Martina Bertoni – “All the Ghosts Are Gone” (2020)

Born and raised in Italy, Berlin-based cellist Martina Bertoni spent much of her career collaborating with other musicians. Her first solo release wasn’t until 2018 and up to this point all of her solo work was digital. All the Ghosts Are Gone, on Iceland’s FALK label, is both her first solo full-length album and her first physical release, FALK producing an extremely limited run of 40 cassettes in addition to making it available for purchase via download.

While classically trained, Bertoni’s style is anything but classical. Blending somber cello with electronics she creates musical canvases that slowly stretch against their own frames, creating a tension that threatens to tear the surface and rip the entire thing apart. That’s not to imply that the songs are in any way frantic. In fact it’s just the opposite. The tension comes from an underlying stillness that is disturbed, gently at first but with steadily building pressure, the initial touch becoming firmer as spacetime stretches in response, membrane-like as it attempts to conform to Bertoni’s sonic exertions. If asked to recommend entry points into All the Ghosts Are Gone, I’d go with “Blu” on the more ambient end of the spectrum and “Invisible Cracks” as the most tense. “Notes At the End of the World”, the only composition with vocals, is tremendous in its flow and is one of the highlights of the album.

Cassette copies of All the Ghosts Are Gone, as well as downloads, are available on the FALK Bandcamp page HERE. I also recommend checking out Bertoni’s own Bandcamp page (HERE) so you can listen to and download some of her other solo material.

Mark Trecka – “Everything Falling Crosses Over” Cassette (2019)

Opening with a high-speed and only vaguely tonal piano passage, Everything Falling Crosses Over‘s A side track “First / Kicking / Form” captures your attention with its almost clinical composition. But then… then a change starts to emerge. Slowly, moving, curving like a sine wave and becoming something… different… but still similar, the piano warmer now with more depth and range. But then… the… the vocals come in and the complexion changes again… and again… the merging of all these parts into one composition something that clearly shouldn’t work, but does.

The B side is broken down into three tracks, each unique in character but with similar enough frameworks that they feel like part of a whole. The vocal interludes remain startling, almost otherworldly in how the seem to suddenly emerge from the mist and plant themselves into the soundscape, growing, living, then wilting before being overtaken by the mist once again. At least until the last number, “The Wrestled To Regard”, which is all about the vocals, hitting you with them right out of the gate, an unexpected close to the album.

Everything Falling Crosses Over is my first experience with Mark Trecka and it most certainly won’t be my last. This was not the album I was expecting to hear when I played it, though those preconceptions are on me. I also didn’t expect to like it as much as I do – it’s something truly unexpected and captivating. Available by cassette in a limited edition of only 50 copies, if you want the physical media you better get on this one fast. You can find it HERE.

Thomas Andrew Doyle – “Incineration Ceremony” (2017)

To say that I don’t own much in the way of classical music would be an understatement. The classical music in our house is limited to a couple of Three Tenors CDs and the track “Carmina Burana: Introduction” that appears on the soundtrack to the movie The Doors. I’m pretty sure that’s it. So in many ways, if not most, I’m not exactly the target customer for Thomas Andrew Doyle’s new album Incineration Ceremony, a modern-classical (♠) album if there every was one. But there is one very specific reason why a guy like me, with little to no experience in classical, was intrigued enough to buy this CD as soon as it came out, and that is the man himself, Thomas Andrew Doyle. You’re probably asking yourself, “OK, so who the hell is Thomas Andrew Doyle?” Well friends, he put out some pretty great albums in the late 80s/early 90s, a few of which just got re-released by Sub Pop. Because, you see, Thomas Andrew Doyle is probably best known to his music fans by his initials. T. A. D. As in Tad Doyle. As in TAD.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re trying to come to grips with the fact that the guy who gave us songs like “Wood Goblins,” “Sex God Missy,” and “Jack Pepsi,” the last of which was literally about getting drunk on Jack Daniels and Pepsi and driving out onto a frozen lake in a truck to do 180s before breaking through the ice and almost dying, a guy who’s most recent album Brothers of the Sonic Cloth was heavy as fuck, put out a CD of original classical compositions. Well, he did. Deal with it. Or better yet, go get yourself a copy of Incineration Ceremony, because it’s pretty damn good.

This is a lot to digest. I understand. By you need to listen to this music. It certainly carries a lot of the weight we’d expect from Doyle’s music, at times heavy and dense, at others sparse and more than a bit frightening. And he knows his stuff – he studied classical and jazz in college, and he plays almost all of the instruments you hear on Incineration Ceremony, with just a bit of percussion help from Peter Scartabello on two tracks.

I’ve been a fan of Doyle’s since the Salt Lick and God’s Balls days, and was fortunate to see him once live with his post-Tad project Brothers of the Sonic Cloth. I played the hell out of those records and 8-Way Santa, so while I’m hardly a superfan I’ve spent a fair amount of time listening to his music. And so far I’ve played this CD about 10 times because I just can’t get it out of my head. I keep going back to it again and again, trying to unravel its mysteries while mentally floating along the surface of the somewhat gloomy soundscape Doyle creates. I feel like there are answers there if I listen hard enough, hints to some kind of epiphany that disappear like wisps of smoke on a dark night just when you think you’ve finally found them. Incineration Ceremony isn’t “easy” music; instead it rewards the listener for his/her attention to detail and mood.

It’s difficult for me to try to identify a favorite song on Incineration Ceremony as the album is more a cohesive whole than a simple collection of individual songs, more like one complete composition with many parts. I guess I can pick a favorite section, and that would be the tail end of the album, with “Meditations in Null,” “Born Into Sorrow,” and the closer “Prognati Ignis Ignis” providing a sort of climax to what Doyle had been building towards with the first two parts. If there is a message to the listener, a unifying principle or concept, it is found on that last track which opens with the words of the brilliant Carl Sagan as he waxes philosophical about all of human history having taken place on Earth, the pale blue dot, which is nothing more than a speck of dust in the vastness of the cosmos. Sagan’s dialog launches “Prognati Ignis Ignis” into the atmosphere like a rocket, before it eventually settles into the sereneness of the cold dark void, setting the stage for Sagan to come back to us to bring it all to an end. Fantastic.

You can listen to Incineration Ceremony at the Yuggoth Records Bandcamp page HERE, as well as purchase a digital download for just 10 bucks. The CD itself appears to be limited to 100 copies, and it looks like they’re almost sold out, so if you want one you better get on it (because you can’t have mine!).

(♠) Yes, I realize this is an oxymoron. But it works.

Jón Ólafsson & Futuregrapher – “Eitt” (2015)

Eitt is one of those albums that’s pretty much impossible for me to write about. It has a minimalistic, ambient classical sound comprised of a quiet piano and some ambient electronics is soothing and beautiful, but it’s difficult for me to say more than that. I don’t have the musical vocabulary to intelligently discuss what Ólafsson is doing on the piano, and the minimalness of Futuregrapher’s electronics are quite different from what I’m used to hearing from him. The album cover image is a fitting one – if there’s one thing this music reminds me of, it’s a very early morning, just as the sun is getting ready to come up, near some still waters. It’s quiet music for quiet times.