john also bennett
I was interviewed live on RMBA Radio for Peak Time, starting about 1 hour into the show. Listen below.
The avant-garde flautist and composer discusses his ode to New York loft music and his debut solo album.
John Also Bennett, otherwise known as JAB, has been operating in the avant-garde underground of New York for the better part of a decade. He’s currently a member of kosmiche trio Forma, one half of the ambient-exploring duo Seabat and has collaborated with countless like-minded artists such as Jon Gibson, Christina Vantzou, American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME), Peter Burr, Zin Taylor and many others. The creative energy that drives JAB is unparalleled — last year he released an album with Vantzou, plus new albums with both Forma and Seabat. This March he finally put out his solo debut album, a project ten years in the making. Erg Herbe, its title, is a phrase that combines a word meaning “a sea of desert dunes” with the French word for grass; it calls to mind an imaginary place that echoes the perplexing but dreamy mixture of synthetic and organic instruments. Bennett says the record is “strange and thoughtful music that reflects a genuine inner vision of self.” He joins Vivian in the studio today to discuss the technicalities of mixing disparate sonic elements and the imagined spaces where he hopes his listeners might go.
Erg Herbe, the first full-length solo JAB album, is now available to pre-order from Shelter Press. Listen to “A Little Breeze” below. The album is out March 7th.
Last year John Also Bennett appeared on three collaborative full length releases – the CV & JAB album Thoughts Of A Dot As It Travels A Surface for Shelter Press in February, a fourth Forma album Semblancefor Kranky in July and Outside The Disc, a new album for his Seabat project with Forest Christenson in October. He also appeared on Christina Vantzou’s solo album No. 4 (Kranky) in April. Whilst work continues on these long running collaborations (as well as other projects with artists such as noted Minimalist composer / performer Jon Gibson), 2019 will start for John with his first full-length solo release – Erg Herbe.
JAB says the record was gestated for nearly a decade while he worked out how to fully express his own sound and ideas. He notes that “My personality is all over this music”, elaborating that “the goal is to create nice, strange, and thoughtful music that reflects a genuine inner vision of self. I’ve been recording solo music for a long time without releasing any of it because I’m not able to let anything out that doesn’t satisfy this criteria.” Finally, Erg Herbe began to emerge during 2017 and 2018, recorded alone during spare moments between collaborative projects. JAB uses a mixture of synthetic and organic instruments throughout the album, including modified Aphex Twin DX7 presets played using a just intonation tuning system, eurorack oscillators “tuned according to intuitive structures using intervals of 30 hz,” and a number of flutes including a Chinese “dizi” flute borrowed from his father, noted avant-garde poet and mail-artist John M. Bennett (a contemporary of New York underground poets Richard Kostelanetz and Steve Dalachinsky). Through this unique mixture JAB creates a record which moves outside the conventional. Part New York minimalism, part ambient, part classic electronic yet uniquely JAB.
Primarily recorded at The Schoolhouse, the Brooklyn loft where he lives and works (that will also serve as the site of a launch event for the album this spring), Erg Herbe taps into the rich history of New York loft music, recalling downtown artists like La Monte Young, Phill Niblock and Laurie Spiegel. He also cites Takehisa Kosugi, Dominique Lawalrée, Jon Gibson (who JAB toured with in 2017 & 2018) and Pauline Anna Strom as important influences – “Their music seems to express their personalities so well, at least my perceptions of them. And those personalities are relaxed, inquisitive, friendly and unique – how I strive to be.” If you add his list of inspirations and his past projects, as well as his time spent working behind the scenes with noted NYC imprint RVNG Intl., then it becomes clear how much JAB is working within a very distinctly New York tradition of experimental, classical and electronic music. His various projects with filmmakers and installation artists like Peter Burr also add to this vivid impression of a New York artist out and about, working on many levels at once. The sound of Erg Herbe reflects this cross fertilization of artistic activity.
Beyond the cuts recorded in Brooklyn there’s also “Chanterai por mon coraige” derived from the 13th century French troubadour song by Guiot de Dijon, on which two flute improvisations upon a theme were recorded blind from each other and then combined afterwards, producing some exciting, unexpected harmonies. Appropriately “Chanterai por mon coraige” was recorded inside a decrepit mill in the French countryside at night – not far from where Shelter Press is headquartered. The title cut “Erg Herbe” features flute recorded inside Tilapia, a reverberant sculpture by Katsuhito Nishikawa at the Museum Insel Hombroich in Germany, which was then processed and overlaid with synthesizer in New York.
“Erg Herbe” in an invented turn of phrase – erg being the term for a sea of desert sand dunes, and herbe being French for grass – summoning the dreamlike image of a green, rolling dunescape. A fitting title for an album that combines worlds: minimal and lush, serious and playful, real and imagined. “Distant Patterns” – the longest track on the album at over twelve minutes – juxtaposes dry, pulsating oscillators with pillowy, occasionally dissonant pads, while a raga-like alto flute melody glides and dances over top, like a bird soaring across a landscape. Dreaming of distant places while absorbing what’s around him, and traveling the world while keeping one foot in New York, JAB has finally conjured up the unique, surreal sound world he has been looking for.
Erg Herbe features original artwork by Zin Taylor, who JAB collaborated with previously on Thoughts Of A Dot As It Travels A Surface and is mastered by Rashad Becker at D+M. Pressed on 140gr vinyl with printed artwork on inner and outer reverse-board jacket.
Out March 7th, 2019 on Shelter Press.
John Also Bennett
C flute, Alto flute, dizi flute, oscillators, Yamaha DX7II-D, Yamaha CS Reface, Roland Super JV-1080, Farfisa organ. Recorded at The Schoolhouse, New York, USA, except “Chanterai por mon coraige” recorded in Ponce-sur-le-Loir, France at Les Moulins de Paillard and “Erg Herbe”, which was partially recorded inside Tilapia, a sculpture by Katsuhito Nishikawa at Museum Insel Hombroich, Germany. “Chanterai por mon coraige” is derived from the 13th Century troubadour song by Guiot de Dijon of the same name.
"...together they have made this slowly engrossing album for Shelter Press - who else - perhaps one of the most elusive, uncanny and multi-layered “Ambient” albums we’ve heard in what feels like a long time, a worthy follow-up to a frankly astonishing sequence of releases on the label that started with Felicia Atkinson’s modern classic 'Hand In Hand'."
This sound design project for Peter Burr was honored with a Vimeo Staff Pick. The audio came from a ribbon controlled eurorack synthesizer, processed voice and a bucket of wet paper towels. Originally premiered at the Imagine Science Film Festival in NYC in late 2017.
CV & JAB live at Ambient Church on November 10th, 2017.
by Peter Burr, Mark Fingerhut, and Forma
In 1562, Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder completed a painting called "The Triumph Of Death". In this panoramic landscape the sky is blotted out by black smoke; ships and dead fish litter the ocean shore; and an army of skeletons experiment with myriad death techniques. The living are badly outnumbered and the variety of fated tortures seems endless. There is little room for whimsy in this tableaux.
Over 200 years earlier, a nasty plague, commonly known as "The Black Death", left a cruel and massive mark on European civilization, wiping out half of Europe’s total population. This was a quiet pervasion of death - an invisible pathogen carried by herds of tired rats. This plague triggered a series of social and economic upheavals with profound effects on the history of medieval Europe, guiding its survivors into the sort of self-inflicted darkness pictured by the Elder Bruegel.
Looking back at this historical trajectory, Peter Burr, Mark Fingerhut, and Forma have created a spiraling interdimensional narrative aptly titled DESCENT - a meditation on one of humanity’s blackest hours. Taking the form of a desktop application, descent.exe gives the user a brief glimpse of a world descending into darkness - an unrelenting plague indifferent to the struggles of the user. There is a silver lining, however, tucked into the software’s final sweep. An equanimous watcher, reduced to a single eye, looks on as the plague of rats that has infested your desktop destroys itself.
This video is a recording of descent.exe running alongside Fingerhut's deepdesktop.exe.
I contributed a collaboration with Christina Vantzou to this benefit compilation put together by Keith Kenneth (Helios) and his wife Hollie. Other contributors include Ryuchi Sakamoto, Loscil, Windy and Carl, Jefre-Cantu Ledesma, Liz Harris, Deru and so many more. 100% of proceeds go to non-profits that support the environment, investigative journalism, women and minorities. Digital available for preorder now, vinyl and CD coming soon via Western Vinyl.
Pattern Language, for which I composed two movements of music for synthesizers as well as leading sound design, premiered at International Film Festival Rotterdam this year.
'Pattern language' is a term coined by architect Christopher Alexander to describe the existence of certain human ambitions through an index of structural patterns. In this film, highly organised and richly layered patterns move in accordance with audio frequencies and rhythms, towards the construction of an endlessly mutating labyrinth.
Spent a few hours playing records on the Lot Radio the other day with Nina and Christina, starting about hour into this fine mix.
This November, Forma does a run of North American tour dates with our fellow Kranky artist Steve Hauschildt.
Two nights of Kranky artists, including Forma, this November at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan.
PATTERN LANGUAGE | by Peter Burr | September 2016
3-Legged Dog Production / Creative Capital Award Sundance Story Lab
With Mark Fingerhut, Brenna Murphy, and Porpentine
Music and Sound Design by John Also Bennett
“Pattern Language” is a term coined by architect Christopher Alexander describing the aliveness of certain human ambitions through an index of structural patterns. Some advocates of this design approach claim that ordinary people can use it to successfully solve very large, complex design problems. In this installation, Peter Burr employs the vocabulary of Alexander’s system towards the construction of an endlessly mutating death labyrinth, projecting this world inside an immersive multi-channel video environment.
forma - physicalist from ‘physicalist’, out september 23rd 2016 on kranky ltd