'Mind's Island' is completely improvised and for one voice and one guitar in microtonal tunings; exploring various harmonic, modal & rhythmic textures with a plucked, bowed or prepared guitar and a voice being used as an abstract instrument, rather than a channel for known language. Rod Poole began playing the guitar in 1972. He experimented with various musical idioms and by the mid-80s, his primary interests were acoustic-based free improvisation and finger-picked solo acoustic guitar. A founding member of the Oxford Improvisors' Cooperative, Poole's association was between the years 1983-1986. After moving to the United States in 1989, his studies in just intonation began with the world's foremost theorist on the subject, Ervin Wilson. Poole spent the next several years developing his approach to playing the guitar using just intonation theory. Poole has released a handful of unique and highly praised CDs on the W.I.N., Transparency, and Incus labels - The Dead Adder, December 96, Iasis,and The Acoustic Guitar Trio. He contributed "Kalaidoscopic Sunday" to the Henry Kaiser-curated guitar compilation, 156 Strings, and "The Fire Left to Come" to the SASSAS two-CD set, Sound, a compilation of Los Angeles-based performances curated by Cindy Bernard. Poole was also responsible for engineering the recording of all but three of the performances on Sound. He has performed with Derek Bailey, Mia Masaoka, Joseph Hammer, Kraig Grady, Nels Cline, Donald Miller, Pat Thomas, Tony Bevan, Eugene Chadbourne, and others. Sasha Bogdanowitsch is a vocalist, multi-instrumentalist & composer whose work ranges from writing for chamber ensembles to multi-track tapes with live performance to music for unique ensembles, such as gamelan and early music groups, to live and recorded music for theater, dance and film. Sasha has a Master of Arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts, where he studied composition and world musics, integrating the two into multi-movement, interdisciplinary performances. For the voice, Sasha often uses a language of sounds and has developed a way of singing that incorporates his studies in world, early & contemporary new musics. He has composed music for numerous theater, dance & films, such as 'On Becoming,' a new vocal theater work, the TV scores of Burkittsville 7 and Shadow of the Blair Witch, Grimm, a multimedia dance theater work; and Hidden Circle, an interdisciplinary work for voice, prepared tape, movement & projections. Sasha has worked with many artists, such as: SaReel Project, Sabrina Lastman, composer Lou Harrison, American Festival of Microtonal Music, Hesperus, choreographers Faith Pilger & Otis Cook, and Meredith Monk on her new CD, Impermanence, for ECM Records, which has just been nominated for a 2009 Grammy. 'Guitarist Rod Poole's Mind Island (a joint effort with vocalist Sasha Bogdanowitsch) falls under the broad net of the avant garde, but if hearing that phrase conjures up the ghost of Albert Ayler or the electronic poems of Edgard Varese, then this release demonstrates just how wide a net is cast under that label. In the case of Poole, avant garde more closely reflects his choice of instrument, or to be precise how that instrument is tuned, rather than any non-traditional choices in the framing of the music with noise, found instrumentation or other affectations of the modernist movement. Poole chooses to work with Just tuning for his guitar. Simplistically, this means the strings are tuned to be more harmonically sympathetic than what we usually hear in tempered (standard) tuning. These kinds of microtonal differences drive many in the straight music world insane, and anything recorded using this alternative approach is instantly classified as subversive, tagged with a scarlet L (for loony) and forced to live out behind the tool shed, to be visited only by crackpots, intellectuals or your uncle who drank way too much scotch and thought he was listening to his Rusty Warren record. With that wonkery out of the way, I've got to tell you that the music of Mind's Island is about as far removed from the distorted sonic noise of what most people think of as avant garde as can be imagined. It is actually more akin to something you would pick up off of Peter Gabriel's Real World label or hear in a yoga class. Mind's Island was recorded direct to digital and is comprised entirely of improvised music, where the two musicians agreed upon a scale as a basis for improvising and, as noted in the press release, the "melody, harmony, rhythm, dynamics and duration were spontaneous." The end result is a collection that, at it's best, sounds like Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn singing over Nick Drake's guitar playing on Pink Moon, as on the opening track "Sun Speak." As with most purely improvised music collections there are moments here both sublime and mundane, with "Childhood's End" being a prime example of the former and "The Rainmaker Cometh" the latter. On "Childhood's End" it seems almost incredible that the interplay between the guitar and vocals was not planned out in great detail prior to flipping the on switch, whereas the great flaw in "The Rainmaker Cometh" is a vocal that sounds much too western (rhythmically bluesy), causing the song to lack the cohesion that is necessary to keep the listener interested. Although Bogdanowitsch's voice is inviting and his melodies inventive, it probably also helps for the listener to be a fan of this kind of wordless singing. Poole's guitar improvisations are unique, and on many of the cuts they take on an almost kalimba-like sound. Without reading about it in advance, his use of Just tuning would be fairly transparent to most listeners. Mind's Island is a collection that is made to listen to, contemplate by, or drift off with, and in thinking about it I guess that means it's classified correctly, because although you can find cuts by Sun Ra that will set you boogeying, and Frank Zappa loved having members of his audience jump, skip and gyrate to "The Black Page # 2," the avant garde is not known as dance music. The music of Mind's Island seems to be spiritually minded and about promoting self actualization, or intellectual discovery. As with all searches you may uncover things that you don't particularly want to see (or in this case, hear), but on the whole Mind's Island is filled with satisfying and provocative music that will help you find the mental path to whichever vanguard you wish to travel. Sound Most of Mind's Island was recorded using a pair of model 1050 Calrec condenser microphones into a Tascam DAP1 digital tape recorder. The recordings are crisp and clear and the sound of Poole's guitar is expressively captured. My only complaint, or wish, would be to have recorded in a little livelier room. I really enjoyed listening to this CD through headphones and did take it along on a road trip, but it's not great traveling music. I didn't observe much of a difference between playing it in my home theater system and my Apple G5. I have to admit that after years of being told "tune your damn guitar," some passages sound out of tune to me. Damn my conventional ears! ' 11/2006-Audio Visual Review comments:.
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