subota, 19. siječnja 2013.

Biota - Cape Flyaway (2012)

Jedan od najboljih bendova o kojem i na internetu jedva da ima bilo što.
Kao da istovremeno slušate nekoliko različitih albuma.


Biota was founded in 1979 in Fort Collins, Colorado, as the Mnemonist Orchestra. Over the years, the Mnemonist Orchestra developed into Biota (the musical contingent) and Mnemonists (the visual contingent). Both Biota and Mnemonists work as one on productions of musical and visual components. The group has released nine LPs, one EP, one Tape, and four CDs on both their own Dys label and Recommended Records UK.

After 5 years of extensive and careful work, the new and much anticipated CD by this extraordinary collective, who have no parallels, no rivals and no peers, is at last complete. It's a dense and indescribable orchestration of electric and acoustic guitars, clavioline, trumpet, Hammond organ, micromoog, biolmellodrone, electric and acoustic violins, bass, mandolin, accordion, piano, rubab, kit percussion and sometimes voice, layered and radically processed in the unique Biota manner. There is a leitmotif of folk elements in this piece that emerge from the roiling, swirling quicksand of sound we now expect from Biota, with texts by WB Yeats and snatches, arrangements and influences floating by way of Christy Moore, June Tabor, Judy Collins, Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch, the Bothy Band and older traditional sources. Biota craft sonic worlds that relate to, but are not built like, the music with which we are familiar; for them time is a continuum rather than a sequence of events;

After many, many years of work, this is probably their finest as well as their most accessible. The heavily treated sonic material remains, but as in their last few, it's applied to a very 'folky' under-carriage. Think of the most twisted-yet-musical take possible on Sandy Denny/June Tabor/Judy Collins imaginable and you have a glimmer of what they are doing here. Really nice. REALLY NICE. And a gorgeous art portfolio is included. Highly recommended. "After 5 years of extensive and careful work, the new and much anticipated CD by this extraordinary collective, who have no parallels, no rivals and no peers, is at last complete. It’s a dense and indescribable orchestration of electric and acoustic guitars, clavioline, trumpet, Hammond organ, micromoog, biolmellodrone, electric and acoustic violins, bass, mandolin, accordion, piano, rubab, kit percussion and sometimes voice, layered and radically processed in the unique Biota manner. There is a leitmotif of folk elements in this piece that emerge from the roiling, swirling quicksand of sound we now expect from Biota, with texts by WB Yeats and snatches, arrangements and influences floating by way of Christy Moore, June Tabor, Judy Collins, Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch, the Bothy Band and older traditional sources. Biota craft sonic worlds that relate to, but are not built like, the music with which we are familiar; for them time is a continuum rather than a sequence of events; a simultaneous present in which past and future possibilities exist conterminously. With a 24 page full colour art portfolio from the Biota collective. 
 This album’s aural world is as vast as space, and seemingly as limitless; they are the one group most apt to embrace the latest technology, and to put it to good use to create "anti-music". But the outcome is so beautifully flowing and amazingly profound that their radical methods create positive change in a sonically transparent way, rather than to bludgeon the listener into submission by means of shock tactics. The result then, is elucidating and exciting. BIOTA are the un-challenged masters of hypnotic sound collage; each instrument is highly treated with effects BEFORE being recorded, which shows that the intention of the music is the means unto itself, and there is no cheating or "fix it in the mix" principles at play. This is real, veritable, and important stuff." -

Am I hyperbolizing by stating that the “Biota sound” is one of the most immediately identifiable in the history of modern music and, absurdly, also one of the less known? No matter. Quality prevailing upon quantity is a necessity when considering the potential audience of Cape Flyaway – which, like any release by this never-enough-lauded collective of multimedia artists, is destined to remain in the memory and the hearts of those who have been following them from the beginning and are conscious of the process of evolution, refinement and acknowledgement of artistic and cultural roots that has informed the group’s output.
It’s not a real surprise to see British folksong materials employed as a crucial element in this addictive album. Biota have been interested in purely acoustic fonts for a long while: steel-stringed guitars, accordion, violin and zither are a fixture in their palette since decades ago. The coexistence with the vintage sonorities generated by Micromoog and Hammond organ (or the by-now-mythical Biomellodrone *) turns the innumerable transitions to which the music is subjected into a reversal of roles between the sonic object and the listener. It is in fact the latter that gets studied, permeated and ultimately cleansed by a ceaselessly mutating cosmos of interlaced timbres, ever-shifting spectral dissections and incorporeal-yet-solid contrapuntal constituents. Fragments of traditional tunes, the “presence” of Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch, Judy Collins, Christy Moore, June Tabor, Bothy Band as ghost guides; textural remnants that touch the very depths of one’s soul (the ninth track – all are nameless – is literally moving in its juxtaposition of guitar arpeggios, bent-string peculiarity and orchestral evanescence).
Though singling out names in such an outstanding joint effort is profoundly unjust, I’ll force myself to point out the impressive-as-ever mixing and editing job performed by William Sharp (assembling scattered sources and giving them meaning and intensity in a coherent wholeness is not an everyday task), the nearly regretful apparitions of Charles O’Meara’s piano and, of course, the modestly excellent contribution by vocalist Kristianne Gale, whose heartfelt renditions add further humanity to the record. Expectedly (and luckily), the inside booklet contains a set of magnificent visual works by Mnemonists which no word of mine can describe (check for more). The same feel of inadequacy is experienced by this writer whenever a new work by the ensemble is spinning in his player. How to set the continuum of many superimposed existences – biological and aural – into mere words? Can you detail a REM phase without producing nonsensical literature? Can you explain why certain combinations of frequencies make us suddenly envision a blurred phantom of events occurred thirty-five summers prior, in turn eliciting a state of melancholic torpor?
If you can, give me a call. The CD is still emanating its scents as I’m writing, but specifying my exact mental position at the moment is unusually tough. This sense of displacement recurs every five/seven years or so: bet your house that we’ll be there at the next meeting too, incongruously attempting to babble details about what refuses to be detailed. 

The latest album from this long-running experimental collective arrives five years after their last effort, which found the group settling a bit too comfortably into their by-now familiar heavily processed textural soup, in which fragments of too many instruments to name are swirled together into a dense pastiche of ethnic musics, fractured pop, folk, progressive rock, and droney electronics. This time around, all the familiar Biota elements are still in place, but the group has conceived a set of songs structured around the influence of English folk, and the subtle changes this triggers in their music are palpable and very welcome. Singer Kristianne Gale returns from the last Biota album (breaking a streak of guest vocalists sticking around for only one album ever since the band started incorporating vocals in the mid-90s) and contributes lilting, haunting ballads that evoke and sometimes quote from classic English folk tunes. Her sad, high tones appear sporadically throughout the album, acting as its central presence even when she hangs back and lets the music speak for itself. The juxtaposition of these melancholy melodies with the group's jangly guitars, organ drones and warped drums makes for an intriguing combination, rendering these classic motifs somewhat strange and new due to the context.-

An interview with Bill Sharp/Biota
By Beppe Colli

As I have already argued at great length in my review, it doesn't take much to define Half A True Day - the new album by the visual/musical collective from the USA going under the name Biota - as a work of enormous depth and beauty; a musical environment that after a few listening sessions (of the attentive kind) appears to be one of the high points in the course of the group's travelogue.
Yes, they are a group whose work is quite difficult to read, as it's only natural with all those who create something that's highly original. But in the case of the music by Biota, the fact of a multitude of meanings appearing at the same time is without a doubt one of its distinctive features. So, in a way, musicians and listeners negotiate the different layers of the sound landscape.
So, is it difficult music? Without a doubt, it is - but not necessarily more difficult, I'd say, than other music that's already filed under "difficult". What's more, I find it really easy to believe (even if the mere thought makes me feel bad) that, given the proper amount of "pressure", Biota could have become a "trendy" group, the kind one spots listening to a soundtrack (at the movies, in a theatre, or - why not? - while watching a "modern" TV serial, maybe on cable?), even - maybe - in one of those ads that give instant fame - and money.
I immediately became curious to know more, so I asked Bill Sharp - a model of kindness - whether he would accept my idea to talk about this new chapter in the life of the group. He did, and the interview was conducted via e-mail, in the course of the last two weeks in November.

Though I have more than a few questions about the new Biota CD, I'd really like to start this conversation by going back in time. This is something I have been curious to know for quite a long time: Though acknowledged in the booklet's liner notes, with Gordon Whitlow getting a compositional credit for it, the final track on Object Holder has no title. Why?
Several of us viewed the piece as an environment of transition, as if a member of the Object Holder population was moving out of that world and toward the next, whatever that next might be. So, given that the state of our follow-up work was undetermined, this transition was a question mark. It could also be viewed as an extended fadeout of the overall composition. In any case, we enjoyed the thought that it might simply appear, unanticipated, to the listener. This reflects our embrace of the surprise element in our working process.
What does the CD title - Half A True Day - mean? It's "True" that I find confusing (but also "Half", I'm afraid...).
The project is largely about uncertainty - in everything from our daily lives to our embrace of the unknown in our music making, as just mentioned. I think the title carries forward similar references from our past work. However, like past titling, we didn't make a conscious effort to connect with previous projects. It's simply the natural way we gravitate in trying to represent the sounds, the concepts, our working methods in just a few words. This element of uncertainty is crucial to the current work, because the compositions grew out of the interaction between the determined and the unforeseen. And, it's also one way for the listener to approach the organisation of the sound over time. The overlapping of numerous compositional details - always in motion, not always fully resolvable - sets up a changeable truth about the whole - something we hope is malleable by and for the listener. Ideally, this yields a fresh experience each time.
"Proven Within Half, Half a True Day" might imply we almost got there as producers, as conceptualists, whatever. We almost answered our questions. (Almost never measured not found.) Now it's up to the listeners, as composers. In my own case, had I not needed to at some point call my contribution "complete," I'd still be messing with it. And, in a way, I still do now as a listener. I still hear new interactions. I'm at the production and mixdown end of this process, and I can't convey how remarkably harmonious "unrelated" sound components can be. Our studio process invites these interactions, as we build upon and organise them further.
The album presents a "Cast Of Characters" which includes both familiar faces, and people I'm not at all familiar with: Steve Emmons, Kristianne Gale, Rolf Goranson, Randy Miotke, and David Zekman (also Charles O'Meara, whom I assume to be TAFKAV?). Would you mind talking a bit about them?
Steve and the late Rolf Goranson worked on early Biota projects involving repetitive, cyclical electronic parts that interacted in a volatile environment. Specifically, they built portable battery-powered circuits that, when employed in chorus, tended to hatch a restless, hungry beast. The devices were a bit unstable (intentionally so) and their interaction produced a great many pleasant surprises. The Emmons/Goranson work is found on the first Biota LP (1982) and on the rough study for that work known as "Roto-limbs." We transplanted a few appendages from this period for Half a True Day.
Kristianne is a traditional folk singer whose voice is also well suited to instrumental interplay in an environmental setting. We are always interested in the ambiguity of voicing amongst sound sources - the blur in distinction between the pure vocal and the played acoustic instrument in sonic interplay. Kristianne has given us a very powerful resource in this regard, and one distinct in its utility from the pure song form of Susanne's and Gen's work on OH and Invisible Map, respectively. As a producer, it has been extremely rewarding to work with this broad range of vocal nuances and compositional approaches over three projects.

 Randy Miotke has worked on past projects in an editing and mastering capacity, and his role has grown as the work has become increasingly defined by its assembly characteristics, while demanding more exacting tools for that endeavour. It is here - in the final stereo editing phase - that we turn to modern software in the Miotke studio. With this new album, we've also enjoyed working with Randy for the first time as an instrumentalist. The same holds true for David Zekman, a long standing friend of the group, who joins us at last on electric violin and mandolin. His compositional clarity was invaluable, bringing to the extended format a thread of essential emotion and determination, interwoven throughout.
I envisioned a similar role for contributions from the late Andy Kredt, scouring the archives in mid '06 for lines that might augment the developing tonality of the project. Andy's energy was palpable on those recordings. Snippets of his past work fell into place as if tailored for the new.
Charles O'Meara (aka Vrtacek) returns with the piano that has energised so much of our work since Awry and Tumble. His pieces ground the maelstrom in a simple beauty. There is always a fundamental humanity in his playing - a personality that survives whatever we may do to mangle, invert, or mechanise his parts.
What's a "Crown bass"? Isn't/wasn't Crown a brand of amplifiers?
Crown is the manufacturer of Tom's hollow body 4-string - vintage 1960's, perhaps early '70's. I'm not sure if there is any relation to the classic amp makers, whose IC-150A pre-amp we employ in the studio monitoring system. We note Crown in the instrumentation because of the guitar's distinctive sound, apart from that of other bass sources in the projects.
What's a "Biomellodrone"? (And where did you find a Micromoog that actually worked?)
The Biomellodrone is an instrument born of our tendency to kluge together outboard processing gear just to hear what it might emit. Mnemonist founding engineer Mark Derbyshire and I devised this one from three boxes while musing about the endearing defects in a Mellotron's workings. An early digital sampler feeds a looping chord to a pitch shifter, which in turn applies tape transport-like wavering, gating, and musically useful interval shifts to the chord via commands from an external keyboard. A bit shaky, but I'll take the Rube Goldberg approach over a refined software plug-in any day of the week.
Randy Yeates is our analog hunter out there. If anyone can dig up an operational Moog, it is he. Better yet, we simply employ any malfunctions we encounter. His Micromoog was well suited to the textural backdrop he envisioned for these compositions. Sometimes, as in the case of our Clavioline, we have no direct reference for the correct operational state of a device. We are fortunate to have the Clavioline manual but, beyond that, must relish its idiosyncrasies and bring them to the music as if we had encouraged them all along. There is no definitively correct operational state for sound sources in this studio setting. Case in point: Tom's prepared music boxes, which make several appearances in the new work. Each box was altered individually, in isolation from the others. Their harmonies with each other - and with existing elements of the compositions - are part accidental, yet always guided. The work grows from these interactions, however harmonic or dissonant. Editors and mixers add and subtract. Instrumentalists bind the population into a functioning whole.
"Recorded and mixed between Fall 2002 & Summer 2007" is a very long time. Did the group ever happen to lose faith in the project during the process?
I don't think we lost faith during the first half of that period, but each of us negotiated difficult stretches of loss and uncertainty during that time. The focus varied. By the point at which the work solidified into a proper project - with an identity unique to our history, and with an endpoint visible - I think we quickly gained momentum and completed the work in less time than we might have in the past (in this case, roughly two years). But the energy ebb and flow has changed. The dynamics are different for musicians everywhere, I think.
I seem to detect a parallel between the last track on Object Holder and the last piece - Index Point #4 of the closing track, Passerine - on Half A True Day. Does my impression hold water?
It does, in the sense that I think the lone player in each case symbolises a resident of the larger sound population who in the end finds him/herself reflecting on that place in the world. (Or, at the very least, reiterating or solidifying that role.) In the Passerine close, the accordion evolves out of the processed state it occupied in the broad context of the 70 minute composition and into a more natural state, in a perhaps more familiar environment. Yet even this final regression is deceptive and open to interpretation. Was the pure state present all along, but merely masked by other activity? It is, in common with the OH ending, suggestive I think of some finality in this space... and of perhaps eventual movement into a new place and time.
I would really hate to spoil readers' many moments of surprise when listening to Half A True Day. However, I wonder whether it would be possible for you to talk about the new work, in general terms.
I'm pleased you mention the surprise element. We always hope this key component of our working process is carried forward into the listening experience. In Half a True Day, we similarly wish to convey a sense of perpetual transition for the listener. This quality might arise from a number of forces at play: perhaps the continuously shifting overlay and juxtaposition of elements. Or the unanticipated arrival and departure of new ones. In each case, new harmonies and dissonances arise. New relationships within the musical population are established, though they remain transitory. Much of this activity is intended to operate at the edge of resolution on initial audition, hopefully to bloom as the listener becomes locked into the peculiarities of this environment. It may be analogous to watching a film of indeterminate plot line, where the content resides in the value the viewer sees in each character and the nuances of their interaction. And the conviction that the cast is intertwined at multiple levels and moving toward a common resolution, however mysterious.
Equal attention was given to spatial details and the building of environments in which this interchange takes place. Half a True Day embodies significant departures here from earlier works, while maintaining our emphasis on alternative approaches to spatial processing. We are struggling toward a result that manages to embrace both the familiar and the alien simultaneously. It's the sense that one's native language - the way in which we comfortably describe our world - is indeed being spoken, yet the routine translation is garbled. This confounding might then encourage in the composers and listeners a new compromise amongst the figures in the play; a new organisation of their activities.
Biota's work really needs a great amount of involvement on the part of the listener. Talking in general, do you see people as more or less willing to dedicate a certain amount of their time to the exploration of an "unknown quantity" (meaning, an object that appears to be "aesthetically mysterious") when compared to ten or twenty years ago?
It's a bit frustrating because I can easily spend 5 years in the near-suspended animation that is a Biota project, and not have much sense of how the modes of perception are changing in the world of listeners outside. Emerging, I may be in for a rude surprise. The expanding volume, speed, and ease of information delivery, including that of aesthetic pursuits, may mean that listeners will expect facile solutions delivered right alongside any challenges. This vast amount of data must be efficiently organised. An aesthetic work might just fit into the "weird" category, be gobbled up as such, and promptly deleted. Or - more encouraging - the powerful delivery might incite the investigative spirit and actually liberate curiosity. I don't know which will win out. I think it will come down to the prevailing habits of consumption. If there is a continuing trend toward the visual and toward increased speed, quantity, and disposability of same, then it will take a backlash of basic human inquisitiveness to bring us back to a thoughtful approach to the arts. A hasty mass mindset will overload, crash, turn introspective, and begin to look for substance in the aesthetic experience.
These days there's a huge debate going on about things like "legal and illegal downloading", "the death of the CD", "the death of shops", "what future for artists?", etc. Though by no means surprising, the topic of "sound" - as in "the quality of the sound of music when sent/listened to on those devices most common today" - gets little or no attention. What's your opinion of this, both as a producer of music, and as a listener (and fan)?
At the same time that widespread, rapid delivery of art - be it video, music, or whatever - enables a larger audience, the delivery medium can degrade the work itself while lowering its apparent value to that audience. It is early to say whether there is a net benefit for non-mainstream musicians with a limited audience. We have, potentially, a greatly expanded and almost instant audience via Internet access, including the journalistic opportunities that accompany this. Yet the most widespread means of delivery (compressed files suitable for mobile applications) offer a degraded representation of the work - not to mention the limitations of the playback technology under these conditions. Aesthetic value will ultimately reside in the mindset of the listener, that is: how the mode of consumption effects the lasting value of the art object in the life of that listener. So there is ample cause for concern. We are certainly in the midst of the most profound shift in many decades, and I may just be "old school" now. I wonder what earlier observers were saying about the trend in consumption away from live performance and toward the mass distribution of recorded media. There was no doubt legitimate concern for sound degradation in one sense (the loss of acoustic purity), but a liberation of sonic opportunities in exchange. There may be an analogue here, but I suspect the current metamorphosis is far more radical, defying safe bets on the future of music or any aesthetic medium, for that matter.
Visuals by Tom Katsimpalis    

The short films of Charles O'Meara:
The Other Half

Some Time Ago

Biota: Almost Never

Label: Recommended Records
Product Code: 761
Catalog Code: RER BCD3
Country: UK

Biota: Bellowing Room/Tinct

Label: Recommended Records
Product Code: 1294
Catalog Code: ReR BCD2
Country: UK


Biota: Cape Flyaway

Label: ReR
Product Code: 16350
Catalog Code: ReR BCD7
Country: UK

  Incredibly crafted sonic worlds from the Biota collective, and indescribable orchestration of electric & acoustic guitars, clavioline, trumpet, organ, micromoog, biolmellodrone, voice, electric & acoustic violins, bass, percussion, &c.

Biota: Half a True Day

Label: Recommended Records
Product Code: 8698
Catalog Code: ReR BCD6
Country: USA

  The eclectic, transformative and fascinating Biota (Mnemonists) in their 6th ReR CD of freeform sound, with video files and 13 images of paintings, drawing and woodcuts.

Biota: Invisible Map

Label: Recommended Records
Product Code: 760
Catalog Code: ReR BCD5
Country: UK


Biota: Object Holder

Label: Recommended Records
Product Code: 1295
Catalog Code: rer bcd4
Country: UK


Biota: Tumble

Label: Recommended Records
Product Code: 691
Catalog Code: rer bcd
Country: UK

Half A True Day


It was at the end of the 80s - just before Tumble was released - that I happened to consciously think for the first time of Biota's music (their aesthetic? their language? their grammar?) as being without a doubt the most innovative one I had listened to in a long, long time. I discovered the group more or less by chance, while perusing the most recent catalogue of their UK record company, ReR. I was looking for something different that could reawaken my interest in music, something that at the time appeared to be a bit dormant due to the endless, growing tide of mediocrities being released that I had to confront every day.

 That was the starting point: a copy of the newly re-released LP Horde, an album by the musical/visual collective called Mnemonists that revealed unforeseen vistas to me. It was with a growing sense of curiosity that I followed the rest of the story: Rackabones (1985) by Biota, at first only an offshoot of Mnemonists; Bellowing Room (1987); Tinct (1988); the 10" vinyl LP Awry (1988); Tumble (1989), Biota's first CD. It was while listening to Tumble, where the collective's already large canvas was enriched by even more colours, that that fateful word came to me: "masterpiece".

At the same time, I couldn't help but notice the deafening silence surrounding Biota's work. In a way, this was only logical: ReR had never possessed the kind of money that makes it possible for one to buy those beautiful pages of colour advertisements that will easily put an artist in the top range of a magazine's list of priorities. (A few years later, I was a bit surprised when I heard that Biota's albums on ReR, which I had always assumed to be all steady sellers, if not exactly a cash cow, hadn't really sold that much. This at time when "sound" was a topic at the centre of anybody's attention.)

On the other hand, my problem was that I had always considered the concept of "innovation" as going hand-in-hand with that of "controversy". Hadn't it been like that with people like Monk, Taylor, Coleman, Braxton, and the like? Hadn't the audience revolted at the premiere of... (a work by Stravinsky, I think)? And what about Zappa? The only parallel I could think of was with Tod Dockstader: a (non)musician who created a highly individual music of distinctive colours who had been declared "persona non grata" by Academia, as a non-academic. And just like the music by Mnemonists/Biota, Dockstader's music was definitely born in the studio.

Indeterminacy - but I think that "non-univocal meaning" is the preferable expression here - has always been a distinctive feature of Biota's work, with all the types of dangers that stem from inhabiting this modern "no man's land". To put it in a nutshell, it appeared to me that in the course of their voyage from Horde to Tumble the group had gradually arrived at formulating a language. At the same time, alas!, the growing democratization of the possibility to have easy access to the "electronic" means of production - the studio and tapes in the first place, soon followed by every device that could produce and modify sound - flooded the audience with an unprecedented quantity of "indeterminacy", and also with the whole burden of trying to "find" a meaning in those sounds. And as soon as that perfect synonymous of "modernity" - the laptop - appeared the circle was complete.

Though processed in highly ingenious ways, Biota's sounds have always seen the physical performance of an instrument - be it common, unusual or invented - as their starting point. The great amount of space given to the acoustic guitars and to the accordion, the piano, and a certain melodic linearity made Tumble a (relatively) accessible work. Not really a step forward, Almost Never (1992) was a step sideways: the amount of space given to James Gardner's flugelhorn - and the fact that Gardner wrote some pieces on his own - made it impossible for the listener not to think about some Davis pages. One also noticed the "vocal" role the instrument had in the music.

Listening to Object Holder (1995) was a disconcerting experience: the group had recorded an album of... songs!, with a female vocalist as the main instrument. The voice of Susanne Lewis is for this writers one of the ugliest and graceless around, so listening to the album was not easy for me. But well beyond the identity of the vocalist, it was the concept of the project that was quite mysterious for me: the human voice is fatally bound to occupy centre stage at the expense of all else, while it had always been its "democratic" - and mysterious - palette, where no colour was dominating for too long, that had been the group's main feature. Quite paradoxically, the most beautiful track for this writer was the one (without a title) that closed the album, which featured just an accordion and an "almost white noise".

Invisible Map (2001) was much better: the featured voice (Genevieve Heistek's) I found better, and its role was greatly reduced, compared to Object Holder; but the whole proved to be unsatisfying for me: something that sounded a bit "tired" in the instrumental parts, which now started sounding a bit mannered; while those moments where vocals were featured appeared as they were aiming at a strange "folk" simplicity. So I arrived at the sad conclusion that it appeared like Biota and I had already parted our ways.

So it's obvious that I wasn't expecting much from Biota's new CD. Let's just say that I had not much hope left. And so I had not waited for the release of Half A True Day with my temperature rising. Readers can well picture my astonishment in listening to a fantastic, innovative work that in some ways could be considered as being the group's best. And since I'm quite conscious of the danger of being possessed by premature enthusiasm, I listened to this album for quite some time, just to make sure. I have to say I was favourably impressed each and every time.

Half A True Day is a difficult album. Not at all harsh. But it possesses a plurality of meanings that call for repeated listening sessions (in a quiet, serene environment - this we knew already, right?). A complex work, maybe (I guess) it will be more difficult for those who already know Biota (they will probably have to reset their expectations about the group) than for newcomers. It has the mysterious softness of Tumble, though at the same time being very different.

Let's start by saying that the sound of the album is quite pleasant, not harsh and bright like its two immediate predecessors (better converters this time?). Object Holder and Invisible Map had a sound that was a bit on the rude side; here the sound encourages the listener to turn the volume up, in order to better explore the complex relationships existing between the various layers. Those famous "index points" are back, indicating the tracks' "internal separation". Again, we also have voices (for the most part, Kristianne Gale's, I think), but in my opinion this time the group hit the bull's eye: at pretty low volume, mostly in the background, processed and looped, here voices become just another instrument in the palette.

My first impression was one of déjà vu. Not in the sense that the work sounded derivative, "already known", obviously. But at times it appeared as I was listening to things I already - literally - knew; a good for instance being the "rock-blues guitar played with slide" which appears at the end of Proven Within Half/Half A True Day, which to me sounded the same as the one which starts The Trunk on Object Holder: a "splice"?

The feeling is the same when one listens to recurring melodies - like the one played by the accordion at about 30" in the first track, Figure Question, and then at the start of Pack-And-Penny Day; or the melodic phrase played as an arpeggio on the piano at the start of Just Now Maybe, then at the start and closing of Another Name, then played by a mallet percussion instrument (a marimba?) at the start of Cloud Chamber.

The whole makes one feel unsure of him/herself, with all those "motivic variations" making one think long and hard about what s/he's listening to. It goes without saying that one's ears are perennially alert for clues and signals in the background.

More often than in previous occasions, maybe, I seemed to notice similarities with things I already knew (a "Hot Tuna moment", a "Faust moment"...), but had I to mention all the things that awoke my attention... So I'll just mention the backwards vocals on Globemallow, Left Untold, and those backwards and looped on Where No One Knows. Also the organ (?) at the "index point" 3 on Passerine. Oh, and the violin, here and there.

Possible parallelisms appear, like the lonely accordion accompanied by an "almost white noise" which closes the CD bringing to one's mind the already mentioned untitled track on Object Holder. More than once, I had the feeling of "almost getting the meaning, but not quite".

Mysterious like its title, Half A True Day is an album that incorporates years of work (and it shows, in a good sense), a fact which makes it an album "from another time".

As it's well known, ReR don't have the necessary means to give eyesight to the blind, if you know what I mean. So here readers have all the burden of the discovery (also the pleasure!).

Beppe Colli

From New Music America 1990, Montreal Musiques Actuelles programme
Biota was founded in 1979 in Fort Collins, Colorado, as the Mnemonist Orchestra. Over the years, the Mnemonist Orchestra developed into Biota (the musical contingent) and Mnemonists (the visual contingent). Both Biota and Mnemonists work as one on productions of musical and visual components. The group has released nine albums, one EP, and a recent CD in addition to several cassettes and compilation ventures, on both their own Dys label and Recommended Records UK. Now in its 11th year of studio-based recording and graphic production, the Biota-Mnemonists ensemble visits Montreal Musiques Actuelles - New Music America 1990 with its first live adaptation of studio technique since 1981. Renowned for its work in the two-dimensional graphic media, the group's visual contingent will debut its motion picture efforts, with Heidi Eversley's large-screen video imagery accompanying the sonic performance.
Throughout its recording history, Biota-Mnemonists has placed as much emphasis on mixdown and related studio operations as they have on source instrument playing. The group's acoustic instrumental work can undergo radical tonal, timbral and temporal modification via its studio based electronic processing chains. Biota-Mnemonists' compositional development remains highly dependent on such interactions.
Virtually all electronic sounds generated during this performance will be derived from acoustic instrumental sources played live on this specific occasion. No pre-recorded tapes or pre-recorded digital samples will be mixed into the live sound.
Biota-Mnemonists' New Music America composition will blend two very different manifestations of the acoustic playing visible on stage:
1) the live electronic transformation of the source instrumental playing via interactive digital and analog processing, and 2) the natural, unamplified sounds of the source instruments as they emanate directly from stage.
All source instrumentation will be acoustic (excepting the electric guitars), and no electronic synthesizers or sequencers will be employed.

"Another Green World: Biota Takes You on a Trip to Another Time and Space" by Julia Loktev
On a frigid night in St. Petersburg last year, a prominent Russian art critic boiled with excitement. "You're from Colorado! Do you know Biota?" he asked. My affirmative nod sent him off on a reeling description of how he imagined the band's existence - he pictured mad scientists encamped in a fortified recording studio deep in the heart of the desert, subsisting on hallucinogenic cacti, scheming the musical madness.
Biota, a collective of experimental musicians and artists, inhabit conventionally constructed houses in Denver and the Front Range area rather than this mythical world. But in the 14 years since its inception as the Mnemonist Orchestra, the group has developed an international cult following and an enigmatic aura fed by the fact that it has performed publicly only twice - most recently at the 1990 New Music America festival in Montreal. The group remains better known outside the state than within it.
The aggregation consists of multi-instrumentalists Tom Katsimpalis, Steve Scholbe, Bill Sharp, Gordon Whitlow and Larry Wilson, plus an indeterminate number of artists and musical collaborators. It functions primarily as a studio creation, dispersing spurious radiation on London-based Recommended Records and its won DYS label. To date, the emissions number 12, including eight LPs, one EP, one limited-edition cassette and two recent CD-only releases. The recordings issued since 1985 have come out under the name Biota, meaning a region's flora and fauna, while those that appeared earlier were credited to the Mnemonists, defined as persons with particularly voracious memories. This latter moniker now refers to the visual component of the group. The Mnemonist artists have produced booklets, silk-screened posters and artistically manipulated maps of unknown sites as part of the packages that accompany each release. The artists often create these works while listening to the music, sketching and painting the aural worlds as they imagine them. Katsimpalis, who is involved in both the musical and visual aspects of the process, sometimes draws during the recording sessions. Like him, the other musicians derive inspiration from the paintings of Goya, Max Ernst and Francis Bacon, as well as the films of Nicolas Roeg, Werner Herzog and David Lynch.
Working in their Fort Collins basement studio, band members sculpt imaginary spaces and lives - aural worlds swarming with unseen ghosts of memories past. Walls of percussion shift and shift again, and the floor squeaks with the grind of a hurdy-gurdy. A Chinese ching and a ukulele swing from the ceiling, while a sneaky entourage of guitars, woodwinds and accordions come creeping through the window. Storms of chaotic noise subside into delicate interludes. Melodic narratives weave in and out of each other, then disappear, only to rise to haunt the dens of dissonance again.
The key to these sonic scientists' soundtrack to senility is in the mix. Using acoustic sources that include a rubab ( a stringed instrument bought in Tajikistan), a Renaissance krummhorn and a contraption known as a Marxophone, Biota explores the recording studio as a musical instrument. Sharp, a founding member of the group, explains, "We couldn't compose without the studio. unlike most musicians, who use the studio to document compositions, we're using products of the studio activity as elements of the composition."
This activity involves an ever-expanding palette of electronic processing methods that bespeak intimate terms with technology. The musicians use it as a tool rather than letting it use them, thereby avoiding the fetishistic trap of technophilia that ensnares many experimental composers. This approach virtually precludes playing live. Sharp sums up Biota's conundrum: "To perform on stage, we would have to somehow condense the process that takes place in the studio over the course of many months." That would not be an easy feat for a group that has progressed from manic free-form improvisation to a highly craftsmanlike way of working, in which each element is deliberately arranged in an exquisitely ordered structure. But within that order, there is chaos; the structure is built on a foundation that is fluidly surreal. tension between the logical and the instinctive seethes at the core of Biota's musical aesthetic.
In a sense, the group composes films for the ears, luring the listener through interwoven narratives with textured rhythms and melodies. For instance, Katsimpalis recalls, "On Bellowing Room (1987, Recommended), we shared an image of an individual who was within a room that he or she could not get out of, and could view the world outside the windows but was still within the parameters of a given space." Similarly, he says, Gyromancy (1984, DYS) features "a being negotiating precarious terrain." Biota's most recent project, Almost Never (1992, Recommended), involves an elaborate story line in which, as Katsimpalis tells it, "a person or being walked around the outskirts of a village, came in, than took a road out and then returned." All of this happened without a word being spoken.
Currently, the group is working on its 13th recording, to be released on Recommended toward the end of this year. The members are taking a less programmatic approach than usual to the environmental and narrative aspects of the composition. But although no specific parameters have been defined, the group has not completely departed from the concept of forging abstract, symbolic spaces. Sharp insists that in spite of growing emphasis on the strictly musical elements, Biota is still rooted in an intuitive base. "We're still working very romantically, but we're not being as specific about it," he says. "We're tending to be more open and try to move through a greater degree of emotions."
This is where the listener comes in. Biota infuses its recordings with an array of emotional and psychological clues that force listeners to take an active, participatory role. Familiar sounds - dogs barking, a bicycle passing, an inviting instrumental turn - work differently on each set of ears. "The listeners can invent their own story line using the clues that are in the mix and their own memories," Sharp advises. The musicians hope that each witness gleans a different tale from the mix, drawing on personal recollections and subconscious desires as they pass through the densely forested Biota.
"Biota has achieved a lot of mystery," Katsimpalis admits. "I think that's something we as a group enjoy experiencing with the music. Each time you listen to it, some new part is going to come out. So what the listeners experience on an emotional and psychological level is probably going to be different each time because of what they're bringing to the music. It's almost as if the listener is a magnet, and that magnetic field is going to be different every time they listen, and it's going to receive different signals from the music at each listening."

Review of Object Holder CD, from CMJ by David Newgarden
Waking up with what seems to be a hangover, I feel my head spinning with hazy memories of smoky late night jazz clubs, Turkish hash dens, surreal medieval carnivals - a nightmarish jumble; it's impossible to sort out what was real, what was a dream, and what was the Biota album I'd been listening to far into the wee hours. Echoes of bellowing pump organs, whimsical hurdy-gurdy, mutant guitar twang, impressionistic piano and mournful horn dirges blend into distorted images. The Biota septet strums, plucks, blows, hammers and squeezes exotic and forgotten instruments to paint peculiar improvisations and songs remembered from previous lives. The long, strange Biota journey has produced a dozen releases, each with new textures and colors, each with successively more melody, and on Object Holder, the surprising development of singing (featuring the pensive voice of Susanne Lewis of Kissyfur, Hail and A Thinking Plague). Biota is not even remotely like any other group I can think of, and always no less than astonishing.

Review of Object Holder - from CMJ New Music Monthly (June 1995) by Douglas Wolk
Out in Colorado, the musical collective Biota (this time, seven people plus four guests) and its visual-arts comrades Mnemonists (three members of Biota and eight others) have been making beautiful, startlingly original records for 15 years, untouched by genre, fashion, influence or much of an audience -- there's really no word that approximates what they do, even one as broad as "rock" or "jazz." They play guitars, piano and drums; more often, though, they play accordion, flugelhorn, hurdy-gurdy, nae, clavioline and whatever other reed, percussion and keyboard instruments are at hand. Most of the time, their records sound as if they'd heard about music and liked the idea of it but never actually heard anyone else's, then come upon a cache of instruments and learned to use them to make something that sounded good to them. Biota's music is dense, rich and consistently lovely, with "processing and tapework" adding rumbling, musique concrete-like layers to the sound or streamlining it, as necessary. Object Holder, essentially a 24-part suite with sections that segue into one another, adds an element that's new to the group: vocals, from guest Suzanne Lewis (a New York resident, from Biota's labelmate Hail), singing texts by members of the group. With the incorporation of "songs," it's their most accessible record to date, at least on its surface. But it takes patience to appreciate it fully; it may take years to probe its depths.

Review of Almost Never from Forced Exposureby Jimmy Johnson the words of Andrei Codrescu: "sometimes when they shut off the faucets, I think of Chinese mailmen." This is another disturbingly brilliant block of mind-mulching sound from the Mnemonists-dissolved crew. As with their previous CD release, Tumble, there is a further progression here towards the territory of common knowledge. Whereas in the past a total immersion in listener confusion seemed to be part of the creational motive, Almost Never, in a dramatic reversal of form, even goes so far as to list individual instrumentation for each track. So you can listen to the opening segment of "Burn Daylight" and know that it was performed via the use of "flugelhorns, bass clarinets, Rhodes piano, bass drums, crickets and a motorbike on the Lampang-Denchai Road, Thailand." This scandalous clarification might seem ungodly to some, I can even remember Byron going through quite a crisis of faith when this thing arrived right around the same time as Borbetomagus' equally linear-grasping Asbestos Shakedown CD came out. Irregardless, lengthy tunnel-absorbed listening bouts with this one will reveal no flaw in character. Spatial acoustics are wracked with (sometimes in an almost-rock fashion), and zones of previously unconscionable thought will flow through your synaptical cracks like so much turbodense demon seed; experimental sound ought to blow off your fucking roof, and that this is one more mission accomplished piece from Biota to taste of zodiac should not come as any major shock.

Review of Almost Never - from Buttrag #8 (Chicago), May 1993
More richly twilled sonic collages, packaged, as usual, gorgeously with a 12-page booklet rife with original artwork. While Biota's basic m.o. in many ways remains the same all the way back to their days as the Mnemonists (the name now seemingly assigned to their artwork wing of the organization), their last few releases have embraced a largely acoustic swirl with greater and greater frequency; the unique harmonic blending and rigorous sound processing that occurs often renders particular "instruments" unrecognizable or clearly written passages choppy and broken-up, but the non-electric foundation or root of the sound -palette lends a certain organic presence to the music. Records like Tumble and Awry may appear, on the surface at least, to be moving into a more musical vocabulary, and with Almost Never the usual dissonance (albeit an extremely careful, beautifully sculpted dissonance) is at its least obvious level, but it's just a trick. Biota continue to move and progress; like precious few others playing "experimental" music, this combo may have an identifiable "sound,' but they don't rest on any laurels. Within the often dense, lush and beautiful scapes Biota create, a huge sound-world is evident, and the many strange points of reference (or things that seem to be such) are drawn from a wide range of experience. Self-created snatches of music derived from endless styles float in and out, the unique arrangement of instruments (such as marxophone, hurdy gurdy, and penny whistles among more standard choices) mesh for new textures, and the stunning arrangement of these sounds and patterns transform the old into new, or better yet, nothing you've heard before. Another incredible collection that flows seamlessly.

Article in The Wire (U.K.), January 1996 by Mike Barnes
"You can't think about that music. That music is moving so fast that if you think about it, it's like watching a train go by and counting the cars."
The quote is Captain Beefheart's about his own music -- a typically pithy description and a warning against uptight critical dissection. It also could be applied to the very different sounds of Biota.The Colorado-based group have devised a unique way of working throughout their 16-year existence. They compose and improvise raw material in their own studio, edit it via a painstaking process of tape splicing -- with the introduction of found sounds where apt -- and use this as a foundation for further playing and vocals, by guest musicians including Chris Cutler. On the group's new release, Object Holder, there are 11 contributors. Piano, cut-up rhythm tracks, hurdy-gurdy, pump organ, guitars and percussion all jostle for place like buskers outside some avant garde carnival in full swing. Hail's Susanne Lewis gives the listener a more direct way in with some beguiling melodies. The process and the resultant music are both long and complex, but it's a complexity the group's Bill Sharp is keen to demystify."It's definitely a romantic way of composition rather that classical," he explains. "As classical composers we would simply be concerned with the individual notes, the arrangements, the intricacies of music theory and how the composition itself is the end. Instead we're working much more in a romantic sense in that it's bringing in all these elements that are not purely musical. It's intentionally designed to be elusive, but it's designed to have enough clues for the listener to not be immediately written off."
The shifting, shuddering music, by turns turbulent and peaceful, is full of colours and odd angles which, like the apparently random fall of the pieces in a kaleidoscope, produce their own logic. The analogy is apt -- as well as being influenced by Faust and musique concrete, Sharp tends to describe Biota's music in visual metaphors. He explains the importance of a filmic approach to their music making.
"It can start with an idea that is purely visual. Any of our releases could be considered a composition, but it's still sub-compositions that are linked together in a linear fashion. And any one of these could be seen by a listener as a series of individual settings or a moving through environments.
"Early in the group's existence we were very interested in what certain film makers were doing with the amplification of location sounds. Lynch and Splet, in their work on Elephant Man, were taking location sounds and amplifying them and elevating them to an unnatural level and creating musical content out of the environment. They were doing something in a very conscious compositional way to create music out of the visual realm, the setting. And we were interested by how that could be done by a group in the studio. Very early on we were bringing in aspects of the environment as well as standard played instrumentation."
Biota have a separate, but symbolic, visual wing -- The Mnemonists -- who design all their artwork and contribute when the group make a rare live appearance.
"We did a commission for New Music In America in Montreal in 1990, and we spent a year putting together the stage production," says Sharp. "And when it was executed we did have a multimedia presentation. But we are so linked with the studio in our compositional process it would be very difficult to take it on the road, that's for sure, as most of the studio technology has to come with us."



Spanish to My Horse
a short novel by Gardner Rich
(PDF file)
L'Esprit Interieur by James Gardner

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