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Recorded in Austin and Marfa, TX, and inspired by the gorgeous desolation of the high plains desert, this is music of exquisite, simmering beauty.
In 2010, after years of friendship and musical intersections frequently revolving around Austin's No Idea Festival, Chris Cogburn brought this trio together for concerts in Texas and Mexico, supported by the Meet the Composer Foundation and USArtists International. Arena Ladridos (roughly, "Barking Sand") captures the intensity, intimacy, and adventurousness of these strong-minded musicians as they methodically bleed this music into existence.
"Arena Ladridos is an aesthetic delight, an album that invites both overwrought analysis... and passive splendor — which I recommend you experience." - Matthew Horne, Tiny Mix Tapes
"A sand rose whose heart beats and breathes." - Héctor Cabrero, Le Son Du Arisli
"'At the same time, there is silence, a silence which is not an absence of sound but which is the object of a positive sensation, more positive than that of sound. Noises, if there are any, only reach me after crossing this silence.'
There is, often, a gorgeous sense of calm about this record, not a loss of focus or laziness but a willingness to let little happen, for however long it takes, for however long it needs; not imposing, not leading, following the sounds as and when they ask to be heard or made. Though it’s by no means a particularly silent listen, one feels that the lines quoted above, from Simone Weil, do somehow fit: each sound is filtered through a corresponding quietness, each sound is coaxed out of silence and falls back into it, like a wavering fleck of light suddenly emerging, then disappearing back into shadow again. This shouldn’t imply the monastic discipline or asceticism that Weil might have at the back of her mind; rather, the sense is of something relaxed, not casual exactly, but un-worried about grabbing attention or creating something that screams ‘I am important! Listen to me now!’ As time passes, not much might have happened, and so what? Spaces are filled enough, more than enough, so much of the time, and a genuine contemplative quietness can do no harm. To some, this may come across as aimlessness; and, true, compared to the composed or partially-composed work in this area, there is less obvious ‘focus’, less of a clear structural framework. But for me, that’s quite an attractive respite; listening to ‘Arena Ladridos’ allows one, free of overt structural considerations, to quite clearly imagine oneself into a physical space, to imagine the musicians sitting there, in front, perhaps, of a small audience, inhabiting the small room for forty-five minutes, sometimes filling it with sound, sometimes easing back and letting the room itself have a say in matters. There’s something about the logic with which things unfold that means this could be nothing other than a concert recording: the presence of hesitancies, even meandering moments – the imperfections which prevent things from having a surface’s that’s too shiny, that’s ‘just-so’.
The first piece begins with tinkling bells, maybe just jiggled or shaken or knocked slightly with the tips of fingers, electronic crackle, and wisps of breath amplified/modified through saxophone bell and keys. My somewhat whimsical way of listening to this opening minute or so is to imagine that the three musicians are ‘introducing’ themselves, in overlapping fashion. Here is percussion; here is electronics; here is a saxophone. But the separation is really less clear-cut: though it’s normally fairly obvious which sounds are percussion, the concentration on vague or merging tones from electronics and saxophone tend to create a grey area in which anyone could be creating any particular sound. At one point, the sound of a passing car seems to sub for Jones’ electronics, replacing her drone tone with something remarkably similar. It’s not all subtlety and hush, though: Jones’ playing is, at times, quite deliberately harsh, generating sudden beeps that sound like a warning signal, an electrical malfunction, an alarm, and Cogburn’s playing can be quite assertive, though he generally treats his drums as a surface to rub and scrape rather than one to strike and beat.
Indeed, there’s quite a variety of incident on display: there are a large number of events, however unhurried the pace, and one never feels that the players are holding anything back, practicing an overly studied reticence or aloofness; instead, they are using patience as a general method of working, and the results are to make gestures which elsewhere might seem small or un-dramatic (a surging consonance of crescendo – a half-choked wail rising and falling on intake and outtake of breath – the sound of almost conventional rhythms from drums) possess intense power and concentration. Equally, though, things could go the other way, all three musicians temporarily silent, while a dog barks, or a car distantly passes – where a sine tone sounds like a sucking in of breath or a tiny, suppressed whisper – sounds, sometimes, that seem to come from outside human agency, like those eerie screeches and rumbles one hears from on high in railways stations and near building sites. This or a swelling drama, a concord/concourse, not rising to shared climax, surging only to swell down again. Matthew Horne, in his review of the album for ‘Tiny Mix Tapes’, describes the process as a group aesthetic in which all three players hover around a particular area for several minutes, attempting, and failing to break out, before eventually moving away in quite dramatic form: “The trio quickly settles into what would be called a restrained 'attractor,' i.e., a stable point or cycle at which the variables hover around (up to minor perturbation). Just over four minutes in, the group attempt to dislodge the muted aesthetic, with each crescendoing simultaneously. But this perturbation is weak, resulting in a regression back to the original, minimal attractor. It isn't until around 12 minutes that the group breaks free of their initial state: Rainey's sax oscillates wildly while Jones introduces an intrusive feedback more akin to [Toshimaru] Nakamura's troublesome no-input mixer, thus disturbing their environment enough to evolve the system.” It’s a nice formal encapsulation of a music that seems to avoid formal systems in the moment of listening, of unfolding: but perhaps it belies the actual lack of overt tension (so often a driver of improvised music) that I feel when playing the CD back; despite abruptions from Jones or from Cogburn, despite intricacies of flow and of incident, the overall impression is unforced, unhurried, unharried. Here, as Weil puts it, noises have to cross the silence before they can be heard." - David Grundy, Eartrip Magazine
"There’s a markedly transparent sound to this trio with silence and ambient sound a distinguishing element to the unfolding improvisations. The character of each of the musicians makes a specific and discrete mark on the music; Rainey’s fricative overtones and sibilant use of breath, Jones’ burred and cracked circuits, and Cogburn’s gesturally abraded percussion. Their music is a tightrope display of careful listening as the three explore a dynamic sense of elastic balance. Over the course of these two sets, the trio evolves a potent collective vocabulary... Each of the members eschews the use of conversational activity, instead, pursuing vectors of countervailing lines that coalesce around velocity and dynamics while creating a mutable tension. The three can drop down to near silence with wisps of detail or erupt in boisterous crescendos, but they emerge in a natural progression rather than any forced sense of formal arc. Rainey is fairly well documented, but Jones, and particularly Cogburn, have not recorded as frequently; this is a particularly welcome release and one I’ve been going back to often." - Michael Rosenstein, Signal to Noise
From Another Timbre:
2011 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of John Cage's book 'Silence'. The ideas that Cage developed there have had a huge impact over the ensuing 50 years, not just on composed music but also within improvisation. It is now a commonplace assumption that, for example, any kind of sound can be used in music, that the environment and extraneous noises around a performance be accepted as part of that performance, and that silence/not playing can be as valid and substantial a part of music as the sounds the musicians do play.
All the cd's in this series can be seen as part of that horizon of possibilities that Cage's work opened up. But 'Silence and after' could also refer to what has been called the ‘turn to silence’ within improvised music that occurred almost simultaneously in several cities round the world about 12 years ago. All the improvised discs in this series take their place in the wake of that quiet revolution, though none of them remains quiet throughout. Moreover, it is open to question how much of the music on the cd's is 'improvised' in a strict sense. The music may not be notated, but much of it was carefully prepared, or semi-structured, or re-worked after the event. Similarly all of the nominally composed works in the series involve varying degrees of interpretation / improvisation by the performers. Cage was notoriously suspicious of improvisation, but – partly because of the way in which his ideas have been taken on and developed - the dividing line between composed and improvised music has become progressively fuzzier. Hopefully this series of discs will help to further confound that division.
released November 17, 2010
Chris Cogburn - percussion
Bonnie Jones - electronics
Bhob Rainey - soprano saxophone