Newsonic / newsonic11
Jonathan Zorn / bass
The title, perhaps, implies a conflict; that Zorn doesn’t play contrabass, but ContraBass, against the bass, in that antagonistic relationship which so many improvisors have with their instruments. But the sound of this disc doesn’t bear that out. Here is a player whose approach is one of technical control even in the most extreme of areas. Unlike some practitioners, he seems not to rely on chance so much as on concentration.
This is indicated by his claim that these are “compositions”. As an important part of the musical activity surrounding Wesleyan University and the Middletown Creative Orchestra, it shouldn’t be surprising that he uses composition and improvisation together, nor that the element of improvisation is used to add detail to general forms rather than to expressive ends. This disc, in common with other Newsonic releases, is resolutely anti-Romantic.
That might be taken imply that “ContraBass” is a heartless record; it isn’t. Indeed, this is no abstract formalism but committed and often exhilarating stuff. Zorn uses repeated rhythms less than general melodic shapes which are subjected to ad hoc variations. He has a fantastic sense of harmony, too, as “Phys111” amply demonstrates; far from random note-picking or static droning, Zorn likes to move his harmonies around and keep them dynamic. Put together, these features make his playing extremely involving even as it eschews entirely the conventions of the blues.
Saddled with a hard name to live up to, Zorn is a unique and extremely imaginative voice on the bass. While many solo bass albums suffer from a lack of focus or an over-dependence on tricks, Zorn’s extended techniques are almost entirely of the organic, bow-on-strings variety and so his playing flows smoothly along. There’s barely a note of jazz on this disc — and hardly a single pizzicato, even — and yet, like John Butcher, Zorn is able to sustain this New Music aesthetic in a solo context without becoming boring. He can do it simply because he can focus closely enough to make sense of the music, although in this case the use of composition does help him shape the music (Butcher does his shaping in situ, as it were). Like virtually everyone on this scene, he’s ploughing an unfashionable furrow, but in this case he’s doing it extremely well and deserves wider recognition. Richard Cochrane
Contrabass | New Sonic 11
Jonathan Zorn – contrabass
Jonathan Zorn’s 1998 solo bass debut. Drawing inspiration from his studies with Anthony Braxton and his work with Jackson Moore and Seth Misterka in the Middletown Three, Zorn composed seven solo pieces that explore his peculiar approach to the bass.
Following some other recordings with Jonathan Zorn and some releases of his own record label.
My Mind Was Matching What You Were Making | set 01
Rachel Thompson – violin, Jonathan Zorn – synthesizer
Violin processed by synthesizer, synthesizer processing violin. Two tracks of collaborative squeaks, whispers, and bleeps. track one studio recorded 16.10.2003 in the attic mpls, mn, track two: live recorded 14.10.2003 at acadia cafe mpls, mn, released in 2004.
for Rob Powers | set 03
Jonathan Zorn – synthesizer
This suite consists of a feedback loop that grows in complexity with each new section. The sounds produced range from piercing sine waves to distorted electronic wheezes. Composed, performed and recorded june 2003.
listen with open windows | set 04
Jonathan Zorn – synthesizer
listen with open windows serves as both a title and listening instructions. Sounds from outside blend with the filtered white noise of the recording to create a play between composed and ambient noise. Do not play in extreme cold. Letterpress printed by Sarah Peters in an edition of 250.Composed and recorded by Jonathan Zorn, October 2003.
Tomato We Die | set set 05
Ben Stanko – harmonics guitar, circuit bent electronics, mouth harp, beer can organ
Ben Stanko lets us into his homemade sound world, hidden away in some unknown corner of Philadelphia. Tomato We Die features Ben plucking his mouth harp in an abandoned oil tank, scaring dogs with his beer can organ, and lulling us to sleep with his harmonics guitar. Each one comes with a unique cat drawing. Printed in an edition of 250. All compositions by Ben Stanko 2005.
it’s hard to stop when you’re working in circles | set 06
Rachel Thompson – violin
It’s hard to stop when you’re working in circles documents the first year of Rachel Thompson’s idiosyncratic, movement-based improvisational practice. Having enacted a conscious shift in musical intention, she redirects her efforts towards the creation of new patterns of physical interaction with the instrument, and only then shaping the resulting sound. Cover art features an analogous etching by Thompson, printed by Charles Lyon in an edition of 250. Recorded in the attic, spring 2004.
What About My Baby Kitty | set 07
David Kendall and Jonathan Zorn – computers Rachel Thompson– analog electronics
Others is a trio featuring David Kendall, Rachel Thompson, and Jonathan Zorn. The group explores the sonic possibilites of a 3×3 signal processing feedback loop using live computer synthesis and analog electronics. Each member of the group can initiate a sound, but once the sound begins there is no telling what will happen. As signals bounce from player to player illusions of spaces, stuttering drones, and sonic explosions rapidly consume one another in Others’ unstable sound world.
What About My Baby Kitty features all of Others summer 2005 performances spliced and layered into two dense tracks – one for the West coast, and one for the East coast. WAMBK is dedicated to the cats who inspired us throughout our journeys. Cover art by Thomposter.
Phys 111 Book III | New Sonic 34
Jonathan Zorn – doublebass
Released on Newsonic Records shortly before they called it quits, Phys 111 is the followup to Jonathan Zorn’s solo debut Contrabass. The book consists of seventy short pieces realized on the bass in Zorn’s characteristic style. Released 2003.