Neon Marshmallow featured on Experimental 1/2 Hour

Portland cable access show “Experimental 1/2 Hour” did a special episode devoted to Chicago’s Neon Marshmallow Festival. Altered Zones is sharing it via Vimeo (embed below).

While I couldn’t make it out to Chicago for the shows (which were 6/10-6/12 at the Empty Bottle), I spent a great deal of the weekend grooving in solidarity to a cassette comp of some of the fest’s featured acts. You can still get one over at the festival’s site: 80 minutes of unreleased tracks for $6!

It’s great to see “out pop’s” ascent continue well beyond the temporary fad stage. Hopefully, more enduring attention will allow for experimentation to remain artistically vital and commercially viable. Who knows, maybe it’ll make more mainstream artists open their ears and up their game?

Experimental ½ Hour – Neon Marshmallow Fest 2011 Special Edition ft. Operative & Luis Gonzalez/Andy Quitter from Experimental ½ Hour on Vimeo.

Northern Spy’s Clandestine Cassette #1

Clandestine Series Cassette #1
Northern Spy Records

It wasn’t so long ago that people were counting out “hard copy” recording formats, prognosticating that digital would reign supreme and that vinyl and cassette tapes would be on the scrap heap or, at best, fodder for flea markets and garage sales. While the LP’s resurgence in recent years has been variously chalked up to increased attention to aesthetics, desire for higher fidelity, and a pop culture trend in its own right, many still assumed that cassettes were too sonically compromised and kitschy for a comeback in their own right. But then, lo-fi indie exploded, and the landscape changed.

While Northern Spy’s first in a projected series of Clandestine Cassettes isn’t just concerned with lo-fi aesthetics, one can see why the scrappy Brooklyn import, and others like it, embrace the cassette format. It’s inexpensive, easily portable, and yes, has its own nostalgic artifact qualities. But CC#1 isn’t a novelty item: it’s a fascinating mini-sampler of Northern Spy artists, revealing an EP length recording of avant rock drone-filled soundscapes by the likes of Zaimph and Messages. There’s also “August is All,” a beautiful track of slowly evolving, minimalist yet blues-inflected improvisation by guitarist Tom Carter. A little avant folk star power is in force on “Live at Union Pool,” a reverberant duet by Loren Connors and bassist Margarida Garcia. Garcia also contributes the cassette’s artwork, which recalls homemade mixes and tape trading.

Although you can still get MP3s or FLAC, this tape’s already sold out. But rest assured, there will be more cassettes to come: from Northern Spy and elsewhere on the scene.

Already got rid of your tape deck? No worries; for now, they’re not expensive to acquire. But be warned: I recently learned from Twitter that no less a tastemaker than Steve Smith has gotten a new Walkman. Can it be long before this microtrend explodes and cassette decks are the new iPad? Stay tuned.

LA X(enakis)

JACK Quartet presents two concerts in LA this coming Sunday and Monday. On 2/13, they’re giving an afternoon concert for the Da Camera Society (tickets/details here) at the Southern California Institute of Architecture. The program includes early music – Machaut and Gesualdo – as well as contemporary works: Philip Glass’ 5th Quartet and Tetras by Iannis Xenakis. The selections certainly suit the concert’s location: both Xenakis and Machaut are composers who should be of interest to architects!

On Monday, JACK will present a different program as part of Monday Evening Concerts at the Colburn School (tickets/details here). It includes both of Aaron Cassidy’s quartets, John Cage’s String Quartet in Four Parts, Anton Webern’s Op. 9 Bagatelles, and Horaţiu Rădulescu’s String Quartet No. 5 “before the universe was born.”

This looks to be an amazing double header of new music programs. I hope that some of our Californian readers will be able to attend. If so, please send us a report.

Tim Rutherford-Johnson has an excellent post about Aaron Cassidy’s 2nd Quartet on New Music Box today.

As Tim pointed out on his blog, Paul Griffiths’ notes for the 2/14 program are online.

Here’s a taste of Tetras:

Ken Thomson (CD review/concert preview)


“It Would be Easier If”

Intuition Records

Composer/alto saxophonist/bass clarinetist Ken Thomson plays with a variety of ensembles, from Asphalt Orchestra to Signal. Other new music luminaries such as Bang on a Can and the American Composers Orchestra have commissioned pieces from him. But his latest recorded outing is with still another group: Slow/Fast. Joined by trumpeter Russ Johnson, guitarist Nir Felder, bassist Adam Armstrong, and drummer Fred Kennedy, Thomson presents five substantial pieces that bring together his two principal spheres of activity: jazz improvisation and contemporary composition.

On “Kleine Helmet,” Thomson (on bass clarinet) and Johnson perform long arcing melodies in octaves over judicious rhythm section activities that allow them considerable space and freedom. The same duo winds configuration takes a foreground role on “G_d D___ You, Ice Cream Truck.” But here, the musicians really cook, with the horns taking up relentless, angular, and often blistering altissimo leads. Correspondingly, the rhythm section adopts a more propulsive role, with Felder’s guitar providing an agitato ostinato counterweight to the busy melodic foreground.

Armstrong and Kennedy get a chance in the spotlight on the freewheeling slow introduction to “No, No, No.” When winds and guitar join them, they craft atmospheric, gradually evolving tone clusters. Further “out” than the CD’s previous cuts, it’s also artfully paced and evocative music-making.

The playfully titled “Wanderangst” brings a more lighthearted ambience to the proceedings. But it’s no less carefully orchestrated. Pitched percussion and a buffo-tinged bass clarinet solo engage in a sparkling colloquy, while the other participants edge their way towards a post-bop jazz palette. Johnson overlays the texture with a supple sostenuto melody, while Armstrong’s bass clarinet encroaches on his turf with dovetailing walking lines. The accumulation of strands is gradual, but the tune’s subtle buildup allows for each performer to have his own space for development. The piece dissolves just as elegantly, gradually fragmenting into a false ending, and then building back up to a stentorian tutti climax.

The CD closes with its title track: “It Would be Easier If.” A ballad, it features sinuous legato lines from Johnson underlaid with sensitive comping from Felder. This is gradually challenged by interruptive flurries from Thomson. The two winds start to cohere into an uneasy duet alliance, their independent melodies gradually morphing into a series of repeated interlocking gestures. The move from modern jazz to minimalism takes still another detour, as the rhythm section steps up and reclaims the music-making for a gentler, more swing-based, conception. The winds and rhythm section once again build to a fulsome climax, creating crashing waves of massed textures followed by a brief denouement; ending the piece in a stylistically hybridized fashion. It’s a fittingly varied statement with which to end this multifaceted yet satisfying recording.


Ken Thomson’s new Quintet “Slow/Fast”, and Lainie Fefferman’s Quartet “Phthia” will close the Fall Season of Music at First on Friday, December 3rd, 2010 at 7:30pm.
This new music series is held at First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, located at 124 Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights.
Tickets are $10 at the door. Contact for more info.
Directions are at