Deep Listening Band: Great Howl at Town Haul (Imprec, 2012) **** ½
Deep Listening Band: Needle Drop Jungle (Taiga Records, 2012) **** ½
Although it is a long time ago I remember precisely when I visited Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa while being on a holiday in Scotland. It is like a natural cathedral, a unique place producing strange sounds due to the echoes of the waves and the wind and the twittering of the sea birds. Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s overture “The Hebrides” was inspired by this atmosphere. When I listened to The Deep Listening Band’s albums I was immediately reminded of this natural spectacle.
The Deep Listening Band are legendary American composer Pauline Oliveros (accordion, little instruments, voice), Stuart Dempster (percussion, trombones, didgeridoo, voice, cowbell, whistles, little sounds, breach conch) and David Gamper (percussion, flute, piano, toys little sounds, breach conch) and these albums, released to celebrate Oliveros’ 80th birthday, complete a quadrilogy of her releases together with “Then and Now” (also with the Deep Listening Band) and “Primordial/Lift” (with a larger group of musicians). “Great Howl at Town Haul“ and “Needle Drop Jungle” are both result of the band’s January 2011 residency and concerts at Seattle Town Hall which produced enough material for both a CD and an LP. The concerts were equipped with a special sound system using eight loudspeakers and four subwoofers surrounding the band and audience so that they had the impression that the sounds came from above and below them.
Moreover, the Deep Listening Band is not only about making music, it also transports a philosophy, namely Deep Listening, which is described by Oliveros as “listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what one is doing.” The band’s website says that Deep Listening “explores the difference between the involuntary nature of hearing and the voluntary, selective nature – exclusive and inclusive -- of listening”.
Both albums are perfect examples of this philosophy. On “Needle Drop Jungle” there are hundreds of different natural sounds, it is like a grab bag, a constant surprise, the more often you listen to it the more you detect (even in your body, it is a physical experience, as well). In “Landgrove” you can immerge in an acoustic world of clicks, rising and ebbing drones, breathing, little flute melodies, long trombone notes, chimes, accordion phrases, and piano sprinkling - it seems as if there was a whole natural orchestra at work. But it is never cheesy ambient stuff because there is always something dark and eerie in the background, which then becomes even more dominant in “Jungle Howl”, the second track. “Friday Mighty” is the most erratic and rawest piece (Stanley Kubrick might have used it as a soundtrack for “2001 – A Space Odyssey” if he had known it) before “Tomorrow’s Power” closes the album going back to scary ambient world of “Landgrove” again.
“Great Howl at Town Haul“ is only slightly different, again you have the impression that there are ten musicians playing for you or that there are at least electronics involved, the band plays with the conditions of the room, the notes seem to ricochet through it (“Great Horned Howl”). Here and there are single instruments in the foreground (for example the trombone), especially “Town Haul”, the first track, is of absolute beauty. You can also find minimal influences (“Great Haul”), elaborate new classical music (“Great Horned Howl”), the use of what they call “little instruments” and incredible drones (“Great Haul”).
Unfortunately, these albums will definitely be the last ones of this excellent group because David Gamper surprisingly passed away on September 27th, 2011.
“Needle Drop Jungle” is available as 200 gram double vinyl, it is limited to 500 copies. It comes with essays by the band and photographs by Michael S. Carlson.
“Great Howl at Town Haul” is available on CD.
Next to William Hooker’s “Channels of Consciousness” and Trio X’s “Live on Tour 2010” these are two more almost forgotten gems of 2012.
Listen to an older track here: