). There you can […]

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Sonomu Reviews

From Sonomu:

Another Electronic Musician, Patience (n5MD)
Perhaps “Another Electronic Musician” by name, but certainly not just another electronic musician by performance. First of all, few of the current younger (faster, louder) generation would take the word “patience” into their mouth, let alone title their album and practice it therein. Subtlety… [read]
Posted by Stephen Fruitman at 08:20, 02 Mar 2009

Machinefabriek & Stephen Vitiello, Box Music (12k)
A collaboration that makes perfect sense, but which came about in a most unusual manner. Stephen Vitiello wrote from his home in Viriginia to Rutger Zuydervelt to order some CDs. An e-mail correspondence ensued and finally the two decided to collaborate. For two musicians so well-versed in… [read]
Posted by Stephen Fruitman at 08:11, 02 Mar 2009

El Heath, A (Rather) Dead Sea Liner (CDR Dead Sea Liner)
El Heath plays sea shanties on deck of the ship of the damned, constantly struggling to be heard above the chatter and mumblings of its passangers. This five-track EP starts off sounding more like an old 78. El Heath performs on an out-of-tune piano further distorted by lo-fi recording acoustics… [read]
Posted by Stephen Fruitman at 06:51, 02 Mar 2009

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