News: ALTO! on Vinyl; Record Release/Tour Kick-off Show

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know of my love of ALTO!, the two drummer, one guitarist combo that rumbles, screeches, growls, bleats, scrabbles, and sparks out energy better than, I’d say, any band in Portland. On record, the experience is mind-and-body-altering; live, it melts the whole person with the heat of a thousands suns. Hyperbole, you say? Yes, but I stand by it, and offer up a couple of pieces of news so that you may join me in their fan club.

To begin with, the band is self-releasing – via guitarist Derek Monypeny’s Raheem Records imprint – their debut, self-titled album on vinyl this month. It’s out now in an edition of 300, which you can pick up via their Bandcamp site, or…

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You can catch ALTO! live at their vinyl release party, happening on July 10th at Ash St. Saloon. The band will be joined by a pair of fine local acts: Million Brazilians and Fred Meyer. The show is also a kickoff for ALTO!’s July tour of California. I can’t find dates anywhere online but once I do, I’ll add them here. Until then, enjoy a taste of the band’s live set via the YouTube clip below.

Music: Elliott Ross Quartet Live @ The Blue Monk

Forgive the radio silence over the past week or so. My head and schedule are still adjusting to summer vacation mode and an influx of work that has me spinning like a top. But while I’m here, let me drop a little ambient jazz delight your way. This live track, recorded a mere two days ago at the Blue Monk, features the fantastic Elliott Ross Quartet, which boasts the killer rhythm section of Andre St. James (bass) and Tim DuRoche (drums)—both of whom are playing with Thollem McDonas this coming Wednesday at Piano Fort—along with Ross’ daring guitar work.

Interview: Andrew Weathers

486ad2bd7e3a6d8b1cd9742760250c40Andrew Weathers is one of those polymath type of musicians that make lesser players want to toss down their instruments in frustration. The North Carolina-born, California-based artist has earned it though. He’s been studying both acoustic and electronic composition, as well as a wide variety of playing styles with an impressive roster of teachers encouraging and training him: Roscoe Mitchell, Fred Frith, Alejandro Rutty, and Eugene Chadbourne.

All of this has culminated in a series of releases that find Weathers working either side of his musical brain, and on one of his most recent recordings What Happens When We Stop (released on his own Full Spectrum label), combining the two. On it, he takes long improvisations recorded with ensembles on both sides of the country, and edits them into more concise and heady pieces. The acoustic side take precedence, but the use of electronics by Weathers and Erik Schoster helps add some delightful texture to the mix.

Tonight at 8pm, this site and the folks behind Lifelike Family are happy to present a solo performance by Weathers at the Alberta Abbey (126 NE Alberta). He’ll be joined by one of his Full Spectrum artists Radere, as well as a trio of incredible locals: Ethernet, The OO-Ray, and Ruhe. But before you head out, please check out some sounds from Weathers and this interview he was kind enough to take part in.

Reading the description on the Full Spectrum site…it sounds like the process to create the music for What Happens When We Stop was a pretty involved one. How much editing/synthesizing time did it take you to create the finished product?

It was definitely pretty involved – about a year and a half from start to finish. I started writing the songs in Fall 2011, but didn’t go into the studio until March 2012. The east coast band recorded the tracks that make up the basis of most of the record at Solotechne Studios in Asheville, NC, those tracks sat until about August when I started to edit in performances from the west coast band.

Was it a hard thing to be an editor for a project like this, to make cuts where they needed to be made, etc.? Or are you confident enough in what you’re trying to accomplish that you can get through the process comfortably?

The editing process happened pretty organically. There was definitely an excess of material for this album. The players honestly made my job very easy, they are all just so good. The hardest thing that I had to do with this material was cut songs and sequence the record – I became very attached to the tunes. I think all of the tracks that we recorded will end up released somehow, though.

What about vocally on this album? How did you come up with the lyrical content? What was inspiring you at the time?

All of the lyrics (except for O/OU) I’ve lifted from folk and blues tunes. “Pale Face to the Sun” comes from Dock Boggs’ Country Blues, “Hard Ain’t It Hard” is a Woody Guthrie tune. Even though the songs are fairly old, I think they still speak to my situation, sometimes even in a surprisingly specific way. I sometimes feel like I’m wandering around the world without a culture of my own. Using folk sources is a way to feel like I’m part of something much larger than me.

Do you stick to this material live now or are you moving on to completely new sounds? If it is the former, how do you go about re-creating or re-working the material for performance? If the latter, what are you working on these days and in what medium?

These days, I’m still playing some of the same songs, some new ones in a similar vein. I like this material a lot because it’s very flexible-I can play it solo acoustic, solo with my Max/MSP patch, or with other players improvising with me. The tunes keep changing. The recordings aren’t necessarily definitive editions of these songs for me, it’s more like a fantastic realization of what the songs might be like if everybody in the band played at once. I think Eric [Perreault] and Rachel [Devorah Trapp] might be the only people other than me who have met everyone else who plays in the Ensemble. I’m also working on some performance pieces for sine waves and just intonation guitar, but I’m generally performing these tunes with my Max patch.

You’ve studied with a pretty jaw-dropping bunch of artists…what was the most important lessons or techniques or qualities that you took from those experiences?

I’m constantly blown away by the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with. I keep discovering things that I’ve learned from other artists over the years. These folks are all very very different, but they all have in common a work ethic that has influenced me a great deal. Everything good takes a lot of hard work, and I hope that I’m putting that in. Fred Frith once told me to never keep anything static in a mix.

Being a musician in this day and age is tougher than ever, as far as trying to make it your only profession. What difficulties have you run into trying to maintain your creative output?

I’ve been lucky in the past few years to have been studying music, so my day-to-day has been fairly in tune with my creative output. I recently finished my MFA though, so now I’m trying to make the full time musician hustle happen. The difficulty there is that it never ends. You don’t get any days off doing this. There’s not a single day that I don’t have something I should be sitting down and working on, especially because I handle all of the “business” end of my operation. But I love it, I wouldn’t have it any other way, even if no one seems to want to pay musicians very much money for anything.

It also says in the notes for the new album that you are a voracious listener of hip-hop music. When did that first enter your life and what in it sparked such an interest from you?

I honestly came to hip-hop very late, I’m a total dilettante on that front. In my teenage years, I was more into punk and totally overlooked hip-hop. Lil B was the first MC that really engaged me, but since then hip-hop has made up most of my day-to-day listening. I had started to feel like a lot of experimental music was stale. Four years of college in music school will do that to you. Hip-hop is just music bursting with personality, the MCs are just so huge. The production was also super appealing since I hadn’t encountered anything quite like that before, particularly as far as vocal production goes. I think the way I’ve approached using my voice in the past few years owes a lot to hip-hop.

Interview: Blank Realm

A-1090242-1240050086I love words and phrases that can be interpreted multiple ways, which is what leads me to adore the name of Blank Realm‘s latest album Go Easy. Nothing on this album seems necessarily laid back, nor does it give the impression of being forceful as if the title were a demand. The eight songs on it have a laidback sensibility that is constantly being agitated by the intrusions of guitar crackle, keyboard melodies that fall just off center from the rest of the track, and firehose bursts of reverb and distortion.

The Australian quartet – made up of siblings Sarah, Luke, and Daniel Spencer along with their friend Luke Walsh – have been perfecting this sound for decades, starting as Sarah states below in our e-mail interview when the Spencers were all kids. But when they fell under the sway of rock, they injected it with the weirdness and youthful energy of their early sonic experiments.

They’ve released an array of recorded material since 2007, all of it as potent and joyous and off-kilter and noisy and expressive as anything you’ve heard in the noise pop universe. And when the play their songs out – as they will be doing tonight at Rotture along with Focus Troup, Cool Meiners, and Pacific City Nightlife Visions – they amplify those qualities in a huge way.

Take a listen to a track from Blank Realm and then check out the little e-mail chat that I was able to have with Sarah Spencer during the band’s current spate of U.S. tour dates.

Was it always a given that the siblings in the band would end up playing music together or did one or more of you take some convincing?

I think so, right from when we were little we made funny tape collages using our cassette decks and made up goofy songs, I think we were always gonna do something.

Was there a pretty strong music scene in Brisbane that helped inspire you to play music or were you looking outside of your hometown?

I think we definitely listen to a lot of records from America, but it’s the stuff that you get to see live on stage that really inspires you. Brisbane has, has always had, a pretty strong scene for such a small place. The best time for us was when stuff like Kitchen’s Floor, Slug Guts and the Negative Guest List zine were just getting started, but stuff is still going down, it always is.

Did it take long for you to hit on a particular sound that you could call your own or did that come together naturally?

It took a really long time. We’ve practised so much, and discarded probably about a hundred songs to arrive at what we do now. I doubt anyone would ever call us polished or refined, but it’s taken a long time for us to just find a voice that is our own, or that we feel is our own.

According to one interview I read of yours from 2008, you were considering moving to Melbourne…did that happen?

Not yet, but Daniel is in lurve with a girl who moved there, so soon we’ll be a Melbourne/Brisbane band I guess!

So much of what informs your records is the loose, improvisational quality of certain songs…how does this bleed over into when you play live? Do you stick to a pretty set setlist or do you mess with things over and over again on the road?

We have a set list, but we extend it out, and the songs basically just go on for as long as we feel they should, hopefully not too long. We never play songs quite the same way twice, there’s a lot of room for improvisation.

You have a new album recorded (according to your FB page)…what can you tell me about that one – where it was recorded and with who, the sound of the new record, etc.?

Like all our records, we recorded it ourselves. Luke our guitarist does all the recording, we record everything we do, until we hit on the version of a song we feel is the one. I would say the new album is more pop, but it’s also weirder, it’s a bit more creepy.

How do you like touring the States or getting outside of your native country to play shows? Do you find a more receptive audience than you do at home?

America is great, we have so much fun here, and the audiences have been great. I guess our hometown, Brisbane is the best though, just because it all our friends and everyone is drunk and going nuts, you can’t really beat that.

What is next for the band after you finish up with this run of tour dates?

I think some kind of juice detox, we ate a lot of insane food out on the US interstates, Waffle House I’m looking at you.

Music: Weirdcraft Youth Group, Cascade Data, and technicolor yawn

Local musician Jason Goodrich was kind enough to flood the timeline of the Experimental Portland Facebook page the other night, clueing me in to a number of projects that he is involved in. Maybe his intention wasn’t to have me put the spotlight on them here at the blog, but they were so good, I could hardly resist. Let’s start with the harshest of the bunch:

Goodrich took on the mastering of this terrifying release with a bunch of bands paying tribute (?) to some infamous serial killers. He rightfully called these tracks “homicidal soundscapes.” These industrialized splatters and chilling samples of voiceover from some fucked up TV programming tracking these sickos is not for late night listening. Makes “Frankie Teardrop” sound down right kittenish.

The collaboration between Goodrich and Steve Westbrook, known as Cascade Data, has its own darkness, smeared underneath the chassis of these otherwise gleaming heaps of glitchy EDM and broken breakbeats. This is the kind of stuff that would be fun to have on wax and to mix into a set of Autechre and Aphex Twin.

The two tracks that make up Goodrich’s solo effort – recorded under the name technicolor yawn – has, from the description on the Bandcamp page, a sexy origin story: “From remnant sound scraps, field recordings ,and hardware/software generated mystery .wav files spanning from 1999-2013, smeared and blended into two deep ambient tracks: an alien transmission of sci-fi techno horror sound tracks- inducing dark, head nodding sleep.” If they ever start including download codes with your prescription painkillers, let this be the EP that comes with your next refill of hydrocodone.

Video: E*Rock – Loud Room

Gnar Tapes is looking to have quite a summer. The imprint already blew our little camera obscura brains way open with the release of a full cassettes’ worth of Ukrainian noise projects, but now they turn around and start poking a stick into our particular portals with the release of a new set of jams by Jib Kidder and then this scary John Carpenter-inspired work by E*Rock. Of the new cassette The Great Underground Empire, *Rock says, it is “a conceptual synth album based off an early text adventure game developed in 1979 that I played as a kid on my family’s PC throughout the early ’80s.” The video speaks well to his mindset behind the new work, with ’80s video/computer game graphics and what looks to be a heat vision view of an old ambulance light melting into VHS oblivion. If someone isn’t gearing up to turn this into the soundtrack for the credit sequence of their next homemade slasher film, there’s no justice in this world.

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Music: Portland Bike Ensemble – Live @ Noisy BBQ

I didn’t hear about this year’s Noisy BBQ until Saturday evening, the night before it was to happen, and the same night that I was in the middle of making sure the wheels didn’t fall off the International Noise Conference. Which is a damn shame, as handful of the acts that played the INC were booked to play the BBQ as well – and after their amazing showing on Saturday, I would have loved to see them perform again. Sadly (for me), I wore myself spare on Saturday night, helping haul gear and coordinate things and reminding all 15 of the performers that I adored them and what they do. So, Sunday, I was a shell of myself and couldn’t conceive of another long day of noise music.

Thank Christ, at least one band had the wherewithal to record their performance on Sunday. The Portland Bike Ensemble captured its nearly 17-minute set of two-wheel driven bluster and thrum and fart and sputter. And they graciously posted it online for free download, stream, and lower GI function discomfort.