2021 Winter Music Preview ~ Experimental

What happens when experimental musicians are locked inside for months on end?  Given the extra time in their sonic laboratories, some come up with even more creative experiments.  This winter, we’ll be hearing the results of lockdown as filtered through the genius brains of the avant-garde.  One of these albums is even housed in a brain (actually a USB stick in the shape of a brain).

These artists continue to move music forward, even as the mainstream ignores their work.  While few dream of the Top 40, sometimes they end up there anyway; even Bill Haley & the Comets were considered “out there” at one point.  And while we wish these artists every success, we admire the fact that they place art above profit, ironically producing some of the most valuable music on the market.  And now, let’s take a look at the early slate of experimental music scheduled for release in winter 2021!

Two upcoming releases from Canti Magnetici make the most of the locations in which they were born.  Sammartano‘s Waterfront uses field recordings and corrupted instrumentation to score the failure of the Taranto seaside project, while Devid Ciampalini‘s Sorgente, recorded in isolation in Garfagnana, uses reel-to-reel and local recordings to reflect this lonely natural habitat.  Both will see release on February 9.  Amazon Rain Forest recordings form the core of De Rerum Nature, an enveloping set from Luca Forcucci.  Who knows how long these environments will be viable? Those who act quickly can get the vinyl edition, limited to 10 pieces (LFO Editions, January 20).


Jen Kutler continues a streak of fascinating projects with Sonified Physiological Indicators of Empathy, which traces “empathetic responses to sounds of violence,” translating readings into sound.  The topic is extremely relevant in an era in which the worth of human beings has been called into question by acts of brutality (February 12). Twin radio operas Destination Freedom and Invisible People are combined on Yvette Jackson‘s Freedom, which addresses the nightmare of slave ships and discouraging theological reactions to President Obama’s gender equality laws. These weighty topics are set in a sea of spoken word, sample, field recording and chamber ensemble, a difficult listen at times but ultimately rewardng (Fridman Gallery, January 29).  The diverse self-titled album from Disquiet is a single 47-minute piece dealing with the plight of refugees and the walls that await them in Europe.  By folding in speech and song, the quartet creates a harrowing sonic collage (TROST, January 29).


Scouring the archives of the UCSB Cylinder Archive, Hali Palombo has rescued old utterances for the hauntingly nostalgic Cylinder Loops.  Ambient in tone yet experimental in construction, the release fits comfortably in each category (Astral Editions, January 29).  An intriguing temporal line might be drawn to ACT!‘Gray Matter AR’ Snapchat Compositions [100], whose source material ~ interviews with senior citizens ~ is modern, but whose spirit is the same (January 22).


With the new year, we also welcome a brand new label.  College Station, Texas’ No Thank You Recordings debuted on New Year’s Day with a pair of intriguing recordings.  As Cyparissus, label head Kenneth Maslowski introduces an experimental ambient work on thought distortion, with the topical title misremember.  And Sean Harold & Tomoko Ono deconstruct Bach and Mozart on The yellow fades from red to green (Compositions for solo piano), which strangely isn’t all solo piano or all solo, but intrigues through its angular approach.


The End of the World … Finally tackles the looming apocalypse with turntable, drums and high-pitched tones.  The unusual pairing of Rumi and Tarkovsky informs this non-linear set from Samuel Goff and Mariam Rezaei.  One can almost hear the concrete tumbling around the duo as they play (Cacaphonous Recordings, February 5).  Endlings‘ Human Form is a real potpourri, with some drone, some noise, some rock, and even some bouts of tenderness.  Half of the duo (and occasional trio) is also in Deerhoof, but this music as so far afield as to cut the cord between the artists, then perhaps to stomp on that cord and run it over with a mack truck (Whited Sepulchre, March 5).  Inspired by encounters with a praying mantis, I Work In Communications wondered if they could make music for insects.  No Signal is the result of an international effort to produce percolating, percussive music (DDR Records, February 5).

We’re expecting David Fenech & Klimperei‘s long-delayed Rainbow de Nuit to surface on January 29; the album is a true outlier, incorporating accordion, kazoo, banjo, ocarina and children’s toys.  An early taste can be heard on Marionette’s Latibula sampler.  On Ungdomskilden, Norwegian ensemble Wendra Hill offers percussive pieces punctuated by field recordings, glockenspiel, a short snippet on snakes and even a sales pitch on laminate (Playdate Records, January).  Vibraphone and marimba decorate the small spaces of Maquishti, the lovely debut album from Patricia Brennan.  While it’s peaceful enough to be ambient, the occasionally pitch-bending approach makes it a better fit here (The Control Group / Valley of Seach, January 15).


Singer-songwriter Lina Tullgren changes timbre completely on Visiting by shifting to oft-atonal violin.  She’s obviously been playing for a while, as shown in the cover photo; this is a return to her first love (Ba Da Bing, January 22).  Expect large sounds in small spaces on Browse, an album of psychedelic miniatures from Ôgon batto (Ultra Eczema, January 22).  Indonesian duo Senyawa create a trancelike atmosphere on Alkisah, which includes a healthy amount of guitar fuzz and drone.  The tortured vocals tap into ancient traditions, while the homemade instruments add a taste of the otherworldly (Artetetra / Phantom Limb, February 19).  Also on Artetetra: an extremely diverse celebration of “fifth world music,” including exotica from across the board.  The thirty-track Exotic Ésotérique Vol​.​3 was released January 1.


The fourth installment of In Trux We Pux gathers the work of six duos, who offer unusual works for breath, voice and instrument (Favela Discos, February 16).  Ka Baird‘s Vivification Exercises I is a study in piano, voice and electronics, which began as a theatre performance and now finds its way to tape (RVNG Intl., January 8).  Soprano Michaela Reiner anchors Face, an unusual album from Yannis Kyriakides and Electra for ensemble, spoken word, electronics and video, inspired by facial recognition software (Unsound, January 15).  On Voicescapes, recorded on the island of Møn, Randi Pontoppidan & Thomas Buckner focus on improvised voice (Chant, January 22).

It’s been a while since we’ve heard an album as deeply and intentionally weird as I Am Revolting, by Craig Scott‘s Lobotomy.  Those are Scott’s brains at the top of this page, and by now all the brains have sold out (sorry, we’re all the Tin Man now), leaving lathe cuts (going very fast) and digital copies (available for eternity).  There are eleven musicians here playing a variety of instruments, and while this is not for everyone’s taste, the closing title “Sounds like you had fun making it” is an apt summary.  Make up your mind by watching the video below.


empreintesDIGITALis, leaders in the industry of electro-acoustic work, have announced three albums coming in early 2021.  Patrick Ascione‘s Figures de Son allows us a glimpse of what we’ve been missing since the composer’s passing in 2014; the concluding composition, “Enieme,” was recorded just before his death.  Denis Smalley‘s Vues spectrales collects early works in one handy package; and finally, Pierre-Luc Lecours makes his solo debut with Éclats, a four-song, color-based cycle with one additional track.  All three are released on January 18.

Russia’s Mikroton also has three electro-acoustic releases on the docket for January.  MKM (Günter Müller, Jason Kahn, Norbert Möslang records with radio iPod and “cracked everyday-electronics,” which makes Bangalore sound like a new score to Hardware.  The six-strong Periferiya‘s Boundary Scan bounces minimalism off walls of drone, producing a great degree of dynamic contrast, while Schnee (Burkhard Stangl & Christof Kurzmann) adds rubber bands and guitars to Снегwhile preserving the electronic sheen.  All are released January 5.


The format of Powell‘s aƒ20 ⬄ on the feet of a wind is just as experimental as the sounds.  Released as a digital folder, the multi-media album includes texts, film and some unusual music.  Diagonal Records may want to rename itself after this (January 15).  Francisco Meirino has released a host of fascinating albums over the years, and A New Instability continues in this vein.  At times a difficult listen, this distillation of a 32-channel piece contains the sounds of hand-to-hand combat in a kendo dojo, set in a field of drone and noise (Helen Scarsdale, January 22).


Sadly, Wesley Fuller passed away just as Seven by Seven was being prepped for release.  The release demonstrates that the artist, who lived to the age of 90, was far ahead of his time.  His experiments with tape, synthesizer and organic instruments span the decades, as shown on this disc, which stretches from 1977 to 2006 (Neuma, January 15).  Room40 is really expanding its breadth of music; on WiddershinsSpyros Polychronopoulos, Thanos Polymeneas-Liontiris and Iakovos Pavlopoulos move freely from drone to improvised rock, shifting rhythms within and between tracks (January 22).


Jazz, Improvised and Free

We credit 577 Records for being on top of their game, releasing public previews for multiple 2021 releases.  The slate includes Matthew Putman and Michael Sarian‘s Improvisations Vol. 1 for keyboard and trumpet (January 9); Live in the Metaverse (to Evan Parker and John Coltrane) from clarinetist Massimo Magee (January 21); and MPT Trio Volume 1, a vast, Caribbean-tinged set led by Francisco Mela (January 15).  But the label’s most ambitious project for 2021 is the five album Walk My Way, curated by Nick Vander.  The series concentrates solely on experimental guitar, features the work of 49 guitarists of 32 nationalities from 6 continents and “is dedicated to the tremendous loss of human life from this crisis—and to all the people, around the world who, aware of injustice, work for a better world.”  The first two installments are out January 2 and February 6.  The aforementioned Mela also forms part of a quintet on bassist Santi Debriano‘s upbeat Flash of the Spirit, due January 22 on Truth Revolution.

In addition to Hali Palombo’s album (listed above), Astral Editions is preparing the following for release: Montgomery & Turner‘s debut album Sounds Passing Through Circumstances (mellotron, sax and flute, February 12); Kuzu‘s The Glass Delusion (saxophone-happy progressive jazz, March 5); Landon Caldwell & Nick Yeck-Stauffer‘s Unity in Isolation (trumpet-centered and freeform, March 12); and Ahmed‘s Nights on Saturn (communication), a supergroup’s celebration of the oud master Ahmed Abdul-Malik (March 26).

A New Wave of Jazz has announced a solo series for 2021, which begins with two early year releases.  Dirk Serries‘ Solo Acoustic Guitar Improvisations I is the first of seven such albums for acoustic archtop guitar, while double bassist Gonçalo Almeida releases Monologos a Dois, both on January 21. Kasper Agnas‘ Grain deconstructs guitar compositions and reconstructs them as improvisations; the result is disappeared music (Haphazard Music, January 8).


The trio of Mats Gustafsson, David Grubbs & Rob Mazurek is The Underflow, and Instant Opaque Evening is the (real) record of a live performance in January 2020, just before everything shut down: a welcome reminder of what was and what will be again (Drag City, January 29).  Scott Clark plays drums, percussion and harmonica on This Darkness, producing an intriguing, nearly cinematic sound (Out of Your Head, January 15).

Cubus Records has a pair of releases on the docket for January 15.  Christian Kobi‘s 3LP/2CD hidden place of return pairs various artists with spinet, saxophone, saw blade, percussion and more, while Richard Haynes‘ ghosts of motion celebrates the potential of the clarinet d’amore.  The press release for Michael and Peter Formanek‘s Dyads is 15,000 words long ~ the lead is that the father and son duo play tenor sax, clarinet and double bass, keeping it in the family (Out of Your Head, January 29).


Roscoe Mitchell & Mike Reed offer The Ritual and the Dance, a series of duets for electronics and reed, although Reed is the one who handles the electronics and Mitchell the reed.  I’m sure they’ve heard that one before (Astral Spirits, February 19).  Jazz meets Puerto Rican rhythms on The Way We Are Created, from improviser Gabriel Vicéns, leading a sextet on this warm set (Inner Circle Music, January 15).

On Counter Active, The Paradox offers a blend of improvised jazz and funk, organic instruments and synth.  While the ingredients may seem paradoxical, they settle into a smooth cocktail (Axis, January 29).  Finally, synth and sax feature strongly on Werner Durand‘s To Be Continued: Early Works 1978-1980, an archival release from Other Minds (January 15).

Richard Allen

One comment

  1. Pingback: 2021 Winter Music Preview – Experimental  – Avant Music News

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