Pauline Oliveros, David Rothenberg, Timo - Cicada Dream Band [Gruenrekorder - 2014]Veteran avant garde composer and V-accordion player Pauline Oliveros has joined forces with clarinet player David Rothenberg and throat singer Timothy Hill for "Cicada Dream Band", a new project in the spirit of her other trio, the Deep Listening Band, responsible for many of Oliveros' most known releases. Like Deep Listening Band, the music on this album is an active form of ambient / classical avant garde / free improvisation which combines field recordings with live instrumentation.
It comes off as a playful nature worship ritual, in much the way one might expect based on the title and lush green forested artwork. There are many lovely luminiscent and colorful instrumental tones, which intermingle pleasantly in whimsically exchanged volleys. In a sense it resembles free jazz, but consonance and beauty are emphasized to a far greater degree than would be typical of the genre. I enjoy the fluttering percolations of Rothenberg's clarinet and bass clarinet, intermingling with Timothy Hill's voice, itself reedy and rich in harmonics. The strangeness and unpredictability of Rothenberg's note choices echo the esoteric and surreal classical music of the mid 20th century, such as Ligeti.
The problem with this album turns out to be Oliveros' contribution. Her V-accordion is often set to cheesy, sampled sounding patches, such as a canned sounding voice saying 'ooh!'. It's blocky and rigid compared to the rich organic timbres of the other two musicians, and therefore quite distracting. This kind of crude sampler use was generally abandoned after the 80's, and for good reason. This album can often feel overly light or inauthentic, like exploring a forest made out of cardboard trees and tiny hidden speakers playing sound effects. The field recordings in the background are presented in such a way so as to sound like artificial loops. The soundscape created here could not be said to truly imitate the sound of a natural environment, and feels ultimately cartoonish and two dimensional.
Timothy Hill is a competent throat singer, but not the most creative improviser, limited to rhythmic breaths and iterations of droning tone, which contributes to the feeling that the musicians are content to noodle about in the same space for the album's duration. Utilizing a drone singer as a piece of trio in which the other two players are engaging in freeform, spasmodic outburts doesn't seem to make sense.
Oliveros' work has in fact erred in the opposite direction on many previous occasions, with many of her older pieces consisting of inexplicable and utterly unlistenable ugliness, but "Cicada Dream Band" feels like something of an avant garde cliche to me. I would investigate deeper and more emotive ambient works like Lightwave's "Cantus Umbrarum" over this disk, which has a certain insubstantiality to it. It is a meandering, spacious recording, relaxing enough, but lacking in energy and direction. Rothenberg's melodic fragments and soliloquys are often of interest, but I don't have much of a sense that the musicians are building on each other's ideas. I would rather hear his playing in another context. I can't recommend this one.Josh Landry