The Squid's Ear
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Joe Morris / Rob Oxoby: Dancing With Penguins (Bug Incision Records)

Improvising guitarist/bassist, writer, and educator Joe Morris spent four months as visiting scholar at the University of Calgary, during which time he recorded with University of Calgary professor and double bassist Rob Oxoby, this freely improvised album with Morris on electric guitar, a great confluence of strings in 6 concentrated and adept dialogs. ... Click to View


Joe Morris / Chris Dadge / Jonathon Wilcke: Rural Optimism (Bug Incision Records)

During guitarist Joe Morris' stay as a visiting scholar at University of Calgary, Morris joined the Chris Dadge / Jonathon Wilkes duo, first on stage and then in the studio to record this first-rate album of collective improvisation, merging idiosyncratic percussive activity, abstract and lyrical sax declarations, and profound and pointillistic guitar work. ... Click to View


Bent Spoon Trio: Nine Year Itch (Bug Incision Records)

Formed in 2002 as a quartet, then in 2005 as the trio of Chris Dadge (percussion, trumpet, bass), David Laing (bass & trombone), and Scott Munro (sax, melodica, &c), then as the duo of Dadge & Monro in 2008; 2016 found the trio together again in Calgary for the closing of the Emmedia performance space, their entire set of unique collective improv captured for this CD. ... Click to View


Chris Dadge / Jonathon Wilcke: Three Live Pieces (Bug Incision Records)

With a 15 year history of collaboration, Bug Incision label leader Chris Dadge joins with fellow Calgary free improviser Jonathon Wilcke on saxophone for an album of live performances in their home city, two performances from Parlour and one at Local 510, showing strong rapport in their duo of uniquely unconventional percussion and lyrically quirky sax. ... Click to View


Obnox (Lamont Thomas): Templo del Sonido [RED VINYL] (Astral Spirits)

Ohio garage and free rock mainstay Lamont Thomas, AKA Obnox, was approached by Astral Spirits to make a free jazz record, the unexpected results sounding more like a rock record in a wild ride of noise, funk, electro, voice, and percussion, a savage album with the protest and pointed sensibilities of the early 60s; pressed on translucent red vinyl. ... Click to View


Signe Dahlgreen : Kunki Snuk [CASSETTE + DOWNLOAD] (Astral Spirits)

Solo improvisations on the heavy side from Swedish saxophonist Signe Lykkebo Dahlgreen (Yes Deer, Per-Ake Holmander, Anna Hogberg), using prodigious technique and a tenacious style she pushes the sax into odd harmonic territory balancing complex technical playing with raw energy and angst, a balance that keeps her listeners on the edge of their seats. ... Click to View


Paolo Sanna: Fluorite (Creative Sources)

Dedicating his album to Paul Burwell and Z'ev, Spanish percussionist Paolo Sanna demonstrates his many years of research in sound, silence, noise, experimentation, musical research and deconstruction through stand percussive devices and found objects, giving his playing a distinctive and personal palette which he plays with superb technique and timing. ... Click to View


Ernesto Rodrigues / Guilherme Rodrigues / Bruno Parrinha / Luis Lopes / Vasco Trilla: { Lithos } (Creative Sources)

Recording in the studio in Lisbon, Portugal, the free improvising lowercase/subtle momentum quintet of Ernesto Rodrigues on viola, Guilherme Rodrigues on cello, Bruno Parrinha on bass clarinet, Luis Lopes on electric guitar, and Vasco Trilla on percussion demonstrate intense control and remarkable concentration through the five parts of "{ Lithos }". ... Click to View


PCRV: Mobility [CASSETTE] (Banned Production)

Thick fuzzy sound with subliminal interventions and a subsumed squiggly lead line makes the first side of this cassette release from American sound artist Matt Taggart, AKA PCRV, balanced by a ringing work piece of ambient harmonics that creates a beautiful hypnotic tone texture that shifts slowly with illusional transitions. ... Click to View


Pregnant Spore: I Am in Love with My Own Sins [CASSETTE] (Banned Production)

Pregnant Sport is Justin Marc Lloyd, Chicago-based experimental noise artist who performs under a variety of monikers, here as Pregnant Spore in a rapid-paced album of rich and ruptured sound, unusual rhythmic sources, reverse phonetics, quickly changing pace and direction while maintaining an odd sense of cohesion; fascinating and perplexing. ... Click to View


Satoko Fujii / Joe Fonda: Mizu (Long Song Records)

With commanding instrumental skills and a growing history of collaboration, bassist Joe Fonda and pianist Satoko Fujii are heard again in two live concerts as part of their 2017 European tour, two duos from Belgium and one in Germany, the CD taking its title from the Japanese word for "water" as the two converse in powerfully emotional and technically breathtaking ways. ... Click to View


Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. I (The Embedded Sets) [2 CDs] (Pi Recordings)

With his earliest and most current performance history tied to the enduring Manhattan jazz club The Village Vanguard, alto saxophonist Steve Coleman records his Five Elements in a 2017 live show with Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Miles Okazaki on guitar, Anthony Tidd on bass, and Sean Rickman on drums for a fiery, exuberant and masterful concert of modern jazz. ... Click to View


Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse: Morphogenesis (Pi Recordings)

Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse brings together 9 musicians in a chamber jazz setting without a drum set--Jonathan Finlays(trumpet), Jen Shyu (vocals), Matt Mitchell (piano), Mara Grand (tenor sax), Rane Moore (clarinet), Kristin Lee (violin), Greg Chudzik (bass), and Neeraj Mehta (percussion)--performing 9 of Coleman's sophisticated original compositions. ... Click to View


Barker Trio: Avert Your I [CASSETTE + DOWNLOAD] (Astral Spirits)

After releasing drummer Andrew Barker's duo with Daniel Carter, "Polyhedron", Astral Spirits takes on Barker's trio album with sidemen Michael Foster on tenor & soprano sax, plus electronics, and Tim Dahl on bass, Barker also adding synth & electronics, for an album of ruggedly intense, propulsive playing with a probing inquisitiveness. ... Click to View


Charles Barabe : De la Fragilite [CASSETTE + DOWNLOAD] (Astral Spirits)

Victoriaville, Quebec electronic composer Charles Barbare creates abstract electroacoustic works, here in an impressive 6-movement work that covers a wide ground from minimalistic rhythmic sections to time-stretched voices and electronics to musique mystery, his inquisitive approach allowing his scores to unfold in decipherable, dramatic and coherent ways. ... Click to View


Hvizdalek / Nergaard / Tavil / Garner: Juxtaposition (Nakama Records)

Sonic sources of a wide variety of timbre, rhythm and tone, mixed with voice, feedback, even bird sounds, make up the strata of this intriguing album from Oslo Improvisers Agnes Hvizdalek (voice), Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard (electric bass, electronics, field recordings), Utku Tavil (snare drum, no input mixer, sampler), and Natali Abrahamsen Garner (voice, electronics). ... Click to View


Hvizdalek / Nergaard / Tavil / Garner: Juxtaposition [CASSETTE] (Nakama Records)

Sonic sources of a wide variety of timbre, rhythm and tone, mixed with voice, feedback, even bird sounds, make up the strata of this intriguing album from Oslo Improvisers Agnes Hvizdalek (voice), Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard (electric bass, electronics, field recordings), Utku Tavil (snare drum, no input mixer, sampler), and Natali Abrahamsen Garner (voice, electronics). ... Click to View


Goh Kwang Lee / Christian Meaas Svendsen: Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel (Nakama Records)

Three "nonsensical" musical conversations between Malaysian experimental musician and Herbal International label founder Goh Lee Kwang, and Norwegian bass player and Nakama label leader Christian Meeas Svendsen; a first encounter between two different mindsets, nationalities and generations, packaged with a pencil to let you draw your own cover. ... Click to View


Goh Kwang Lee / Christian Meaas Svendsen: Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel [VINYL] (Nakama Records)

Three "nonsensical" musical conversations between Malaysian experimental musician and Herbal International label founder Goh Lee Kwang, and Norwegian bass player and Nakama label leader Christian Meeas Svendsen; a first encounter between two different mindsets, nationalities and generations, packaged with a pencil to let you draw your own cover. ... Click to View


Hal Hutchinson: Factory Metal Sound [CASSETTE] (Banned Production)

British noise artist Hal Hutchinson (Der Bunker Records) in a record of apparent field recordings of metallic factory sounds, a machinist's daydream of rotating and subdued lathe sounds, each side of the cassette with a distinct timbre and recording ambiance as the mysterious sounds provide a cantankerously complex set of audio environments. ... Click to View


Mako Sica / Hamid Drake: Ronda [VINYL 2 LPs] (Feeding Tube Records)

The long-running Chicago free-rock trio Mako Sica currently comprised of Przemyslaw Drazek (trumpet & guitar), Brent Fuscaldo (guitar) and Chaetan Newell (drums & piano) are joined by free improvising legend Hamid Drake on drum kit, tablas and frame drum for a beautiful and rich album of genre merging, spiritually warm, primarily instrumental music, inclusive and persuasive. ... Click to View


Mako Sica / Hamid Drake: Ronda [CASSETTE + DOWNLOAD] (Astral Spirits)

The long-running Chicago free-rock trio Mako Sica currently comprised of Przemyslaw Drazek (trumpet & guitar), Brent Fuscaldo (guitar) and Chaetan Newell (drums & piano) are joined by free improvising legend Hamid Drake on drum kit, tablas and frame drum for a beautiful and rich album of genre merging, spiritually warm, primarily instrumental music, inclusive and persuasive. ... Click to View


Musaeum Clausum: Musaeum Clausum (Umlaut Records)

Musaeum Clausum is a French-German trio that features Louis Laurain on cornet (Die Hochstapler, Umlaut Big band, ONCEIM), Hannes Lingens on drums (Obliq, Konzert Minimal) and Sebastien Beliah on bass.(Un Poco Loco, Ensemble Hodos, Umlaut Big Band), in an album of patiently developing improvisation giving each player freedom and flexibility within a composed framework. ... Click to View


Sebastien Beliah : Nocturnes (Umlaut Records)

Sebastien Beliah is a Paris-based double bass player, a member of Umlaut Big Band, The Coquettes, Un poco loco, &c., here in a solo album of bass noir, dark and resonant tones evoked through strong bowing, finding harmonics between the strings and from the instrument itself, creating beautiful passages in a mirage of engulfing deep timbre. ... Click to View


Charles Noyes K. / Owen Maercks w/ Henry Kaiser / Greg Goodman: Free Mammals [VINYL] (Feeding Tube Records)

A great example of open-minded West Coast free improvisation around the late 70s from the quartet of Charles K. Noyes on percussion & saxophone, Owen Maercks on guitar, Henry Kaiser on guitar, and Greg Goodman on piano & percussion, side A from a live concert in Berkeley recorded by guitarist Henry Kaiser, side B from sutdio sessions in San Francisco. ... Click to View


Toshimaru Nakamura : Re-Verbed (No-Input Mixing Board 9) (Room40)

Tokyo-based electronics artist Toshimaru Nakamura's 9th album of No-Input Mixing Board music, elucidating sound from the mixing board without any audio sources, showing the amazing evolution of his approach as he turns this "empty" "instrument" into an amazing source of rhythmic and assertive sound that's both surprising and wonderfully musical. ... Click to View


Paul Flaherty / Chris Corsano: The Hated Music [VINYL 2 LPs] (Feeding Tube Records)

Gary Panter's artwork is updated and the format is vinyl this time for this welcome reissue of the 2000 Ecstatic Yod CD from the now long-running duo of tenor & alto saxophonist Paul Flaherty and drummer Chris Corsano, a superb free jazz album of great invention and seriously deep playing, from hard attacks to introspective musing, truly impressive! ... Click to View


Sidsel Endresen / Jan Bang: Hum (Confront)

Using sampler, dictaphone, and voice, the duo of Sidsel Endresen and Jan Bang improvise and interact to create unorthodox hybrids of fractured electronics and articulated word, as edgy and engaging as it is unusual, captured live at Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene, in Oslo, Norway in 2016, a great followup to Bang's "And Poppies From Kandahar" Samadhi album. ... Click to View


Don Cherry: Home Boy, Sister Out (WeWantSounds)

Trumpeter Don Cherry recorded this funk album in France in 1985 with a set of multi-ethnic Paris players including Elli Medeiros and produced by Ramuntcho Matta, the songs crossing funk with jazzy vamps, rock roots and modern approaches, reissued with new liner notes and 5 bonus tracks including the cult 1983 single "Kick" featuring legendary author Brion Gysin. ... Click to View


Don Cherry: Home Boy, Sister Out [VINYL 2 LPs] (WeWantSounds)

Trumpeter Don Cherry recorded this funk album in France in 1985 with a set of multi-ethnic Paris players including Elli Medeiros and produced by Ramuntcho Matta, the songs crossing funk with jazzy vamps, rock roots and modern approaches, reissued with new liner notes and 5 bonus tracks including the cult 1983 single "Kick" featuring legendary author Brion Gysin. ... Click to View


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  Great Minds at Play  

Finding Art in Science, Monthly at Cornelia Street Cafe


By Matt Rand 2003-06-24

A room full of people who have just held in their hands a meteorite that hit the earth in 1576 is a tough room to play. And so it was that a good portion of the audience at Cornelia Street Cafe's "Entertaining Science" night (this one was "Heavy Metals") had left by the time Elliott Sharp picked up his miniature steel guitar. They had stayed through Oliver Sacks' lecture on the weights and properties of various metals, complete with fun handouts such as the meteorite, and even through David Brush's detailed explanation of the manner in which he sculpts with gold and steel. Both had something very tangible in common, in that both discussed specific ways that specific metals acted in specific situations.

So when Sharp took off his hat and started to set up his instrument and effects, people might have thought that this would either be too gimmicky ("Look, I'm making noise from metals!") or too vague ("Here is an ode to metal, bittersweet metal.").

Among those who stayed, however, was the inventor of fractal geometry, Benoit Mandelbrot. He was in for a treat, as Sharp warmed up with a series of harmonics played against a droning open string. Then, suddenly, he was playing a weepy slide melody, but the harmonics, fed through a delay pedal, hadn't stopped.

With the looping, he was able to add layer upon layer of new sound, from sliding melodies to distorted riffs to ethereal harmonics. However he didn't use the loops to create a bottomless cacophony. He let the more distant sounds slip out the back door, so that the sound at any given moment was a fluid combination of only the last couple of things that he had done.

Maybe Sharp got Mandelbrot's attention with the pattern, zooming into a space, exploring it, picking a spot and zooming in some more. The implication was that the piece could have been infinite, rather than a structured musical form.

"Entertaining Science" began on a whim. Los Angeles Timesscience writer and UCLA teacher KC Cole had written a book on the concept of nothing (The Hole in the Universe: How Scientists Peered into the Edge of Emptiness and Found Everything) and she wanted to do a reading at the restaurant and performance space Cornelia Street Cafe in Manhattan's West Village. Robin Hirsch, co-owner and founder of the cafe and a long-time friend of Cole's, however, was concerned that the reading wouldn't draw enough of a crowd to make any money.

As Hirsch told the story: "So she said, 'Well, how about me and Roald Hoffmann?' and I said 'Who's he?' 'He's a poet and he's a nobel laureate in chemistry.' And I said, 'Well in all candor, nobody is going to come for him either.' 'Well, so how about me, Roald and Oliver Sacks?' And it was an incredible night."

There was a write-up in the New Yorker, pegged on Sacks' appearance (Sacks is an NYU neuroscientist with an interest in unusual psychological phenomena, and is the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, Awakenings and Uncle Tungsten, among other works). Anywhere between 150 and 300 people showed up, depending on whom you ask. Either way, it was more than the 85-person occupancy of the basement room where the event takes place. According to Sacks, "it was very much an experiment then, which rose almost by chance," but Hirsch and Hoffmann decided to make it a monthly event, with Hoffmann becoming the event's curator.

In January, 2002, the series began, individual nights usually centering around a theme, such as "Heavy Metals," "What's So Funny About Science?" and "Get Lost in Translation." With his vast network of friends and colleagues, Hoffmann manages to find three people per month to round out the program, though he sometimes uses fewer if a scientist can also sing, dance or otherwise entertain. No one gets paid, but there is a free dinner in it for the participants. "They sing for their supper," Hirsch said.

Sacks, who has attended almost every month, said it has been so successful because it's "informal, not like going to a lecture, and it's conversational, interactive. Roald has had some extraordinary and important people coming and there's a great hunger for contact with scientific ideas and artistic expression."

But the informality can also lead to difficulties in booking people used to academic settings. "Sometimes I have to twist the scientists' hands a little bit to get them to participate," Hoffman said. "There are a lot of great scientists who are just afraid of standing in front of a stage in a Cafe."

About a month after "Heavy Metals," the subject of the next "Entertaining Science" event was music itself, or "Music on the Brain." Neurobiologist Fredrik Ullen of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and psychologist and cognitive scientist Carol Krumhansl from Cornell spoke about the brain's perception of music. Krumhansl discussed the perception of musical key and how that relates to the idea of expectation (such as you expect the song "Happy Birthday" to resolve in the same key in which it started). Ullen, who is also a renowned pianist, discussed the organization of various parts of the brain involved in making the rhythmic movements involved in playing an instrument, and performed compositions by Gyorgy Ligeti and Frederic Chopin on the piano.

There was, though, a disconnect between Ullen's lecture and his performance. His style on the piano, even while playing Chopin, was sober and unromantic. He played crisp, clear notes that brought out the structure of Chopin's writing rather than getting lost in the emotion of the piece. Then, even if the audience was still caught in Chopin's lilting melodies or Ligeti's churning rhythms, Ullen was not. He had stood up from the piano and he was already speaking and giving a PowerPoint demonstration. He would sit back down at the piano again, but just as an interlude oras an example during Krumhansl's talk. His music was his music and his science was his science. That his science was built around music did not seem to feed anything back into the music-making.

This is the difference between the science of music and the music of science. From one side of the table, scientists like Ullen and Krumhansl, or Sacks with his studies of music as a blueprint for motion for Parkinson's patients, attempt to find out why existing music affects us like it does. On the other side, Sharp is intent on creating music that seizes on the patterns that science has detected in nature. His compositions often follow structures based on the discoveries of mathematicians such as Fibonacci and Mandelbrot.

In the early 1970s, Sharp was studying music at Bard College and living in a house on the Hudson River. "I spent a lot of time walking along the river," he said, "and we had a porch, and you would see literally thousands and thousands of butterflies. There were times they would form patterns and almost seem on the verge of spelling out things. That led me to thinking about all the rhythmic structures we were composing, structures that are open-ended. It was all right there, all the fractal shit, pine cones and branches, streams and currents. It inevitably found its way into my thinking and I did a Hudson River series of compositions. They were all instruction sets, basically conceptual pieces, it being the '70s, but with a mathematical subtext.

"Self-similarity, mapping from the micro to the macro, is something that became very much a part of my approaches to composition, where I'm creating structures that echo each other both on a micro and a macro level, in the shape of the phrase from a 2-bar or 5-bar level out to its full structure."

But this kind of structure isn't obvious to every listener, and to many a piece made up of such algorithms might sound like a whole bunch of noise. In response to a questionabout the people who left the Heavy Metals show before Sharp had the chance to play, he explained that "music is the most abstract of all of the arts, and people either like it or they don't. The thing about music is you can't shut your eyes. Even with earplugs you're going to feel the vibration in the room... People are able to take in dissonant visual images much more easily than they can dissonant audio."

Sharp might be understating the point that visual dissonance is easier to stomach than audio dissonance. Ken Jolls, an Iowa State thermodynamics professor, jazz vibraphone player and January, 2003 Entertaining Science performer (he played the vibraphone and talked about its physics), has found that visual images of thermodynamic models make the traditionally undergrad-torturing concepts of thermodynamics far easier to understand for most students.

"The beauty of Gibbsian thermodynamics with its precisely connected functional structure can be demonstrated through computer imaging.... Ideas that have long been hidden under layers of abstraction now emerge through their understandable, spatio-geometric analogs," he wrote in his paper "Visualization in Classical Thermodynamics".

As with the intricate and beautiful images of Mandelbrot's fractals, a visual representation can make a concept more accessible. But we don't, for some reason, process sound the same way.

And yet Sharp wants the abstractions in his music to sing for themselves. For him, the listener shouldn't need to be versed in science or mathematics, or to have a copy of the score or an explanatory statement, to recognize the abstract structures from the sound of a given piece of music.

"I'm hoping someone hearing this music will understand, like a piece like 'SyndaKit,' they'll hear the complexity in it, they'll wonder how it's generated, maybe they'll hear the order, maybe they'll hear the rules," he said. "And they'll go backwards from thesound of the music to the systems that went into it, thinking about birds flocking, thinking about the way RNA molecules combine, thinking about genetic mutation, thinking about African drum choirs, thinking about how nature creates an algorithmic structure."

It's an ambitious approach. And it has won him a fan in Hoffmann, who said, "what attracts me to Elliott is a combination of just plain good musicianship and then this interesting thing where he plays on real instruments but he also does this computer work, simulates real things. And there's a deep intellectual structure to the work. My general feeling is there's something smart and intuitive about music, and if both are there, that's where Sharp is."

While some audience members might not yet be ready to skip their dinner reservations for the audio abstractions, Hoffmann likes what Sharp's getting at. Sharp uses science as an input, but creates something outside of science. Some scientists might stop at the boundary, waving at the bald-headed, black-wearing musician from inside their classrooms, but Hoffmann's humanized science brings him outside and into the cafe.

Hirsch and Sacks each brought up C.P. Snow when discussing Hoffman. Snow is best known for his mid 20th century work The Two Cultures, in which he examined the gulf between literary and scientific academics at Cambridge. He was disheartened by the ways in which academic specialization could work against the open sharing of knowledge.

Sacks explained that "Roald once gave a talk of the 'One Culture', against the Snow idea of two cultures, that comes out of the similarity of the creative processes, and also from, in many instances, some focusing on the same subjects. For example, language can be studied by a linguist, by neurolinguistics but also by a poet."

Hoffman is a Renaissance Man. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981 for his explanation of the geometric behavior of molecules, and he has published four books of poetry. He spoke six languages by the time he was 12 years old, all while he was traveling across Europe, a Jewish refugee from the Nazis. Now his goal is to "humanize science," because, simply, he is a human and a scientist.



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