nuc box hums cs408









A friction quartet, at times quite energized. In addition to viola, cello, and double bass, the instrumentation is notable for Kriton B.’s daxophone, a rather obscure instrument in the class of “friction idiophone,” which consists of a wooden block with contact microphones that can be fitted with a variety of different wooden “tongues,” which are then played with a bow and a second piece of wood called a “dax” that is used to adjust pitch and timbre. The resulting music exists outside the idea of notes, scales, or any other neat Western organization of sound. Still, the daxophone has an affinity with the strings: an impressive array of rasping, scraping, whining sounds, all undoubtedly connected to the pressure and tension of objects rubbing together, and which fit snuggly within more rough-hewn methods for playing string instruments. One is reminded of skull resonance, of sound as a vibration transmitted through a solid object rather than through the air.

The album and song titles are all related to beekeeping, although I hear less Kent Carter’s “insect music” than perhaps the creaks and groans of the wooden nuc boxes themselves as they thrum with activity, as though the contact mics had been embedded in the very walls of the artificial hive. The pieces range from the creaking drones of wind whipping through an old barn to incredibly tense knots of activity, the sense of torsion palpable, like branches being bent and twisted into splinters or the sound beneath the waves as a ship gets tossed against the rocks. The daxophone pushes the three string players away from clean tones and traditional playing: instead, they meet its strange challenge by rubbing strings, bowing wooden bodies, plying out harmonics, or pizzicato attacks with no particular note in mind. Dan Sorrells (The Free Jazz Collective)


Creative Sources continues to roll out the releases, with 26 albums in the first two months of 2017, and three more so far this month (i.e. between the time I made that note for myself and wrote this entry). Many are duos (plus a few solos), and relatively many are for large ensembles, but even considering only the size of group that fits more into my project, there are more albums than I can really hear. I just want to state that explicitly, since I don't want readers to think that I hear everything: There could be things I'd very much enjoy but never hear (and, of course, not only on Creative Sources). Some of the albums are actually rather "inside." I do my best to pick out what might seem appealing. (I should probably also note that just because I hear something doesn't mean that I'm going to have something to say. And maybe I should add further that I try not to write anything when I have nothing to say, but I'm not sure that I always manage it. I start feeling obligated sometimes.... Or simply vain.)

That said, it came as a bit of a surprise to see Dan Sorrells's survey of Ernesto Rodrigues a few weeks ago on the Free Jazz Blog. It was a rather meaty entry, and concerned music that is less "classic" (relatively speaking) than what usually dominates the space there. Even then, it was a modest selection, and indeed only included releases featuring Rodrigues himself. (Many Creative Sources albums do not include Rodrigues, although so many do.) Among them was Nuc Box Hums, an album inspired by the sounds of bees, and a release I had already made a note to hear. Now I have. Besides Ernesto on viola & son Guilherme on cello, Nuc Box Hums (recorded last October in Berlin) includes Adam Goodwin on double bass to form a string trio, as well as Kriton Beyer (b.1968, credited on this and other albums as "Kriton B.") on daxophone. It seems that B. most often plays harmonium, and indeed he plays harmonium on all three (at the time of this writing) albums on his series The Procrustean Bed. (Hearing these albums confirmed that I wanted to hear Nuc Box Hums.) The first release, apparently motivating the series, is Subterfuge with Liz Allbee & Richard Scott. Between vocalizing trumpet & the prominent harmonium with percussive accents, this stormy album is well worth hearing. (I strongly associate the harmonium itself with North Indian khayal singing, for which it became the most common melodic accompaniment in the twentieth century.) Parapraxes with Tomomi Adachi (voice) & Thea Farhadian (violin, also on at least two recent Creative Sources releases herself) might be described as something of a cross between recent Creative Sources vocal releases Monsters for breakfast & Natura Venomous, whereas the album that also includes Goodwin, Apophenia by B. & Vasana String Trio, is less striking. Nuc Box Hums might almost be said to be a redo of that, but here B. is on the daxophone, an instrument with which I was not previously familiar. Its name is derived from the badger, and it's said to be good at producing animal sounds; its closest relative, according to Wikipedia, is the musical saw. Apparently it involves electrical pickups & friction on a wooden body, and ends up sounding not so different from the violin family strings here — although the daxophone seems not to have been designed to produce tonal music. The result is a strange cacophony, perhaps rather closely based on the sounds of bees, at least at times. The second track explicitly mentions the "apidictor," a device to record hive activity, and this seems like one of the most "authentic" in that sense, although most tracks name something specific about the lives of bees. I'm not sure how much of this is really from bees, and how much of it is the musicians developing such (inspirational) sounds toward their own idiom, but I do like the idea of solidarity with bees. (We kept bees when I was young, so I know a bit of what they sound like.) Particularly given the similar sounds of the daxophone to the sorts of scrapes & buzzes that the string players use, homogeneity is a bit of a feature for the ensemble: It's almost a string quartet. After a slower start, the resulting intensity evokes albums like World of Objects & Phase/transitions (both featuring winds instead) for me, what with the difference that emerges from & sometimes returns to their instrumental consistency. The ensemble itself might be most similar to recent favorite Chant, although there often in a far more classical context — perhaps the affective result is actually most akin to something like Growing carrots in a concrete floor, another intense & unique sonic tapestry, albeit involving heavy use of electronics. Among recent releases involving Rodrigues, the most similar might be Amoa hi (an acoustic album) with Marco Scarassatti on the homemade "kraiser." (Among these comparisons, Nuc Box Hums might be said to share differing animalistic qualities with Amoa hi & World of Objects.) What does it mean for people to make bee sounds? One thing it obviously interrogates is our sense of distance or mediation. (One might characterize a simple recording of bees themselves as uninterrogated mediation.) What of "appropriation" from endangered species? (I might suggest that here we find an approach to bee sounds as "mere material" in a Laruellian sense. As a sonic thinker, this is a welcome way to work through such material for me.) There seems to be a grammar implied or emerging here, particularly as the bee-human assemblage undergoes historic changes. Nuc Box Hums is also finally a sonically intriguing album, whatever its inspiration might be. 13 March 2017. Todd McComb's Jazz Thoughts