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Monday, June 3, 2019

Lotus Lungs - Guitar Improv Summit Vol. 1 (Right Brain Records, 2019) ****

By Gregg Daniel Miller

This is an unusual record. Improvising guitar trios are not unheard of, but not often, perhaps not enough. If you’re looking for something you haven’t heard before, this may be it. In Bill Horist, Tom Scully, and Matt Benham, we have three extremely accomplished, creative musicians playing a mix of electric and acoustic guitars. The full panoply of effects are at their disposal. In addition to picking, bowing, and a few heavy metal chords, their guitars turn into gongs and bells, birds, the human voice, computery glitches and pops, shimmers, screeches, warbles, plus any and all of them backwards. It’s a bit like being in an industrial kitchen with a wandering ear which focuses on different sound sets. The emphasis is on tones, timbre, and rhythms: wavering, still, caustic, calming. All the moods are represented, some all at once, none for too long, some for not long enough. Only the first and ninth songs are truly annoying. The fourth and sixth tracks (“Floating Mountain” and “The Steam in Sand”) are the most coherent. But throughout, if you don’t like one of the conjunctures, just wait a moment, you’ll get there. The three guitarists do not really develop a sound; instead they are leaping from sound palette to sound palette, testing which will float, sink, or sail. They don’t seem to be guided by math or roadmaps, sequences or cycles. The sounds are more like nature in an urban setting. We hear nature’s rustling, but cross-traffic intervenes, and each intermittently becomes the support for the other. This music is both experimental and creative. I can’t hear any real conversation happening across the 3 guitars. It’s more that each guitarist takes a decidedly different strip of sound, and the 3 voices together interleave to get the result. A very cool, short video of their recording session using prepared guitars is here:

The recording can be found on Bandcamp, or here.

Right Brain Records is the new, digital only, Seattle-based non-profit “label” of sound engineer Scott Schaffer, dedicated to putting out new experimental music. The subject of digital-only labels came up recently in Jeremiah Cymerman’s 5049 podcast in an interview with guitarist and studio wizard James Plotkin. Plotkin remarked to the effect of: “Who needs a digital-only label? I have an internet connection, I can put out my own stuff on Bandcamp.” It’s a good question, and maybe one of the answers has to do with curatorial judgment. Put enough strong outings under the same moniker, who knows, maybe a digital-only label can take off.

Full disclosure, I have played with Tom Scully and Matt Benham in different musical configurations, but I solemnly pledge that if I didn’t like this record, I would faithfully do my duty and let you good readers know.


Colin Green said...

CDs are digital too. I think he means “download-only”, though via Bandcamp they can also be streamed over the Internet.

Gregg Miller said...

Yes, sorry for any confusion. By "digital only," I mean a "label" that distributes music to listeners (via streaming/downloading/broadcasting) without producing any physical/material/tangible/tactile objects. To my mind, there are many interesting questions involved here as the medium shifts.

Colin Green said...

Of course, there’s always a physical medium involved without which digital audio files couldn’t exist, whether it be CD, hard drive or tape. They have to be stored and read from something. Internet streaming is very likely the future for mainstream music but more marginal music, like free jazz, will probably lag behind. Although sites like Bandcamp have a streaming app you still have to pay the same price for albums as a download. Elsewhere – iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz etc. – a monthly sum gives you the right to stream a gargantuan collection of music. Even big-name musicians make a pittance from that however, so there’s little attraction for music which has a much smaller audience.

There are still millions of CDs out there, and some prefer having a physical medium, something they can “hold in their hands”. The problem is that at some point you have to put it down, find space for it and later remember where you put it, which becomes increasingly difficult as your collection grows.

A few years I asked my daughter if she’d bought any good CDs recently. She looked at me like I was an idiot (nothing new there). The times they are a changin’.

Nick Metzger said...

My one gripe with this trend is that most often when you buy digital albums the liner notes aren't included in digital form as well. This obviously isn't applicable when there are none, but sometimes they are extensive and give a greater understanding of the artist's intent/special listening instructions/circumstances of the recording or even enlightening/humourous ancedotes. I've always enjoyed them and I don't feel like they would be at all difficult to include, I mean you generally get a jpeg of the cover. I agree with Colin, much easier to store and organize to some degree. The downside (upside?) is the absolute glut of material that gets put out. I feel like perhaps we help in this respect by listening to more than most care to and offering our thoughts. I know I count on numerous bloggers myself, this site included of course, to help me find the really good stuff.