Musical Catechism by Thomas Ferrella, Kevin Schaefer, and others Privately produced release, 2000 http://www.earthboys.com This two-CD set is rather pretentiously titled Musical Catechism in homage to the writing of 19th century classical composer Robert Schumann. Thomas Ferrella and Kevin Schaefer, along with various relatives and friends, get together in their Madison, Wisconsin studio every week to improvise "musical explorations, free inventions, modal truths" as the album notes claim. These CD's are the recordings of these sessions. Unfortunately it doesn't sound like "modal truth" or any kind of invention, but like A Bunch Of Guys Playing with Random Instruments and Electronic Sound Devices. They know ambient, they've heard "free jazz," they've heard avant-garde, and they are trying to produce something like it.
I think that this improvisation process must be a lot more fun for the producers than it is for us listeners. They may feel that they are laying down some deep thoughts, but what fills the 2 CD's is mostly aimless noodling, moving without much structure from one noise to the next. You get acoustic blowing, you get electronic bleating, and you get lots of my own least favorite ambient cliché, whispering voices muttering half-audible words. I myself, long ago, have done just such improvisation, filling reel after reel of tape with experimental sounds made on a synthesizer. But I'd never let anyone hear it until I had selected and carved out the best sounds from those hours of tape. Listening through this, I think there are probably about fifteen minutes of usable-for-ambient, interesting sounds on the 2 hours' worth of recording - which is about average, as I remember it, for improv sessions.
The album set comes with a video on one of the CD's which you can play on your computer. It shows about five minutes of kaleidoscopic, psychedelic patterns, just right for a late night when you've had a little bit of Something. The electronic sound accompanying this is done by the same bunch, and is much better than the rest of the album, so I know that this group can do better than what's on the misnamed "Catechism."
Rating: 2 out of 10 (and 1 of those 2 is for the video) 2/3/01 Hannah M.G. Shapero
Effigy By Thomas Ferrella and Kevin Schaefer Privately produced release http://www.earthboys.com This album is produced by the same group who gave us, in 2000, 2 CD’s of pointless noodling pretentiously called Musical Catechism. This is one of their somewhat earlier releases, but it is along the same lines: live improvisation using a mixture of electronic and acoustic instruments. It is not quite as pointless as the 2000 album, because they manage to keep some rhythmic and harmonic sequences going during the seven pieces (improvisation chunks) on the album. But "live" doesn't always mean "spontaneous" or "creative," let alone "good." It doesn’t take much to get ambient moving, just a drone or a regular rhythm or even a major or minor chord or two. When they do this, the Earthboys make a little sense. But they don’t always do it, and so there are long stretches of random noises, scraping, ding-a-lings, whistles, toots, clangs, and indeterminate sound-detritus which resemble the avant-garde “contemporary classical” or “free jazz” or “noise” which is sometimes played on college radio stations late at night. Every so often there’s a moment, or even a passage, which perks up the listener’s interest, but these passages are not frequent enough to make this album worth listening to all the way through. HMGS rating: 3 out of 10 Hannah M.G. Shapero 5/23/01
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