Wednesday, November 18, 2009


[This is my first piece for the Houston Press other than occasional reprints of things I'd written for other Village Voice Media/New Times papers.]


How much noise do you think two saxophonists and a guitarist can make? Okay, now imagine ten times that. Imagine a screeching, ululating, fuzzed-out roar that reduces your teeth to shards and your internal organs to pulsing red mush. That's the sound of Borbetomagus. That, and much more. An upstate New York trio, Borbetomagus has been blurring the lines between free jazz, electronic noise and sound-as-weapon since the late '70s. The group's albums have titles like Barbed Wire Maggots and Snuff Jazz, and live up to them. The three men involved — saxophonists Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich, and guitarist Donald Miller — have sworn in numerous interviews that when they're at full crank, each man blasting through enough pedals to keep the most gear-happy metal guitarist shredding joyously for weeks, they can't tell who's making what sound. And yet, this is no mere caveman assault. These guys know exactly what they're doing. Masters of their instruments, they synthesize decades of avant-garde technique into unique and utterly personal music-making that combines emotional catharsis and volume-based assault with real beauty. Listen carefully, and you'll recognize a lifetime of thoughtful interaction underpinning their exchanges and collective playing. You've never heard anything like this.

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