Unfamiliar Listening: A Brief Introduction to Experimental Field Recordings

For many, the term “field recording” evokes the greatest hits of natural sounds: ocean waves, rain, and birdsong. Indeed, one of the earliest field recordings dates to 1889, when an eight-year-old Ludwig Koch wax-cylindered the song of a white-rumped shama. In more recent history, anyone of reading age in the heyday of National Geographic may remember Roger Payne’s Songs of the Humpback Whale, inserted as a flexi disc in a collectible 1979 issue. Ten million copies of it were printed—more than any album ever produced in a single run. Payne’s classic and others like it endure for their scientific value, serving as springboards for studies of language and the potential for interspecies communication. They also spawned a robust environmental movement at a time when modernity was threatening to divorce humanity from nature. By the same token, microphones can get too close to their subjects, as in Hans Lichtenecker’s “archive of endangered races,” which documented descendants of the very peoples his comrades slaughtered in German Southwest Africa (what is now Namibia). Even the most benign anthropological motivations have fallen under retrospective scrutiny.

I will not be reviewing such projects here. Instead, I wish to examine—and, I hope, bring fresh ears to—a visceral stream of experimental field recordings. While tracing the origins of such an amorphous category can be difficult, an indisputable pioneer is Jeph Jerman, whose seminal work tops the list below. Kindred visionaries in this sphere of influence include Francisco López, Alan Lamb, and John Tulchin. I highlight their endeavors, subjective as my favorites among them are, in the interest of expanding their embrace of sameness through difference.

These recordings constitute a form of sonic travel to worlds at once internal and distant. Some are spliced and collaged within compositional frameworks in tandem with electronic and acoustic instruments, others manipulated beyond recognition, and still others presented as they are—but always with an aesthetic in mind, even if that aesthetic is simply to let sounds “happen.” Their significance cannot be overstated—not because they represent an overarching artistic ethos but precisely because they shun that motivation in favor of genuinely borderless spaces. It’s not often we can listen to a corpus of sounds without transfusing the blood of our politics and ideologies into it. Here, we can. Such comfort means more than ever in a world on its knees, wondering whether the healing will begin.

Jeph Jerman: Early Recordings ’81-’85

Also known by the moniker Hands To, Jeph Jerman first set out with his cheap cassette deck in the 1980s to document the act of listening while questioning its practices and apparatuses. What continues to fascinate about his recordings is how raw and curated they feel. And while some of his most unadulterated work (e.g., Beach Tree and Birds, 2001, A Pyrrhic Victory) is woefully difficult to track down, this compilation of early recordings is a grounded place to start. Lo-fi swaths of mostly industrial settings (e.g., “Metal Fabricating Shop, Colorado Springs”) reveal an unimaginable depth in the mundane.

Alan Lamb: Archival Recordings: Primal Image/Beauty

In 1976, Australian biomedical research scientist Alan Lamb first discovered the abandoned stretch of telephone wires that would define his artistic endeavors to come. Dubbed the Faraway Wind Organ, this massive vibrating skeleton loosed eerie songs at the touch of an air current, echoing since his childhood into a mature desire to record them. That he did, often for hours at a time, assembling choice passages into this otherworldly diptych. Whether whispering the mantras of uninhabited terrain or choiring like a Glenn Branca symphony, these requiems step out of time and ooze their way into the bloodstream.

Maggi Payne: Ping/Pong: Beyond The Pail

Maggi Payne is a venerated composer and multimedia artist whose output has largely focused on electro-acoustic constructions. Her field recordings of “dry ice, space transmissions, BART trains, and poor plumbing” congregated to astounding effect on 2010’s Arctic Winds, but 2003’s Ping/Pong: Beyond The Pail preserved another level of intimacy. Its two 30-minute tracks, recorded in a galvanized steel pail, offer complementary experiences of rainfall through the intermediary of the album’s eponymous vessel. The first catches the rain openly, while the second inverts the pail for a drum-like effect, sealing us in a metallic chamber without excuse for distraction.

John Tulchin: Location Recordings

This collection’s first track, “Fire Alarm From A Distance (Winter Park, FL.),” is indicative of John Tulchin’s questing spirit. It’s also one of the most haunting field recordings in readily available form and an entry into an album unlike any other. The pragmatic titles—“Metal Structure In The Desert (Dead Horse Ranch, AZ.),” “Log Partially Submerged In Water (Seattle, WA.),” etc.— only deepen the possibilities of interpreting them. Somehow, knowing what we are hearing makes it clear how much we miss. Thankfully, we have Tulchin to fill in those gaps with heartfelt portraits of time incarnate.

Quiet American: Plumbing And Irrigation Of South Asia

Quiet American, an homage to the novel by Graham Greene, is the sound manipulation project of San Francisco Bay Area artist Aaron Ximm. Plumbing And Irrigation Of South Asia is at once exactly what it sounds like and something else entirely. Nominally, it is a vast collection of field recordings of various community fixtures, such as a drainage pipe in Madikeri (India), a water pump in Khulna (Bangladesh), and a toilet in Kathmandu (Nepal). Other locations include Vietnam, Burma, Laos, and China. Beyond that, it is an unassuming travelogue filtered through the mesh of a respectful phonographic memory.

Jgrzinich: Insular Regions

John Grzinich is a sculptor combining found sounds and instruments of his own design. For this 2005 release, he gathered personal impressions of Mooste, a rural Estonian village. Insular Regions is among the more tactile albums in this guide’s category of interest. Its resonant intersections of wood, wind, and wire feel like a portal into another dimension. And yet, we are constantly reminded of their fleshly purview, which Grzinich sees no reason to hide. What we hear is what we get, even when we know it has been transformed through technology, because every electrical circuit runs on our conductivity.

Loren Chasse: Synthesis of Neglected Places

Loren Chasse is a humble public school teacher in San Francisco who seems never to have lost that childlike wonder for the world around him. Synthesis of Neglected Places was originally produced as a cassette in 1998 by the Unique Ancient Tavern label. Over the course of eight parts, it lives out every moment in the full knowledge that the act of recording will change its genetic makeup. As Chasse’s most crepuscular album, it speaks in tongues of light and shadow in equal measure, drawing out tasteful keyboard touches as if from within.

Loren Chasse: The Air In The Sand

Loren Chasse leaves behind precious recollections of experiences you never knew you had. That such dreamlike qualities are elicited from unabashed reality sets his work apart. The Air In The Sand shares the spirit of 2002’s Hedge of Nerves, which meshed the crackle of vinyl with sounds of the elements, expanding that aesthetic to welcome wider-reaching absorptions. By revealing the natural in the artificial and vice versa, he pays deference to the molecules common to all matter, guiding them in chorus even as they lead him in kind to voices hibernating until they can be amplified.

Click on the sub-cover titles below to see my reviews of other vital albums in this loosely allied genre.

Francisco López: Addy En El País De Las Frutas Y Los Chunches

Eric La Casa: The Stones Of The Threshold

Collin Olan: Rec01

David Dunn: The Sound of Light in the Trees

Lionel Marchetti: Portrait d’un glacier

John Hudak: Pond

Koura: Shisō

MNortham: Molt And Anecdote

Seth Nehil: Uva

Murmer: Eyes Like A Fish

Jonathan Coleclough/Murmer: Husk

Jgrzinich/Seth Nehil: Confluence

Patricia Wolf: I’ll Look For You In Others

“What is grief? Can only the sun name its layers?” So writes Edie Meidav in her lyric novel, Another Love Discourse. What the author soliloquizes through words on a page, Portland, Oregon-based electronic musician Patricia Wolf actualizes through synthesizers, algorithms, and the emotional transistor of her own throat and lungs. Written and recorded in 2020 following the loss of her mother-in-law and a close friend, I’ll Look For You In Others treats the interface of flesh and technology as a force to birth something meaningful in the wake of deaths that may feel meaningless.

These messages activate every molecule of “Distant Memory,” which in its first breaths betrays the oxymoron of its title: No matter how distant a memory may seem, it is always nearer to us than any external trigger. Memories are as much a part of us as the oxygen and neurons that complicate them, and I cannot walk through this music without feeling accompanied by the echo of a past self who knew no better than to live as if mortality were a tragic lie. Every swell, pulled from the corona of active denial, finds its way into acceptance. And yet, “The Culmination Of” reminds me of the darker times when solitude cultivates necessary mourning beyond the prying eyes of those who care a little too much. Here, as in the title track and “Severed,” the human voice sheds its communicative uniform in favor of raw expression.

It’s a stark reminder that even if we haven’t lost someone directly over the past three years, the pandemic has turned us all into targets of its burning arrows. In the eyes of a virus, there is no parsing of memories into categories to be filed until we are ready to reckon them. Rather, it destroys what it can, mutating when it can’t, and scars the skins of souls. Such is the tenor of “Funeral,” in which an organ bleeds across the floor of a chambered heart, even as the light of dawn cracks a smile through tear-stained windows. And though we are left to wander with only pieces to show for our future, “Recombination” is possible with that near-magical glue of cohesion: time.

In the same way that the absence of bodies magnifies the presence of spirits, “Lay to Rest” throws a handful of slow-motion dust onto the coffin in emphasis of the bereaved funneling its descent. And while “Letting Go” promises closure, it may just be another link in the chain that binds the living and the dead. If anything, loss is an opportunity, and an opportunity is a portal of transformation. We cannot go through Wolf’s journey without being changed, knowing that loss has sewn its threads through all of us.

To quote Meidav again: “On the wheel of feelings, is wonder the true antonym of grief?” If so, this album is a wonder of healing at a time when the world itself has been reduced to an ailing organism in more ways than one. Let it hold you close, never letting go until your cheeks are dry.

I’ll Look For You In Others is available on bandcamp here.

Search Ensembles: Prescient/Legend


With Prescient/Legend, producer and sound artist Dale Lloyd deepens his Search Ensembles project excavation after breaking ground with its 2015 self-titled debut on Lloyd’s and/OAR label. Although released 2019 on the either/OAR sibling imprint, this follow-up was culled from recordings made between 1986 and 2018 by a range of field recordists and instrumental artists, including Alan Courtis, Cedric Peyronnet, Cyril Herry, Eric Lanzillotta, Jani Hirvonen, Jon Tulchin, Mark Reynolds, Michael Northam, Mike Hallenbeck, Phil Legard, and Slavek Kwi. Lloyd sifted through their previously unreleased archives, forging timeless relationships in reassembly, while also inviting new material to be added through a variety of instruments.

“Search Ensembles started as an archaeological dig in the audio sense,” says Lloyd of the project. “I’d always wanted to do a project that revisited this planet’s history, but in a sense beyond anything we’ve learned in our school textbooks. It’s similar to something I started in early 90s called Lucid, for which we intentionally ‘weathered’ or ‘aged’ the recordings to give them an older aesthetic. That’s one of the motivating factors for digging into past recordings with so-called less-than-perfect sound quality. It felt compatible at all levels.”

Search Ensembles renders each of its sources, both organic and manufactured, as instruments in a compositional array. The result is a catalyst for elemental reactions. As far as choosing material that felt appropriate, Lloyd notes that coincidences of opportunity played an important role in shaping what emerged. “It was partially a happenstance thing. Some of the material, for instance, was gradual—things I had heard over time and which felt both appropriate and available.” Beyond that, he points to a relatively new interest in library production music as a tangible influence. Such recordings are forgotten time capsules, and hold in their nostrils the fragrances of ancient civilizations. In that sense, what we have here is nothing short of a patient awakening of buried melodies and textures after millennial slumber. In keeping with the metaphor—indeed, treating it as more than such—the album lays out artifacts still clinging to dust. Each is a village unto itself, spoken in the language of a place that no longer exists.

What follows is this listener’s own field notes, taken while surveying the album’s discoveries and calibrated by ears undeterred by temptation of silence…

As natural causes bubble to surface of perception, each works symbiotically with the other in a conversation so internal that it slips through the other side into an external manifesto. Tones at once distant yet so ingrained in the skin that you cannot help but be wounded by them coil around one another, searching for ideas as if they were physical traces left by immaterial souls.

Heartbeats and hints of thunder are kindred spirits. Their children are our ancestors, whose messages make paper of our brain tissue when we dream. Worthy only of being imbibed like plants crushed in stone and brewed into a tea of knowledge, they grow for the purpose of being snipped at the source. The crickets nestling around them are not messengers of the night, but remnants of the day speaking in tongues of sunrise.

Birds flock behind closed eyes, touching the liminal covering of reality with their wingtips but always returning to the percussion of flesh, metal, and bone.

A perpetual shushing of impulses by mothers whose evening chorus filters out the purest components of twilight. Voices are implied by the horizon’s arching back, flush with starlight as a lotus to pond’s surface. What was once implied becomes doctrinal, yearning to bring distances together: a Big Bang in reverse to the first pinprick of creation.

That same calling echoes here as dotted lines surround areas of conquering. Like frightened children wielding chalk on a blacktop, they reveal themselves in a tentative cartography, as predictive as it is unknowable.

The insects arrive with songs in their thoraxes, hidden until the final sting ejects their souls into death. They wander as if to wonder, hoping for the sky to fill in their broken choices with the possibility of a new hive, only to watch it die with roll of a farm machine intent only on destruction.

Splashes of water eject molecules of death, giving way to imaginary towers whose resonant chambers are the beginnings of life.

The printing press of the night leaves its mantras visible in the sky above, while the ground below thrives with pre-cultivation memories. A synthesizer is aurora to the flute’s borealis, reaching in for warmth and finding a talisman that is cool to the touch.

Static made biological: a song of conception, fertile in its detail. In the background: the cry of a mother yet to be born.

Overtones are undercurrents of faith, each dripping with reason until only truth is left in its evaporated wake.

Throughout this album, things hidden in the recesses of our collective past are being reckoned with sonically. More than that, they are turned in the hands until their sharpest points become rounded. A roof over solace, a library of parthenogenetic design whose shelves are as layered as the rock from which they were unearthed. “We’re documenting cultural activity,” Lloyd observes, “something that hasn’t been documented in any other way or is far less known to us.” More than unknown, I would venture to say that what we stumble upon here is a culture that does not exist except by the grace of those fortunate enough to give it three dimensions in the listening.

(For ordering information and to hear a sample, click here.)

Eggersman/Borger/Eick: Unifony


“Unifony” is a word invented to describe the audible tesseract forged by producer Minco Eggersman, engineer Theodoor Borger, and trumpeter Mathias Eick. Watering electroacoustic seeds, and from those nurturing an incidental crop, they drift between graspable melodies, ambient sound designs, and cinematic embryos. Indeed, each of their debut album’s 12 tracks is a film for which only the inner ear can serve as projector screen.

If asked to assign an overall shape to this project, one would be hard-pressed to come up with anything better than a sphere. Such is the coherence and three-dimensionality one encounters. From the first blush of “Glow,” we find each vibrational frequency churning within the confines of its own dreams as the only way of transcending them. Eick’s tone is wrapped in a human touch as only a singer’s might be, and by its gentle force of suggestion indicates the forward motion of seeking and finding something we didn’t even realize we were looking for. Here, as throughout, rhythms are never applied from without but instead emerge from within, each an unpredictable treasure, sacred and wrapped in shadow.

That same feeling of travel persists throughout “Found” and “Ghostly,” wherein narrative impulses of what’s discoverable through the body trade molecules with the spatial evocations of “Drive” and “Rock” as if the only promise worth keeping is that made by a receding horizon. “Ascend” balances the horizontal axis with a vertical one, threading an arpeggio of plucked strings through a braid of trumpet, piano, and circulations of the heart.

Yet nowhere do we understand the nature of things so clearly as in “Blur.” As individual as every soul that inhales it, this music renders space like an open-ended video game, charting maps in real time through ghost towns and ruins of lost civilizations in search of places where voices might still reside.

In that sense, Unifony is all about kindship—not only between the musicians and producers whose lives have intersected in these achingly beautiful nebulae, but also between listeners thousands of miles away, so that the mere push of a virtual PLAY button is all it takes to breathe the same air. As the name of the final track—“Tangible”—suggests, we are left with something transportable, a relic from the future through which we are given a choice: to continue wallowing in self-absorption or shed our egos in search of timeless unity. Let us all opt for the latter.

Unifony is available for purchase on Bandcamp here.

The Rest is Only Sky: Bill Laswell and Laraaji in Concert

Bill Laswell and Laraaji, with Ka Baird
Ambient Church
Bushwick United Methodist
Brooklyn, NY
December 16, 2017

The space is an introduction: the moment you walk into it, you’ve turned the first page. Walls and ceiling comprise the shell of a body memorialized by the reverberations of its weekly visitations: a “church,” you might call it, but whose actual name lies buried in the speech of those who’ve forgotten it. Headlights peer through stained glass and into the hearts of everyone who has come to listen. This place, you realize, has chosen you as its resurrection vessel, a memory stepping out of the haze as an itinerant preacher whose only scripture disintegrated long ago as padding for worn-out shoes.


Looking above and behind, you notice a beam of light: a “projector,” you might call it, but whose actual name floats preserved in minds of the technically inclined. The light stretches forth its arm, seeking a surface as a mudra would its vibrational link, until the skin of musician Ka Baird opens millions of tiny wings.


Her activations, privately ordained yet congregationally shared, uncover your ears with all the wakefulness of a sunrise recounted after sunset. By means of an instrumentarium that in any other context would pay secular homage at best to its origins, Baird unpacks her motifs at the molecular level. Threading prismatic arias through a chittering forest, looping her flute in recurring dreams of possession all the while, she refracts the self until it exhales a world apart. With each sustain, a thought reaches its climax, while echoes of a new beginning carve hieroglyphics of courage across your forehead. She fills her mouth with galactic marbles, shooting each into an unwritten future.


Between dimensions, chains of conversation re-link themselves. Still, you stand alone, drinking in all those breaths as if they were a sutra exploded. The ceiling opens its eyes as a wall socket cannot close them and holds those depths close, a blanket against the cold.


The effect is such that by the time Bill Laswell and Laraaji draw their own curtain through the room, you’ve already turned inside out. What were once your ears are now your optical nerves, and vice versa. Amid a landscape of water and choral winds, Laraaji’s amplified zither is his field. Be it struck, bowed, plucked, hammered, brushed, or strummed, its language compounds the allure of burning magnesium, minus the threat of blindness. Each of its strings feels attached to something unseen. His mbira likewise treads with care, a clock’s dream made real.


Laswell’s bass is his talisman, a slab of wood and wire plucked from its heavy metal roots and transfused with a tambura’s drone-blood. His lines emerge, organic as they are brief, from the gift of spontaneous generation. Their patterns begin to match your own, following rhythms that tremble far below the floorboards. Without a map to follow, that which is written migrates into territories of the spoken, so that only poetry seems able to convey the prosaic spectrum of experience.


Whether singing or laughing, their voices are shimmering shadows. Like the incense wafting about the pews, their dimensions stretch the nostrils of your soul into canvases, across which to plot every fragrant constellation in a blush of indigo promise. All of which points to one truth: the groove is Earth, the rest is only sky.


Matt Borghi & Michael Teager: Illuminating through Shadow

While feeding your eyes, why not feed your ears:

Guitarist Matt Borghi and saxophonist Michael Teager turn gasses into solids. Their process, however, goes beyond chemistry and physics, drawing as they do from a less definable well that some might call inspiration, others spirit, and still others ether. Separately, they have broadened their cartographies across continents. As a duo, they form their own by tender volcanism.

I spoke via e-mail with the musicians, both of whom were grateful in sharing their time and wisdom to illuminate the drift they have manifested. When I asked them to describe their relationship, Borghi likened it to a “combined meditation,” by which two become one through their non-traditional overlap. Teager, for his part, sees what they’re doing as a “contemplative improvised music,” forged not through a simple meeting of instruments but a more rhizomatic, orchestral sensibility.

While on paper their credits imply rock or jazz lineages, with respect to their instruments Borghi and Teager rest in a world apart. Despite a self-professed love/hate relationship with the guitar, Borghi manages to distill magic from its strings through an array of digital effects, but also, more importantly, an unrestricted approach. “That’s why I like improvisation so much,” he says. “It’s a constant exploration. Sometimes you find gold, sometimes you don’t, but each time you start there’s the possibility of hitting something that’s musically profound.” Teager, having more experience as an improviser, has overcome the challenge of owning his reeds, saying, “As a saxophonist in a stylistic continuum, I’m on my own island when it comes to our music. The name I get most often is Jan Garbarek, and while I do like Garbarek’s playing (particularly with Keith Jarrett), I don’t have a deep knowledge of his catalogue. (He’s my ECM blind spot, partially intentionally.) I try not to listen to other ‘ambient’ saxophonists too much. There are so few of us, and the last thing I want is to subconsciously encroach on another’s territory.”

If anything may be compared, it’s Teager’s likeminded patience for notecraft. To be sure, he has found a beautiful comfort in Borghi’s elastic netting, one in which he more often reacts than dictates in a real-time space that privileges atmospheric over egotistic expression. It’s a dynamic evinced in the 2013 album Convocation. Though an unscripted narrative, it develops from the title reverie to a slow-motion ballad (“Discern Descent”) with inchoate coherence. “Nebula Divide,” on the other hand, operates on a more cosmic scale, changing from monochrome to color and back again along an epic flight path. Such titles, among them also “Constant Apex,” help visualize the music’s ethos in all its asymptotic blush.


For me, the most evocative drop takes shape in “Precipice.” Borghi wrenches an organic pulse from his guitar, like a light signaling a lone wayfarer from far off, while Teager echoes its promise of shelter in a darkening sky. I can’t help, if from the title alone, be reminded of a performance I once experienced of Japanese butoh dancer Min Tanaka, who barely moved a few inches from a wall over the course of an hour, as if standing on a cliff in contemplation of suicide. Though not so morbid, here the feeling is one of suspension, embraced by the grandeur of creation.

If my association suggests anything, it’s that these sounds welcome any interpretations listeners might bring to the table. The same is reflected in the artists of influence lurking in the background. Just as Borghi cites Claude Debussy, Pink Floyd, and Harold Budd as vital touchpoints in his growth, Teager’s range from Dave Liebman and Charles Lloyd to Richard Wagner and Smashing Pumpkins. And while you may not necessarily detect any of these on the surface, an emotional affinity lances them all.

So it is with 2014’s Shades of Bending Light, wherein mixtures born of experimentation yield integral new structures. “Joyce’s Fanfare” begins at dawn, flowing with the tide between binary chords, while Teager builds his wingspan one feather at a time. A similar approach—spreading the seeds and listening to them grow—blossoms through all that follows.

Shades of Bending Light

Whether in the desolation of “Daisy Chain” or the rhythmic fantasy of “Weird Minor,” or even the farewell energy of “Blue Sky Fades,” an environmental residue stays behind to remind us of what transpired. The album is, further, an enmeshment of contradictions. Teager lights up layers of gray and mist in “Watch Over” with virtuosic runs, even as Borghi tempers his searching with diffuse endpoints. And in “Nightdrive,” which feels like an orphaned folktale hitchhiking along a runway of solitude, one may feel a bodily connection taking place. Even the album’s title track, which despite being its longest feels like its most ephemeral, is as intimate as it is boundless.

The merging of these polar forces hints at their ultimate unity, as made even clearer in 2014’s Awaken the Electric Air. Played as a late-night (4-5am) radio broadcast for WXPN in Philadelphia, it references some Convocation material with lucidity and openness of heart. Ever the transient traveler, Teager’s saxophone pulls the very horizon like a blanket before slumber, his modal sopranism in “Bed of Ash / Coda” being especially moving.

Awaken the Electric Air

The album’s live setting gives the now-familiar motif of “Nebula Divide” (paired with “Somnolence”) and, like the title track, feels sacred by sheer virtue of audibility. Lit by heightened awareness, the paths before listeners remain visible even when the final torch is extinguished, as its smoke continues to guide us by the wrists into dimensions beyond.

Barton Rage & Bill Laswell: Realm 1

Realm I

For this first installment of the “Realm” series of concept albums on the M.O.D. Technologies label, wherein artists are free walk their own paths even when those paths crumble from beneath their feet, Bill Laswell and Barton Rage combine heat sources to forge an ambient talisman that is sure to haunt you with its protections.

Hints of orchestras and long-playing melodies, each the ancestor of a solitary listener, learns the art of flotation right before us. Gloomy, perhaps, but only because darkness is sensed by the ears as light by the eyes. For in the darkness there is a sound which wilts at misinterpretation and blossoms when taken on its own terms. Barest hints of drumming flicker in and out of frame, while lower lines take shape as pure sonic reckoning, their compasses burrowing into skin unaware of their own mapping. A meditation made reality. This is “Mater.”

Clicking of cymbal and drum, an echo chamber that knows not the wrath of an open gate. Rather, it peers into the heart of things. The duo’s to-the-marrow methodology braids time signatures so tightly that the sun no longer reflects off them. A flash of song. An electronic insect attracted to pheromones emitted by throat and wrists. Laswell’s bass cannot help but lumber through the landscapes of its upbringing with sketchbook in hand. The confluence of machinery and sinews is the decoration, not the anchor, of this evolving tree, around which leaves dance in the wind like a child waiting for an embrace. This is “Waters of Mirage.”

Globular, uncertain arcs bow before a sacred dub altar, on which has been left offerings of star-bound digitalia. The signal is incomplete, its transmitter having broken eons ago in a moment of distress during some mission no one remembers. Synthesized trumpet breaths channel a chasm of death into automatic life, drinking in the scent of fortune to get away from the smoke. A pause before drum ‘n’ bass snakes shed their skins. A groovier test of faith through dance music for isolationists. This is “Triad Seer.”

A watery expanse larger than any ocean on Earth. A smooth undertow, amphibian and pliant. Funkier textures unfold wings of air, ephemeral yet alive. This is “Seraphim.”

A freer space ensues, prowling caves for want of ore. Weightless spaces intertwine with heavier drops of thought. This is “Beyond the Abyss.”

A melodic fractal, in the mode of guitarist Jeff Pearce, though with a murkier pulse. The finality here is heavy with cinema. This is “Nama.”

I haven’t been moved in this particular way since Mick Harris’s Somnific Flux, a 1995 collaboration with Laswell on Subharmonic. Such nostalgic threads also pull me back to Cypher 7’s Decoder (released the year before on Strata), bringing together past and future in a single, protracted blink. Let’s have more of this.

Alexander Berne & The Abandoned Orchestra: Flickers of Mime / Death of Memes

outside cover.indd

Alexander Berne is a world unto himself. Although this double album nominally features him and “The Abandoned Orchestra,” the latter is no more—and no less—than an expansion of self through the art of multi-tracking. Emoting through a variety of wind instruments, piano, percussion, and electronic treatments, he crafts brooding soundscapes for the discerning ambient listener. But don’t let the word “ambient” fool you. This is music that burrows with its own bronze sheen into the darkest corners of the soul and by that light inscribes reams of verses from makeshift biological desks.

Flickers of Mime is in eleven parts and is one of Berne’s most focused atmospheres yet. There is a magical consistency at work in the near-continual drone of Flickers I through IV, bleeding through psychological lattice with the persistence of solitude. Flicker V, however, transgresses a different skin altogether with its persistent, swirling luminescence. And yet, it doesn’t mark a turning point so much as a turning, period—a metamorphosis, if you will, of the self into an alternate signature. Overtly classical inflections speak not of earthly art but of an intergalactic pigment, whereby the unknown becomes the only frame of reference. By Flicker VIII we are caught in the machinery of linearly bound time. The electro-acoustic blend of crunchy break beats and organic breath forge enough heat in their center to turn dark matter into diamond. The flock of piano and reeds that is Flicker X gives glimpse into every occlusion, while the unconsummated matrix of the final Flicker gives rise to sinking.

Death of Memes is in nine parts. Its title comes from poet Michael Bonine’s sonnet sequence “August 12th, 1996.” There is indeed a feeling of raw poetry in the more industrial textures at play. From an introduction I can only describe as “comatose grunge,” it compresses anarchy into a single drop of ink and unfurls its dragon’s tail in a glass of water. This far more contemplative collection of impressions feeds on nutrients of the forgotten, the left-behind, the ruinous. Like the early tape loops of William Basinski, it embraces the aesthetic of decay as the only path toward completion. The sounds here are less locatable, more of a piece with outer spaces than with inner logics. In Meme VI the architecture begins to vibrate so intensely that it bends to the limits of its structural integrity. The droning textures are filled with promise, leaving the piano to resurface in Meme VIII like a floating dream, so that only in the final hour can angels touch their own ears.

This is asylum in sound. Welcome to your hermitage.

For more information on ordering, click here.

Alexander Berne & The Abandoned Orchestra: Composed and Performed by Alexander Berne

Composed and Performed by Alexander Berne

Although the word “enigma” refers to hidden meanings and messages, the music of composer-instrumentalist Alexander Berne discloses itself in starkness, not darkness. Nowhere so clearly as in this triptych of albums released in 2010 on the progressive Innova Recordings. Closest in spirit to the multi-tracked worlds of Stephan Micus, Berne’s universe expands well beyond the binary of flesh and spirit into geometries of neither.

The Soprano Saxophone Choir

The Soprano Saxophone Choir opens this 158-minute path by slowly melting away any obscuring hinges of expectation until the door falls away, leaving the listener between the infinity of two opposing mirrors. The ensuing soundscape unfolds a variety of topographical textures, each suited to its theme like light to color. The initiatory “Shores,” for example, paints miles of coastline with a minimal palette, evoking waters and coastlines with a fisherman’s intuition. It doesn’t so much tell as comport its story, as a dancer would favor gesture over pen. Yet it is not only bodies but environments themselves which move with mammalian self-awareness, moving stealthily through the sun and groundswell of “Gardens” and picking the “Hyacinth” that grows in its soil. What follows is a spectrum of nodes, moving from the isolationist jewel that is “Eschaton,” through the science fiction scope of “Reaches” and the ritual motifs of “Uhm,” and linking to the cellular origins of “Magic,” where modal poetry glows like desert canopy.

The Saduk

The Saduk takes its title from an instrument of Berne’s own invention. Something of a cross between a saxophone and a duduk but of a sphere all its own, it unfolds the very map charted on the first disc and adds names to its rivers, mountains, and geographical regions. The “Aubade” is a morning love song by name, a migration of geese and cranes reflected in sunlit waters that sets a viscerally focused tone, by which the tenderness of Berne’s performance sheds skin to reveal a syncopation free of clots in “Wanderer,” whereby the itinerant body reveals the lessons of its calluses and sunburns as if they were scripture. In contrast to this arid passage, “Clepsydra” (Greek for “water clock”) pours its liquid song from one vessel to another and back again in a droning piece that absorbs brief rhythmic elements to count the seconds. Filling the chasm framed by the eternal golden braid of “Sirens” (wherein one can hear the inner beauties of the saduk in all their glory) is Christo Nicholoudis, who provides vocals on two tracks: “Tridoula” and “Supernal.” His presence subtracts a feeling of architecture and substitutes cavernous breathing in its place. A stirring at the biological level.

The Abandoned Orchestra

The Abandoned Orchestra is Berne’s self-styled refraction, an expression of self that finds union in multiplicity. “Plumescent” is the first of seven steps into this more colorful anatomy. Pulses provide requisite traction, but feel almost accidental in their flips of grace. “Lustening” dips into Muslimgauze territory with its distorted break beat and fading reed lines, while “Kenosis” (another Greek word, this referring to the processes by which one empties the self to receive divine will) diffuses a mind interrupted by its own vocal desires. “Najash” refers to the snake in the Garden of Eden, enchanting with charmer’s croon but disappearing into the self-replicating spiral of “Arise” before being blasted into strands of infinity by the soprano saxophone in “Auriga.” Named for the constellation better known as the Charioteer, the latter does indeed pull its charge from one night to the next, unrelenting in its quest for fire.

Standing out like facial features along the way are three “Chronicles,” each a summary of what came before that treats every lilting line with the care of a mother bird warming her eggs. Averaging at 16.5 minutes each, they constitute a nomadic horizon at various stages of recession, and leave us wondering just how long it will take for our shadows to stretch until we step on our own heads.

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