The Squid's Ear Magazine

Thollem: Obstacle Illusion (Astral Spirits)

Taken from concerts during Thollem's 3-month European tour, at Centro d'Arte dell'Università di Padova; AngelicA at Teatro San Leonardo in Bologna; and Rassegna di Nuova Musica 39, performing on acoustic pianos or a Korg Wavestate, showing his technically impressive, creative drive over a diverse set of approaches to solo piano improvisation.

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product information:

Label: Astral Spirits
Catalog ID: AS203CD
Squidco Product Code: 31502

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2022
Country: USA
Packaging: Cardboard Gatefold
Tracks 1 and 2 recorded at Centro d’Arte dell’Universitą di Padova at Teatro Torresino in Padua, Italy, on October 28th, 2021, by Jose Dicati.
Track 3 recorded at AngelicA | Centro di Ricerca Musicale at Teatro San Leonardo in Bologna, Italy, on November 8th, 2021, Gianluca Turrini.
Track 4 recorded at Associazione Nuova Musica | Rassegna di Nuova Musica 39 at the Scuola Civica di Musica "Stefano Scodanibbio", in Macerata, Italy, on November 18th, 2021, by Andrea Lambertucci.


Thollem McDonas-piano

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Descriptions, Reviews, &c.

"Obstacle Illusion is born out of my love for a wide array of musics that I've experienced and studied over the years. The album includes edited live concert recordings from my 3-month European tour at the end of 2021 (Centro d'Arte in Padova, AngelicA Festival in Bologna and the Rassegna di Nuova Musica in Macerata). The first and fourth tracks are solo acoustic piano. The second and third tracks are solely with the Korg Wavestate: all live, no overdubs. This music is the result of a collaboration between myself and the engineers who developed these instruments as well as the halls, the audiences and the dynamics of the world at large. The music is genre-bending, code- switching, omni-idiomatic, internationalist, intersectional and intentional. It represents the culmination of my life's experiences as a musician and a human being in dialogue with the universe.

Deep gratitude to these historical presenting organizations: Centro d'Arte Padova, AngelicA Festival and the Associazione Nuova Musica. These are institutions that have been presenting musicians for decades, supporting and introducing new and vital works to their communities and the world."-Thollem McDonas

"Its simple intricacies wipe the ashen windshield
Feeling its sound intensely close with chirping resonance and soft clattering cats-tails Seeds blowing and quickly tumbling over the damp terrain
When peeking through the clouds, the eye grows
And trees like giant lashes, lashes out into the sun-drunk evening sky
Transported to the salon of dreams where the sound of pianos from a thousand hands Clear the moon's gravitas and plunks playfully through the streets of another city's wound
Sinking its broken tapestry claws into new and exciting forms
The resonance is in movement and time
The clarity speaks with a sharp tongue and warm hands
The heart seeps metallic and wanders straight to the meadow of love and kindness Modal synchronies chromatic asymmetries spread roots through wet terrain and things grow
It all grows and grows as bark strips itself from the tree with the prodding of singing rain Bowling its way through the foliage and turquoise petrified forest
Biting itself and eating naturally the fungus from below and shooting up high
Tender bits of golden leaves drifting upward and spiraling haphazard until the sky takes it into its mouth
Using its tongue as a weapon for resounding sound meditations
Splattering the artificial grass with shards of mercury tears and bleeding hands Wounded from too much sun and too much cold
But resilient like the earth, devouring everything
Growing and growing towards an unknowable scarred reality that bursts with every breath
Every ounce of feeling
Peeled and glowing these giant orbs
Projecting their way into other dimensions
While firmly in their own
The pounding of salt and the crackling of burnt rice
Sticking to the palms of the hand and rising and hammering these forms, these shapes, Into glorious resonant beings
Where the plums of Queens and Kings taste sweet
Until that social change renders their bombast sour in new cycles of flowing blood Respondent to itself and the stoppages they procure
Fluctuating in its remittent clots
Clinking ever so lightly on the windowsills of tomorrow's dreams
The hand of hands
The double and triple hands of these hands
Massage the rigor and let it flow
Let rigor loosen its grip on this hypercreativity
The same of something different
The difference protrudes through the heavens
The difference defines the space around the frequencies
The difference is always there, it's never the same
It can't be
The constant tapping of what is truly inside
Finding its way through the webs of endless possibilities Swarming itself, eating itself, growing its own food
Its own self-reliant self
Selflessly expounding this brilliant sound
That could only come from these hands
This heart
This exhausted inexhaustible being
Sound the organ of new life
Trill the notes into another shape
Carry the electric storm in your pocket and let it loose when it's time
Let your pockets grow into enormous sails
Take to the sea
Watch the coast fade and touch your lips to the salt water
Wash your hands in this water and look at yourself in the reflection pool
Swim with the dolphins
Sing with the flying fish
The storm comes quickly and the ripping blasts from the sky
Whip your face and destroy nothing
The pain transforms into a kind of ecstasy
This beauty reverberates itself into another shape
This shape turns itself to you and speaks of nothing in particular
Until the fog that has now drifted so close begins to clarify
And these communications that were once impossible and not particular Become particular. Become the very thing it is made from
Condensation and salt and the weather and the wonderfulness of not knowing Skipping gently across the clear sheets of barely moving water
a tremendously long snake
Caressing the water into a long canal of cryptic whispering trace
We see so clearly how there can be no clarity there can be no rigor
Without the heart creating and gently thumping
In the crevices of time
Bursting its own knowledge
Into something miraculous"-Rob Mazurek December 9, 2021.
words constructed in response to the music

Artist Biographies

"Thollem is a pianist, keyboardist, organist, composer, improviser, singer-songwriter, activist, author and teacher. He's spent his life skirting and erasing the edges of boundaries musically, culturally, geographically. His work is ever changing, evolving and responding to the times and his experiences, both as a soloist and in collaboration with hundreds of artists across idioms and disciplines. Though Thollem's widely known as an acoustic piano player, he's also the lead vocalist for the Italian agit-punk band Tsigoti and has recently branched out significantly into the world of electronics through a multitude of projects.

Thollem was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, studying the standard classical piano repertoire, composing and improvising since he was a young child and absorbing the myriad of sounds of his culturally diverse upbringing. After dedicating his 20s and 30s to grassroots political activism, he's refocused his attention these last 15 years on a breadth of musics that incorporate his myriad experiences and curiosities. In this last decade alone, he has played well over 1,000 concerts throughout N. America and Europe as a soloist and in collaboration with hundreds of musicians, dancers, and filmmakers. As leader or co-leader, he has released over 50 albums in that span on 22 different vanguard labels to international critical acclaim. "Thollem is an astounding pianist who understands the huge scope of the instrument" (Terry Riley) and who continues to delve into the furthest reaches and sub-genres of Post-Classical, Free Jazz, Noise, Punk, dance and film. A brief cross section of his many recent collaborators include William Parker, Pauline Oliveros, Stefano Scodanibbio, Nels Cline, Mike Watt, Rob Mazurek, Martha Colburn and ACVilla. He is the founding director of Estamos Ensemble, a Mexican-American cross border ensemble for musical exchange as well as the lead singer of the Italian agit-punk band Tsigoti. Presently Thollem is developing an audio/visual experience about America through an 8 month, 48 state odyssey with his partner the videographer ACVilla. He's also a published author about art, politics and his travels in The Anthology of Essays On Deep Listening, Full Moon Magazine (Prague) and First American Art Magazine."

-Thollem McDonas Website (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

Track Listing:

1. Assorted Selves 18:38

2. I Put My Shadow On The Wall 18:38

3. Cruising The Mystic Whole 18:45

4. TheWayToTheWayToTheWay 18:13

Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
Piano & Keyboards
Solo Artist Recordings
West Coast/Pacific US Jazz
New in Improvised Music
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