Sandy Bull emerged from the acoustic folk and fingerpicking revival of the 1960s, and while his first release, a collaboration with Billy Higgins entitled Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo, hinted at his later experimentation, 1969’s E Pluribus Unum showcases his innovative blend of fingerpicking techniques and electric experimentation. He was a master of many string instruments including the banjo, pedal steel, and the oud, which he’s holding shown in the album cover for E Pluribus Unum.
Another remarkable thing to keep in mind listening to No Deposit-No Return Blues is that Bull is playing every instrument on the record, including percussion. Not only did he make use of overdubbing in the studio, but he also performed with pre-recorded tracks when playing live, as demonstrated by the live record Still Valentines Day, 1969 put out by Water in 2006. While the oud is featured on No Deposit-No Return Blues, to get a better idea of what it sounds like I’d suggest giving a listen to this improvisation from that live record.
Vanguard has released a number of compilations of Bull’s work from the 1960s, including improvised material, classical pieces by Bach, and more blues-oriented stuff like this track. One of my favorite labels, Drag City, put out a live album by Bull which also credits the Ace Tone Rhythm Machine, thought to be the first commercially-sold drum machine. To hear Bull perform live with his oud and this early drum machine check out this track from the Drag City album. In 2010 his daughter KC released a documentary about her father also called No Deposit No Return Blues that I couldn’t find a full version of online but which I would definitely want to see.
When I think about what I was listening to in 2011 instead of this album by Sandro Perri, it’s hard not to shudder a little bit. I may be late to the party, but I’ll be damned if I be quiet about it now that I’ve found it. Wolfman comes courtesy of Toronto multi-instrumentalist Sandro Perri, who had been a local favorite for years. In notes which accompanied the release over at Constellation, music curator Ronen Givony sums up the feeling and Perri’s unique sonic palette:
Sandro is the true best exemplar of that unique intersection that characterizes the city’s omnivorous musical scene: partly improvised, partly composed, and roughly equal parts acoustic, electronic, melodic, noisy, rock, jazz, folk, classical, psychedelic, and experimental.
Wolfman comes off 2011’s Impossible Spaces, which is the last release I could track down for Perri, not including a few singles comprising remixes done by other artists. Before he had released anything of his own, he played lap steel in Great Lake Swimmers. In addition to his own work, he’s racked up quite a few production credits on the technical side of things. Though it’s unclear when another Sandro Perri record will be released, he is a member of a group called Off World that released an album last year, also on Constellation. Another fun bit of trivia: the cellist on Wolfman, Mike Olsen, also appears on Arcade Fire’s breakout album Funerals.
Kikagaku Moyo formed in 2011 as a psychedelic free music project by Go Kurosawa and Tomo Katsurada in Tokyo, and while their emphasis on improvisation means performances can shift from night to night, I’d bet they get to some serious zones. They just released their fourth album House in the Tall Grass on their label Gurguru Brain. They launched the label both as an outlet for their own music and as a way to spotlight Asian underground music. A compilation called Guruguru Brain Wash gives a sampling of their label’s output and it is solid as well. To keep up with their hijinks, follow them on Facebook and Tumblr. The group just finished a US tour on election day and then headed back to Japan, escaping just in the nick of time. This feels like a riff on some of the new age material coming out of Germany in the mid 80s, specifically Popol Vuh’s Spirit of Peace. In these tense and uncertain times, it’s hard not to envy somebody with a sitar.
Mike Gangloff has been camped out, fiddle in hand, at the intersection of drone/psychedelia and folk music since the mid-90s. He started his career as a founding member of Pelt along with Nathan Bowles, Patrick Best, and Jack Rose. Though Pelt has not released anything since 2012, Gangloff has released a number of stellar records, including Melodies for a Savage Fix in collaboration with Steve Gunn. I typically roll my eyes at colored vinyl because a)I’m a smug piece of shit and b) it kinda seems gimmicky, but I’ve gotta applaud the design of Poplar Hollow because it’s a treat for all senses (ed: I haven’t eaten it but I bet it’s delicious). It comes by way of Blackest Rainbow Records whom I had never heard of before looking at this release but, upon snooping their Discogs page, I learned they’ve put out a number of things by artists I really love, including Nadja’s Aidan Baker and the excellent Expo ’70 tape Beguiled Entropy. I may not have known about Mike Gangloff before I bought his record, but I’ve leapt into the deep end of the pool, and the water is just the way I like it. One other thing this record really reminded me of that comes by way of Japan is World Standard’s Country Gazette record, which I also recommend if you dig Cat Mountain.
This material was recorded around the end of 2015 and 2016. I had been playing a lot in open D tuning and found some simple, pleasant finger picking patterns. If there is any real-world inspiration for this it is a trip I took to Alaska in July of 2015. The sheer scale of the terrain, along with the tremendous resilience and oddity of the people who live in the more remote areas is remarkable. I felt compelled to work towards expanding my musical vocabulary from playing around with synths and Ableton effects to live recording using more traditional instruments. Somehow it made me feel like less of a hipster dickhead, though I think most would still rightly label me as such. I don’t pretend to be a gifted guitar player, but it has grown to be one of my favorite pastimes and going forward I anticipate making even greater use of the instrument.
Though I had certainly played these guitar parts before, all of these recordings are mostly improvisational in that I started with a repetitive hook and went from there. They were recorded on a single mic built into a Fostex MR-8 multi-tracker with some reverb added upon recording and some effects added in Ableton, though the only substantial edits to the audio itself was to remove some pops and clicks resulting from the primitive recording setup. I mention this setup only because I’m timidly proud of how the guitar fades out in the final two tracks since this effect was achieved only through playing and not through fading a guitar track out in post-production. I recognize that despite this feat, there is much I have to learn in the way of recording methods, but as I’ve been preparing the final release I just thought I’d mention it since it still sounds pretty good to my ear despite all the creaks of my chair while recording.
Oren Ambarchi began playing jazz in his native Australia in the mid-1980s as a percussionist, active in the free jazz scene in Sydney. At a session he began messing around with a guitar and from then on it has become a staple in his solo releases and live performances. He described his relationship with the instrument in an interview with Australia Adlib:
I picked it up and starting hitting it with drumsticks and using it in whatever way I wanted to use it in, and one thing led to another. I’m glad I wasn’t trained. I’ve always loved rock music, I grew up listening to pop and rock, so that was in my mind, but I’ve also been interested in electronics. I never wanted to learn to play it properly, it was an object as much as an instrument.
The drive to integrate other electronics with his guitar works and an overall interest in experimentation can be heard on one of his early releases from 1999, Insulation. A shared interest in improvisation and experimentally-driven approaches to composition has led to collaborations with many notable experimental artists like Keith Rowe, Otomo Yoshihide, Jim O’Rourke, and the drone doom duo Sunn O))).
He has collaborated with Sunn O))) on a number of occasions beginning with Black One in 2005. The story goes that Stephen O’Malley was DJing in New York and played Ambarchi’s track Corkscrew and it set off the fire alarm at the venue, prompting O’Malley to reach out and insist on a collaboration. Ambarchi described the artistic relationship between himself, O’Malley, and Greg Anderson–the other half of Sunn O)))–in an interview with Wire magazine:
It’s great being able to work with Stephen and Greg and in some ways doing exactly what I would do in a solo context. However with Sunn O))) I get to do it in a completely different context, to a different audience, and using a much bigger backline. Since I’ve been working with them my solo work has become much slower, lower in the frequency spectrum and much more physical, especially when I perform live. Since I began working with Sunn O))) I’ve learnt a lot about sound pressure, resonance and feedback and how pleasurable it can be to bathe in physical soundwaves.
I stumbled into some deep, dark drones yesterday and before I mucked it up by trying to tweaking it I thought I’d share. I’ve been pushing myself to do more improvisation and less painstaking messing around on the computer, which sort of seems like a rationalization for laziness in retrospect but it’s pushed me in a lot of good directions and made me better understand the tools at my disposal. It’s free (as are all my other releases) and I’d encourage you to download it in as high quality a format as you’re willing because it’s an improvement over the stream and grab the best pair of headphones you’ve got. Enjoy!