Automatic Music is a North Carolina-based improvisational music ensemble with a core membership of five people: Fred “Gentlemaniac” Hall, Ed “East October” Shepherd, Scotty “Clang Quartet” Irving, Jeff “Tragic Bunny” Mills, and Bret “InstrumenTales” Hart. Add to that collective a rather long list of skilled collaborators including Gurney Brown and Kevin Killinger, among others.
Carnival of Light – Circuit 5 ? 2001
The third in a series of four discs conceptually based on the changing seasons (each of the discs’ beautifully conceived covers depict the same stand of trees during each of the different seasons) – this one’s apparently summer (collectors note: there are special editions of this release – one with a Japanese cover and the other a two cd set). The first ten seconds of “The Past Lives Awake” are startling and reveal things to come – electronic pulses, odd glisses careening over four octaves, and a cache of unique sounds and odd sonic textures (even controlled amplifier hum). This music is orchestral in scope, at times cinematic and always engaging. “Today” begins as a sort of abstract blues, but the level of improvisational interplay is uncanny and no gesture seems to go unnoticed by anyone. Those who appreciate high-level musical telepathy will be greatly rewarded after repeated listenings. “Our Heavenly Bodies” begins as a flat out rocker, complete with a humorous, mechanical rock beat and distorto guitar; however, things disintegrate (for the better) as “evil” laughing, synth gurgles, percussives and unlikely overdubs erode the basic rock structure. Other tracks like “Do The Math” and “Until Next Time” juxtapose dissimilar instruments, textures and sounds to great aural effect. As abstract as these guys get, there’s always a sense of logic and purpose – never the feeling that they’re just noodling. In fact, much of this disc sounds composed even though it is entirely (and skillfully) improvised.
The Return of King Harvest – Circuit 7 ? 2002
The fourth (and final) recording in the Automatic Music “seasons” series – this one’s autumn. The disc opens with “Inside the Beehive” and indeed; the listener is treated to the aural equivalent. Intense guitars swarm and sting over one of the most intense drum workouts this side of mid-70’s Bill Bruford-era King Crimson. The 14-minute “Consequently No Barriers” begins with an angular, Ashbory wah-bass figure punctuated by volume-swelled guitar, reedy synth and paranoid tuned percussion. Other standouts are “Hello Mr. Rope…” and “Troop Movements” (both sort of avant-garde surf instrumentals), the heavy and stalking “Antediluvian Descent, Landing & Plateau” with its Beefheartian boogaloo; and finally, the ambient-but-brief “Ash Ray Tart”. Comparisons of this to other Automatic Music recordings are futile - each release is unique and successfully explores fresh improvisational territories and moods. Bravo!
Music From Eden, NC – EP 1 ? 2002
An all-acoustic, improvised instrumental outing (lovingly recorded live, outdoors on Bret Hart’s patio – the same also pictured on the cover!), this 5-track mini-cdr release has much to offer fans of improvised, groove-oriented, eclectic acoustic music. “Waking Up”, like much of Music From Eden, NC, is organized mostly around percussives – homemade and found objects quickly gelling into a sort of tribal groove alongside environmental sounds (voices, nature, etc.), e-bowed dobro and eventually a banjo being tuned up. “Six Miles Down the Road” fades up mid-groove. Not unlike Uncle Meat – era Zappa with its tuned percussion (jars & bottles?) and abbreviated drum kit (played with brushes) percolating underneath rollicking dobro and distant flute. The vibe is both rural America and Middle East. “Get Along Little Dogma”. Another East-meets-Appalachia excursion dominated by a cooking percussion groove, rhythmic dobro and fingerpicked banjo. A wiry snake charmer melody emerges then the ensemble returns to the business of inducing the trance before the piece finally switches gears to conclude with a swampy boogie. “Smoke Signals” also fades in from a previously established rhythmic improvisation. This one’s a bit more abstract and at 1:00, it’s only a tantalizing snippet. “All Strawberry Like” is a sort of “delta raga” with droning, bluesy dobro and shifting percussion simultaneously evoking Bombay and Baton Rouge. Overall, Music From Eden, NC successfully blends Eastern rhythmic and melodic elements with rootsy Americana. The fun & relaxed, down-home vibe and exceptional improvisational interplay (not to mention the crystal-clear recording quality) make this a highly enjoyable disc that demands to be played again and again.
Notice Anything Strange? – Free 1 ? 2002
Thematically close to classic, 60’s acid and garage rock, Notice Anything Strange? (again, GREAT cover art – a visual joke) is probably the most truly psychedelic of all the Automatic Music releases reviewed here. The disc is comprised mostly of grungy, medium-tempo rockers replete with bluesy, fuzztone guitars. The (only) heavily reverbed vocal of “Fear the Panda” (“I wanna RIDE on you!”) definitely adds to the shaggy vibe and fun. “Deep Wound, Deep Brood”, with its bayou-approved amp tremolo and greasy slide guitar exudes sultry, sweaty sex. Two live cuts, “Wherehouse” and (especially) “Undercover Darkness”, are intense group improvisations where the rapport is strong and the music seems to come from a single, multi-limbed (and brained) organism. The disc’s closer, “Until Next Time”, and its whooping synth and on-the-brink-of-feedback fuzz guitar foreshadows (appropriately) some of what’s to come in the sprawling Szumagumma (see review, next).
Szumagumma – STCX 1 ? 2002
The cover (and title) of the three disc Szumagumma should strike a nostalgic chord with any self-respecting prog or space rockers – it’s a near perfect send-up of Pink Floyd’s classic, Ummagumma. The similarities are more than skin deep; while this is not a literal recreation of the Floyd original, it is a conceptual twin – three discs, one featuring full band improvisations, the second presenting each of the band members in various other projects, and the third being band members’ solo projects. Disc one, recorded in one afternoon, is a collection of group improvisations ranging from the folksy-psychedelic “Several Stimuli (Usually 4)” to the metallic bombast of “Wrong Senders” (the companion to the propulsive “Right Senders”). Other highlights include the (appropriately) Floydian “Anomalous Cognition” and the freaky, wonderfully spacey “Senders and Receivers”. Some of these pieces sound as if they were originally parts of the same longer improvisation and later edited into separate tunes – this actually helps give the entire disc a sense of aural coherence. Disc two is probably the most eclectic of the three, owing to the wide variety of side projects these guys have initiated. There are free form guitar duets, (“Raudivian Voicings 1& 2” and “Raw”), live cuts (“Castor Girl’s Nocturnal Wanderings”, the bizarre, march-like ”Creature Continuum”, and the spooky “the one in which automatic music breaks the window of opportunity with the baseball bat of non-conformity”). “Harry’s Patches” comes from the Live from Eden, NC sessions (see review above) and once again revisits the “Appalachian snake charmer grooves” that make the previous disc such a winner. Finally, disc three contains the only literal Ummagumma cover tune, Gentlemaniac’s “Grantchester Meadows” which closes the set. Other cover songs lurking on disc three include East October’s oddly industrialized and compelling “Instant Karma”, Tragic Bunny’s suitably rocking “Losing Touch With My Mind” (hey, remember the Spacemen III?) and East October’s wheezing version of the Mongolian national anthem (really). A swirling, psychedelic tribute to Syd Barrett (simply titled, “Syd Barrett) comes courtesy of Gentlemaniac and East October. One of my favorite cuts on this disc is Bret Hart’s beautiful, Zappaesque “Hornet, Bee and Wasp”. Obviously, this is a lot of music to digest at once, but certainly there is something for every adventurous listener and fan of improvised and eclectic music. Additionally, as with all the other Szum releases, the packaging and cover art is superb – well above many homemade, independently released discs.
Reviewed by Eric P. Wallack
Automatic Music - "Carnival Of Light" (Szum 2001, CIRCUIT 5)
Automatic Music - "Let Us Go Into The Open Country" (Szum 2001, KEEP 1)
From Aural Innovations #16 (June 2001) When we reviewed the first 3 Automatic Music CDs a couple issues ago, we learned that the "band" is a collective of several musicians from North Carolina led by Fred Hall and Ed Shepherd. These two new releases are the fifth Automatic Music CD and a compilation of solo performances and tracks from their first 4 CDs. In the interview with Bret Hart this issue I learned even more about this interesting collective, but for the benefit of eager listeners I was pleased to see that the liner notes to the newest CD, Carnival Of Light, includes the answers to the questions, What and Who are Automatic Music? Noting the striking variety from one track to the next on any of their recordings, it makes sense to note the opening line that answers these questions states that "Automatic Music is a collective of musicians with diverse interests and tastes in composition, structure and form who have agreed to disagree on what music is." Well that works for me because the results include a variety of nifty improvisations that run the gamut from raw space and Krautrock jams to more experimental explorations.
When Automatic Music take off on their Krautrock styled jams the results are raw, often meandering, but just as often damn good journeys into the Kosmiche realms. Carnival Of Light has more of this type of music than the previous releases I've heard, though what we get from Automatic Music typically includes a good bit of experimental rock as well. "The Past Lives Awake" is a wild glom of rumbling spaced out psych guitars with an experimental edge, freaky electronics, and oddball voice samples. "Today" includes cool bubbling space guitars and trippy bluesy guitars. We'll call it experimental psychedelia. The Cosmic Jokers of the new millennium joining together in the studio for improvisational mindfucks.
"That" and "This" seem to be the Automatic Music take on Shoegazer music. "That" builds a wall of fuzz and drone which twists and turns continually making for a harsh ambient wave of sound. Bubbling, tripping, and generally beat upon guitars dance about as they surf the floating wave. But then the last couple minutes turn into a quirky Krautrocking space jam. "This" is in some ways more ethereal, though no less harsh, and I especially liked the unbalancing looped effects.
The real highlights of the CD are "Fumar Del Segundo Mano (en el agua)" and "Our Heavenly Bodies". "Fumar Del Segundo Mano (en el agua)" begins with a brain piercing synth tone, manic keyboard patterns, and more guitar freakouts, making for a 16 minute avant-Krautrock jam that combines acid rock and experimental improvisation, with maybe a dash of Sun Ra at his freakiest. There's some great electronic sounds here too. It gets pretty harsh at times, but more in a sonic acidic mindfuck manner rather than wall of noise way. The music segues through a number of loose themes and many might accuse it of lacking direction. While my attention did indeed wane a few times, overall I was diggin' it as a fun jam tune throughout. A solid tripped out guitar and electronics jam that recalls those thrilling days of Kosmiche yesteryear. "Our Heavenly Bodies" surprised me by starting off like a sludgy, stoner styled Black Sabbath gone industrial piece. But it soon becomes a freaky free-for-all psych jam like Fumar. There's also some jazzy and orchestral bits that made me think of Amon Düül teaming up with Sun Ra or electric Miles. Things break the mercury for experimental trippiness, and only a relaxed mind that is open to the benefits of chaos will really appreciate this.
Let Us Go Into The Open Country features a more varied collection of
tracks. Three of the tracks, "Eggplant", "Autumn Blue", and "Missed You
Again" are from the first 3 Automatic Music CDs which you can read about
in issue #14. "Wooden Princess Hoedown & Recapture" is from This Is
Automatic Music, which I haven't heard. But I can see where Hoedown made
its way into the title. Imagine a drugged barndance held in a machine shop
and you'll get something like this track. Wild stuff.
There are also five solo tracks that name the bands or musicians. Tragic Bunny's contribution is a funky rocker that lays down a cool groove. A nice psych rocker, its also got a jazzy feel from the rhythm section. I really like the dual guitar sound, with one kicking out blues licks while the other trips out in space. Klang Quartet's entry is a sound study, with the focus seeming to be a busy urban landscape. Cars rush by as electronic crashes and tones gives us a jolt from time to time. Gentlemaniac offers the listener a change of pace with a genuine song. East October plays a quirky, carnival-like, but somewhat dark organ piece. And finally, Bret Hart offers up a Zappa styled tune that, at only 2 minutes, ends just as it starting to take off.
In summary, well... it's hard to summarize Automatic Music. Carnival Of Light would certainly be a good start for Aural Innovations readers, given the psychedelic and Krautrock nature of most of the tracks. But I also enjoy the variety that Open Country offers, especially having heard many of the named artists by now. Keep at it guys!
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
Automatic Music - "Spiffy" (Szum 2001, CIRCUIT 6)
Aural Innovations #18 (Jan. 2002)
Automatic Music is a collective of musicians from North Carolina begun by Fred Hall and Ed Shepherd, who soon started getting other people involved. I've now heard several of their CD's, and it's clear, often from one track to another, that a rotating cast of characters is involved, including Bret Hart, Scotty Irving (Clang Quartet), Kevin Killinger, Guerny Brown, Terry Lonigren, Jeff Mills (Tragic Bunny), and others. Lineups can change from one day to the next, as Fred Hall points out,
We've had as many as 20 people on stage at once. 7 guitars, 3 basses, 2 or 3 drums sets. One of the gigs we did at a warehouse was basically all night. We had people just stepping up and playing. And I like that. I like the idea of having people just jump in, jump out, make a little noise, do a little dance. It's very eye opening and mind opening whenever we get together to perform. Somebody always has some new thing they're working with or some new gadget or device they want to try out.
On Spiffy, Automatic Music returns with more of their LCR... Live Concept Recording... in which the band plugs in and lets loose with improvisational mayhem and fun. Spiffy consists of 6 tracks, some being lengthy stretch out jams, that explore the heavier side of acid psych rock. "Chester In The Middle Of An Innerstate" opens the set with mad freaky electronics along with multiple guitar parts, all playing something completely different. Bluesy bits and Frithy/Frippy sections are all played at a moderate pace against the frenzied space synths. "Deep Wounds, Deep Brood" is like a tripped out Blues or acid rock Beefheart tune. I dig that droning Bluesy bass. "The Anvil Approach" is a gorgeously raw mindfuck acid garage rocker with SCREAMING guitar licks. The pace is frenzied and fans of total rocked out chaos guitars won't know which direction to turn because this sucker is shooting flames in every direction at once. "And More... And More... And" is similar but much deeper in heavy rockin space stoner rock territory. Automatic Music couldn't have picked a better title for the 18 minute "Egg On Pavement/Congeal/Crushing". It a solid free jamming improv rock track that recalls the Kosmiche bands like Amon Düül, Guru Guru, and the like, has a funky feel at times, but is firmly in the avant-experimental realm as well. Fans of freakout music that listen closely while they trip out are guaranteed to hear lots of tasty ideas on parade. Mucho impressive and inventive guitar parts and crazed electronics. Reminds me a little of Vas Deferens Organization. And on "Snakenedrix, Attempt #1" we get a title that... hmmmmm... does the title combine Snakefinger and Hendrix? Probably. The Snakey one's influence is mighty prominent in the first minutes of the track. This tune sets a nice raw groove and jams fluidly for 12 minutes. The rhythm keeps a rolling pace and the bass has a deep thud-in-yer-chest sound, while the guitars kick out aggressive licks that are foot stompin rockin but have a King Crimson-ish complexity that keeps things varied and interesting throughout. In summary, this is by far the strongest and most coherent Automatic Music disc I've heard yet. As free-wheeling as it is this is actually one of Automatic Musics more composed sounding releases yet as well. I told Fred Hall this sounded like mostly the same musicians on the entire album and he revealed that this was the case. Spiffy is definitely the place to start if you're new to Automatic Music. But all are worth checking out so read our reviews of their earlier releases in the AI alpha index. Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz
Automatic Music - TATE ST. COFFEE: If th' kaw-fee is as razor-edged
as this MUSIC is - I need ta' be MOVIN' on down ta' N.C., whither this
Fred Hall & a whole gathering of musicians (like my ol' pal Bret Hart)
are! It's (much) like a whole phroggin' ORchestra of guitars screemin',
people! Fred lists it in th' tray insert as "day 204 in year 1 of automatic
music", so it's sorta' like a "best of" collection. We had already reviewed
"And In Arcadia I Am" (track 1, which he calls "Circuit 1"), so I'm listening
to "Fear The Panda", from another CD called "This Is Automatic Music".
Grand excursions into thee land of guitar panda-monium, that cute lil'
sugger jus' went onna' RAMPAGE... loud enuff & high-energy enuff that
you BETTER fear that "panda"! This cut/circuit makes me think back to an
album called "Super Session", believe it or not. Bret's guitar stylings
on # 3, "Dark Matter" (from In A Dollhouse) are clearly evident, lotta'
strat, very enjoyable & bouncy. Last cut (circuits 5-8) was a sorta'
"preview" of things to come. Spooky is all I can say... you'll have to
scope it (out) yer'self! Contact at email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
or via their site, at <http://220.127.116.11/cgi- Rotcod Zzaj
Automatic Music - CARNIVAL OF LIGHT: This collective ensemble effort makes music that is (like totally, man) UNpredictable (to say the least). They seem (with each album) to be getting better & better at going in directions that even THEY didn't anticipate. Now, that COULD be a real D-R-A-G, if they were musicians who were aimless... letting the group format become an excuse for going NOwhere.... but it isn't that way at all. I have a sneaking suspicion (from having played a lot with him before) that Bret Hart's membership in the group has a lot to do with why the directions they take always impress me... but he's not (like) the "group leader". It's clearly a contribution from each member of the collective that makes the total experience come across. What (you ask) is the MUSIC like? Like what the muffler on your car would sound like if you could (somehow) suspend yourself under the car as it moved through town... like what you'd hear if you could BE Jonah, ridin' inside that whale's stomach... in OTHER WORDS, it's like nothing you've EVER heard! & that's a COMPLIMENT, I can tell you... it is DIFFERENT music that will give the adventurous listener hours of pleasure. Is it something YOU will enjoy? Doubtful... only the (mentally) STRONG will "get it". In that light, it gets our MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED rating. (...but boyz' - yer' GOTta' get that gourd-am H-U-M outta' that guitar when yer' recording it). Contact at Sheperd, 504 Liberty Pl., Archdale, NC 27263, or via email to email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org> Rotcod Zzaj