Category Archives: Recordings

notes on recordings

ANARCHESTRA –history in sound

In these notes I try to give some background to the recordings that have been made over the years Anarchestra has been in existence.

All the live recordings are collective improvisations and for the most part I think they should be allowed to speak for themselves rather than have the goals and methods of those whom I am not filtered through my singular perspective.  Unless specifically noted, no editing (aside from beginnings and endings) has been imposed on the live recordings (all of which were recorded directly to two tracks).

What I seek with tracked recordings is to approximate as well as I can what a live band might have played.  I improvise the parts and play them in real time (i.e., nothing is looped, ostinati are allowed their discrepancies and mistakes).   My approach to recording is to allow the required technology to interfere as little as possible with the documentation of the actual sounds and the physical process of playing.  Aside from rudimentary mixer functions like gain, level, pan, and equalization no processing of any kind has been used.

Having come up in the era of reel-to-reel and cassettes, modern recording technology is magnificent in its freedom from noise, ease of use, and affordability.  I can fully understand the impulse to use the available tools to their full extent, but, for me personally, immediacy and personality tend to evaporate when too much control is exerted over musical sound and those aspects are more interesting to me than achieving some sort of idealized end product.

I tend to think of the tracked recordings rhizomically as pieces of a whole rather than discrete ‘works’ isolated from one another –in the same way I tend to think of the instruments themselves as appendages of the “body” of Anarchestra.  To me, the linear ordering, temporally necessitated by making cds, is often the least interesting –when I listen, I generally prefer the unexpected contrasts and continuities aleatorically generated by shuffle.

01 rumor front

Rumor 2001 (54:03)

Recorded late winter-early spring 2001 Chilmark

Played on: 1 La Bas /Dubass /Pig /Sir Gamelan /Bish-Bosh /Peddlar /Bosco2 2 La Bas /Pig /Bish-Bosh /Copper Whistle 1 /Bosco2 /Paired /Dubass 3 Paired /Dubass /Croon /Peddlar /Bosco2 4 Bish-Bosh /Bosco2 /Lamellop /Harp /Dubass /Pig /Chant 5 Lamellop /Harp /E3W /Paired /La Bas /Sir Gamelan /Bosco2 6 Bish-Bosh /Peddlar /Croon /Paired /Lamellop /Bosco2 7 Paired /Pig /Lamellop /Bish-Bosh /Bosco2 /Dubass /Bosco3 8 Paired /Bish-Bosh /Lamellop /Bosco3 /La Bas

Played by: Alex Ferris

Initially I had planned on integrating the instruments I was building into some sort of conventional band, but making these recordings convinced me they should stand alone.  I didn’t want to limit the built instruments to just being a novel, essentially decorative, percussion section (a gimmick), I wanted them to have real functional roles in the music. When I got into it a bit, I realized that conventional instruments would just be superfluous, that they could only impoverish the autonomous soundworld I was beginning to explore and develop.  Coming at pitch and timbre from a more organic perspective had changed the way I heard things.  What I’d taken for granted before as good sound and intonation just seemed trite and commonplace all of a sudden.  I was particularly intrigued by the way general tonalities tended to emerge from the ensemble by its own consensus and I felt the resulting harmonies were a truer reflection of life on earth than any defined system of temperament could be.

Put in sociopolitical terms, these ‘consensus tonalities’ are akin to the inclusive clamor of human expression (and opinion), while all the systematically tempered fields of tonality can’t avoid but being akin to the exclusionary, hierarchic, ‘messaging’ put forth by one or another of our various elites.  (Viewed from this perspective, Just Intonation could be said to symbolize monotheism, Equal Temperament could be said to symbolize propertarian democracy, etc. –these being the dominant systems of thought in the westworld, in other regions of the earth different metaphors would apply.)

Almost all of western tonal thought has been concerned with what it calls ‘dissonance’ and a serviceable history of the evolution of ‘tonality’ could be parsed as a broadening acceptance of previously ‘unallowable’ dissonances.  Having spent my musical life mostly within the context of western music (more often than not in the rebel’s camp), I had always thought of dissonances as individuated –identified by their degree of variance from the fixed consonant–, but in this situation the norm (the ‘consensus tonality’) couldn’t exist until after the entire tonal field had been generated, making both ‘consonance’ and ‘dissonance’ cumulative and non-specific, a general condition relating all the sounds present in a given piece.  The stability of consonance (and by extension the valuation of dissonance) didn’t pre-exist in this music, but evolved autonomously from its sounds.

Moving away from the conventional instruments I’d generally played had dislocated me from the most basic assumptions underlying the theories those instruments had been designed and built to execute.  Experimentation in music involving those instruments had always maintained a relationship (no matter how strained or hostile) to the norms of temperament (this was true for the alternative temperaments as well: just intonation;  quartertones called for in Bartok; jazz musicians’ blue notes; Annie Gosfield’s detuned pianos; etc.).  Considering this, it occurred to me that anything played on instruments constructed to accomplish the goals of the musical status quo would have to, by implication, end up validating it to some extent (even in instances of revolutionistic appropriation –such as Free Jazz and Punk, both of which were and continue to be foundational components of my aesthetics).  In the traditions of western music, difference was deviance.  That idea didn’t apply to what I found myself doing.  Tonality wasn’t derived, it constructed itself out of accumulated differences.

John Cage (with his customary self-serving shallowness) said something to the effect that he hadn’t been interested in harmony (simultaneously advertising himself as a student of Schoenberg’s) because it said nothing about noise. His near contemporary, Thelonious Monk was asked, “What is music?”  “It’s sound,” he (with his customary insight and depth) said, “it’s what happens to sound.” The harmonies I found myself (necessarily) working with were all about noise, the pieces of music I was making were documentations of what was happening to the sounds I’d learned to generate.

I was using an 8 track ADAT left over from feral logic. (with whom I had played in the mid 90’s) and it ate the tape and self-destructed while I was working on this.  What remains is what I could salvage from the 2 track mixes I had made as I went along.

03 Labyrinth Speakeasy

Labyrinth Speakeasy (67:41) Recorded February 6th and 27th, 2003 at Labyrinth Speakeasy in W. Tisbury

Played on: Basuka, Bish-Bosh, Blowdrum, Bosco, Bustelo, Dubass, Guiroshaklave, Harp, Kyzyl Kum, La Bas, Lamellop, Mickey One, Paired, Peddlar, Pig, Pilon, Pipes, Sir Gamelan, Thump and Squat, Trinidad and Tobago, Tubes, and various winds

Played by: Charmaine Tam, Rod Welles, Scott Hershowitz, Paul Thurlow, Linzi Arundale, Alex Ferris.

The instruments were installed at Labyrinth Speakeasy (a performance space/ gallery founded and directed by Rod Welles) from fall 2002 until spring 2003 and played weekly by a fluctuating group of participants.  The six musicians on these two excerpts were the core group who played every week.

These remain among my favorite live recordings of Anarchestra despite the hollowness of the sounds I was able to get from the tonal instruments owing to their amplification by piezos (contact mics) and my low position on the learning curve of how best to use them.  Piezos don’t really like bass and using so many of them tended to push us toward Gamelan sonorities whether we wanted them or not.

This group of musicians, with their dedication, imagination, and unself-conscious mutual responsiveness, was a great honor to play with.  Their collaboration provided me with an opportunity to examine what did and didn’t work both sonically and ergonomically and I got a lot of constructive feedback from them.  That the idea of Anarchestra got such a positive reception from people I have so much respect for (as musicians and as human beings) encouraged me to build more instruments and continue to let the project grow.

04 4-04f copy

4/04+ (62:15)

tracks 1-18 recorded april 2004 track 19 recorded august 2003 at Railyard 1, Santa Fe

played on: 1 Copper Baritone/Steel Reed 2 Thump/Squat/Kyzyl Kum/La Bas/Steel Reeds 3 Dish/Bish-Bosh/Steel Reeds 4 Thump/Squat/Paired/Bish-Bosh/Bosco2/Basuka/Steel Reed/Steel Flute 5 Thump/Squat/Paired/Bish-Bosh/Bosco2/Pharo/Basuka 6 Harp/Phorques/Dish/Bish-Bosh 7 Basuka/Bish-Bosh/Pharo/Steel Reed/Thump/Squat/Tubes 8 Basuka/Furtwangler/Kyzyl Kum/Peddlar/Thump/Steel Reed 9 Sir Gamelan/Bish Bosh/Phorques 10 Pharo/Steel Flute/Steel Reed/Thump/Squat/Chant 11 Kyzyl Kum/Pig/La Bas/Steel Reeds 12 Sir Gamelan/Phorques/Dish/Bish-Bosh 13 Thump/Squat/Bish-Bosh/Paired/Phorques/Gurney 14 Steel Reed/Chant 15 Thump/Squat/Quesera/La Bas/Steel Reed 16 Dish/Bish-Bosh/Steel Reed/Phorques 17 Kyzyl Kum/Basuka/Thump/Squat/Strumpet/Pharo 18 Copper Whistle 1/Copper Baritone 19 Thump/Squat/Pipes/Tubes/Basuka/Lamelop/Harp/Copper Reed/ Copper Whistle 1

played by: Alex Ferris

In my late teens and early twenties, when I was learning to work in the building trades instead of going to college, I did what I could to educate myself in the arts by reading a lot.  With few exceptions (most notably the Stravinsky-Craft conversation books) the books on musicians (and fine artists) who interested me were largely uninformative (fr’instance, I would have loved to have found a book on Debussy that explained how he used ninth chords instead of seeing how many times it could use the word “shimmering”, or one on twentieth century tonality that didn’t feel compelled to chose a side in Adorno’s Schoenberg-Stravinsky apocalypse).  One of my best teachers during this period was the recently deceased Ezra Pound (and by extension Hugh Kenner who wrote about him).  One of Pound’s many dicta was ‘break the pentameter’ (he felt the metric predictability of English poetry had suffocated it) and I felt the same idea applied to music would demand that we ‘break’ the fours and threes we invariably played in.  My favorite composers (Stravinsky and Bartok) did exactly that, but I couldn’t find a way to do it without forgoing improvisation (multi-tracking was only available to those with expensive recording studios in those days), so the idea resided on the back burner.

Very few improvising musicians are willing to leave the comfort zones of the conventional meters (as Proust wrote: “…in love it is easier to relinquish a sentiment than to lose a habit.”).  In the 80’s I had the great privilege of playing in Demo-Moe. with Mike Zwicky and Alfredo Caballero, neither of whom were greatly attached to metric sameness.  Our meters were free, but functioned more as an absence of four and three than actual replacements of them.

I recorded Abandoned (so named because I abandoned it), track 19 (and another piece named Escaped –because I lost it for a couple of years), when I got a new multitrack recorder in august 2003.  Even though I enjoyed playing it and felt I got a good sound from the instruments, I was disappointed by my own conventionality, and began to feel that it came from the conventional (4/4, 3/4, 6/8) meters I’d been playing in all my life.  Analogous to the way making Rumor had changed my perceptions about conventional timbres and tonalities, recording Abandoned had changed my perceptions about conventional meters and the relationship between improvising and rhythm.  I wanted to get away from using the phrase structures I’d become habituated to, to play without being able to take the meter for granted, to force myself to truly pay attention.  Odd signatures allowed both “fourness” and “threeness” to coexist in the same piece of music without forcing either of them to sound inevitable.  That ambiguity encouraged the spontaneity of shaping phrases I had felt was impossible in the conventional meters.

I was fascinated by the music of Moondog around that time.  I felt an affinity to his elegant and simple radicalisms, the way his music responds to its own curiosity.  He had said he didn’t want to die in 4/4 time (which was exactly what I felt Abandoned was doing) and I decided I didn’t want to die that way either.  Several of the pieces among these represent the beginnings of my effort to re-invent my relationship with musical time.

Another motivation for the use of odd signatures was the limited scales available on the horns. Musical challenges I’d habitually answered with technique had to be met differently.  Without the multi-octave chromatic scales available on clarinets or saxophones, the standard practice of playing a lot of notes to generate excitement wasn’t a viable option.  Without a lot of notes available, one can’t just subdivide to create the illusion of complexity.  Instead of taking the signature for granted and decorating it (which is basically what most improvised music does), I felt I needed to use signatures that were interesting in and of themselves (essentially stop treating them as second class citizens).

In addition the limitations of the horns tended to bring a vocal simplicity into the music, an absence of vanity, which I welcomed.  For the first time in many years, I listened a lot to John Coltrane’s music from the early sixties (My Favorite Things through A Love Supreme), feeling he had been seeking a similar rootedness during that period.

In the interval between recording Abandoned and the other pieces I learned (through many failures) to make magnetic pickups (prior to that I’d been using contact mics).  This allowed me to get more and better presence from low and midrange sounds.  In addition, unlike the piezos (or dynamic mics) that amplify everything (sometimes the stands end up being louder than the tuned parts of the instruments), magnetic pickups have small fields of response and one can isolate the sound one is interested in producing as long as it is generated by ferrous metal.  I was able then to make pickups large enough for xylophones, kalimbas, and other wide instruments.

The shop and the studio were both in the same large room, which allowed me to build and rebuild instruments while I was recording them.

It was kind of as a joke to myself I titled the cd 4/04, as it marked my departure from 4/4.

04 bathtub  music

Bathtub Music (30:23)

Recorded June 2004 at Railyard 1, Santa Fe

Played on: Bosco 2, Bosco 3, Pharo, 2 Sly for 1, La Bas, McKeytoo, Basuka,  Mickey One, Peddlar, Quesera

Played by: Alex Ferris

With performing roots in free jazz and punk rock, I’d always tended to be disparaging toward so-called ambient music and thought of it as something “you’d listen to in the bathtub” (which I like doing with Afternoon of a Faun, Augustus Pablo, Dark Star, In a Silent Way, and things like that).  I was kind of surprised to find myself making music like this.

Bathtub Music is the first cd I made entirely without the conventional meters.  Its drum free sonic environment allows the signatures to exist as cycles and undermine the linearity they had tended towards on 4/04.  The relative stasis implied by cycles permitted me to approach the phrases as autonomous events rather than elements in a continuum (they could have occurred in any sequence). I was thinking a lot about Messiaen and his desire to make music as physical spaces (stasis) rather than temporal events (linearity). I was intrigued by the way the regularity of the (unfamiliar) cycles contributed to a sense of timelessness in ways unmetered pulses, which we would tend to subconsciously group into fours and threes, wouldn’t have.  From that point forward the relationship between these two aspects, particularly the ambiguities generated in their intersections within the odd meters, has always been on my mind when I make music –to me it has become a basic element, just like tempo or key.

I found that the absence of horns and percussion encouraged the absence of narrative I had been seeking (the ostinato played on Basuka in #2 works against this –I suspect I played it for so long in the hope of pushing through the other side of it). Narrative (and its implicit desire for drama) tends to locate the centers of musical interest on the player (whether in a jazz solo or the first violin part in a string quartet) and I was interested in finding ways of making the player disappear.

A performing musician’s work is built on appearing.  Ones stock in trade is ones visibility (or willingness to be visible).  That’s the context a blue collar musician necessarily inhabits and naturally the skills and musical values one develops over time are based upon that.  With the shift in my perceptions of tonality, timbre, and meter came an equally fundamental shift in my attitude toward myself as a performer.  Prior to Anarchestra the music I’d made had always been, whether it was the point of it or not, a demonstration of prowess (a willingness to be visible).  Making this music seemed to absolve me of that responsibility.

The shop had a high ceiling and it was sort of cavernous, with a big empty sound.  I recorded the parts as they sounded in the space, experimenting with distant mic placements, getting reverbs and phase relationships that contributed to the consensus of tonality.  The pitches by themselves (stripped of their context within the architecture of the shop) would have generated conflict with one another, but in the generality of the empty space they don’t seem at all “out of tune” (at least to my ears).

04 3 pieces fr

3 Pieces for Single Objects (21:33)

recorded September 2004 at Railyard 1, Santa Fe

played on: Dish, Tank, Sheet

Played by: Alex Ferris

After listening to Bathtub Music over the summer, I had a craving for noise.  For these pieces, I again experimented with mic placements (this time close) and limited myself to single objects to see what range of sounds I could get from them.

To me these were more interesting to make than they are to listen to.  When I hear them, I am reminded of the limitations of over-rationalization.  What I mean by that is that, having set an arbitrary conceptual ceiling for what they would be before making them, I prevented myself from responding to what they taught me, as if their function was to fit the description I’d started from (kind of like the ‘climate science’ funded by the oil industry, or the examinations of evolution undertaken by xtians).  In this they remind me of a lot of the ‘avant-garde’ art of the 60’s and 70’s, or the sort of work generated by art students (whose professors were artists in the 60’s and 70’s).

There’s something humorous about an idea that won’t ‘change its mind’.  I’ve always thought it was funny (and illustrative of the nature of capitalism) that Columbus (whose goal was to make money) stopped short of ‘discovering’ the continents a few more days of sailing beyond the islands that provided him with articles of trade.  It wasn’t until his fourth voyage that he reached what is now Venezuela.

The rationalized dichotomy that separates ‘music’ from ‘noise’ only exists for me as an idea, it doesn’t correspond to anything I genuinely feel about sound.  Like all dichotomies, it is basically facile and shallow.  What was challenging to conventional thinking at the times of Russollo, Varese, Henri and Schaeffer, Luenning and Ussachevsky, Cage, Penderecki, Albert Ayler, Jimi Hendrix, Buchla, and Crash Worship is inert history in the 21st century –there is almost no one alive today who hasn’t heard “noise” and received it as “music” without questioning it.

I’m not a ‘mainstream’ musician by any stretch of the imagination and no one has less interest in preserving the musical status quo than I do, but I don’t have undying devotion to avante-gardism either.  When it’s curious, investigative, and engaged in deconstructing and/or reconstructing the epistemological assumptions that underlie our art and communication, I’m all for it.  On the other hand, when it contents itself with making (essentially narcissistic) proclamations of its ‘otherness’, I have a hard time maintaining my interest in and sympathy for it.  When it generates or inhabits dogma, it’s just another status quo to me and I’m not that much less uncomfortable within its closed universe than I’d be in any closed universe.

In retrospect, I believe my preconceived goal of making “noise” prevented me from developing the inherent musical possibilities of these pieces.

05 terofordis

…terofourdis… (29:35)

recorded February 4-11 2005 at Railyard 1 in Santa Fe

Played on: big drum, thump, squat, basuka, pilon, twoslide, steel flute 1/2 straight, crank, wheely wheely, steel reed curved, kalimbent, phorques, sir gamelan, steel flute 3/4 straight, blow drum, scrap(e), la bas, dish, kyzyl kum, copper whistle 1, paired, trinidad & tobago, basicable, bosco 3, bosco 2, pedal guitar, one slide, steel reed bent, pig, mckeytoo

played by: Alex Ferris, Linzi Arundale

The recordings I had made to this point had examined particular facets of Anarchestra, essentially extracting chamber groups from it and exploring a single idea at a time.  In the interest of maintaining immediacy I recorded each piece in a single session.  I believe music (particularly tracked music) tends to lose it’s freshness when it gets worked over and I wanted to avoid that as much as I could.

I was socially isolated in Santa Fe, aside from Linzi I had only a few casual acquaintances.  That didn’t bother me, I was very content to concentrate on my work without distractions.  Throughout the life I have enjoyed (particularly in retrospect) the periods when circumstances permitted me to keep my own company.  I am not anti-social, but as Bukowski says in Barfly, “I like people, I just feel better when they’re not around”.

Anarchestra had not been played live for nearly two years.  There were many new instruments and the overall sound (owing to the magnetic pickups) was far clearer than it had been at Labyrinth Speakeasy.  I found myself wanting to hear the whole orchestra played in flow.  Ideally, I would have imported Charmaine, Paul, Scott, and Rod to New Mexico for a month, but that wasn’t remotely possible (they all had lives and none had the money to blow a month off).

In my dreams I would have had a crew of players, capable of both improvising and accepting direction, willing to commit their lives to making music with me.  (One of the great benefits of spending a lot of time by oneself is the freedom to imagine impractical situations).  Naturally, this led me to think about Sun Ra, whose ‘Arkestra’ had contributed to the name I had chosen for this ensemble.

I read Space is the Place, John F Szwed’s excellent biography of Sun Ra, and listened a lot to the Arkestra’s music from the mid 60’s, particularly the longer works –Other Planes of There and Magic City.  I felt then (still do) that the immediacy of the relationship between pure sound and music in them (as well as the interplay between composition and improvisation) is as close as anything extant to what I envision for Anarchestra.

With all this as context, I made …terofourdis…  The primary challenge of it was to get a flow in the music when, because of the length of the piece and the number of parts, I had to record them over a week.  Aside from the final transition (which I think happens too quickly), I feel like I did pretty well with that.  I tried consciously to generate an imaginary band, to endow the instruments and their parts with individual personalities (who all miraculously understood my relationships to sound, intonation, and meter).  Linzi came by for lunch one day and I got her to play a part.

Whenever I am called upon to present a single cd to introduce Anarchestra, this is the one I choose.

05 residue

Residue (31:34)

Late may-early june 2005, Railyard 1 Santa Fe

Played on: 1  OBO, Drums 2 12 stringed instruments 3  Drums, flutes, Basuka 4  Pilon, Bustelo, Flattery / Waver, Drums 5 Flutes, Ocarinas, Sliders, Reeds 6  Drums, La Bas, Gurney, Steel Reed, Dish

played by: Alex Ferris

At this point I was becoming more comfortable with the asymmetrical time signatures and, freed somewhat from constructing music out of habitually imagined phrases, thinking more broadly about the soundworlds of the pieces.  Messiaen was on my mind pretty constantly, particularly his ideas about generating stasis through meter (I’d generally assumed that rhythm was linear before then) and his obsession with the songs of birds.

Originally, I’d planned to follow Bathtub Music with groups of pieces solely for wind instruments and another solely for tuned percussion.  Tracks 4 and 5 (with track 2 solely for strings) are the residue of this idea (I was enjoying drums too much at the time to arbitrarily deny myself the use of them).

I began all these pieces with the idea in the back of my mind of making another long piece like …terofourdis…, but the early summer heat in the barely ventilated shop restricted my time too much to allow me the continuity to try that.

My favorite aspect of these pieces is that, distinct as they are from one another in sound and approach, they all sound like Anarchestra.

These turned out to be the last tracked recordings I made in Railyard 1.  I hope to have again sometime a similarly large space to record in.  Both acoustically and psychologically, I found the expanse conducive to creativity.  The recordings made in the more confined spaces I have worked in since seem to reflect the physical crowdedness I feel in them and suffer sonically from the necessity of listening and mixing in small rooms.

05 hot_flash_copy_2_3copy

Hot Flash (55:13)

September 4 2005 Railyard 1 Santa Fe

Cover: Linzi Arundale

Played on: Anarchestra

Played by: Gaspard Cabanes, Linzi Arundale, Alex Ferris

After a 30 month hiatus, Anarchestra was recorded live.  It was Linzi’s last recording with Anarchestra and Gaspard’s first, so to me it represents a ‘changing of the guard’ as Linzi had been integral to the collective aspect of Anarchestra from the beginning at Labyrinth Speakeasy and Gaspard was to be integral to it for the rest of my time in New Mexico.  Their two differing approaches (Linzi’s essentially rhythmic, Gaspard’s predominately noisy) are both in evidence and I like the way the three of us triangulate our sounds among the instruments.  It was also the last recording made in Railyard 1 and I’m very glad to have documented the unique sound of the space with a live recording.

That summer had brought an end to my period of social isolation.  Over the course of it I made friends with (among others) Gaspard, Dezbah, and Dawn, who, over the following year, would become the next group of regular collaborators.

05 high mayhem 2005

High Mayhem 2005 (54:07)

October 6-8 at Bikanda Space (High Mayhem Festival)

Played on: Anarchestra

Played by: festival attendees

High Mayhem was the epicenter of ‘experimental’ music in Santa Fe at that time with a performance space, a recording studio, and a record label.  They put on shows every few weeks and mounted an annual festival.  I had communicated with them, suggesting we collaborate, when I first arrived in town, but nothing had come of that (content in my isolation, I hadn’t made any effort to pursue it).  Owing to Gaspard’s long standing membership in High Mayhem, Anarchestra was invited to participate in the annual festival.

Since setting up and playing a forty minute set was impractical (and not what I wanted to do anyway), Anarchestra was housed in the Bikanda Space across the parkinglot from the mainstage of the festival.  There, it was available at all times for those who wanted to make music in addition to merely witnessing it.  No count was kept, but it’s likely that around two hundred different people played at one time or another.

This recording consists of 86 samples of (joyful) noise, ranging from 27 to 57 seconds, taken at five minute intervals from the hours of collective improvisation recorded during the 34 hours of the festival.  This arbitrary method (core sampling) seemed to be the best way to represent the scope of the interaction and include the contributions of as many of the participants as possible.  The samples are presented in the sequence in which they occurred and listeners can (if they wish) infer and/or extrapolate what continuities / discontinuities developed over the course of the festival.

06 rashomon fr

Rashomon (45:42)

February 4 2006 at Railyard 2 Santa Fe

Played on: Slider, Tank, Botree (Gaspard) Doc Ock I, ‘sprong, Sir Gamelan (dawn) Steel reed, Daisy, Wheely Wheely (alex)

Played by: Gaspard Cabanes, Dawn Edelman, Alex Ferris

Version 1 mixed by Gaspard, version 2 mixed by Dawn, version 3 mixed by Alex

In January 2006, the recording studio was moved into Railyard 2 a smaller space contiguous to Railyard 1, which remained the welding shop now shared by Gaspard and me.

Rashomon presents three differing dispositions of the same material. The nine constituent tracks were recorded in three live passes.  Then, each of us made a realtime mix of the nine tracks.  The idea was to elevate the mixingboard to the status of an instrument and the engineer to the status of a performer.  I think it would have benefited from having more constituent tracks with a greater range of timbres, more continuity within and among the tracks themselves, and a clearer set of elements to juxtapose.

The three mixes are good indicators of our individual aesthetic tendencies.

At the time, it was intended to be a trial run for a more complex 24 track piece mixed simultaneously by the four of us, but we never returned to the idea.  I still hope to try mixing by committee again.

06 un coeur simple

Un Coeur Simple (for heartbeat and 13 instruments) (19:18)

March 7,9 2006 Railyard 2 Santa Fe

Played on: Basuka, kyzyl kum, bosco 3, steel reeds, steel flute, too sly for 1, basicable, ‘sprong, trinidad and tobago, bustelo, springer, pig, kalimbent

Played by: Alex Ferris

I read a story about the medical work of Milford Graves, the legendary free jazz drummer.  He had been monitoring the irregular heartbeats of patients referred to him by cardiologists and taught them to hear their own cardiac rhythms.  He got them to drum themselves into better health, achieving better results than drugs and other interfering strategies had accomplished.

I loved this idea.  It connected music directly to the human body and individual health to the practice of drumming, the contemplation of rhythm.  To me it represented in microcosm a re-assertion of individual sovereignty, a demonstration of people re-assuming responsibility for the health of their own bodies after having ceded that responsibility to doctors.  This was a concept that had interested me for several years.  A decade earlier, I had a written a song (Kant by way of Foucault) for feral logic. (which we’d never ended up playing) that had as its chorus:

If you eat it cuz a doctor tells you to / If you know it cuz a teacher says its true / If you believe it cuz a preacher yells at you / Body, mind, and soul, you got nothing belongs to you

Dawn Edelman, who had recently become an Anarchestra regular, was studying to be an acupuncturist and clarified some of the concepts of traditional Chinese medicine to me.  One of these was that we participate in our health as opposed to the western idea that we can impose health upon ourselves.  I read The Web that has No Weaver (a good introduction to the ideas of acupuncture) and was relating its ideas to those put forth by Deleuze and Guattari in a thousand plateaus, particularly the concept of immanence, that things happen in things rather than to things.  These ideas both expressed the relationship I wanted to have with music and felt I had been developing since the beginning of Anarchestra.

I recorded my heartbeat with a prenatal listener and used that for a drum track.  I tried to play inside of that sound, rather than “along with it” or “on top of it”.  I like the resulting passivity and melancholia.  One of the constant alienations I feel with the ‘experimental music’ community at large is the general tendency of emotional avoidance embodied in its works.  Recording my heartbeat had required great stillness (the tiniest motions had drowned out the sound of my heart) and I believe this stillness appropriately persists into the music.

06 endurzbo

Endurzbo (for heartbeat and 8 instruments) (22:49)

March 2006 Railyard 2 Santa Fe

Played on: Daisy, botree, BMC, wheely wheely, springer, gurd, dish, bootzilla

Played by: Alex Ferris

Endurzbo took the place of a recording I had planned to make with Gaspard.  He was a proponent of ‘pure noise’ and I thought it might be interesting if we made a pure noise recording, i.e., one without any specific tonal elements, of purely acoustic sounds.  He injured his leg in a work related accident and couldn’t get to town for a few weeks.  The idea of making a non tonal piece had been on my mind, so I went ahead with the idea on my own while the ideas I’d had around it were fresh in my mind.

I used the same recording of my heartbeat heard on Un Coeur Simple as the drum track, but this time I made no attempt to play inside of its sound.  I was intrigued by the idea of playing a “noise ballad” and decided to use the heartbeat to root it in a sort of contemplative mood (if I had to name a musical ancestor for this piece –and Un Coeur Simple— it would be Josquin).  I wanted to avoid the (to me clichéd) jarring transitions that characterize so much ‘experimental noise’ and allow the changes in sonority to evolve gradually instead.  Particularly I wanted to attain a kind of naturalism in noise I feel is generally absent from technologically created sounds (not a single square wave anywhere within earshot).  Also interesting to me was the idea of working in the alto and tenor registers (which had been my intention when the plan was to collaborate with Gaspard, who has a penchant for the treble).  The bass register, filled with the “hum” (‘cantus firmus’) of Daisy and punctuated by the hearbeat, didn’t require much attention.  I took as an interesting challenge the task of generating a large and dense mass of sound akin to those heard at performances (not uncommon at High Mayhem) consisting of a couple of guys fiddling with laptops or tweaking some knobs on effects boxes.

Considering Rashomon and these two responses to my heartbeat, I was obviously thinking a lot about parallax and rhizomism during this period, likely a subconscious response to presence of collaborators in my soundworld.  The title refers both to Merzbow (to whom this is respectfully dedicated) and the physical energy required to generate this much sound without any looping, sampling, or other electronic replicating and/or generating devises.

Ideally this is listened to at the loudest possible volume.


06 well

Well . . . the moon is in Scorpio (23:13)

May 5 2006 Railyard 2 Santa Fe

Cover painting: Dezbah Stumpff

Played on: Smile, botree, ‘sprong, bish-bosh, 2 sly for 1, big drum, bootzilla, guillotine, daisy, monte, sacre bleu, voice (Dezbah)

Played by: Dezbah Stumpf, Dawn Edelman, Gaspard Cabanes, Alex Ferris

This was a rehearsal for a show we played a few days later at High Mayhem.  We had planned to pair this with the recording of the show (yet another instance of parallax), but they failed to get that done (or to pay us).

06 6-06

6-06 (34:10)

June 2006 Railyard 2 Santa Fe

Played on: Quesera, ‘sprong, monte, thum and squat, sprawl, bustelo, tubes, basuka, bish-bosh, botree, kyzyl kum, sacre bleu, bosco2, pharo

Played by: Alex Ferris

I hadn’t approached making music as an individuated player of an instrument since I’d started building.  Everything I’d played through the five intervening years had been basically functional, structural members of wholes, so doing 6/06, which has something like soloing in it, was a way of testing how comfortable I’d become with the meters I’d been using.  It was a step backward (a return to visibility), but a deliberate one, like a painter stepping back from the easel (a parallax).

I was missing thinking substantively about sound as tonality and rhythm as the collaborative version of Anarchestra was committed to abstraction.

06 plenum

Plenum (62:57)

June 7, 21,28,30 2006 Railyard 2 Santa Fe

Played by / on: Gaspard Cabanes: Sacre Bleu, Botree Desbah Stumpf: Voice, Pharo, ‘sprong Dawn Edelman: Quesera, Smile Alex Ferris: Basuka, Sprawl, Bish-Bosh

After playing all the instruments for a few months, we decided by consensus to select a few and play only them as we would in a conventional band.  We also decided to play short pieces (5 minutes or less) instead of continuous improvisations.  The sixteen pieces here are from our regular sessions.  They are in chronological order to document the evolution of our responses to this approach.  Some have been edited for time (beginnings and endings, but no content has been altered.

Personally. I wasn’t enthusiastic about limiting ourselves sonically as much as we did.  It seemed to undermine the primary asset of Anarchestra, its versatility and flexibility.  I felt our small pallet of sounds (and their relative concentration in the treble end of the sonic spectrum) tended to restrict us to self-similarity and impeded us from exploring beyond that.

Within those confines, I think we made some interesting music, particularly when Dezbah sang –to me it is her voice that grounds this music and gives it substance.

06 remnant

Remnant (27:42)

November 17 2006 Railyard 2 Santa Fe

Played on: Anarchestra

Played by: Gaspard Cabanes, Dawn Edelman, Alex Ferris

This was expected to be the last session at Railyard 2.  The building was scheduled for demolition and I was in the process of deciding to leave Santa Fe.  Dezbah had moved to Chicago.

06 contingent

Contingent (51:49)

Mid-december 2006 Railyard 2 Santa Fe

Played on Anarchestra

Played by: Dawn Edelman, Garry Transue, Bill Wolford, Alex Ferris

Prepared for release by Garry Transue

In mid december, as I was packing up the studio, Garry Transue, a multimedia artist, arrived looking for sounds to sample.  Excited by Anarchestra, he summoned his collaborator, Bill Wolford, from Seattle and over a four-day period they, with Dawn and me, recorded Contingent.

The editing and mixing were done by Garry, who went on to use some of this as part of an installation he and Bill were doing in Australia.

This happy accident provided a graceful coda to the year in Railyard 2.  The curiosity and patience in this music and their unexpected emergence as the last sounds of Anarchestra in Santa Fe were being made put my departure “on the good foot”.

07 void final

Void If Detached (76:42)

August 1 2007 Labyrinth Speakeasy W. Tisbury

Played on: peddlar, dubass, basicable, bo tree, sacre bleu, gurney, quesera, bosco 2, bosco 3, basuka, bootzilla, wheely wheely, ‘sprong, la bas, monte, goatskin drums, paired, thump & squat, tubes, lamellop, pilon,dish. pig, sprawl, reeds, whistles, flutes, ocarinas

played by: Ellie Dauscher, Zach Pearson, Madog Frick, Montana Steel, Andrew Prouty, Zach Lanoue, Alex Ferris

I left Santa Fe in April 2007, planning to relocate, but not knowing where.

Rod Welles invited me back to Labyrinth Speakeasy for the summer of 2007 and I brought a truckload of instruments east.  While I was there I fell in with a group of (mostly art) students, some of whom appear on this recording.

From that point until the spring of 2009, Anarchestra functioned mostly as a socioaethetic experiment involving that group of people.  My hope was that we’d develop a ‘unique to ourselves’ kind of folk music.

07 peckerwood eclipse

Peckerwood Eclipse (70:07) (61:08)

August 28 2007 Peckerwood W. Tisbury

Played on: peddlar, dubass, basicable, bo tree, sacre bleu, gurney, quesera, bosco 2, bosco 3, basuka, bootzilla, wheely wheely, ‘sprong, la bas, monte, goatskin drums, paired, thump & squat, tubes, lamellop, pilon,dish. pig, sprawl, reeds, whistles, flutes, ocarinas

played by: andrew, mattick, ellie, sophie, nico, marciana, arno, adam l, bridget,rebecca, kendyl, paul, nancy, miquel, montana, richard, nick, adam, alex

When Anarchestra left Labyrinth Speakeasy we took the instruments to the woods where I was living and played them, with power generated by the sun, by the light of the rising full moon (which eclipsed just before sunrise).

Of the three recordings made during the soicioaesthetic experiment, this is my favorite.  I suspect that the environment (among sillouhetted tree boles shrouded in ground fog, light flickering sporadically from the firepit) and the informality (most of the people present at any given time weren’t playing) encouraged a more spontaneous and fluid engagement than we experienced when enclosed in areas where one feels expected to play.


frag cover copy sm

FRAG (11:49)

recorded february 2008 at the vine in Tucson

played on: Prout, Adrums, Smelly Old Harry, LaBas, Sprawl, Digger, DiReed

played by: Alex Ferris

Most of 2008-9 was consumed by the “failed socioaesthetic experiment” (see notes for Manque:.res les los).  During a brief period when nobody else was living at the vine, I recorded these.  I ended up not having enough time to make a full CD and these became orphans of a sort.


08 Che's Lounge

Che’s Lounge (45:47)

August 2 2008 Che’s Lounge Tisbury

Played on: peddlar, dubass, basicable, bo tree, sacre bleu, gurney, quesera, bosco 2, bosco 3, basuka, bootzilla, wheely wheely, ‘sprong, la bas, monte, goatskin drums, paired, thump & squat, tubes, lamellop, pilon,dish. pig, sprawl, reeds, whistles, flutes, ocarinas

Played by: Alisa Javits, Ellie Dauscher, Andrew Prouty, Jessica Stern, Zach Lanoue, Miguel deBraganca, Olivia, Liz Kohl, Arno Ewing, Paul Thurlow, Alex Ferris

One of two shows at Che’s that summer.

09 manque front

Manque: res les los (59:57)

Fall 2009 the vine Tucson

Played on: Reeds, Kyzyl Kum, Smelly Old Harry, Monte, Drums, Botree, McGuiro, Flutes, Seegar, Klem, Prout, Pharo, Sprawl, Spike, Bish-Bosh, Retardog

Played by: alex ferris

During the winters and springs of 2008-2009 and the fall of 2008 several of the art students from the live cds Void if Detached, Peckerwood Eclipse, and Che’s Lounge lived at The Vine in Tucson (where I had eventually relocated).  My hope was that we’d work and practice to develop as a group and play something fantastic on the instruments of Anarchestra.   Sadly, the practice / learning necessary to develop a substantial performance never materialized and nothing we did as a group rose above the musical level attained by any random group of people.  For the most part it was fun, but it didn’t result in any great music being made.

After the socioaesthetic experiment ended, I worked by myself in the studio for the first time in 3 years.  Manque is the result.  I was, and remain, extremely ambivalent about it, hence the title.  But, that said, I value it as a document and oblique commentary on the period that preceded it.  In many ways it reminds me of Abandoned in the sense that it demonstrated to me the absences I would need to address in future work.

Stylistically I feel it is burdened by its tendency to homophony (as I felt the group involved in the socioaesthetic experiment had been burdened by a self-imposed lack of dynamism that tended toward the social safety of generalized mediocrity –a microcosm of bourgeois values).  None of the parts ever seem to break away from their identification with the status quo –the ostinati—of the pieces.

I considered suppressing this, but elected not to.  I want the recordings of Anarchestra to honestly document its history (had I suppressed it, it would have been the first instance of that).  I don’t think of them as “works of art” so much as I see them as “the ashes of my campfires” along the meandering route of this musical pilgrimage.  I have always disliked the notion that the function of art is to generate illusions (to me that is the province of advertising and propaganda).  I think it should dispel them, even when, maybe particularly when, those illusions are comforting.  In addition to that, I believe suppressing it would be akin to absolving myself from responsibility for the failure of the experiment.

I have not lost faith in the idea that a collective group playing unique instruments could make original and valuable music –as the Labyrinth Speakeasy group did– and I hope the opportunity to try it again arises at some point.

10 po

Po (31:51)

Late February-early march 2010 The Vine Tucson

Played on: Nickelnote, serpico, phridge, floo, dubba, cop, horzbah, spike, pharo, kalben kool, thud, bish-bosh, smelly old harry, kyzyl kum

Played by: alex ferris

After the monophony of Manque (a meditation on conformity), I wanted to make contrapuntal music that was decentralized and unstable, whose parts related to one another from a greater distance.  I wanted the linearities to disintegrate in relation to the whole, but maintain their internal consistencies.

I was interested in hockets and canons and their effects on the surface tensions of the pieces.  I’d had a friendly (and fun) argument about Picasso and that had got me to thinking about multiple perspectives forming a unified image in a two dimensional plane, so, in a sense I was seeing what I could do to generate a consensus of linearity out of multiple simultaneous meters.  This allowed the hockets to bridge not only different instruments, but different signatures (and their canons) as well, which in turn allowed flow and syncopation without being tied to any rigid regularity.

If all this stuff sounds geeky, it’s because it is.  Po is the geekiest music I’ve ever made.  At the same time (at least to me) it has a lot of fun and laughter in it.

If the imaginary band on Manque was a group of hippies trying to fit in with itself, the one on Po is a group of musical geeks pulling one another’s chains.

I think of this group of pieces as an imaginary performed set, opening with a Klezmer inspired warmup and closing with an encore drawn from dixieland jazz.

Around that time, I’d been reading James Gleick’s excellent biography of Richard Feynman and Stephen Walsh’s equally excellent biography of Stravinsky (along with his analysis of Stravinsky’s music), so, I was spending a lot of time thinking about the structures of things and the ways in which a life consists of gaining insights into the structures of things.

11 industria 1-22-11

Industria 1-22-11 (45:52)

January 22 2011 Industria Tucson

Played on: klem, pharo, basok, monte, kyzyl kum, panpipes, flutes, kalben kool, kresge, botree, sprawl, bootz, toobee, digger, smelly old harry, adrums, twolong, guiroshaklave

Played by: attendees

Some of these people knew each other (some didn’t).  Some of these people had played the instruments of Anarchestra before (some hadn’t).  All of these people played in the spirit in which true folk music is made, finding ways to join together and make a joyful noise.

This show demonstrated what I love most about the city of Tucson –the mutual acceptance and attitude of easygoing cooperation.  This music is good because nobody’s trying to take charge of it: the players are giving themselves to the music, just trying to make it move and sound good.

11 tonempf fr pdf

Die Lehre von den Tonemfindungen (pt1) (68:19)

February 9 2011 The Vine Tucson

Played on: Springbok, Gurdiad, Klem, Soren, Botree, Basok

Played by: Chris Krapek, Ernest Espinoza, Jorge Rico, Julianna Starr Asis, Alex Ferris

This is my favorite live recording of Anarchestra.

Chris and Jorge comprise Tucson’s (only?) noise band SSS and have played together for years.  Their high level of intuitive interaction (and their deep and imaginative approaches to sound) makes it a great pleasure to play with them.  Ernie and Julie have lived at The Vine and been involved with Anarchestra for as long as I have known them.

The studio is small and crowded with instruments, so, owing to the space constraint, we chose six of them to play among the five of us.

Owing to its length, it doesn’t fit within the track limits Bandcamp allows and is only available from CDBaby

11 al thorat cd front

Al Thoorat Al Arabea (68:00)

Spring 2011 The Vine Tucson

Played on: Basok, Gurdia, Venus, Pharo, Hendecq, Modflute, Drums, Hex Flute, Hex Reed, Blowdrum, Thump, Klem, Bish-Bosh, Bootz, Kyzyl Kum, Sprawl, Soren, Kresge, Botree, Klem, Klam, Octoreeds, Wholoreeds, Retardog, Digger, Springbok, Octoflute, Dron, Rowtoes, Horzba

Played by: Alex Ferris

Al Thoorat Al Arabea (the revolutions in arabia) is what the people who were present, involved, and impacted by it called what western news networks called the “Arab Spring”.

Part 1 -the despair and hopelessness of everyday life and the resignation to it.  Part 2 -the transformation of resignation into anger and confrontation.  Part 3 -repression, reaction, violence, factions, the chaos of war.  Part 4 -the resolution to continue, the determination to overcome . Part 5 -exhaustion, the realization of accomplishment, hope, aftermath

Al Thoorat was the first time I was able to work with truly functional drones.  An intuitive remark made by Ed Davis, a teacher who was showing his students around the studio, solved a problem I’d been failing to solve satisfactorily for years.  One of the kids asked me what one of the non-functional instruments in the shop was going to be and I told him I was working on a hurdy gurdy.  He asked Ed what a hurdy gurdy was and Ed said it was an instrument with a leather wheel that functioned as a continuous bow.  I’ve read everything I could find on hurdy gurdies and I’ve never seen leather mentioned –traditionally the wheels are wooden.  But leather works better than any of the wooden (or felt, or metal, or . . . ) wheels I’ve made.

In logical terms drones function in music the way “if x=n” functions in mathematics.  With a drone, one needn’t constantly restate a tonal constant and because of that it won’t have an implicit rhythm (or linearity) associated with it.  This isn’t desirable all the time, but it was a capacity I’d been wishing I had since Anarchestra began.  It allows a kind of stasis to permeate in the sound.

At the time, with events unfolding daily across northern Africa, my philosophical interest in it related to the continual human struggle (the drone of the refusal to accept subjugation) against apparently immovable repressive social regimes (the drone of institutional power that haunts all of our lives).  I made the pieces long because I wanted them to feel like work was in them, to suggest the endurance that any struggle requires, the weariness one makes ones way through.

This was another period in which I listened frequently to the John Coltrane Quartet, both for its tonal environment of pedal points and scales and his stoic sense of enduring purpose.

11 dry river cd fr

Dry River (20:45)

June 23 2011 Dry River Tucson

Played on: Basok, Botree, Kalben Kool, Klem, Kresge, Lucy, Soren

Played by: Amanda Martinez, Chris Krapek, Jenna Francine, Jorge Rico, Alex Ferris

Chris, Jorge, and I had talked a few times about addressing the absence of noise culture (a lot of ‘hip’ people have no idea such a culture exists) in Tucson’s (largely old-timey) music scene and Amanda set up this show for SSS and Anarchestra at the (since deceased) Dry River Collective (probably the only public venue in town open-minded enough to present such an event).  We had intended it as a Tonemfindungen reunion, but Julie and Ernie were out of town on the date we could get.  Amanda and Francie (who was building Lucy and living at The Vine) filled in ably.  We played a short set as Jorge and Chris needed to conserve some ears for their own performance.

11 mi pla to

mi pla to (32:11)

august-september 2011 The Vine Tucson

cover drawing by Justine Ashbee

played on: venus, p-wreck, monte, x/why, klem, kresge, gurdiad, basok, hendecq, a drums, turd, soren, prout, pharo, seegar, bish-bosh, horzbah, botree, 2b, klogg, sprawl, rowtoes, retardog, thump, panpipe, reeds, flutes

played by: alex ferris

This group of pieces presents another perspective on the methodologies of Po.  Again I was interested in counterpoint, hockets, and metrical canons, but with more tonal constraint and a reduced emphasis on linearity.  The tonal constraint took as its basis the combining of modal (often phrygian and locrian) material with symmetrical scales (those Messiaen designates as “modes of limited transposition”).  Metrically, it tends to inhabit and explore the commonalities that exist within ambiguous signatures, where Po tended to examine the contrasts between them.

Inspired by the drawings and sculptures of Justine Ashbee (to whom this is dedicated), I tended to think in terms of scapes (land, sea, sky, dream, etc.) as my ‘objective correlatives’  while I was working on these.

12 TSF at SRC 2012


January 30(1-3), February 7(4-5),8(6-8) at Sculpture Resource Center Tucson

Played on: Basok, doreen, x why, smelly old harry, hendecq, rowtoes, kresge, venus, monte, boredrum, turd, pharo, winds, percussion

Played by: 20+ Tucson Sculpture Festival attendees

This was the third annual Tucson Sculpture Festival, an event conceived and directed by Danny Wolverton.  It was also Anarchestra’s third participation in it.  The sessions that contributed to these recordings were organized and facilitated by Karl Whitaker.  The set design and general assistance of Jenna Francine was indispensable.  Mikey (of 20,000 Strongmen) edited tracks 3 and 6-8.

12 klekt cover

Klekt (39:38)

recorded spring (1-5) and fall (6-15)

at the Vine in Tucson

tracks 3 and 6 are (vaguely) variations on Pithecanthropus Erectus, Reincarnation of a Lovebird (both Charles Mingus compositions) and the Perry Mason theme.  I’d forgotten I’d recorded the first one when I recorded the second.

track 11 is drums only. tracks 12 and 13 are percussion only, track 14 is strings only, track 15 is winds only, made to accompany slideshows of the families of instruments.

Instruments (tracks)

Monte (1 2 4 6 10), B-dex (1), Prout (1 4 5), Klem (1 2 4 5 10 12 13), Reeds (1 2 8 10 15) Ernestone (2 14), Hendecq (2 3), Smelly Old Harry (2 11), Horzba (3 4 5 8 9), Pharo (3,5,6), Bootz (4 713), Bishbosh (4), Turd (4 6 8 14), Gurdiad (4 8 9), Basok (4 14), P-wreck (4), Kresge (7 9), Kyzyl Kum (7 10), Adrums (9 11), DP (9), Kalben Cool (10 12), Thud (10 12), Venus (10 14), Palindrums (11), Rowotoes (11), Bordrum (11), Snark (11), Blowdrum (11), Botree (12), Louie Trey (12 13), Sprawl (12), Soren (12), CymbCity (12 13), G-Shak (12 13), Cranky (13), Tamerica (13), Chewb (13), Ena (14), Fumious (14), Twobe (14), Dovertue (14), Toobad (15), Strumpet (15), Ocarina (15), Wholetone Flute (15)

13 Oreph copy

oreph (51:23)

played and recorded fall 2013 at the vine in Tucson

by alex ferris and jenna francine (oreph2 07 track 13)

instruments (tracks):

Klogg (1 2 3 4 5 7 8 11 12 13 14), D/2 (2 4 12), Venus (2 3 5 8 9 10 11 12 13 14), Flutes (1 7 11), Bordum (1 3 5), Adrums (3 4 5 10 11 12 13), Twobe (3 4 5 9 10 11 12 13 14), Spike (3 5 10), Plato (5 6 8), Reeds (4 5 6 10 11), Kresge (5), Soren (6 11 12), DJ Flatus (6 8 13), Blowdrum (7 9), Turd (10 11 12 14), Retardog (10), Gurdiad (7 10), Basok (7 11), Probbles (7), Pipes (7), Furth (7), Ena (8), Hendecq (9 12 13 14), Panpipes (9), Toolong (11 12), Ernestone (11), Monte (12 13 14), Seegar (12 13), Bootz (13), DP (13), Tufram (14), Sprix (14)

14 ishtan

Ishtan (66:43)

recorded January 2014 at the vine in tucson

performed by alex ferris and j francine tomasello

Instruments:  Dron, Ena, Basok, Gurdiad, Furth, Turd, Hendecq, Exwhy, Klogg, Tuffram, and Francie’s voice

We weren’t allowed to play at this year’s Tucson Sculpture Festival, so we recorded a piece on the instruments to accompany the installation.

I made five mixes and played them on an iPod continuously through the installation.

14 batur fr copy

Batur (52:36)

played and recorded March-August 2014 at the vine in tucson by alex ferris

1 Dron Klogg Plato Turd Basok Pharo DiBells JFTvox

2 Klogg Soren GNG Cymb8 Spike Kresge Monte Ernestone

3 Klogg Monte Gurdiad Turd Furth Flute Soren Plato Reed GNG Cymb8 Prout Adrumd Venus

4 Panzoot Bishbosh GNG Cymb8 Klogg DJ Flatus Octreed Kresge

5 Klogg Bang-O Horzba Reed Furt Turd

6 Dovertue Klogg Octareed Farp Bang-O Guiroshaklave Bowels Monte Venus

7 Klogg Dovertue Twobe Farp Serpico Octareed

8 Twobe Klogg Octaflute Octareed Farp Venus Adrums Ena Monte

9 Klogg Dovertue Direed Ena Gurdiad Soren Plato

10 Twobe Klogg Venus Spike Thud Dovertue Adrums Pipes Ena Bang-O

11 Twobe Klogg Spike Bang-O Prout Adrums Gurdiad

12 Klogg Dovertue Twobe Direeds Ena Furth

13 Twobe Adrums Toolong Sprymbal Turd Monte Snayer

14 Snayer Kalbencool Twobe Gurdiad LilD Adrums Turd

15 Twobe Horzba Turd Gurdiad Dovertue LilD Furth


nempfi (87:51)

recorded in the Yurt at the vine 4-8-15

pt 1 34:32

pt 2 53:19

played by

Jorge Rico, Chris Krapek, Alex Ferris

played on

Reroar, Soren, Klem, Hendecq, Kyzyl Kum, Monte, Ex-Why?, Louie Trey, Turd, Gurdiad, Pipes, Smelly Old Harry, Palindrums, Ena

Playing with Jorge and Chris is always a pleasure.

solipse cover final

Solipse  (40:29)

Recorded 2015 at the vine in Tucson

Played by alex ferris


0 Regur Dovertu Klogg Venus DiReed Adrums Monte

1 Gurnigan SqFlute Regur Ena

2 Twobe Adrums Klogg Klem Bastid Turd Hendecq Pharo

3 Bastid Klem HmReed Gurdiad Thud Pharo

4 Twobe Adrums LilD Plato Pharo Digger Seegar Serpico

5 Tuffram Ex-why?

6 Bastid DiReed LilD Klogg Venus

7 Twobe Octoreed LilD Venus Plato Klogg

8 Kalbenkool Horzba Gurdiad Bootz Soren KyzylKum Turd

9 BabyK Adrums Klam Klem Klyd Stigo

10 Klogg Turd Gurdiad Thump Bastid KyzylKum Serpico Octoreed DP Hexflute Forky

11 Twobe Adrums Stigo Klyd Dovertu Gurdiad steel D-reed copper D-reed

12 Klamm Klogg Gurdiad Dovertue Pharo Baby K D-Reed D-Reed

This album is the product of a year long meditation on dying.  Having turned sixty and started losing friends from my generation for reasons other than suicide, car accidents, substance abuse, HIV, etc., I experienced, for the first time, a constant awareness of my mortality.

I never thought too hard on dying before

I never sucked on the dying

I never licked the side of dying before

And now I’m feeling the dying

“Give me the Cure” Fugazi

My instinctual response to all life experiences is essentially to embrace them and approach them with curiosity.  Dying is no different.  I don’t fear it.  Having made a point of doing what I wanted to do with my time on earth, I don’t have any sense of regret around it.  If I drop dead this instant, I won’t ‘feel like I’ve been cheated’.

That said, I’m not planning on dying or looking forward it any more than anything else that may happen in the future.  I have no idea when it will come.  But it’s present in my life now and I’m not inclined to ignore or resist it.

Over the last decade, I have tended to associate the music I make deliberately (as opposed to playing spontaneously with other people) with narratives (usually danced).  In an earlier century, I might have thought of them as scores for ballets (Stravinsky is my favorite composer and his ballets are my favorite music of his).  My choices of tempos and signatures (other aspects as well) are strongly impacted by such considerations.  When I record, I always have some story at least vaguely in mind throughout the process.

In this case, owing to my meditation on dying, the scenes I had in mind were from “Top of the World” by the swiss author Hans Ruesch.  It is an anthropological novel about Inuit family life that made a lasting impression on me thirty years ago (when I read it during a heatwave).  Specifically, a scene in which the grandmother (who having lost her teeth and is no longer able to contribute to the family’s survival) sits in the snow patiently awaiting her death by exposure, provided the central scene to the narrative (which consists of her memories, reflections, and hypothermic hallucinations as she freezes).


Surkulor  (39:23)

recorded live at the vine in Tucson 2-01-16

by Jorge Rico and Alex Ferris

played on:












It seemed to me that I’d recently been concerning myself a lot with fairly specific pitch relationships and that I needed to remind myself that there was more to the soundworld than was dreamt of in tonal philosophy.

Tonality, conceptually, is a purely linear idea and most of western music theory derives from the sets of ratios between lengths on a string (or a bar or a column of air) described by Pythagoras and explored with greater depth by microtonalists (such as Harry Partch in Genesis of a Music).

With that in mind, none of the instruments chosen for Surkulor relies on a straight line to produce its sound.  Strings, winds, and tuned bars are predominately one dimensional (length).  This group of instruments generates sounds from two (length and width) dimensions (drumheads, steel plates) or three (bells, gongs, cymbals).  The resulting tonal relationships are less specific and more complex.

I had been wanting to do a “percussion” piece with Jorge for awhile as he has highly developed skills, flexible thinking, and sonic imagination.  Ellie Weatherbee was supposed to join us (providing a third dimension of personhood) but was ill that night.

reroar #5 cv

Reroar #5 (21:55)

recorded 7-5-16 at The Vine in Tucson

played by alex ferris

played on Adrums, Basok, Reroar

re von de cv

re von de (41:09)

7-7-16 in the yurt at The Vine Tucson

recording and cover photo: Eric Kroll

Played by:  Chris Krapek, Jorge Rico, Alex Ferris

Played on: Cymbulate, Pipes, Littulbelz 2, Tuffram, Rowotoes, Ex-Why?, Kresge, Basok, Turd, Gurdiad, Chewbewler, Klogg, Reroar, Fumious, Kalben Kool, Smelly Old Harry, Ena, Summach’org, Soren (pt1), Peezoshe (pt2)

Pt.2 is excerpted from a longer piece because only the quietest segments didn’t oversaturate the recording.



jo’jor chr’al (56:12)

11-27-16 in the yurt at the vine Tucson

played by: Jojo Black, Jorge Rico, Chris Krapek, Alex Ferris

Played on: Z’Orb, Kzymyryk, Panzoot, Cymbulate, Rowotoes, Reroar, Fumious, Gorstra, Smelly Old Harry, Ena, Gurdiad, Kalben Kool, Chewbewlar, Ex-Why?, Kresge, Turd



skerriesgoat  (55:17)

3-17-17 in the yurt at the vine tucson

played by: Chris Krapek and Alex Ferris

played on: Berlubang, Z’Orb, Klogg, Kresge, Ex-Why?, Springbok, Ungadi, Peezoshe, Littulbelz, Turd, Basok, Fumious, Gorstra, Kalben Kool, Thundrms, Chewbewlar, Rebbot, Ena, Reroar.