New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: robert pepper

Cocooning on Multiple Levels

If there’s ever been a time for soothing, enveloping sounds in New York, this is it. Two shows this week gave audiences a good idea of what’s available in an month where pretty much everybody’s women friends are afraid of losing their reproductive rights, everybody’s Mexican friends are worried about being lynched, and everybody’s up in arms about where they’re going to live after 1/19/17.

Virtuoso violist Ljova explained that he was new to loopmusic, so he cautioned the crowd at Barbes Tuesday night that they should take what they hear with a grain of salt. Then he launched into a characteristically ambitious solo soundscape that echoed the rigor of his Moscow conservatory training, his wide-ranging eclecticism as one of this era’s great film composers, as well as the wry humor and irony that pervade his work across the board. His setup was pretty simple, mirroring the directness of his melodies: his signature, custom-made six-string “famiola” running through delay, loop and volume pedals. It was interesting to watch him think on his feet: when he hit on a riff he liked, he ran with it. There were also a few times when he’d hit on one he didn’t think worth keeping, scowled a little and then moved on.

Then the great Syrian-born clarinetist Kinan Azmeh joined the festivities. While his music can be kinetic – he leads a fantastic jazz group, his City Band – it more frequently tends to be on the serious side, often extremely poignant. The early part of the duo’s calm, methodically shifting improvisation echoed the eerie washes of Azmeh’s upcoming album with the similarly brilliant Turkish guitarist and soundscaper Erdem Helvacioglu. But Ljova was in a restless mood, and began to pull away, and Azmeh stayed in sync with some judiciously spaced, bubbly phrases in contrast to his more usual brooding resonance. At the end of the set, the two joined in an enigmatically lilting, minor-key waltz by the violist. The two have played together many times, although this was their first joint improvisation. Azmeh plays his song cycle Songs for Days to Come, featuring the work of Syrian poets in exile, tomorrow night, Nov 19 at 8 PM at Symphony Space with pianist Lenore Smith, soprano Dima Orsho and cellist Kinan Abou-Afach. $25 tix are still available as of today. Ljova stays busy on the road: his next gig as a bandleader is with his vibrantly cinematic Kontraband string ensemble on Dec 3 at 7:30 PM PM at the San Fernando Cathedral, 115 W Main Plaza in San Antonio, TX, reservations to (210) 464-1534 are required.

The soundscapes played last night at Spectrum by guitarist Martin Bisi, multi-instrumentalist Thursday Fernworthy and ambient music artist Robert Pepper were more  lushly enveloping, a dense, misty, slowly swirling vortex. Seated within an audience with closed eyes and slowly bobbing heads, just about everybody reclined in a comfy armchair, it felt weird to rise up and actually watch the musicians at work rather than  drifting off in a surrealistic tequila buzz. Although the overall sound was contiguous, a single river fed by a kaleidoscope of streams, there was a lot of interplay and camaraderie among the three. There were distinct segments where each musician essentially got to lead the trio, whether that meant Pepper intoning into what looked like a mini-digeridoo, or Fernworthy sending keening violin overtones spiraling through her mixers, or Bisi doing the same with an emphatically minimalist riff or gentle chordal wash. Meanwhile, trippy projections played on a screen behind them, the best being a slow walk into the woods, Blair Witch style. Likewise, about two-thirds of the way through their roughly forty-minute improvisation, the three laced their ultraviolet backdrop with bracing close harmonies, jarring rhythmic hits and lower, more distinctly ominous drones.

Pepper books and plays the regular Ambient Chaos series at Spectrum, typically on the third Thursday of the month starting at around 9 in the welcoming, comfortable second-floor Ludlow Street space. Bisi and Fernworthy – someone whom Facebook does not believe is an actual person, notwithstanding the evidence of her performance here – have been known to do live atmospherics at Bisi’s legendary Gowanus digs, BC Studios on Sunday evenings. It’s not a public venue per se, but if you know them or care to keep in touch, you may be able to get an invite.

Ambient Comfort and Distant Disquiet from Martin Bisi and Genevieve Kammel Morris

For those whose passion is diving as deep as possible into hypnotically swirly, psychedelically atmospheric sounds, there’s a tantalizing show coming up on Nov 17 at 11 PM at Spectrum when guitarist Martin Bisi joins forces with multi-keyboardist Genevieve Kammel Morris and Ambient Chaos impresario Robert Pepper. Bisi is best known as a purveyor of menacingly melodic art-rock (and for producing famous people like Swans, and Herbie Hancock, and Sonic Youth, and the Dresden Dolls, among many others). But he’s just as interesting when he jams: either way, there’s always a tune percolating through the mix somewhere.

This past evening at his legendary Gowanus digs, BC Studios – which deserve to be turned into a museum and landmarked – Bisi put down his guitar and mixed live with his usual psychedelic flair while Kammel Morris and Gabe Raines spun slowly oscillating, subtly shifting shades from banks of both analog and digital synths, plus flute, cymbals, a series of mixers and what sounded like an Indian veena but turned out to be an electric violin. The result was comforting and womb-like, an immensely satisfying experience considering the shock and horror of the past week. But the performance also had an edge.

It was akin to a goth chick falling asleep in your arms: soft skin, sharp shoulderblades underneath. Silky black hair that smells of acrylic and clove cigarettes. The acrid petrochemicals of her shiny black lipstick linger on your tongue. Her sleep is troubled, her breathing shallow and uneven. Once in awhile she mumbles something like “The music is reversible, turn back.” You reach to stroke her arm and the steel of one of her rings slices your wrist. There’s no pain, but you’re bleeding. Do you stop the blood? No, you let it drip onto the futon. She’s a goth chick. She’d like that.

Speaking in musical terms, uneasy close harmonies pulsed against a comfortable octave drone and then receded into the ether as the work went on. Astringently metallic timbres rose and fell while a comfortable sostenuto loomed and keened underneath. There were a few instances where the acoustic instruments could be heard for what they were before being spun out into space and then refracted in what seemed like dozens of concentric spheres.

A violin riff signaled a change, and then the goth chick morphed into Galadriel in a Barbarella outfit while warm, belltone chords rang out from one of the synths and a comet tail of attractive, baroque-tinged major-key melody began to emerge, winding down to a gentle wash of organ tones. The audience stretched out on the studio carpeting in a smoke-machine haze as prismatic visuals rose from the floor, fading from red to green to an aurora borealis and then back, many of the spectators choosing to view all this through dollar-store 3-D glasses supplied by the hosts. There’s no guarantee that there’ll be candles, or a smoke machine for that matter, at Spectrum, or that the performance will have much in common with this beyond enveloping bliss underscored with distanct menace. Either way, it will put you in some sort of trance.

What about the goth chick?

You know the deal. Right?

She disappeared. That’s what goth chicks do.