at35 arena ladridos
Chris Cogburn percussion
Bonnie Jones electronics
Bhob Rainey soprano saxophone
recorded in Austin and Marfa, Texas, April 2010
“Synergies exist within group performance, whereby each individual voice is augmented by another, doubly so in group improvisation. An obvious statement, I know, but what may be less apparent is how this interaction resembles what one might call a nonlinear dynamical system. Here, voices coalesce together into a meshwork, feeding back into one another. This happens either on a purely physical level, where the sounds emitted by each performer interact in harmonic wave patterns; or on a cognitive level, where the decisions of player x influence those of player y (and then y back onto x). The former phenomenon is well-studied — from Bach's counterpoint to Grisey's spectralism, the notion that harmonics behave in a nonlinear fashion has long been entrenched in musical theory — but the latter is a far less understood and applied process, even among social scientists. Fortunately, the group documented by Arena Ladridos are world-class, providing an excellent example of a nonlinear dynamical system.
Frequently brought together through Austin's No Idea Festival, the trio of Chris Cogburn (percussion), Bonnie Jones (electronics), and Bhob Rainey (soprano saxophone) toured Texas and Mexico in 2010. Arena Ladridos is the recorded document of shows in Austin and Marfa, Texas, with each set comprising a 20-plus-minute track. Each member's credentials are unimpeachable, all having played with premier free improvisers. Jones is a Korean-born, Baltimore-based electronic improviser who makes up one half of English (with Joe Foster) and has played with such luminaries as Andrea Neumann and Toshimaru Nakamura. An instructor at Loyola University of New Orleans, Rainey ought to be familiar to most, as one of the principles of nmperign alongside Greg Kelley. The Austin-based Cogburn might be the least well-known, though his background is equally sound — as curator of No Idea Festival and having played with Vic Rawling, Tetuzi Akiyama, and Annette Krebs, among others.
So what then would be the most effective tool for understanding how a nonlinear dynamical system applies to an improvisational work like Arena Ladridos?
That would be the language of such a system's limiting behavior. On the opener "Govalle," for example, the trio quickly settles into what would be called a restrained 'attractor,' i.e., a stable point or cycle at which the variables sort of hover around (up to minor perturbation). For much of the first half of the track, the three are caught in this quiet, yet menacing cycle, aptly evoking the rough translation of Arena Ladridos, 'barking sand.' Jones' drone faintly hisses while Rainey and Cogburn emit sparse sounds of airy notes and delicate scratching, respectively. Just over four minutes in, the group attempt to dislodge the muted aesthetic, with each crescendoing simultaneously. But this perturbation is weak, resulting in a regression back to the original, minimal attractor. It isn't until around 12 minutes that the group breaks free of their initial state: Rainey's sax oscillates wildly while Jones introduces an intrusive feedback more akin to Nakamura's troublesome no-input mixer, thus disturbing their environment enough to evolve the system. As a result, for the remainder of "Govalle," Cogburn, Jones, and Rainey bifurcate rapidly between a loud and soft attractor, until finally the system disintegrates.
"Marfa," on the other hand, evolves in a drifting manner as opposed to bifurcation, proceeding sequentially as soft, loud, soft, loud, etc. Instances of unaccompanied 'lowercase' sax quickly transition into a troika of noise and just as swiftly back into near silence. Each quieter moment resembles "Govalle's" first attractor, but in no way could any be considered a derivative of another. The outbursts too are varied, ranging from a cacophonous flutter to a radiant drone reminiscent of nmperign's best. These basic components of volume comprise sections of drift, each an incremental development from its associated predecessor.
From the listener's perspective, especially the uninitiated, Cogburn, Jones, and Rainey's improvisation might seem chaotic and formless, but the best players always employ some sort of logic, whether that be agreed-upon heuristics or a player's internal theories. This 'logic' is actualized here through their performance and yet subsequently distorted by one another until they reach an obfuscated, bizarre structure: an instantaneous, complex meme. If this group were of the non-idiomatic persuasion, their aim would be to continually destroy these new memes they've established for themselves. But here the trio seeks to evolve in a novel, seemingly unforeseen way, dodging both exogenous idioms and a reliance on any one endogenous meme. This dismantling of attractors may border on the clinical, but Arena Ladridos is an aesthetic delight, an album that invites both overwrought analysis — as I have done here — and passive splendor — which I recommend you experience.” Matthew Horne, Tiny Mix Tapes
“‘At the same time, there is silence, a silence which is not an absence of sound but which is the object of a positive sensation, more positive than that of sound. Noises, if there are any, only reach me after crossing this silence.’
There is, often, a gorgeous sense of calm about this record, not a loss of focus or laziness but a willingness to let little happen, for however long it takes, for however long it needs; not imposing, not leading, following the sounds as and when they ask to be heard or made. Though it’s by no means a particularly silent listen, one feels that the lines quoted above, from Simone Weil, do somehow fit: each sound is filtered through a corresponding quietness, each sound is coaxed out of silence and falls back into it, like a wavering fleck of light suddenly emerging, then disappearing back into shadow again. This shouldn’t imply the monastic discipline or asceticism that Weil might have at the back of her mind; rather, the sense is of something relaxed, not casual exactly, but un-worried about grabbing attention or creating something that screams ‘I am important! Listen to me now!’ As time passes, not much might have happened, and so what? Spaces are filled enough, more than enough, so much of the time, and a genuine contemplative quietness can do no harm. To some, this may come across as aimlessness; and, true, compared to the composed or partially-composed work in this area, there is less obvious ‘focus’, less of a clear structural framework. But for me, that’s quite an attractive respite; listening to ‘Arena Ladridos’ allows one, free of overt structural considerations, to quite clearly imagine oneself into a physical space, to imagine the musicians sitting there, in front, perhaps, of a small audience, inhabiting the small room for forty-five minutes, sometimes filling it with sound, sometimes easing back and letting the room itself have a say in matters. There’s something about the logic with which things unfold that means this could be nothing other than a concert recording: the presence of hesitancies, even meandering moments – the imperfections which prevent things from having a surface’s that’s too shiny, that’s ‘just-so’.
The first piece begins with tinkling bells, maybe just jiggled or shaken or knocked slightly with the tips of fingers, electronic crackle, and wisps of breath amplified/modified through saxophone bell and keys. My somewhat whimsical way of listening to this opening minute or so is to imagine that the three musicians are ‘introducing’ themselves, in overlapping fashion. Here is percussion; here is electronics; here is a saxophone. But the separation is really less clear-cut: though it’s normally fairly obvious which sounds are percussion, the concentration on vague or merging tones from electronics and saxophone tend to create a grey area in which anyone could be creating any particular sound. At one point, the sound of a passing car seems to sub for Jones’ electronics, replacing her drone tone with something remarkably similar. It’s not all subtlety and hush, though: Jones’ playing is, at times, quite deliberately harsh, generating sudden beeps that sound like a warning signal, an electrical malfunction, an alarm, and Cogburn’s playing can be quite assertive, though he generally treats his drums as a surface to rub and scrape rather than one to strike and beat.
Indeed, there’s quite a variety of incident on display: there are a large number of events, however unhurried the pace, and one never feels that the players are holding anything back, practicing an overly studied reticence or aloofness; instead, they are using patience as a general method of working, and the results are to make gestures which elsewhere might seem small or un-dramatic (a surging consonance of crescendo – a half-choked wail rising and falling on intake and outtake of breath – the sound of almost conventional rhythms from drums) possess intense power and concentration. Equally, though, things could go the other way, all three musicians temporarily silent, while a dog barks, or a car distantly passes – where a sine tone sounds like a sucking in of breath or a tiny, suppressed whisper – sounds, sometimes, that seem to come from outside human agency, like those eerie screeches and rumbles one hears from on high in railways stations and near building sites. This or a swelling drama, a concord/concourse, not rising to shared climax, surging only to swell down again. Matthew Horne, in his review of the album for ‘Tiny Mix Tapes’, describes the process as a group aesthetic in which all three players hover around a particular area for several minutes, attempting, and failing to break out, before eventually moving away in quite dramatic form: “The trio quickly settles into what would be called a restrained 'attractor,' i.e., a stable point or cycle at which the variables hover around (up to minor perturbation). Just over four minutes in, the group attempt to dislodge the muted aesthetic, with each crescendoing simultaneously. But this perturbation is weak, resulting in a regression back to the original, minimal attractor. It isn't until around 12 minutes that the group breaks free of their initial state: Rainey's sax oscillates wildly while Jones introduces an intrusive feedback more akin to [Toshimaru] Nakamura's troublesome no-input mixer, thus disturbing their environment enough to evolve the system.” It’s a nice formal encapsulation of a music that seems to avoid formal systems in the moment of listening, of unfolding: but perhaps it belies the actual lack of overt tension (so often a driver of improvised music) that I feel when playing the CD back; despite abruptions from Jones or from Cogburn, despite intricacies of flow and of incident, the overall impression is unforced, unhurried, unharried. Here, as Weil puts it, noises have to cross the silence before they can be heard.”
David Grundy, Eartrip
“The opening scene in director David Lynch's movie Blue Velvet (1986) shows a placid neighborhood scene of a man watering his lawn. As the camera zooms closer and closer to the grass, the serenity of the landscape is peeled away to reveal a tumultuous battle of tiny insects in a life-and-death struggle that goes on outside of our familiar perspective.
The same can be said of these two minimalist improvisation pieces on Arena Ladridos. Recorded in Austin and Marfa, as a part of a Texas and Mexico tour, the trio presents a smoldering and at times an almost imperceptible array of sounds that focus on the possibilities of silence (or near silence).
A master of minimalist improvisation, Bhob Rainey can be heard in the company of today's free jazz superstars like Axel Dorner, Jack Wright, Jon Mueller, Alessandro Bosetti, and Greg Kelley his partner in Nmperign. This trio presents equal doses of improvisation and environmental tones, spreading an ambient construction, instead of structured tunes.
This is not music for the impatient, nor for Dick Clark's dance party. It is about the exploration of the minutia, but not the trivial. Cogburn's percussion is focused more on scrapings than the beat, and Jones' electronics makes use of her circuits' buzz and flutter to complement Rainey's breath. On the surface, nothing is happening here. Such is the verdict if played at low volumes without closer inspection., but at the micro-level the activity is blazing. Rainey is listening and reacting to the slightest movement by Cogburn and Jones' nerve synapses firing repeated instructions to alter pitch and tones. The rise and swell of energy is a tsunami for those living here close to the ground. It's just not apparent to anyone not scrutinizing the minimal.” Mark Corroto, All About Jazz
“The trio of Chris Cogburn, Bonnie Jones, and Bhob Rainey provide a perfect complement to the other two recordings. The two live sets that make up the recording were captured live at the 2010 No Idea Festival in Austin and Marfa, Texas. There’s a markedly transparent sound to this trio with silence and ambient sound a distinguishing element to the unfolding improvisations. The character of each of the musicians makes a specific and discrete mark on the music; Rainey’s fricative overtones and sibilant use of breath, Jones’ burred and cracked circuits, and Cogburn’s gesturally abraded percussion. Their music is a tightrope display of careful listening as the three explore a dynamic sense of elastic balance. Over the course of these two sets, the trio evolves a potent collective vocabulary. Gesture plays a much stronger role here than in the previous two releases but each of the members eschews the use of conversational activity, instead, pursuing vectors of countervailing lines that coalesce around velocity and dynamics while creating a mutable tension. The three can drop down to near silence with wisps of detail or erupt in boisterous crescendos, but they emerge in a natural progression rather than any forced sense of formal arc. Rainey is fairly well documented, but Jones, and particularly Cogburn, have not recorded as frequently; this is a particularly welcome release and one I’ve been going back to often.” Michael Rosenstein, Signal to Noise
“....The second release is a more conventional release of improvised music, although perhaps more in the Another Timbre sense than in conventional free jazz areas. Here we have two instruments - the percussion of Chris Cogburn and the soprano saxophone from Bhob Rainey - and a set of electronics, played by Bonnie Jones. She and Cogburn are new names for me. Two live recordings from 2010 here, both from Texas. This is the music of careful exploration of sound, sound possibilities, textures and minimalist moods. Where every instrument, in this case percussion, soprano saxophone and electronics, is explored for all the possibilities. So you can use the saxophone as a percussion instrument and get these high pitched sounds from objects on the surface of the drum skin, whereas the electronics… well, they are what they are: its probably the most difficult instrument in getting them to play something else (analogue?). In these two pieces we can follow them in these exploration, this search for
possibilities. One can choose to lie back and let this all flow over you, this stream of sound, or one can sit, concentrate and follow each move. I found both possible here. Music that makes you wander off in some of its sheer silence and minimalism, but also take the route of highly demanding, concentrated listening. Refined.”
Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly
“The common point between Bhob Rainey (soprano saxophone), Bonnie Jones (electronics) and Chris Cogburn (percussion) is now known. It is Arena Ladridos, a pearl of electroacoustic music that blossomed in the Texan desert. A sand rose whose heart beats and breathes.
A note (the soprano) is dispersed on Govalle. Metal reflections (the percussion) send it back, and periodic bleeps (the electronics) announce that it is still breathing. At the end, the three are one and Govalle is made of three (the operation is beautifully scaled).
After this snakes emerge from an infinite landscape. They crawl across the surface of Marfa. Their life at once synthesises and respects the sonic codes of endogenous improvisation, a genre that is very active today. And the bonus for Arena Ladridos is in the pleasurable disorientation that it effects. “ Héctor Cabrero, Le Son du Grisli
“Released as part of the Another Timbre label’s Silence and after series, Arena Ladridos, a new album by the American trio of Chris Cogburn, Bonnie Jones and Bhob Rainey is one that I instinctively want to pigeonhole away, but can’t quite manage to do so. To be more precise, this is a CD of improvised music that for much of the time fits quite comfortably into the convenient bracket of “modern textural improv” in that it is a quiet, brooding affair full of a mixture of hissing spluttering sax, (Rainey) tinkling, scraping percussion, (Cogburn) and bleeping and squawking electronics (Jones). The music on the most part progresses as you might imagine, all rather understated and occasionally slipping into near silence, but otherwise a nice blend of all of the above sounds, purring and whistling away.
So part of me wants to put this CD onto the shelf labelled “thoroughly pleasant but not all that dangerous listening” in that it doesn’t really seem to take any risks, and yet the two pieces on the CD are all very nicely constructed and I enjoyed listening through the four times I have so far a great deal. The problem is though, while I am not familiar with Cogburn’s music, I know the music of Rainey and Jones very well, and much of it is so good that I can’t help but feel I am missing something more here. Listening attentively there are certainly a few places where the music jolts away from the predictable, often with Jones adding sudden seemingly out of places synthetic squelches, but what I don’t grasp at all is much in the way of tension. The music is delicate, finely constructed and the blend of sounds is constantly full of subtle choices made, but it doesn’t feel like it has much of an edge to it, although seemingly fragile, I don’t get the impression that it could all fall apart with one wrong move. These are fine musicians though, so I suspect that if I had seen the musicians performing these pieces live (I think they are live concert recordings) then I might have felt something deeper, wilder in the music. It is often hard to make out what Cogburn is doing to create his sounds, and often Jones’ sounds merge into the output of the others so it is hard at times to follow the musical conversation between the trio, but listening to the CD, despite the fact it has been well recorded, I am left with the sounds alone, and as is often the case with live events captured on disc much of the music is flattened slightly into one stream of sounds. I don’t want to suggest that this is a bad album, because it isn’t, its far from it, its a thoroughly enjoyable listen.”
Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear
“The first half or so of the initial track is pretty fantastic through and through, Jones working in areas, quasi tonal at times, that I haven't heard her investigate before. If I were to isolate an issue I have here, it's with Cogburn's contributions which occasionally, as at the turning point in that first track, seem a bit overbearing and misplaced. There were times, I must say, that I found myself wondering what a Jones/Rainey duo would offer, or a trio with Sean Meehan. The latter half of the 26 minute performance, then, is fine but somewhat more meandering, as though the trio were unable (unwilling?) to pick up that delicate thread. It also strikes me as something that might have been more workable, from the listener's standpoint, heard and viewed live. What one perceives as somewhat aimless at home might well have more of a tinge of serious searching in situ.
"Marfa", recorded there two days after the first piece, may not reach the clarity of those first minutes but works more consistently on the whole. Opening in a very subdued manner, once again the twining of Jones' electronics and Rainey's soprano is lovely and Cogburn shows more restraint as well, his faint bell tones especially nice. The ebb and flow is fine, the louder moments emerging naturally enough, Cogburn's bowed cymbals providing a delicious contrast to Jones' crackling output. A good piece and a good album overall, hinting at far stronger work now and then.”
Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
“Another timbres serie för att hylla 50-årsjubileet av John Cages ”Silence” kommer en svit inspelningar, som alla på något vis påstås ha med amerikanen att göra. Producenten har nog tänkt på all den musik som vänt sig till tystnaden, som struntar i spräcket, och som dök upp på scenen för 10-12 år sedan, i London, Beirut, Paris och inte minst Berlin. Visst kan detta ses som musik av Cages barnbarn. De inte bara ifrågasatte konventionella sätt att spela men också själva improvisationen. Ofta har det ifrågasatts, om dessa böljande ljudsjok är improvisation. På samma sätt som Jim O´Rourke för många år sedan frågade sig om Evan Parker improviserade? Han gjorde det förstås genom att inte använda skriven musik, men formlerna och uttrycket, ja, stilen, fanns ju redan där. Ägnade sig inte Parker åt att spela sig själv?
Frågan är trots allt ganska akademisk, när den förs över till den musik som Chris Cogburn på slagverk, Bonnie Jones på elektronik och Bhob Rainey på sopransax gör tillsammans. Det är low dynamic, lågmäld, reduktionistisk musik. Men lågmäldheten är en parameter som jag egentligen inte tycker har med Cage att göra. De musiker som direkt kopplas till honom, David Tudor, Charlotte Moorman, Nam June Paik för att nämna några, tolkade inte ”tystnad” som tyst. Tystnad var väl snarare avsaknad av konventionella ljudbilder, alltså alla andra ljud än de komponerade. Det var ute i den ”tystnaden” de agerade.
Hörd så har denna trio från Texas inte mycket med Cage att göra. De kreerar en idag ganska vanlig lågdynamisk musik fylld av lyrik och klangliga dimbildningar. I Bhob Raineys saxspel hör jag ekon av många, så som det alltid är i improvisationsmusik. Det är blöta ljud, han smackar, knäpper, undviker sopransaxens konventionsljud. Hans förtätningar accentuerar i korta rytmer ger klangfärg åt de ljudbilder de målar. Cogburn är en lyhörd medspelare som bygger upp rörelser, betonar, trycker på och fyller i. Det hörs att han spelat förr med de andra. Det är mycket stämningsfullt, ett stycke klangkomposition, som det bara är att blunda och suga i sig.
Om det inte vore för Bonnie Jones, denna smått geniala ljudmänniska, som får sin elektronik att låta som en serie misstag. Och jag tänker, att här är det någon som fattat vad Cage höll på med. Då de andra blundar och kopplar samman ljuden från sina instrument släpper hon iväg oväntade blipp och blopp, hon låter elektroniken skära skönheten i strimlor. Hon osäkrar hela inspelningen. Hennes kompromisslösa inpass kan påminna till exempel om Annette Krebs, men Jones är mer fragmentarisk, verkar mer disträ. För henne verkar ”tystnad” vara ett annat namn på återkommande distraktioner i det överenskomna.
Så blir denna trioinspelning något annat än en vanlig reduktionistisk spelning, det blir två som är överens men som aldrig förutsäga vad Bonnie Jones tänker ta sig till.
Och jag tänker på en passage ur Beate Grimsruds nya bok ”En dåre fri”. Huvudpersonen Eli ska spela prinsessan i sagospelet om Espen Askeladd, som får henne genom att göra henne svarslös. Så här gick det: ”Han drar upp den ena märkvärdiga saken efter en andra ur sin axelväska och jag frågar vad det är. Han svarar och svarar. Men till skillnad från på repetitionerna fortsätter jag att fråga ut honom när han inte längre har några saker att plocka upp ur väskan. Pojken som spelar Espen blir helt stum, så som jag, prinsessan skulle ha blivit. Medan jag pratar på. Idag finns ju publik.”
Bonnie Jones blir med den här inspelningen min speciella lågdynamiska sagospelsprinsessa!”
Thomas Millroth, Sound of Music