Rod Poole/Sasha Bogdanowitsch – Mind’s Island
Music Disc Reviews Audio CD
by K L Poore
Wednesday, 01 November 2006
Rod Poole/Sasha Bogdanowitsch – Mind’s Island format: 16-bit CD
release year: 2006
Guitarist Rod Poole’s Mind Island (a joint effort with vocalist Sasha Bogdanowitsch) falls under the broad net of the avant garde, but if hearing that phrase conjures up the ghost of Albert Ayler or the electronic poems of Edgard Varese, then this release demonstrates just how wide a net is cast under that label.
In the case of Poole, avant garde more closely reflects his choice of instrument, or, to be precise, how that instrument is tuned, rather than any nontraditional choices in the framing of the music with noise, found instrumentation or other affectations of the modernist movement. Poole chooses to work with Just tuning for his guitar. Simplistically, this means the strings are tuned to be more harmonically sympathetic than what we usually hear in tempered (standard) tuning. These kinds of microtonal differences drive many in the straight music world insane, and anything recorded using this alternative approach is instantly classified as subversive, tagged with a scarlet L (for loony) and forced to live out behind the tool shed, to be visited only by crackpots, intellectuals or your uncle who drank way too much scotch and thought he was listening to his Rusty Warren record.
With that wonkery out of the way, I’ve got to tell you that the music of Mind’s Island is about as far removed from the distorted sonic noise of what most people think of as avant garde as can be imagined. It is actually more akin to something you would pick up off of Peter Gabriel’s Real World label, or hear in a yoga class.
Mind’s Island was recorded direct to digital and is comprised entirely of improvised music, where the two musicians agreed upon a scale as a basis for improvising and, as noted in the press release, the “melody, harmony, rhythm, dynamics and duration were spontaneous.” The end result is a collection that, at its best, sounds like Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn singing over Nick Drake’s guitar playing on Pink Moon, as on the opening track “Sun Speak.”
As with most purely improvised music collections, there are moments here both sublime and mundane, with “Childhood’s End” being a prime example of the former and “The Rainmaker Cometh” the latter. On “Childhood’s End” it seems almost incredible that the interplay between the guitar and vocals was not planned out in great detail prior to flipping the on switch, whereas the great flaw in “The Rainmaker Cometh” is a vocal that sounds much too Western (rhythmically bluesy), causing the song to lack the cohesion that is necessary to keep the listener interested.
Although Bogdanowitsch’s voice is inviting and his melodies inventive, it probably also helps for the listener to be a fan of this kind of wordless singing. Poole’s guitar improvisations are unique, and on many of the cuts they take on an almost kalimba-like sound. Without reading about it in advance, his use of Just tuning would be fairly transparent to most listeners.
Mind’s Island is a collection that is made to listen to, contemplate by, or drift off with, and in thinking about it, I guess that means it’s classified correctly, because although you can find cuts by Sun Ra that will set you boogying, and Frank Zappa loved having members of his audience jump, skip and gyrate to “The Black Page # 2,” the avant garde is not known as dance music. The music of Mind’s Island seems to be spiritually-minded and about promoting self-actualization, or intellectual discovery. As with all searches, you may uncover things that you don’t particularly want to see (or in this case, hear), but on the whole, Mind’s Island is filled with satisfying and provocative music that will help you find the mental path to whichever vanguard you wish to travel.
Most of Mind’s Island was recorded using a pair of model 1050 Calrec condenser microphones into a Tascam DAP1 digital tape recorder. The recordings are crisp and clear and the sound of Poole’s guitar is expressively captured. My only complaint, or wish, would be to have recorded in a little livelier room. I really enjoyed listening to this CD through headphones and did take it along on a road trip, but it’s not great traveling music. I didn’t observe much of a difference between playing it in my home theater system and my Apple G5. I have to admit that after years of being told “tune your damn guitar,” some passages sound out of tune to me. Damn my conventional ears!