2020 Winter Music Preview ~ Experimental & Field Recording

What will experimental music sound like at the end of the next decade?  In 2030, we’ll look back and pretend that we always knew how influential the mavericks of 2020 would turn out to be.  What sounds unusual now may be considered mainstream then.  Some of these artists are composers, while others are improvisers; some focus on one instrument while others find new combinations.  Many use voice; one uses bones.  From near-silence to cacophony, they visit the outer limits while inviting others to enter their laboratories and ships:  to infinity and beyond!

Our featured image is a craft project for kids of all ages called Snowstorm in a Jar.  We’re not sure how it works, but it sure looks cool (pun intended)!

Rich’s Pick:  OOIOO ~ Nijimusi (Thrill Jockey, January 17)
One of the season’s most joyful experimental albums comes from OOIOO, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year under the leadership of YoshimiO.  Most of Nijimusi‘s track titles are short, but we can’t help sharing this one:  “walk for “345” minutes, while saying “Ah Yeah!” with a “Mountain Book” in one hand, until a shower of light pours down.”  How can you not love this band?  The lead single “kawasemi Ah” is a bright explosion of brass, drums and vocal repetitions, boding well for the album as a whole (Thrill Jockey, January 17).


Inspired by Michitaro Tada’s book Karada, Adi Hollander created an installation at which attendees might feel the music through their bodies, an experience familiar to many who have attended loud concerts. Claudio F Baroni composed the far softer score and covered it with whispers for the home listener.  Each track of The Body Imitates the Landscape corresponds to a part of the human body (Unsound, January 15).  Even more immediate is the brave music of 156, who actually uses the human body to create his sounds ~ specifically, human bones.  Music for the Bardo is the 7″ follow-up to Memento Mori, culled from the same sessions (February 1).  Spoken words echo across the centuries on SculptOr, as Olivia Louvel pairs her voice with that of sculptor Barbara Hepworth.  The electronic textures create a gorgeous tapestry of sound (Cat Werk, February 7, pictured right).  Synthesizer and an autotune choir make strange bedfellows on Reality Rounds, which sounds like the work of the robotic mustached twins on Legion.  The singers control their own effects, offering a commentary on “the eternal flow of data” (Carrier Records, January 31).  Multiple vocal techniques come to bear on ensemble Ekmelis‘ A Howl, That Was Also A Prayer, which showcases a trio of young composers (New Focus, January 3).

Half a decade has passed since Framework, but this year Mads Emil Nielsen has returned with a second installment (suitably titled Framework 2) on double transparent 10″.  These intricate collages are based on handwritten graphic scores translated into music.  On the second record, reinterpretations are offered by Jan Jelinek and Hideki Umezawa (arbitrary, February 7).

There are many ways to rewrite a film score, but one of the easiest is just to play along.  That’s what guitarists Ivar Grydeland & Henry Kaiser did when they met to improvise atop The Amundson Polar Flight (1925). In the Arctic Dreamtime flows like banks of snow and graces an already mesmerizing viewing experience (Rune Grammofon, January 24).

Whoadie is slang for “good friends,” and Daniel Carter, Patrick Holmes and Matthew Putman love making warm music together.  Their jazzy improvisations were inspired by an out of tune piano, which is heard here along with clarinet, sax and other instruments, pining away a lazy day (577 Records, February 7).  Led by the alto sax of Chris Pitsiokos, CP Unit presents languid, rocking pieces that occasionally tumble into funk. The quartet’s One Foot On The Ground Smoking Mirror Shakedown is out on Ramp Local the first of February.  Synth and sax make warm partners on Imagine Giving Up, an album with a positive message relayed by its grooves.  The construction is experimental, but the sound is accessible; Jonah Parzen-Johnson may find a hit on his hands (We Jazz, February 17).  Kevin and Hell (nice name!) release “a collection of sci-fi big band music” on Sounds of an Electric Fantasy, which is a whole lot of fun, even if you don’t like big band or sci-fi.  Part live, part synth, the album is out January 10 on Midwest Action.


Oud, piano and drums make an intriguing combination, brought to good use on the new album from Gordon Grdina’s Nomad Trio.  Nomad is the sound of musicians having a blast, toying with expectations of modern jazz (Skirl, January 10).  The “spontaneous music” of John Chantler, Steve Noble and Seymour Wright was recorded in a day and sounds intensely fresh.  On Atlantis, sax, drums and electronics take turns in the spotlight and show that they can play well together as well (January 16).  Free jazz improv rules the day on More Music for a Free World, presented by Dave Sewelson‘s quartet; the baritone sax takes the lead, but the combination is the key (Mahakala Music, February 21).  Triple sax threat Massimo Magee is joined by Tony Irving on drums for Vitriol and the Third Oraculum, another free jazz offering on 577 Records (January 10).  Frank Macchia & Brock Avery are clearly enjoying themselves on the aptly-titled Rhythm Abstraction: Azure.  The album features improvised percussion and freestyle sax, topping out with 40 woodwinds (January 21).

In an age of fractured politics, it’s fun to remember that Dizzy Gillespie once ran for president.  John Bailey‘s Can You Imagine? is a celebration of an alternative future in which he won.  Trumpet is the lead instrument, accompanied by an expanded sextet (Freedom Road, January 20).  Trumpeter Dan Rosenboom produces “frenetic joy” on Absurd in the Anthropocene, which serves as a response to modern times.  The artist resists the urge to give in to confusion or despair, instead underlining his belief in humanity (Gearbox, January 31).

The art of Matija Mikovic‘s Fragile Canvas is an apt descriptor of the music, which borrows from multiple genres and bleeds multiple timbres.  From dropped objects to ping pong balls, bongos to synth, the set is an aural demonstration of a restless mind (Memory Cloud, January 21).  Muhal Richard Abrams might make a fitting tour mate for Mikovic, as Celestial Birds merges piano and electronics in a colorful, engaging fashion, like an exploding toy box (Karlrecords, February 21).  Ville Heralla explores a plethora of approaches to the upright bass, including the percussive.  Pu is a series of fourteen angles that together form a complete picture (We Jazz, February 21, pictured right).  Piano, cello and percussion are topped with off-kilter vocals on Eunhye Jeong‘s The Colliding Beings, Chi-Da, a live recording that captures the wild nature of the concert experience (Audioguy, January 15).


Percussion and sound art join forces on Unnatural, a collaboration between Patrick Graham & John Sellekaers that is preceded by a series of singles and remixes.  The remix angle is particularly appealing in this case as the guest artists take the tracks in some unexpected directions ~ Matthias Delplanque’s rhythmic work on Lacuna being just one example (Parenthèses, February 25).  On Plumes of Ash in Moonlight, two percussionists battle and duet while other sonic forces shift around them.  Bass, lap steel, electric guitar and tape round out the timbres.  Olie Brice, Tony Hardie-Bick, NO Moore, Ed Pettersen, Eddie Prevost and Stale Liavik Solberg recorded the double disc set live for this Valentine’s Day release on Split Rock Records.  And drumming a path to the new year is stukot with circular objects speaking colors, a set of solo experimental percussion (January 1).


Punk meets piano on The Swim, a restless and dissonant work from Kaja Draksler & Terrie Ex.  The seemingly mismatched duo find common ground in atonal exploration (Terp, January 17).  Similarly atonal is the sax and piano duo of Christine Abdelnour/Magda Mayas, who disguise their timbre beneath an ambient cover and ambient title: the setting sun is beautiful because of all it makes us lose (SOFA, January 31).  Snekkested / Guy / Fernandez add double bass to strange piano on The Swiftest Traveler, one of three January releases on Trost Records.  The others are an 16-17‘s Phantom Limb (an old punk record with new vocals) and Butcher / Edwards / Sanders‘ Last Dream of the Morning.  The middle release is out the 3rd, the others the 24th.  And we’re not so sure about Jan St. Werner‘s Molecular Meditation, as the only public sample includes a lot of clanking and a drunken, obscenity-laced tirade.  Hopefully better things await (Editions Mego, February 21).


Brunhild Ferrari & Jim O’Rourke use field recordings, tape and electronics to mesmerizing effect on Le Piano Englouti.  The 2-track album is filled with tiny fascinations (Black Truffle, January 10). One week later, the label will be releasing two albums.  Manuel Pessoa de Lima‘s Realjo is a sound collage that incorporates organ, spoken word and YouTube clips, while Will Guthrie‘s Nist-Nah is a gamelan album that travels from children’s exercises to drone to interweaving rhythms.

Deltoid turns field recordings into texture and percussion on Terminal Terrestre, which features an extraordinary wealth of sources, from fighting cats to political rallies (which some might argue are the same thing).  The album unfolds as an uninterrupted 45-minute collage (Sounds et al, January 17).  Fabio Selvafiorita‘s musique concrete is a potpourri of field recordings, tape reel and unusually processed sounds; The Fall is his first album, filled with sources from the identifiable to the mysterious (Stellage, February 10).  Field recordings, voices, static and strings produce a fascinating melange on The Stilling, the fourth album from drøne.  The title refers to the unexplained phenomenon of slowing planetary wind speed.  Zachary Paul guest stars along with a diverse group of vocalists (Pomperipossa, January 10, pictured right).

Philip Samartzis & Eric la Casa traveled to South Africa’s Kruger National Park to record the pristine sounds of the local environment.  On Captured Space, ten days of recording are culled to the space of a single cassette, in a sense “confined” like the occupants of the preserve (Cronica, January 7).  Lieven Martens offers an auditory travelogue of Ghana and Naples framed as a tale of two volcanos.  Dust is to be released concurrently with Raça Azul, a pair of avant compositions, partially recorded for an art exposition (Edições CN, January 10).  And Stéphane Marin (curator of the series Each Morning of the World) begins the decade by releasing a project of his own.  K ~ Ö includes the sounds of lighthouses and lumberjacks and comes with 26 black and white (digital) photos (Espaces Sonores, January 1).

Richard Allen

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