Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cicada Dream Band

Pauline Oliveros/David Rothenberg/Timothy Hill - Cicada Dream Band
Gruenrekorder/Terra Nova Music CD

[Gruen 149/LC 09488/TN1410]

The Magicicada, the North America species of the cicada, has a life cycle of seventeen years most of which it spends underground getting old and fat. When they emerge, as they did in the New York Metropolitan district in 2013, Pauline Oliveros, David Rothenberg and Timothy Hill played a series of concerts that incorporated their ubiquitous buzz, the results being that rare thing, a beautiful recording that weaves together both man made sounds and those of the natural world.

But don’t think that this is three improvisors doodling over insect chatter. It is far from it. On ‘The Longest Song in the World’ we have the sounds of Humpback whales, on ‘All Creatures Get It’ Latvian frogs, two tracks have blackbirds for accompaniment, even termites get a look in. Three tracks are plain improv and beautifully done improv at that. All of this being the end result of over three and a half hours worth of live audio edited down to the hour and a bit we have here.

Over the course of eleven tracks the mood is a sombre and serene one where Hill’s vocals, sometimes a panting dog, sometimes a Tuvan shaman, sometimes a deep cycling overtone drone, sit cheek by jowl with both Rothenberg’s fluttering clarinets and Oliveros’ eerie electric V-Accordion.

I suspect that David Rothenberg may be behind all this. He’s the man who plays the clarinet to whales, writes books on how we get our natural rhythm from insects, he’s also the man behind Bug Music, another Gruenrekorder/Terra Nova release in which Rothenberg and friends improvised to the accompaniment of various insects, Hill was also involved in that project and for me it was his vocals that stood out and its the same here. In a Paul McCarthy way he growls, moans, drones and in general uses his voice to terrific effect. Especially on ‘Information National Forest’ where his rapid pants play out to flickering accordion and the sounds of both French cicadas and the Icterine warbler.

What makes this such a remarkable release is the way all three of these musicians gel. Rothenberg’s clarinet is at times a haunting one, a lonesome sound, sparse, fluttering like a bird. Hill manages at times to reach such low vocal drones that you imagine he must have an oil drum for a chest, when they interact with the lonesome call of Humpback whales the results are gaunt and profoundly sad. Oliveros meanwhile is an enigmatic presence one of prodding finger end stabs of her electric accordion, maybe thats her with the muted gong sounds or is it Rothenberg’s Ipad?

Three tracks have no apparent insect sounds, that is they have no subtitle explaining which insect/animal it is thats being mixed and appear to be pure improv which leads to the greater question; was all this improv? If so I’m even more impressed.

My only slight gripe is that the lack of information here. A booklet recounting how all this came together, the gigs they played, a few live pictures would have been illuminating. It may also have told us what that iPad was doing. Updating? Taking pictures? Tweeting? But this is small beer and hardly detracts from what is a remarkable coming together of three like minded people.

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