by -Mr Olivetti-
After many years beavering away with King Missile, Bradford Reed‘s personal experiments feeding percussion through modular synths and playing around with the results has paid dividends on the release of the album Conduit by Ω▽ (pronounced Ohmslice), a band formed for this purpose.
Teaming up with poet Jane Le Croy, they and a few other friends have produced an album of extraordinary diversity and abstract lyrical dexterity that takes the rhythmic propulsion of African drumming, merges it with a dash of NY jazz cool and allows Jane the perfect platform to verbalise and expound at her leisure. Wrapped up in a mysterious, ageless sleeve design, the album demands a second glance and rewards the listener with a unique journey.
The record is essentially a fantastic glimpse into the mind of Bradford and his desire to do new things with processed percussion. He seems to lay the rhythmic foundations and allow the rest of the band, Josh Matthews on extra drums, the legendary Daniel Carter on trumpet and sax and Bill Bronson on guitar to weave some magic and add distinctive textures to the tracks. Once the platforms are laid, Jane airs her thoughts on life and the mysteries contained therein that at times bring to mind a playful and more secure Lydia Lunch and at some times remind me of the delightful tones of the wonderful Mona Soyoc from KaS Product.
"Crying On A Train" has so much packed into its few minutes that it is hard to believe that it is not a one-trick pony. After a cartoon-like intro, a tribal drum pattern sets in and Jane starts to discuss her desire to escape for some unknown situation using a variety of unlikely means — submarines, rocket ships, they are all in there, tossed casually in the listener’s direction, her playful sing-song tones kept company by the fireworks going off in the background. It seems that when Jane turns her back and has a breather, there is some kind of drum free-for-all, where all bets are off. It is quite unlike anything I have heard recently and makes the listener wonder whether Jane is given free reign to just freestyle over the top of the explosion of sounds.
Things become less tribal and more spacey on “Ancient Friendship”, the effects obfuscating, creating a gauzy, slightly abstract instrumental passage. Unable to leave things alone or stay in one place for too long, kinetic drumming is injected halfway through and the song takes a propulsive direction, urged forward by a fidgety compulsion that drifts in and out of focus before your very ears. It is uncomfortable and a little swampy, and doesn’t really give you much preparation for the the slow deliberation of the following track.
“Get Matter” is possibly the piece de resistance as far as Jane is concerned; her joy of language and the way that she plays with words is never more focussed than on this track. Over the most sinuous of Daniel’s half-jazz, all-cool trumpet lines and a deep, dark and resonant bass line, Jane weaves metaphysical, lyrical magic in the most irresistible of purrs. It would be shame to give the gist away, but a phase where Adam rhymes with atom and all the physics that that manifests as well as being charged with electricity as a crime is just the tip of the lyrical iceberg where word association and stream of consciousness go hand in hand. It is an absolute delight and the band are equal to the task of finding a suitably dexterous and subtle backing, the drumming being just perfect.
Three tracks in and the album has already won me over. The rest of the first side passes in a blur of nursery rhymes and timpani, death march drums and annoying synth sounds, resonant hums and deep, dark bashes. Some of the time is spent trying to work out how Bradford has arrived at some of the sounds; and where does one track end and the next begin?
It is all too soon that the first side is over, but side two doesn’t disappoint. The jazz sax subtlety and shape-shifting electronic rhythms allow more space for Jane to lob her random word bombs into our midst; the line “You are more camouflaged than chameleon skin” is just perfection, and her tone and delivery affect the way the sax flows through the song. Everyone is sympathetic to her urgent yet playful missives. There are bass-free dub experiments on “Machine Of You”; amorphous noises echo in and out of the mix as sparse space delay and baking tin crashes compete with Jane’s dreamy and unfettered abstraction.
Reading the blurb that accompanied the album, we learn that one of Bradford’s constructions involves a 17-gallon water tank fed through a modular synth. I can’t even begin to imagine what that might sound like and where on the album it might appear. All I know is that this kind of imagination is rife throughout the album. Ally that to a vocalist who at times (as on the track “Paint By Numbered Days)” sounds like that really interesting but slightly drunk person that you have seen at parties but don’t quite dare approach. (I mean, she might see you for what you really are!) and we are talking about a listening experience quite unlike anything else this year.
Conduit is a wonderful, diverse, sensual and subtle listen that moves in all the right ways, but in the strangest of directions. At one point, it sounds like a soundtrack to a documentary about a bird you have never seen, living in a collapsing rainforest. I mean, if that isn’t enough to allow it to change your world, you have no soul. I genuinely hope we haven’t heard the last of Ohmslice.
By Dylan Bowker
Improvisation is a game of chance but it’s a game Bradford Reed is all too willing to play.
His latest record under the pseudonym Ohmslice came out of a lot of improvisational playing. Conduit is an album that was born in the moment. Bradford described the musicians involved as passive pathways for the magic to materialize. Ohmslice has been the project Bradford has wanted to do for a while. It wasn’t until he finally went out and got that modular synth that he began to set the wheels in motion on the musical outfit. There’s a percussive root in all instrumentation for the record. Most things are electronically connected with the drums and synth being married together. The feedback looping into itself in a purposeful way captured the human aspects while playing digitized music. This was consciously done so Ohmslice’s effort didn’t come off as rigid or quantized. Even the vocalist involved with the project improvised her contributions.
Modular synths emphasis bass notes and drums undulate through the sonic wall. This inventiveness isn’t restricted to composition considerations for Bradford. He also extended that to his efforts in making instruments. Reed created his own instrument called the Pencillina. With ten springs and two necks, the instrument utilizes both a guitar and bass. It also has touches of slide guitar. Strings are woven through sticks and sticks strike the strings to elicit notation. It offers a wide sonic pallet and showcases another instance of melody dove tailing with percussion to create Bradford’s music. Drummer Josh Matthews provided drums for Conduit and has been performing for years with Bradford.
Josh and Bradford were in the Blue Man Group years ago. Josh provided percussion and Reed played the electric zipper for the avant garde outfit. Bradford pointed out how maintains lengthy friendships with the few musicians he is able to connect with. Jamming with others wasn’t always the easiest thing for Bradford to do. He described it as being protective of his energy and wasn’t as eager to play with new musicians. Bradford often busked the streets and often times had fellow musicians approach him wanting to play together. Reed has since gotten better with this and is more open to collaborating. Other collaborative outfit of his was King Missle III. Yet another collective with the theme of using improvisation to keep things free flowing. Too much structure can be restrictive and stifling. Bradford was not afforded these same kinds of freedoms when scoring for cartoons and film.
Reed didn’t exactly care for expressing himself in this sort of way. It was calculated to the point that mechanical precision was required. Nailing cuts to the millisecond and performing the vision of someone else with a rigidly faithful adherence. Bradford was able to learn from the experience though. Scoring cartoons allowed him to let go of his own agenda and not over think the situation. Reed described certain preoccupations with doing something different than the last record, overly scrutinizing new compositions, etc. The nature of the freight train style deadlines in cartoon scoring eliminated this time/ energy wasting practice.
Reed has also delved into the world of producing music for other artists. Bradford consciously aims to serve the material and tailor the process to the artist. Sometimes these efforts can inform his own processes as a performer but this isn’t always the case. The more hats one wears in the music creation process, the multiplicity of interpretation increases that much more.
Ohmslice’s name references electrical resistance but the band is represented through iconography. In most press releases from the band, the group will often use symbols to represent the outfit. Bradford sees the cryptic and mysterious element to the symbols used in press material. It’s inherently eye catching and creates a curiosity surrounding what this group could possibly sound like. Many unsuspecting music fans are unwittingly guided towards a multi-layered wall of sound.
Despite the rich nuance in the sonic detail of his music, Bradford doesn’t exactly romanticise vinyl. He certainly enjoys the physical medium but described himself a format agnostic. Conduit will get a vinyl release though Reed will distribute the effort in a few different ways. Reed feels the album will take a couple listens for things to really sink in. Certain things aren’t right away recognizable or accessible. Repeat listens will reveal the multiple layers of the effort. It’s the beautiful end result of multiple personalities coming together in an organic way.
As far as future projects go, Bradford already has something on the docket. Anthems of the Void is described as a “pretty bugged out” effort he is set to drop. Reed spoke excitedly about this though there’s no concrete timeline on that album’s release. Bradford still maintains his fandom despite his mounting success as a musician. He spoke warmly of Sonic Youth and Tuxedo Moon as being super influential to his own creative efforts. Maintaining that fanatical energy from early on while being informed through years of personal experiences/ learning. Much like his music, Bradford maintains a core theme through surroundings that could seem discordant at times.
The only parting thought Reed had was for musicians to find what’s idiosyncratic about their sound and to own it. A sentiment that can be extended to how we all endeavor to live life and to all creatively fueled avenues of social engagement.
Ohmslice is the brainchild of dark existentialist performance poet Jane LeCroyand multi-instrumentalist Bradford Reed, inventor of the Pencilina. Behind his homemade, one-of-a-kind modular synth – attached to various-sized water cans for percussion – he brings to mind a calm version of Alan Vega. But where Vega so often went for head-on assault – in the early days, at least – Reed typically goes for sparkle and shimmer and ripple. Phil Kline’s early electronic work is also a good point of comparison.
Overhead, LeCroy freestyles succinctly and acerbically about politics, philosophy and the struggle to stay sane in this city and this country in 2017. On their debut album, Conduit – which isn’t out yet and consequently hasn’t hit the usual streaming spots – they’re joined by drummer Josh Matthews, downtown fixture Daniel Carter on trumpet and sax and Swans’ Bill Bronson on guitar. They’re playing the album release show this Saturday night, Sept 9 at 10 PM at Halyards in Gowanus; Brooklyn’s original Balkan brass crew Hungry March Band play beforehand at 9.
The album’s opening number is Crying on a Train, a plainspoken escape scenario buzzing, sputtering and clattering over a Atrocity Exhibition-ish groove. The instrumental Ancient Friendship follows a similar rhythm but with a hypnotic spacerock vibe. With Carter’s desolate trumpet over a rapidly decomposing dirge, Get Matter gives LeCroy a platform for contemplating how we’re mostly empty space – on an atomic level, at least.
The miniature Velour Kirtan hints at qawwali and segues into the blippy, rhythmic Snow, a dead ringer for Siouxsie Sioux’s Creatures. Quavering, keening guitar waves and tinkling electro tones flavor another miniature, Broken Phase Candy, followed by the increasingly intricate, loopy, insectile Gravity, which brings to mind Paula Henderson’s adventures in electroacoustica.
Rusty Ground is far more minimal: with its distantly boomy drums and low, drony oscillations, it’s the album’s most menacing track. Paint by Numbered Days begins more nebulously but soon becomes the album’s most dynamic number, building to an echoey wash that eventually fades down to a calm seaside tableau.
Contrasting lows and highs rumble through the mix beneath LeCroy’s deadpan robot vocals in Machine of You. The album winds up on a surprisingly upbeat note with the jaunty instrumental pastiche Ohm’s Awe. What is this? Performance art? Jazz poetry? No wave? Why hang a label on it? As Sartre once remarked, once you give something a name, you kill it.
While spelled out in modern-day Latin/English lettering as ‘Ohmslice,’ the true name of this band is ‘Ω∇,’ a linguistic distinction that doesn’t really matter but does, and a designation that might seem unnecessarily daring but is instead daringly necessary. Ω∇, you see (and sorry, but we’re going to mostly go with ‘Ohmslice’ from here on because your correspondent is already tired of having to select from the special character drop-down), is the captivating, sometimes maddening but never uninteresting new project from Bradford Reed, he who brought an avant-adventurism to the notorious and brash outlandishness of the King Missile brand. And while that project couldn’t help but hew to some lingering degree to the assumed ‘commercial’ desires of the “Detachable Penis” demographic (check KM III’s 1998 album Failure for confirmation), with Ohmslice, Reed is free to pursue, via an absorbing base of modulated, synth-treated percussion, the further fringes of his imagination. The result, as aided and abetted by a crew of co-conspirators whose aesthetic sympathies seem to run to the deepest marrow of this project (poet and intrinsic Ω∇ member Jane LeCroy, drummer Josh Matthews from Blue Man Group, Daniel Carter lending sax and trumpet as he has for Thurston Moore and Yo La Tengo, and Swans, Congo Norvell guitarist Bill Bronson), is something of a piece of New Millennial post-Beat Sufi-trance mysticism with a New York flavor so strong you can almost feel the sweat of a hot autumn day in Queens. Jazz smoky at times (“Gravity” would seem to have Don Cherry’s shadow hovering over every squelch and disembodied syllable), ghostly tribal at others (“Ancient Friendship” with its feel of a sub-Saharan walkabout), Conduit wanders amid the otherworldly land of spectral hosts and other unseeable hauntings with both aplomb and reverence. An eerie and essential work of art, it must be heard to be believed.
by Mark Hughson
Post-weird, no wave, improv-fusion outsider pop? I know, at first pass I too almost turned my head away in confusion and/or disgust. “Oh great, another attempt at being… creative.” On subsequent listens, I’m acknowledging they succeeding in this endeavor, and almost ready to admit that they nearly made it accessible, too.
The blending of electronic and organic sounds is seamless, and when they can’t get the sound they want from an instrument, they invent a new one (see also Bradford Reed’s electric board zither and his work with King Missile). Deep, syncopated rhythms entrance the listener, while the layers of creepy guitar and horns will have you checking under the bed. The fact that these recording sessions were live and spontaneous means the rotating cast of players (featuring session workers who’ve spent time with Blue Man Group, Yo La Tengo, and Swans, among others) were probably kept on their toes too. All the sounds being filtered through a modular synth is what gels this into a cohesive sound, so no matter what path you take, all roads lead to Reed’s palace of bizarre.
The final element in Conduit is Jane LeCroy’s poetry. Her words are occasionally beat, sometimes dreamy, and always adding to the notion that this is music made by and for those outside the typical musical boundaries. Ohmslice is not everyone’s cup of tea, but just coming up with this new and different flavor at all is a remarkable accomplishment.
Jane LeCroy and Bradford Reed‘s kinetically hypnotic, thought-provoking performance last night at Dixon Place was a booster shot to the synapses. Becoming immersed in their performance was like re-reading Steppenwolf, or La Nausée, a gut check to make sure all systems are still working. Reed played not his famous invention, the pencilina, but a thicket of multicolored wires and effects, like something from under the hood of Martin Rev’s earliest synthesizer. Reed activated it by beating out a steady, syncopated groove on a snare and an ominous-looking, upside-down, jet-black steel chemical drum, then running those beats through the maze of wires and boxes for textures that varied from bleeps and bloops to gentle pulses and washes. The chemistry between the two performers was intuitive, varying the dynamics as the emotional arc of LeCroy’s vocals and poetry rose and fell. Meanwhile, time-lapse footage of boats on the Hudson and cloud formations overhead flitted and shifted shape, projected on a screen above the stage.
LeCroy alternated between a tersely considered spoken-word delivery imbued with a puckish existentialist humor, and hazy, dreamy vocals informed by vintage boudoir soul music. On the night’s most dramatic and intense piece, her voice took on a stern, stark, defiant quality that drew heavily on centuries-old African-American spirituals. Steadily and methodically, she drew the audience in and never let them go. Trying to figure out what was improvised and what was not was a lot of fun. As the music and grooves unwound, it was hard not to get lost in them, but LeCroy’s sometimes gentle, sometimes biting challenges to the audience peppered the reverie and, intentionally or not, jarred the crowd out of their dream state.
The grim progression of time, and by implication, the ravages of age, were recurrent themes. LeCroy offered matter-of-fact cajolement to anyone willing to listen, to exercise their freedom and seize the moment. But her tightly crystallized litany of images and mantras owed far more to Sartre or Kierkegaard than to any new age source. Her funniest stream of consciousness rap involved teeth and what happens to them when they’re neglected. Her final piece was an improvisation based on themes suggested by the audience, which turned out to be kindness and smoke. How she wove those images together into a bigger picture, bringing her calmly determined, angst-fueled contemplation full circle, was as subtly amusing as it was nonchalantly and unselfconsciously profound: LeCroy loves double entendres and subtext and can’t resist employing as much as she can come up with, on the fly, plotting her next move. The experience was as therapeutic as it was challenging.