Available Formats: LP & Digital
Time: About 40 minutes
Labels: Sounds et al: ETAL011 & Beacon Sound: BNSD031
Tracks: 1) Grass Grow, 2) Junglespell, 3) Castleshell, 4) Flux, 5) Temple IV, 6) Mirror, 7) Labyrinth I, 8) Temple V, 9) Satya Yuga, 10) Iridesce
From an early age I have been fascinated by the sound and look of a harp. While some watched the Marx Brothers for the comedy, I was waiting for the ritual of Harpo’s performance—the calm respite from the chaos. Later, it was Bach Partitas played by Nicanor Zabaleta and other harpists and ensembles, and then improvisations and atmospheres played by Andreas Vollenweider (who was unfortunately pigeon-holed in the ghastly ‘New Age’ record bins in the 1980s). Thank goodness there’s a new generation continuing to make music with their harps.
No matter the genre, hearing music from a harp can be a riveting and even a mystical experience. A harp can supplement the atmosphere of a larger work of music or it can stimulate on its own, generating inner subconscious reactions (as instrumental music tends to do). It can be abstract or symbolic—cascading water, sun in the clouds, soft gentle repetitions to calm or to be invited into another realm beside the present.
Sage Fisher composes and performs with a harp, percussion, effects, and her voice. She is an experimental sound artist from Portland, Oregon, and Dolphin Midwives is the name of her performance project. As far as I can gather Liminal Garden is her second full length album (Orchid Milk appears to be her first in 2016—available on her Bandcamp page). I think that Liminal Garden has mystical or spiritual references that I am not qualified to interpret (some mysteries are better left unsolved), but I speculate that this album is a journey of exploration in two episodes, whether it is experienced as a two-sided LP or as a continuous thread in a digital music stream.
Each of the two parts starts with an abstract centering and cleansing vocal prologue (Grass Grow and Mirror), where short themes are established and then altered with looping effects, samples and down and up octaves—a loosely narrated trip that gradually arrives at an altered state, where a sense of time can be lost. It could even be the beginning of an escape from our current unstable world condition. The two interconnected meditations then have sharp contrasts throughout—think of slipping from the comfort of a hot pool of water into the shock of one that is frigid. There is a momentary shudder, but then the realization that the entire experience is about an awakening of all the senses to understand and embrace the whole.
Once fully absorbed, Junglespell is a transition from a peaceful start into a star gate sequence akin to Bowman’s journey of enlightenment near the end of 2001 A Space Odyssey. Here there is no vocal to guide, and there is a transformed sense of perception leaving subconscious thought to interpret. Not only is the sound entrancing, but watching it being created is equally as fascinating.
Once released from Junglespell, a slow awakening begins in Castleshell, arriving somewhere else, perhaps a bit dazed from a dream, out the other side of that star gate. The sharp contrast of Flux stimulates other parts of the mind that have been quietly idle. There is an electric energy of realignment, a jarring altered-state glitchy repetition. Then balance returns in the absorbing Temple IV with short tangible loops and a short melody that meanders within a tight range.
Part two of the journey is somewhat different and is introduced with Mirror. It has layered cascading vocals in varying octaves altered with electronic effects, octaves and loops. Rather than continuing on into a hypnotic state, another contrast is entered in Labyrinth I, which is disorienting with stimulus from all sides, seeking and not finding a way out. From the cold pool to the warm, the immersive and enveloping Temple V’s melodic percussion reminds me of Kraftwerk’s Klingklang (Kraftwerk 2 – 1972). Then there is a clear return of the harp with a gentleness and purity of the enlightening Satya Yuga, a respite of reflection and balance from the prior experiences. The epilogue to the album is Iridesce, a colorful stuttering of altered voices and electronics.
One cannot know the calm without experiencing the chaos. On what mesmerizing journey will Sage Fisher take us next?
The album was recorded by Jason Powers, and mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri (Black Knoll), and the artwork is by Bijan Berahimi.
This is a solicited review.
RareNoiseRecords CD RNR033 Time: 45:53 (LP version coming soon)
Tracks: 1) The Vindicator Returns, 2) Scribble, 3) Empty Words (featuring Coppé), 4) Top Of The World, 5) Orange Grey Shades, 6) A Piedi Verso Il Sole, 7) Plates, 8) Noodlin, 9) Labratorio, 10) Secret Mission, 11) Otaku Goes To A Rave, 12) Viv, 13) To Be Continued
Band: Jacob Koller: Piano/Fender Rhodes/Keyboards, Brian Allen: Trombone/fx, Hernan Hecht: Drums
Wit and subtlety are often hard to find in much of what passes for music today. Then there’s music that takes itself so seriously that it might collapse under the weight of its own ponderous self-importance. Music isn’t always about the sound, it’s sometimes about the spaces and the silence—it doesn’t necessarily have to be a full-frontal assault on the senses.
A few years ago Brainkiller released their first album The Infiltration on RareNoiseRecords (#RNR010). Initially, this album caught my attention because it was a trio with a trombone, their music sounded playful and quirky, and it had some roots in other artists whose work I admired (Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Brand X, Godley-Creme, Weather Report, Return To Forever). Here’s a sample track, Casketch from their first album:
Colourless Green Superheroes is a series vignettes (some atmospheric like Empty Words, and some funky) exploring melodic, rhythmic and at time ethereal motifs and the tracks don’t rest long on a given theme before shifting direction. In a way, this album is a soundtrack in search of a film. There is also a restful ease throughout the album (making it perfect for a languid summer day or when the night is young), but there are moments when cool breezes blow and there is a jaunty awakening, as in Scribble. The spirited Fender Rhodes opening phrases take me back to Brand X’s Disco Suicide*. There is, however, an unexpectedly laid-back funky response from trombone and percussion, a bit like The Tortoise and the Hare—as if the Tortoise retorts, “Chill, I’ll get there…”
The themes introduced in the anthemic opening track The Vindicator Returns are explored further in Top Of The World, at first on a solo piano before the full trio plays off the rhythms and melodies. As in their first album, there are moments of recorded studio banter or live voices, which add a sense of spontaneity—also evident in the veiled conversations during the furtive Orange Grey Shades (my favorite track on the album). One can make up their own story to accompany the music.
The Vindicator Returns
There are times when the album is more contemplative as in A Piedi Verso Il Sole, a reflective lament of sorts. Yet the album shifts (before the vibe gets too heavy) to more raucous themes in Plates. The mood lightens further with Noodlin—a spirited piano solo (think a leisurely evening at a night club…at first), before moving to lighthearted voices (steering the improvisation), muted trombone solos and ultimately a vigorous trio romp. The upbeat repartee continues with the march-like Labratorio and perhaps the most vigorous track on the album Secret Mission (like a chase scene from one of the Bourne films)—see the video below for an excerpt.
Earlier themes are again revisited in the closing tracks of the album Otaku Goes To a Rave (my other favorite track on the album) mixing in some Scribble[s] and polyrhythms from the drums and piano. There’s an interesting combination of 1970s-era electric piano work combined with energetic phrasings similar to what the band Zammuto (ex-The Books) is working on these days. The album closes with the peculiar and brief Viv—a prepared piano musing, followed by To Be Continued, a reflective and somewhat subdued “roll credits” piece.
This album functions well as both incidental music or for straight-on listening and as soon as it ends I wonder where the time has gone…and so, REPLAY!
Photo of Brainkiller Courtesy of RareNoiseRecords
* – For those curious about Disco Suicide by Brand X: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdAPEEW-OUA
This is a solicited review.
Concert: Zammuto with Valgeir Sigurðsson and Nadia Sirota at the Spaceland Ballroom, Hamden, CT March 29, 2013
Nick Zammuto – Guitar and Electronics, Nick Oddy – Guitar and Keyboard
Mikey Zammuto – Bass, Sean Dixon – Drums
Promoter and Venue
I missed the last Zammuto tour in 2012, so I was determined to go see them this time around—and it was a great coincidence that they ended up stopping so close by in Hamden, Connecticut at the new Spaceland Ballroom with promotion by Manic Productions from nearby New Haven. Valgeir Sigurðsson (producer and founder of Iceland’s Bedroom Community record label and Greenhouse Studios) and violist Nadia Sirota started the evening’s show with an introspective and sensitive performance of work from Nadia’s latest album Baroque and Valgeir’s album Architecture of Loss (in addition to some earlier VS work). I think that the performance would’ve been enhanced all the more with a better piano and subwoofer system, but their performance ranged from the contemplative (my son says “chill”) to visceral. I’m less familiar with Sigurðsson’s and Sirota’s individual works, but this performance was a great introduction. My only other hope for this new venue is that the lighting improves to allow one to see the musicians better during their performances (and perhaps some more tables and chairs).
I’ve followed Nick Zammuto’s work since his days with The Books, and have appreciated his mining for music and inspiration in unexpected places, whether from old or new family home movies to skillfully edited (often bizarre) instructional videos. The humor and wordplay also makes his work all the more attractive. The difference (to my ears) between The Books and Nick’s latest incarnation in the band Zammuto is that the music is even more rhythmically infectious and at times, downright joyful. I also appreciate that Zammuto has created in their first eponymous album music created by artists staying true to themselves and their work—always pushing the boundaries and seeking inspiration from the most unlikely of places…making the serious silly and the mundane musical…and to be doing it in beautiful Vermont is all the more enticing. Their work is also an example of what I see as a proper usage of auto-tune technology—not to correct a singer who can’t sing, but to enhance the statement of the art and sound.
Last night’s set was tight, energetic and enhanced by a multimedia show of short films synchronized to the music. Much of the songs were taken from the latest Zammuto album on the Temporary Residence (independent) label. We were also treated to some songs from The Books era, a Paul Simon cover and some unreleased tracks. This was the second performance by new guitar/keyboardist Nick Oddy and he has immediately absorbed the often intense and delightfully quirky parts that Gene Back (up until recently) contributed to the band—bravo!
Zammuto Set List: 1) Groan Man, Don’t Cry, 2) The Shape Of Things To Come, 3) Idiom Wind, 4) Too Late To Topologize, 5) Zebra Butt, 6) FU-C3PO, 7) Harlequin, 8) Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon, 9) Yay, 10) The Stick, 11) Tahitian Noni Juice – That Right Ain’t Shit – from The Books The Lemon of Pink, 12) Classy Penguin, 13) The Greatest Autoharp Solo of All Time – A remarkable bit of video/sound editing!, 14) Smells Like Content – from The Books – Lost And Safe and the non-encore 15) The Fig and the Finger
If you haven’t seen Zammuto live yet, go see them—it was a very memorable concert. The link to their current tour is noted above, and I’m told that Nick is working on material for a new album.
Please note that all photos are by wajobu.com unless the image is suffixed with “IAB”, in which case it’s by Isaac Burns. We retain all copyrights to the images, but if you choose to borrow or share an image, please at least credit one or both of us. Thank you.