Thursday, August 28, 2014

Karmadog Live, Featuring Greg Pagel and Matt Turner at Culture Cafe

The creative possibilities of live electronics in avant garde music has blossomed in the last few decades, thanks in part to new devices, the laptop and software, among other things. Not everything done out there satisfies completely, of course, because it still has to do with musical creativity, but when everything is right we get something very good to hear.

That's true about Karmadog and their latest album recorded live at Culture Cafe (Ickerrecords), in Manitowoo, WI last year. Karmadog is Matt Turner on electronically altered cello and Greg Pagel on synthesizer. The live set we are concerned with here is a very varied presentation consisting entirely of free improvisations. It comes down on the side of new music more than jazz per se. It has an expanded tonality that usually has a key fulcrum center buried somewhere underneath yet it takes that tonality to the fringes of atonality at times. Other times it is firmly and ambiently tonal.

But it is the electronic sound colors and the pace of each musical section that distinguishes the music and makes it quite interesting. There are a great many more of these open-form live electronic groups out there today than might have been the case 30 years ago, so the competition (for what? Recognition, I guess. Surely not riches) is more fierce. Yet these two artists hold their own quite well in their own way.

I don't suppose I need to tell you that if Billy Joel is your idea of great music this may jar you to the roots of your teeth. But to make comparisons this is not as much a noise-oriented music than some other outfits out there so that if anybody will win over the Billy Joel fan, it will be Matt and Greg. Seriously though, that is not going to happen very often. This music will satisfy the dedicated follower of avant garde fashion. But no, fashion does not fit either, since this sort of thing is more anti-fashion.

The truth is, this may not be the place to start if you know nothing of the avant garde. Now if you Google "avant garde" as I just did you'd get 79,700,000 results in 0.37 seconds, so we are not talking about anything ephemeral any more. We have had 100 years or more of it. It may not surface in homespun circles very often, but it is very real and very much alive. Is it universally beloved? Hardly. And all 79,700,000 hits may not be positive. My partner's blank-to-English dictionary from years ago defined "beatnik" as a particular group of godless, immoral people, which perhaps misses the essence of that movement! So some things don't get beyond the "in" group intact, as that definition shows dramatically. Just an aside. It's what I face every day when communicating in these missives. How to get others involved outside of the usual converts?

Nevertheless Karmadog fits in well with all of it. This album is no marginal exercise in obscurity. It is pleasingly mellifluous, out music from two cogent improvisers who hit on good things throughout the set.

So go for it if you can see yourself listening to this and liking it. I did. Like it, I mean.

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