(IS Too Records)

Every time I get asked about the identities of some not-that-well-known people who in my opinion are doing intelligent, quality work in the field of music right now, well, I have a long list forming in my head. But if the question concerns not-that-well-known people who are doing intelligent, quality work that is also somewhat accessible, well, the list gets quite shorter - and Herb Heinz's on it.

Though I first got to appreciate him in the context of those (not-to-be-missed) CDs released by Amy X Neuburg & Men - Utechma (1995) and Sports! Chips! Booty! (1999) - his personality definitely came to the fore on his solo albums, Failure (1998) and Another (2004).

It was about three years ago - Another having just been released - that I got the opportunity to interview him for the first time. I was pleasantly surprised to hear about a new project of his, which he proceeded to describe to me thus: "My newest band is called dud. It is a large improvised music ensemble, somewhere between art music and jam-band, a little like The Grateful Dead, but completely improvised, with vocals. We are starting to play local shows." Of course, I was quite curious about the way the final result would sound, but for a long time I heard nothing in the way of a "product" that was commercially available.

So eyes is a nice surprise. It's a DVD-V (about 1 hour long) which presents excerpts from various live concerts (all being multitrack audio and video recordings which are then skillfully edited and visually enhanced in the studio) in very good sound quality (video, too), recording locations being San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, and Novato.

I really didn't know what to expect, my idea of "collective improvisation" being something that's on the average a lot harder to appreciate than the definitely more "user-friendly" live material created on eyes by an ensemble comprised of musicians, dancers, and visual artists. Though this list is not exhaustive, in the context of this review I'll mention (former member of Men) Micah Ball on fretless guitar and bass; Mark Briggs (whose name is already familiar to fans of Herb Heinz from their joint recorded project, Hmmm...) on vocals, guitar, and flute; Doug Carroll on electric cello and vocals; Heinz himself on guitar and keyboards; Melissa Rae on vocals; Sam Sheats on bass; Richard Smith on electronic drums (they look like a KAT controller to me); and Tim Thompson on visuals.

First thing I noticed was the fact that most of them were wearing headphones. Textures mostly verge on the "electronic" side of things, with drums, keyboards, computer and an electric cello creating a mixture that's pleasantly thick, but clear all the same. Most members sing, sometimes it's easy to perceive a story - some verbal counterpoint - being created on the spot. Of course, there are tons of "genres" that get referred to here. I'll just mention the "new wave/Devo" climates of nothing; a nod in the NY Frith/Massacre direction in soundwar; some "60s California music", la Jefferson Airplane, on koolaid; also, weird dance/space rhythms abound. I noticed what a difference the two bass players made, with Micah Ball steering things towards a more "layered" approach vs. the more "funky" and "grounded" approach suggested by Sam Sheats's bass grooves (some parts of religion definitely reminding me of mid-70s-era Gong).

Those I mentioned, however, are to be understood as being just convenient points of entry for the listener, this collective being by definition a mutable beast whose identity at every concert will be a surprise. And it goes with no saying that dud have a definite attitude when it comes to life and politics. This, I think, comes to the fore quite clearly in the way they present themselves here. And though I suspect this DVD-V to be a somewhat inadequate substitute of seeing them live, I have to recommend eyes: it's definitely a grower.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2007

CloudsandClocks.net | May 1, 2007