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Taking stock, a year half over


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This month, at the halfway point in the year of music, we are taking stock, and there have been so many great discs released. Here is my list (in no particular order) of the best albums so far. I predict many of these will make final top ten 2013 lists. Sorry, I couldn't keep my list to ten.

The Ex & Brass Unbound—Enormous Door (Ex Records) Federico Ughi—Federico Ughi Quartet (FMR) Rachel Musson/Mark Sanders/Steve Noble—Tatterdemalion (Babel) Matt Parker—Worlds Put Together (BYNK) Petr Cancura—Down Home (Roots To Boot) Hashem Assadullahi Quintet—Pieces (OA2) Frank Rosaly—Cicada Music (Delmark) Fire! Orchestra—Exit! (Rune Grammofon) Ken Vandermark/Made To Break—Lacerba (Clean Feed) Steve Coleman—Functional Arrythmias (Pi) Ivo Perelman—Serendipity (Leo) Gilad Hekselman—This Just In (Jazz Village) Peter Evans—Zebulon (More Is More) Rudresh Mahanthappa—Gamak (ACT) John McNeil—Hush Point (Sunnyside) Mats Gustafsson/Merzbow/Balazs Pandi—Cuts (Rare Noise)

But wait, there's more to consider for this year's best of lists. The Spaceways' galaxy is ever expanding...

São Paulo Underground Beija Flors Velho E Sujo Cuneiform 2013

Beija Flors Velho E Sujo is the fourth release from the Brazil/Chicago trio São Paulo Underground. It's the band's second disc for Cuneiform Records, following Três Cabeças Loucuras (2011). The band's first two efforts can be heard on Aesthetics Records label. Like the city of São Paulo itself, the music is crowded, joyous, messy, and both modern and primitive. Recorded in Chicago after an acclaimed North American tour in 2012, the disc opens with a tsunami of sound. Guilherme Granado's bass synth motor blares distorted waves on "Ol' Dirty Hummingbird" like a punch to the solar plexus, as the percussion induces movement. Their sound draws from the new tropicalia electronic movement and the work of cornetist Rob Mazurek's Chicago Underground bands. Like a futurist rendering of technology incorporated into the jungles of the Amazon basin, the altered DNA of this South-meets-North American collaboration could be a soundtrack for a Philip K. Dick sci-fi novel ghost written by Roberto Bolãno. Granado and Mauricio Takara, are both members of Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra and have dabbled in rock and hardcore musics. This trio has now established itself as the heir to bands like Tortoise, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Collections of Colonies of Bees. They can take a classic piece like Harold Arlen's "Over The Rainbow" as Sun Ra could, configure it to have a rough exterior while remaining sincere. The band's clash of fuzzy electronics, percussion and melody is definitely urban, but the jungle's entropy has subverted the sounds of the metropolis. "Taking Back the Sea Is No Easy Task" applies noise to rhythm and hints at Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse" as it unwinds itself into a wilderness of sound.

Chris Kelsey & What I Say The Electric Miles Project Self Produced 2013

No longer does the music of Miles Davis post-In A Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) have to be a guilty pleasure for jazz fans. A reappraisal of the day doesn't so much cast Miles as the harbinger of jazz fusion or it's brain-numbing stepchild smooth jazz, but as an innovator that synthesized rock, funk, and blues into his own electrified vision. It was his imitators, or perhaps the non-improvisers, that nearly extinguished the jazz flame. For saxophonist Chris Kelsey, born at the tail-end of the baby boom, albums like A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1970) and Dark Magus (Columbia, 1974) were nothing shocking. Just as someone born in the 1970s or 80s might not grasp how the music of Thelonious Monk or Ornette Coleman could cause an argument, Miles plugged-in was another music spun before Jimi Hendrix and after Sly Stone. A product of the Downtown music scene, Kelsey revisits Davis' music with What You Say, his trumpet-less band of two guitarists Rolf Sturm and Jack DeSalvo, bassist Joe Gallant, and drummer Dean Sharp. Place this disc next to Wadada Leo Smith and Henry Kaiser's Yo Miles! bands, Bill Laswell's reconstructed Panthalassa (Columbia, 1998), and Dave Liebman's Back On The Corner (Tone Center, 2006) in the Electric Miles tribute catalog. Also though, nudge this disc up to the San Francisco's Splatter Trio record A Fistful of Dewey (Racer, 1992). Like Fistful this electric project is bold and fearless. "Agharta Prelude" hits with the immediacy of the original 1975 version but this time there are two versions of Pete Cosey nailing back guitar licks. Funk flies, James Brown towels-off from a cold sweat and the groove is communicable. When they turn inward with the ambient traced music on the originals "Mad Love Pt. 1" and "Mad Love Pt. 2," the groove persists. This tribute band succeeds because they are indeed, a band. Kelsey organizes the sound but refrains (like Miles) from monopolizing the spotlight. His soprano and straight alto saxophone work sound is piercing, translucent, and uncomplicated. On "Sivad," from Live Evil (Columbia, 1971), he traces the melody over the tenacious groove of Gallant and Sharp, before the guitarist carves up the corpse. Yes, it is such sweet meat.

Michael Coleman/ Aram Shelton/ Alex Vittum Stratic Stratic Music 2013

About one hundred years ago a young trumpeter named Louis Armstrong, playing in a military-styled jass band, decided to not to play his part as written. His unscripted ad libs—improvisations— became the vogue and have fueled jazz music ever since. But what happens when computers and electronics also want to get into the act? In the 1980s, the sampling of Casio keyboards and drum machines created a music of well- ordered precise time that had no soul. Android fans, fear not, your electronics got pneuma. The West Coast improvisers (humans)—Aram Shelton (saxophone), Michael Coleman (keyboards), and Alex Vittum (drums) release the ghosts in their machinery by mixing the acoustic with the electric. Shelton is known for his work in the Chicago- centered bands Fast Citizens, Arrive, and Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown and his West Coast groups Cylinder and sextet, Marches. Here he processes his saxophone through a Max/MSP patcher turning his horn into a waking dream memory of music. similar to Evan Parker's Electric-Acoustic Ensemble and his experiments with the Richard Barrett and Paul Obermayer's Furt ensemble, Stratic imposes improvisation upon electronic effects, or perhaps the electronic effects exploit the acoustic. The keyboards of Michael Coleman, a Wurlitzer and Yamaha synth, are scrabbled by pedal effects to sound like the interesting snippets and outtakes from Joe Zawinul's Weather Report years. Surrounding the machines is drummer Alex Vittum's vast array of post-apocalyptic percussive devices. The vocabulary is post-rock improvisation with a petri dish of possibilities for sound creation.

Lucien Dubuis & The Spacetet Design Your Future Unit Records 2013

The Downtown beauty of Lucien Dubuis' music is that things fall apart, or to be accurate, his music gives the impression that things fall apart. Like the tumult of the bands Rootless Cosmopolitans or Ceramic Dog led by Marc Ribot (a frequent collaborator of Dubuis), his music walks the jazz precipice, one side hardcore, the other Eric Dolphy's free jazz. After a string of excellent power trio records, Future Rock (Unit Records, 2013), Ultime Cosmos (Enja, 2009), and Le Retour (Unit Records, 2007), the trio returns with the chamber ensemble Spacetet. Sometimes the band plays off of a beauty-and-the-beast theme, contrasting the charming sound of violins, viola and cello against the honk of bass clarinet and Django swing of Roman Nowka on a piece like "Oh My God." Other places, "Albumblatt Für Herrn Schprögel," the Spacetet sets the table for Dubuis' intricate post-punk jazz. The presence of the ensemble is an epoxy for the trio. The heavy drumming of "Parl" and "Agiato" is balanced by the strings, and the delicacy of the woodwinds lightens the trio's touch on a piece like "Au Bois," where Dubuis' contrabass clarinet plays the straight-man to the Spacetet's jocularity. The band doesn't eschew the hardcore. "Autägleche Wandverchehr" is a hair-curling piece that wouldn't be out of place at a Led Zeppelin concert and the title track, is a heavy funk/rock piece, a Dubuis trademark sound solidified by the strings.

Mummu Mitt Ferieparadis Va Fangool 2013

From the edges of the spaceways comes this low-fi 7" vinyl recording by a collaborative band Mummu. The two songs represent both ends of their musical spectrum. The quintet features the punk improvisers Christian Skår Winther: (electric guitar), Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard (electric bass), Joakim Heibø Johansen (drums) from Ich Bin N!ntendo, whose disc Ich Bin N!ntendo & Mats Gustafsson (Va Fangool, 2012) was a nihilist's dream of a noisy night. They team up with the low frequency noise musicians Anja Lauvdal (keyboards) and Heida Karine Johannesdottir Mobeck (tuba) from Skrap, who released K.O. (Va Fangool, 2013). Mastered by noise giant Lasse Marhaug, the garage feel of "Logatunellen" assaults with shovelfuls of metal chards and dense beatings. The whistling keyboards fight for attention over the lumbering guitar chords, and distorted tuba. By contrast, "Feda Bru" hesitates, its lingering feedback and undulations of distorted noise make for an eerie combination of gestures. Strange, but true music.

Caspar Brötzmann Nohome Trost 2013

Brötzmann is back! No, not Peter Brotzmann, thank God he plans to live forever, making art and traveling the world performing free jazz. No, it is the return of Caspar, his son. The guitarist, seemingly absent since the 1990s reappeared at his father's 70th birthday celebration documented with the recording Long Story Short (Trost, 2013), where Caspar and his band Massaker to perform a 15-minute barrage of sound.

Now there's more. He formed Nohome with bassist Marino Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmüller and invited F.M. Einheit (probably best known for his work with Einstürzende Neubauten) to sit in on two tracks. Pliakas and Wertmüller are 2/3 of the power trio Full Blast, Peter Brotzmann's modern version of Last Exit.

This live recording from Berlin in August of 2012 attacks from the start with a hurricane of sound. Brötzmann is content to remain in the eye of the storm throughout, delivering an unrelenting attack of guitar. His wave upon wave of sound is equally matched and complemented by the heavy guns of Plikas and the thunderous drumming of Wertmüller. The second piece comes with Brötzmann playing sounds not unlike an emergency warning system. By then you are already on notice that this music will be cause to take shelter. Einheit's contribution, steel objects amplified, add an industrial touch to the assault that give the trio pause, but barely slows the storm clouds from enveloping the night.

Star Rover Western Winds Bitter Christians FYO 2013

From the Walter Sobchak files entitled: "Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules?" comes a limited edition cassette only (and thankfully as a download) by Will Graefe and Jeremy Gustin. Known as Star Rover, the pairs' commitment to the recondite may fail as they deliver an original vision of folk, rock, blues, and a sort of James Blood Ulmer American jazz. Taking a nod from early Black Keys sessions, the pair favor the raw over the refined. The title track brays with equal parts distortion and propulsion. Graefe, who can be heard on Jeremy Udden's Plainville disc If the Past Seems So Bright (sunnyside, 2011), has a knack for blues/folk guitar that sounds both backwoods and urban wise. He takes the folky ballad "Rye" from a porch ditty to a cosmic anthem. Likewise, the blues rollick of "Revolt Of The Dyke Brigade," with the pounding drums of Gustin, could have been penned by Kurt Cobain for an unplugged Nirvana (that is, if he'd been born in the Appalachians instead of the Pacific Northwest). They deliver a low-fi (and brilliant) scrubby blues on "My Station Will Be Changed After While." The highlight of the release is the multi-part "America" with its repeated patterns as a lyrical poem. Maybe they will re-release this someday as a 78 RPM. I'm just sayin.'

exclusiveOr Archaea Carrier Records 2013

In 1978 a small band pop from Akron, Ohio asked the question, "Are we not men?" The answer was, of course, "We are Devo!" The inside joke was that their version of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," performed as if the band were robots, was more humanoid than the cartoons that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had become by that time. But then, humans have been making machine music since the Italian futurists predicted machines would take over that chore in 1910. Enter Sam Pluta and Jeff Snyder, the duo known as exclusiveOr. Their machine music, delivered via Pluta's laptop (and custom built software) and Snyder's analog modular synthesizer build upon the futurist tradition of mechanized music. Pluta has collaborated with trumpeter Peter Evans on Ghosts (More Is More, 2011) and Sum And Difference (Carrier, 2011), and he performs with Rocket Science made up of Evan Parker, Craig Taborn, and Evans. Snyder can be heard with Federico Ughi's Quartet, the noise trio The Mizries, and laptop ensemble Sideband. Their collaboration, although it renounces anthropomorphic tendencies, bounces along by switch-via-switch and electronic bleep-and-spurt, cannot eschew its humanity. It does try. The pair deliver as much noise as a Merzbow recording, but without the Hurricane force distortion. The music is at once old school computer low-fi and modern de-evolution.

Franco D'Andrea Today El Gallo Rojo Records 2013

My Italian-immigrant grandfather born 1902 was always fascinated by my earliest computer. He never could quite grasp the concept of the internet, asking "how do you put those things in there?" He did, though, delight in the sounds and images on the screen. I surmised that he resigned himself to believe in the magic of the unexplained. The same can be said for Today pianist Franco DAndrea. The maestro of Italian jazz follows up his award winning ensemble recording Traditions And Clusters (El Gallo Rojo, 2012) with a solo session of standards and imaginative improvisations that pulls together pieces and parts of familiar sounds. With seemingly the entire history of the jazz piano stored in his hard drive (brain), he samples bits and pieces of the familiar to pull together his "Rituals" and "Cluster" of sound. These, like "Ritual N. 1," may quote "Caravan" and "Love Supreme" while dangling piano convention over quixotic improvisations. He can make, and essentially remake, a standard like John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" to sound like a semi-stride piano piece that could have been played by Duke Ellington. Or he can mix Ed Ory's "Muskrat Ramble" and Charlie Parker's "Scrapple From The Apple" to reconfigure it to his tastes. His insouciant style and the ease in which he approaches the tunes belies all that jazz history that is packed in his playing. There is no need to draw the curtain back on his magic, one just needs to believe.

Tim Daisy / Jason Stein Bascule Vincent Peirani 2013

Last week, while perusing my local beer shop, I saw a bottle of peanut butter & chocolate ale. I had to buy it. God bless small craft breweries, they are the only ones willing to experiment with new tastes and combinations of flavors. The same can be said for small music labels like Peira Records. A fine example of new flavor combinations is this duo of drummer Tim Daisy and bass clarinetist Jason Stein, both in-demand Chicago musicians. Daisy, a gravitational body himself, can be heard in many bands, including Dave Rempis' Percussion Quartet and The Engines, Ken Vandermark's Made to Break and Resonance Ensembles, as a solo artist and in duo with everyone and his brother. Likewise, Stein is a stunning solo performer, as demonstrated in his release In Exchange For A Process (Leo Records, 2009). He also leads Locksmith Isidore and is a member of Frank Rosaly's Cicada Music and the Boris Hauf Sextet. Daisy and Stein play together in the Russ Johnson Quartet and Kyle Bruckmann's Wrack.

Pairing them for a snug session was pure genius. Stein's woody sounds complement the signature percussive work of Daisy, that can shift from an ethereally free sound to jazz to rock without, as they say, missing a beat. The pair opens with "Calumet," a probing and tentative exploratory piece that layers popping and fluttered clarinet against the rattling of brushes on metal. The piece gains a (sort of) momentum that forecasts the remainder of the session. Switching to sticks on skin, Daisy's locomotive style fuels deeper passages from Stein on "Center Pier," and "Standing West." The bass clarinetist might begin his approach at Eric Dolphy, but he has developed his own voice. Perhaps more nimble than Dolphy, he possesses his instrument by barking out those low notes but also commanding the upper register with ease. The highlight here may be the title track, where the two combine their inside/outside approach, displaying their full arsenal of sound. Daisy and Stein, two great tastes that taste great together.

Thomas Heberer / Achim Kaufmann Knoten Red Toucan 2013

A first time recording from a pair of longtime collaborators, Knoten finds German trumpeter Thomas Heberer and pianist Achim Kaufmann performing a series of stark duets. Confederates since the 1980s, the pair come across as a natural fit. Perhaps the rise of minimalist and free trumpeters like Axel Dorner, Peter Evans, and Franz Hautzinger and pianists Matthew Shipp, Andrea Neumann, and Sten Sandell makes the timing right for this session. Kaufmann, a frequent collaborator with Frank Gratkowski and Wilbert De Joode, also recorded the stellar discs Second Reason (2012) and Grünen (2010) with Christian Lillinger for the Clean Feed label. Heberer, a member of the Instant Composer's Pool (ICP), has also found critical success with his band Clarino, an inventive trio with bassist Pascal Niggenkemper and clarinetists Joachim Badenhorst. The music on Knoten balances its scored chamber music approach with improvisation and extended technique. Leaving one to ponder if the breaths Heberer takes on 'Großer Onkel" (Big Uncle) are scripted or impromptu. The trumpeter displays some fine circular breathing here, while Kaufmann investigates the insides of his piano. Heberer can imitate the sounds of a baby crying or a dog panting, as he does on "Mâchoire." Even though the pair are skilled at extended technique, the freedom displayed is not the main attraction here. Their 'sounds' are made in service of the compositions, both scored prior to this session and instantly composed.

Albert Ayler Live On The Riviera ESP 2013

Even after forty-plus years, the sound of Albert Ayler's tenor saxophone can cause chills to run down your spine. His short life (he died at 36) and even shorter career shook up not only the jazz community, but it also altered the music of John Coltrane and Peter Brotzmann. As part of its 50th anniversary, ESP-Disk, perhaps the most important free jazz label ever created, has selected several releases to be remastered and re-released. This celebration is from Ayler's final recordings (he would be dead 4 months later) July 25, 1970, at the Maeght Foundation in St. Paul de Vence, France. Recorded as a trio, with his pianist Call Cobbs stuck at the airport, Ayler pulls music from his free jazz beginnings, eschewing the rock, funk, and R&B elements of his New Grass (Impulse!, 1968) and Music Is The Healing Force Of the Universe (Impulse!, 1969) sessions. He was also without his brother Donald Ayler, who had suffered a breakdown. The saxophonist carried the weight of this entire performance. He opens the night with a plaintive wail that scorches the curtains and thumps the chest. Mary Maria's spoken words deliver Ayler's philosophy, a true belief (it was the end of the 1960s) that revolution and peace could be attained through the popular movements of the people. The clarity of this remastered recording is quite remarkable. Ayler's voice delivered through multi-phonics and upper register tongues. He plays through his love of marches, some calypso, arriving in the end at "Ghosts," his signature tune. The crowd responds to the music, cheering and stomping. Or is that the beating of my heart?

Richard Pinhas Desolation Row Cuneiform 2013

The Godfather of 70s electronic and experimental music Richard Pinhas, is back. Actually, back again. After forming Heldon in 1974 (the French equivalent to Robert Fripp's League of Gentlemen), the guitarist began a solo career that has spanned avant-rock, ambient, industrial, and since the 1990s, noise genres. His ability to pull together disparate musics and styles has marked his later work, such as his collaborations with Japan's Masami Akita, aka Merzbow and Wolf Eyes from the States. Here he teams up with noise and experimental giants Lasse Marhaug, Oren Ambarchi, and Noel Akchoté. The session is rounded up with Pinhas' son, Duncan Nilsson, Erick Borelva, and saxophonist Etienne Jaumet. There is a little bit of everything here to appease his fans from the various phase of his forty years of music making. The disc opens with "North," a smattering of noise layered with insistent guitar that mushrooms over the 16-minutes of fervor. The piece gains locomotion and is continually animated by the tenacious drumming of Borelva. Pinhas corroborates his investigation into industrial noise here, tweaking its accessible beats. Clocking in at 18-plus minutes is "Moog," a bit of retro-sound. The music is bathed in analog synthesizers and chilled ambience. It builds upon a late night lounge sound that is best suited for those who do not suffer from an attention deficit disorder. The more successful pieces "South" and "Circle" build upon Pinhas' strengths, intensifying drone music and the incorporation of beats. His ability to layer the guitars, electronics and noise of Marhaug, Ambarchi, and Akchoté, keeping each of these strains distinct might be the genius here. After all of his years working with drum machines, the 'live' drummer effect makes this meeting timeless.

Tracks and Personnel

Tres Cabeças Loucuras

Tracks: Ol' Dirty Hummingbird; Into The Rising Sun; ArNus NusAr; Over The Rainbow; Evetch; Six-Handed Casio; Love I Feel For You Is More Real Than Ever; Basilio's Crazy Wedding Song; Arvore De Cereja E Ausente; Taking Back the Sea Is No Easy Task.

Personnel: Rob Mazurek: cornet, Elvolver, harmonium, ring modulator, analog delay; Mauricio Takara: cavaquinho, percussion, electronics; Guilherme Granado: keyboards, samplers, synthesizer, voice.

The Electric Miles Project

Tracks: Agharta Prelude; Mad Love Pt. 1; Direction; Ife; Sivad; Mad Love Pt. 2.

Personnel: Chris Kelsey: soprano saxophone, straight alto saxophone; Rolf Sturn: electric guitar; Jack DeSalvo: electric guitar; Joe Gallant: electric six-string bass; Dean Sharp: drums.


Tracks: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9.

Personnel: Michael Coleman: keyboards, electronics; Aram Shelton: saxophone, live processing; Alex Vittum: drums, percussion.

Design Your Future

Tracks: Albumblatt Für Herrn Schprögel; Parl; Au Bois; Suite En Eb: Andante Misterioso; Agitato; Zoppicando; Tempestoso; Lalila; Autägleche Wandverchehr; Au Bois (Spacetet Version); Design Your Future; Oh My God.

Personnel: Lucien DuBuis: alto saxophone, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Roman Nowka: bass, guitar; Lionel Friedli: drums; Estelle Beiner: violin; Regula Schwab: violin; Isabelle Gottraux: viola; Babarara Gasser: cello.

Mitt Ferieparadis

Tracks: Feda Bru; Logatunellen.

Personnel: Christian Skår Winther: electric guitar; Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard: electric bass; Anja Lauvdal: Korg MS10; Heida Karine Johannesdottir Mobeck: tuba; Joakim Heibø Johansen: drums.


Tracks: One; Two; Three; Four.

Personnel: Caspar Brotzmann: electric guitar; Marino Pliakas: electric bass; Michael Wertmüller: drums; FM Einheit: steel (trk 3, 4).

Western Winds Bitter Christians

Tracks: Western Winds Bitter Christians; Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, California / The Harmony of Altamont; Rye; We Would Be Building; Revolt of the Dyke Brigade; America; My Station Will Be Changed After While.

Personnel: Will Graefe: guitar; Jeremy Gustin: drums.


Tracks: Landing; Book Of Dreams; Intro/Outro; Pulse; World On A Wire; Archaea.

Personnel: Jeff Snyder: analog synthesizer; Sam Pluta: laptop.


Tracks: Mixed N.1; Abstraction N.1; Savoy Blues/Undecided; Today; Giant Steps; Rituals N.2; Abstraction N.3; Traditions N.1; Rituals N.1; Traditions And Rituals; Muskrat Ramble/Scrapple From The Apple; Clusters N.4.

Personnel: Franco D'Andrea: piano.


Tracks: Calumet; Center Pier; Bascule; Foreground; Standing West.

Personnel: Tim Daisy: drums; Jason Stein: bass clarinet.


Tracks: Am Hang; Oscillator Dog; Baumhaus; Mâchoire; Neuntöner; Großer Onkel; Ohrschuft; Kleiner Stromer; Kleimasker.

Personnel: Thomas Herberer: trumpet, quarter-tone trumpet; Achim Kaufmann: piano, prepared piano.

Live On The Riviera

Tracks: Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe; Birth of Mirth; Masonic Inborn; Oh! The Love Of Life; Island Harvest; Heart Love; Ghosts.

Personnel: Albert Ayler: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, musette, vocal; Allen Blairman: drums; Steve Tintweiss: double bass; Mary Maria: vocal, soprano saxophone.

Desolation Row

Tracks: North; Square; South; Moog; Circle; Drone 1.

Personnel: Richard Pinhas: guitar, electronics; Oren Ambarchi: guitar, drums, electronics; Lasse Marhaug: electronics, noise; Duncan Nilsson: electronics, noise; Etienne Jaumet: saxophone, analog synthesizer; Noel Akchoté: stereo guitar; Erick Borelva: drums.

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