All kinds of experimental music can be found on Bandcamp: free jazz, avant-rock, dense noise, outer-limits electronics, deconstructed folk, abstract spoken word, and so much more. If an artist is trying something new with an established form or inventing a new one completely, there’s a good chance they’re doing it on Bandcamp. Each month, Marc Masters picks some of the best releases from across this wide, exploratory spectrum. March’s selection includes lap steel guitar essays, water-bound horn blasts, harrowing voice exercises, and unpredictable jazz extrapolations.
Arrington De Dionyso
Shouting Over Deep Water Blues
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl
In 2012, Arrington De Dionyso sat in a rowboat on the coast of Sweden and improvised on the horn he invented—called the Bromiophone—by breathing, blowing, and hollering through it. With assistance from the resonant water around him and some metal objects on the boat, he created music that often sounds like the rituals of a cult speaking in very loud tongues. The throaty stabs and yells throughout Shouting Over Deep Water Blues can be hypnotically bracing, but there’s also a kind of purifying, sweat-it-out aspect to Dionyso’s ecstatic sounds: or, as he aptly puts it in one track title,“Overtone ASMR.” There’s also a sense of celebratory ecstasy here, the feeling that unabashedly blasting air through metal is an act of life-affirmation.
Discipline and Denial
It’s almost always refreshing to hear a musician sit down with an instrument and just try things, whether they hit home runs or fall flat on their faces. In the case of someone as experienced and creative as California’s Ernesto Diaz-Infante, the possibility of falling is practically nil. But Discipline and Denial is still a compelling listen, simply for the sheer amount of ideas Diaz-Infante concocts and executes. Across 11 tracks made with lap steel guitar, he winds through minimalist repetition, coursing atmospherics, haunting noise, and abstract tone poems. He’s especially expressive when he uses “mistakes”—distortion, feedback, and other electric sparks—to build his vocabulary. And he’s funny, too: take “El Pájaro Salió Volando,” a cascading series of squeaks and quacks that could soundtrack a cartoon.
First Cousins Once Removed
First Cousins Once Removed
Brooklyn quartet First Cousins Once Removed have only performed six times in the last eight years, but their music is highly active—at least judging by their new self-titled release, an inventive 80 minutes of improvised sound presented in 11 tracks. Intertwined with stretches of smart free jazz are synth-heavy soundscapes, meditative guitar figures, and raucous noise jams. All four band members are credited with “warped sounds,” which is fitting: among all the interesting guitar, horn, strings, and electronics, a kind of sonic ghost emerges, animating every track with a creative energy that refuses to fade.
John Hoegberg & Nicky Smith
Every song on Movies, an album of guitar duets by Baltimore’s John Hoegberg and Nicky Smith, takes its name from a single-word movie title, so it’s tempting to listen to each piece while watching its corresponding film. How would the intersecting lines of “Rope” color Hitchcock’s one-shot thriller? What would the carnival scenes in Tod Browning’s Freaks look like matched to Hoegberg and Smith’s quiet/loud guitar waves? How much funnier would Schwarzenegger and DeVito be if their Twins dialogue was drowned out by the duo’s escalating noise? That’s probably taking Movies too literally, but even just imagining pictures moving along with Hoegberg and Smith’s thoughtful soundfields can make your head spin.
Compact Disc (CD)
Though the music of Petra, aka Rhode Island’s Kristina Warren, is made just with voice and electronics, its tonal range feels almost limitless. It’s not that Warren’s music is overly busy or sonically stuffed; she knows how to deploy space effectively. It’s more that every piece on Filament brings new surprises in terms of structure, texture, and mood. Warren opens with bracing Yoko Ono-esque vocal calisthenics, then swerves into the rattling test tones of “hi,” the percussive breaths of “chapel,” and the distant growls of “for one.” Each track is like a poem in a chapbook, magnifying and stretching an idea until it becomes a fully-fleshed musical construction. Petra’s music is both precise and unpredictable, making repeat listens to Filament irresistible.
The Honey Dodger
Matthew Revert is not a singer, but his voice is the center of The Honey Dodger. There are all kinds of interesting sounds happening here, but none of them subsume Revert’s calm, stirring whispers. His breaths, pauses, and stoic tone make each track grippingly suspenseful. On “Rest Now,” echoing percussion adds accents to his speech, while during “Your Hands” windy tones brush through his words like gusts dispersing dead leaves. As The Honey Dodger progresses, Revert’s musical approach remains tantalizingly alien, culminating in “This Will Always Be Your Home,” with dark echoes and disembodied voices as scary as any horror film.
You & I Are Earth
Compact Disc (CD)
The way Vanessa Rossetto arranges field recordings and abstract sounds into richly-textured collage works on a subconscious level. Her music often feels meaningful, but it’s hard to explain how or why; it seems to always lie just beyond cognitive reach. On You & I Are Earth, she makes the risky gambit of starting off literal, opening with her own mother grippingly recounting her memories of World War II. From there, Rossetto constructs an hour of dense, visceral sounds that seem to both echo her mother’s words and reframe them into something beyond verbalization. Particularly moving is the 13-minute title track, on which the melange of unidentified sounds is bluntly concrete, harrowingly dramatic, and calmly reassuring.
Spires That in the Sunset Rise
House Ecstatic (Cover Your Blood)
Throughout their 15-year career, Spires That In the Sunset Rise have fallen loosely into the wooly category of avant psych/folk/jazz while continually busting down such attempts to define their sound. But I don’t think they’ve ever made an album as devotedly in the territory of free jazz as House Ecstatic (Cover Your Blood). It’s pretty thrilling to hear the duo of Ka Baird and Taralie Peterson pick this lane and hammer at it, making searching music that sounds both thoughtfully dramatic and impulsively unhinged. The best moments come in tracks like “X stat one,” when Baird glides around the piano keys while Peterson fills her saxophone with expressive air. There’s not a single second on House Ecstatic (Cover Your Blood) that doesn’t ooze with busy, unsettling sound.
Melissa St. Pierre
It’s been over 10 years since pianist Melissa St. Pierre released her first full-length record, 2008’s Specimens, but her music has lost none of its power in the intervening decade. On Sonelab Sessions, an album of four solo piano instrumentals, St. Pierre relentlessly probes her keys for sounds that both connect and disrupt in jagged, spontaneous narratives. There are echoes of jazz and classical touchstones in St. Pierre’s strong chords and building motifs, but her work bears a distinctive sonic signature, one both sensitive to mood and open to chance. That blend coalesces in “A Haiku,” seven minutes of careful notes, energized runs, and momentous strikes that seems to hold four seasons’ worth of musical weather.
Over the past four years, L.A.-based composer and musician Byron Westbrook has made fascinating records by editing and recontextualizing his own improvisations. On Voice Damage, he eschews revision to present two improvisations in their rawest state. The difference isn’t immediately obvious—both side-long tracks are as pensive and patient as Westbrook’s previous work—but the lack of edits gives Voice Damage a different kind of rhythm. Time seems elongated here, and the music takes on a desolate, lost-in-space quality. As a result, Voice Damage reveals yet another dimension to Westbrook’s ever-expanding work, as if it’s being photographed through a new lens.