Charalambides is the band started in Houston in 1991 by Tom Carter, former
guitarist for the Mike Gunn, with his wife
Christina Carter. The duo debuted with the 100-minute cassette
Our Bed Is Green (Mutual Admiration Society, 1992 - Wholly Other, 1995 - Kranky, 2004), a chaotic collection of psychedelic ragas, demented ballads and avantgarde music; and the band excels at each, second only to
Tea is a hypnotic litany over lazy strumming and a shrill wavering drone, evoking the Velvet Underground's first album for a generation drowsed by alienation. Other vocal tracks include the brief choral Bid You Goodnight, the whispered madrigal The Core, the loud-guitar lullaby of C.G., and the charming Final (that, despite the
background noises and samples, has an almost baroque-like quality),
all of them based on simple, primitive melodies.
The notable exception is Same Old Routine, a seven-minute lament
(but defenitely not a highlight).
The avantgarde "section" is perhaps the most intriguing, despite the fact that
ideas are barely sketched and then abandoned.
The Treadmill (alas, only two minutes long) is musique concrete set to a rock rhythm, like MC5 teaming with Pierre Henry to score a videogame,
The atonal carillon of Stuttgart gets lost in a dream world of fair music and tape manipulation.
The more properly psychedelic tracks also manage to be original in a field
that has been inflated for decades.
The distorted guitar intones the solemn spiritual of Pase El Agoa over a massive drone of church-like organ, the nightmarish spoken-piece I Don't Know You, the super-dilated raga of Faze Her (drenched in a claustrophobic atmosphere of booming dissonances), the hysterical solo of Neutron Decay,
and the rousing cosmic anthem of Strange Matter.
Finally, and to complement everything else,
guitars have roots, and they show it in repetitive instrumental pieces, that seem incapable of escaping the fascination of the archaic structures, incapable of evolving into fully-formed "songs": the folkish, upbeat theme of Take the Pointing Finger for the Moon, the bluesy figures of Black Pope. They sound like the intro to a song repeated ad infinitum, the John Fahey-ian meditation of Silver Reeds.
A spectacular synthesis of these styles is given in
the lengthy (finally) elegy of Cosmic String, a duet of vibrato organ and wah-wah guitar (with some distant humming on the side)
The absence of percussion adds to (rather than detracting from) the overall
sense of drama.
Tom Carter's 35-minute Shepherd at Lexington (Digitalis, 2008)
was recorded in 1991 but was released only 17 years later.
Properly edited, it would have ranked as the standout track of Our Bed Is Green.
Union (Siltbreeze, 1994) showed progress in tape-based composing:
Carter integrates wordless singing, samples of gospel recordings and
guitar freak-outs in a more homogeneous sponge.
In 1993 third member Jason Bill was added and the
cassette Historic Sixth Ward (1994 - Siltbreeze, 1996 - Time Lag, 2002),
which abandoned the radical noisy approach in favor of a surreal form
of psychedelic folk.
The hallucinatory quality of their music is better revealed by
their fourth album, the double
Market Square (Siltbreeze, 1995), a glorious sendup of
Red Krayola and Popol Vuh at their most deranged.
The single Devils (Playtime, 1995) marks a return to the moody
On the compilation Harmony of the Spheres (Drunken Fish, 1996)
Charalambides contribute Naked In Our Deathskins, a lengthy, suspenseful
raga of dissonant guitars, strummed to radiate abrasive tones in all directions.
The singer's hymn rises amid the ruins until it is swallowed in a gale of
Jason Bill, who quit the group in 1997, also recorded Via St Louis (Drunken Fish, 1998) with
Pelt's Jack Rose.
The album opens with the 11-minute guitar feedback of
Revolution Of The Stars and
Sting Of The Yellow Jackets is more of the same, just louder and faster.
You Are Not Of My People features strings bowed to the limit,
mercilessly pinched and sawed.
And even if King George County steals the melody from
Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, the
duets with saxophone and accordion testify to Bill's true genius.
Jason Bill is also in a duo with Caroline Vickers, the Migrantes,
this time based in Tucson (Arizona), whose Moon Journals (Eclipse, 2001)
offers soft psychedelia in the vein of David Crosby's If I COuld Only Remember.
Christina Carter also has a side project, Scorces (Wholly Sided, 2001),
involved with a more experimental sound.
The amount of processing is terrifying on Charalambides'
Houston (Siltbreeze, 1999), whose
Dancing and especially Midnight Chants
are mere layers of noises and voice.
The album was followed by the 40-minute limited-edition CDROM,
Yih (Carbon, 2001) and by the split album
Songs From the Entopic Garden Volume Two (Time-Lag, 2002), a tribute
to Popol Vuh.
The band is now reduced to the duo of Tom and Christina Carter.
Tom Carter also plays in Primordial Undermind.
Being As Is (Crucial Blast, 2002) is another limited-edition CD-ROM,
and the sound is floating towards a kind of languid slo-core.
Unknown Spin (Kranky, 2003) is a live improvised avantgarde experiment by
Tom and Christina Carter with vocalist and pedal-steel guitarist Heather Leigh Murray.
Unknown Spin, a 30-minute piece, begins with disjointed guitar tones drifting languidly in a shapeless universe. Slowly the wordless vocals of the two women join the ghostly symphony. They disappear the same way they appeared, leaving no trace. What is left (twenty minutes into the piece) is the hypnotic, slow-motion contrast between the graceful tinkling of a guitar and the dissonant droning of the other. Despite being quiet, subdued and unstructured, the piece has its own emotional force that originates from the stream of consciousness.
Unfortunately, the shorter tracks sound like repetitions of the same idea.
The voices work more magic in Skin of Rivers
and the guitars weave more suspense in Magnolia, but, basically,
the album has already "spun" everything in the eponymous monolith.
Christina Carter released Bastard Wing (Eclipse, 2003)
Tom Carter released Root King (Eclipse, 2003), that collects
three minimalists compositions.
Charalambides' studio album
Joy Shapes (Kranky, 2004), recorded by the trio of
vocalist Christine Carter, guitarist Tom Carter and
pedal-steel guitarist Heather Leugh Murray,
is an ambitious work that reaches beyond psychedelia, in the territory
of avantgarde music and free-jazz.
The ghastly 22-minute soundscape of Here Not Here is the main
exhibit: the show revolves around Christine Carter's free-form vocals,
a harrowing and challenging stream of consciousness that dives into
the grisly maze of the psyche,
borrowing techniques from Patty Waters and Jeanne Lee.
The background for her identity crisis is a concerto of dissonant
guitar tones that perfectly mirrors the voice's melodrama.
However, Christine Carter's showcase is Joy Shapes.
At the beginning, her sensual/angelic wailing evokes
Gong's vocalist Gilli Smyth. It then mutates
into an operatic ecstasy, and ends in a gentle languor.
This is more than a musical piece: it is a psychological study
of the state of joy.
The 15-minute Voice For You has the most streamlined used of the
voice. It is a slow, steady, monotonous crescendo with religious overtones,
Popol Vuh's Hosianna Mantra.
When (after eight minutes) it reaches the apex, it decays into a lengthy
acid guitar jam.
The 17-minute Natural Night is another colossal dissertation
for voice and noise. A high vocal note sets the reference point for
the guitar improvisation. A shimmering, tinkling texture takes shape,
and the voice disappears. A mirage appears in its place from the tinkling
fog of guitars and percussion: it's a guitar noise that sounds like a bird,
and that flies away in a chorus of fading distortions.
Vocals are also sidelined by the aggressive strumming
and harsh tones of Stroke, that boasts a
hypnotic minimalist coda in the vein of Terry Riley's In C.
This album brings together the disparate harmonic elements that the Carter
duo has been developing over the years. The result transcends psychedelic
music and stands as an impressive in the genre of chamber lieder.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Paolo Latini) |
Charalambides è una band di Houston formata
nel 1991 da Tom Carter, già chitarrista di Mike
Gunn, isnieme alla moglie Christina Carter. Il duo ha debuttato con
la cassetta di 100 minuti Our Bed Is Green (Mutual Admiration Society,
1992 - Wholly Other, 1995), una collezione caotica di raga psichedelici,
ballate stralunate e tape manipulation d'avanguardia.
Union (Siltbreeze, 1994) segna un progresso nella composizione
basata sulla tape-manipulation: la Carter integra in modo molto omogeneo
un wordless singing, samples di registrazioni gospel recordings e freak-outs
Nel 1993 si unisce al duo un terzo membro, Jason Bill, e ed esce la
cassetta Historic Sixth Ward (1994 - Siltbreeze, 1996 - Time Lag,
2002), che segna l'abbandono dell'approccio rumorosamente radicale in favore
di una forma surreale di folk psichedelico.
La qualità allucinata della loro musica è meglio attestata
dal loro quarto album, il doppio Market Square (Siltbreeze,
1995), un glorioso tributo ai Red Krayola e ai Popol Vuh più deragliati.
Il singolo Devils (Playtime, 1995) segna un ritorno alla ballata
Sulla compilation Harmony of the Spheres (Drunken Fish, 1996)
i Charalambides contribuiscono con Naked In Our Deathskins, un lungo
raga pieno di suspence di chitarre dissonanti, strimpellate per irradiare
in ogni direzione dei toni abrasivi. L'inno della cantante cresce tra le
rovine fino ad essere risucchiato da un vortice di distorsioni.
Jason Bill registra Via St Louis (Drunken Fish, 1998) insieme
a Jack Rose dei Pelt.
L'album si apre con gli 11 minuti di feedback chitarristico di Revolution
Of The Stars e Sting Of The Yellow Jackets è sulla stessa
falsa riga, solo più rumorosa e veloce.
You Are Not Of My People
presenta degli archi suonati al limite, pizzicati e segati senza pietà.
E anche se King George County ruba la melodia di Wish You Were
Here dei Pink Floyd, i duetti tra sassofono e accordion dimostrano
il genio di Bill.
Jason Bill è attivo anche in un duo insieme a Caroline Vickers,
i Migrantes, di base a Tucson (Arizona), il cui Moon Journals (Eclipse,
2001) offre una soffice psichedelia, nella vena del David Crosby di If
I Could Only Remember.
Anche Christina Carter ha un suo progetto parallelo, e Scorces
(Wholly Sided, 2001), presenta sonorità più sperimentali.
I Charalambides tornano con Houston (Siltbreeze, 1999), di cui
e specialmente Midnight Chants cono meri livelli di rumori
L'album è stato seguito da un CDROM di 40 minuti in edizione
Yih (Carbon, 2001) e dall'album Songs From the Entopic
Garden Volume Two (Time-Lag, 2002), un tributo ai Popol Vuh. La band
torna ad essere il duo di partenza, foramto da Tom e Christina Carter.
Tom Carter suona anche nei Primordial
Being As Is (Crucial Blast, 2002) è un altro
CD-ROM in edizione limitata, e il sound sta scivolando verso una languida
forma di slo-core.
Unknown Spin (Kranky, 2003) è un esperimento d'avanguardai
improvvisato dal vivo insieme a Heather Leigh Murray (chitarrista che suona
Unknown Spin, una piece di 30 minuti, inizia con
una dei toni di chitarri disgiunti che si accumulano languidamente in un
universo informe. Lentamente, le wordless vocals delle due cantanti si
uniscono in una sinfonia spettrale. Scompaiono nello stesso modo in cui
compaiono, non lasciando traccia. Quel che resta (venti minuti) è
l'ipnotico contrasto in slow-motion tra l'aggrazziato tintinnio di una
chitarra e il drone dissonante dell'altra. Anche se quieta, mansueta e
non strutturata, la piece ha la sua forza emotiva che nasce da un flusso
di coscienza. Sfortunatamente, le tracce più brevi sembrano ripetere
la stessa idea. Le voci hanno più magia in Skin of Rivers
e i chitarristi danno maggior suspence in Magnolia, ma, fondamentalmente,
l'album ha già "tessuto" tutto nell'eponimo monolite.
Tom Carter's first solo album, Monument (Wholly Other, 2001 - Kranky, 2004), was an experiment in sound sculpting at very low volume. The first track
cannot be heard (basically). The second track (99% of the album) uses the
ghostly sounds of a lap-steel guitar (and other hisses and reverbs) to
pen an eerie soundscape that reveals itself only every so often.
Imagine the equivalent of Klaus Schulze's
Irrlicht for the microscopic, not cosmic, level.
The subliminal, barely audible, slow-motion variations, long echoes and
frail fluctuations stem from a quiet psychic catastrophe, a reconnaissance of
Carter ranks with Scott Tuma
among the new visionaries of ambient guitar.
Carter's second solo, For Four Cs (Wholly Other, 2003) contains the 20-minute Nomini, a less successful experiment in this art of almost non-existent sounds.
4/23/03 (Three Lobed, 2004) documents an improvised session of Tom Carter with Bardo Pond.
Carter also collaborated with Inca Ore on Rainbow Trout (2005).
Christina Carter's Living Contact (Wholly Other, 2001 - Kranky, 2004) collects solo acoustic guitar experiments from 1994-98.
Her style is not acrobatic or revolutionary, but
intimately domestic. Where John Fahey used to travel
"fare forward", Carter prefers delicate melodic
passages that can evoke rural landscapes
(Silhouette) as well as nursey rhymes (Dream
Mother), that border on the dissonant (Body
Energy Exchange) as well as on the abstract
(Major). The track that could compete with John
Fahey's metaphysical meditations is the 14-minute
Alone Not Alone, but her style is infinitely
humbler and she also sings (in a whispered tone that
is practically identical to her guitar picking).
We've (Digitalis Industries, 2005) documents a (rather uninspired)
live session between Christina Carter and Andrew "Gown" MacGregor,
a collaboration that was repeated on
Crystal Thicket (Free Porcupine Society, 2006),
credited to The Bastard Wing, a better choreographed jam of
drifting, ghostly, blurred acid-folk.
Meditations On The Ascension of Blind Joe Death (Ecstatic, 2005) is a collaboration between Christina Carter (on piano!) and Loren Connors and is dedicated to John Fahey.
Snake-Tongued Swallow-Tailed (Nexsound, 2005) is a split album between
Tom Carter and the Ukrainian band Moglass. Tom Carter and
Vanessa Arn of Primordial Undermind
patiently weave two lengthy tracks of psychedelic acoustic guitar doodling.
Lunar Eclipse (Important, 2005) is a collaboration between
Tom Carter and Robert Horton.
Live Dead (2005) documents four live performances.
Now pared down to the duo of Christina and Tom Carter, Charalambides
penned a collection of six lengthy lullabies for voice and guitar,
A Vintage Burden (Kranky, 2006). As they adopted this humbler format,
they also focused on the pretty melancholia that was inherent in the monolithic
psychological explorations of Joy Shapes. It also greatly increased the
role of (pretty melancholy) melody.
The gentle, slow-motion eight-minute There Is No End is nothing but
a melodic fantasia for sustained vocals.
There are even hints of renaissance music in the way Cristina manipulates
the lilting melody of Spring, a makeshift madrigal,
echoes of pastoral folk in Dormant Love, despite a droning distortion
a` la Velvet Underground,
and blues foundations in the closing slo-core litany of Hope Against Hope.
Black Bed Blues is 17 minutes
of intense but fragile guitar counterpoint, of increasing
complexity and tempo,
beginning in quiet folkish strumming and ending in Robert Fripp's jazz-rock
This lengthy track plays the role of an instrumental overture for the 13-minute ecstatic
vocal crescendo of Two Birds, a hymn-like meditations that evokes the Eastern-inspired folk-rock of the hippie age (e.g., It's A Beautiful Day), replete with a raga-like guitar interlude.
While not as imposing as Market Square or Joy Shapes, the subtle
qualities of A Vintage Burden make it no less original.
Following the tentative Lace Heart (2005 - Root Strata, 2009),
Christina Carter's solo-guitar album Electrice (Kranky, 2006)
a concept of sorts (all four lengthy pieces are in the same key and use
the same guitar tuning), straddled the border between
David Crosby's solemn psychedelic liturgy,
John Fahey's progressive folk music,
and the minimalist avantgarde.
However, Carter adds a fragile, intimate, introspective element that is
only her own.
Second Death (10:36) is born as a cosmic raga with Carter delivering
a gentler version of Diamanda Galas' epic hypnosis, but dies as a mechanical process of piecemeal detuning and fading of the guitar.
Moving Intercepted (8:26) weaves a touching guitar melody and then
proceeds methodically to turn it into a repetitive pattern to support her
sweetly operatic wail.
Echoes of Popol Vuh's Hosianna Mantra
surface in the delicate litany of Yellow Pine (8:47), that floats for
eight minutes in a parallel universe, splitting into countless mirror images.
That simple but smooth, polite, quasi-yodeling tone of her voice carries over
into Words Are Not My Own (12:29), descending into a tender whisper.
It then remains trapped in a limbo, half lullaby and half ghost's lament,
accompanied by sparse languid guitar notes in a manner that actually
emphasizes the vast surrounding sea of silence.
The whole album can be viewed as a progression towards a higher metaphysical
dimension, A sense of paradisiac loneliness that is both a metaphor for the
human condition and a vision of the afterlife.
Tom Carter's Glyph (Digitalis, 2006)
contains three lengthy guitar meditations, notably Glyph 2.
Tom Carter on lapsteel guitar and Vanessa Arn of
Primordial Undermind on electronics
recorded the live improvisations of What Is Here For (2007).
Charalambides' Electricity Ghost (Wholly Other, 2007) collects five improvisations mainly for guitars that sound like leftovers from previous sessions.
Way too prolific, the band further embarrassed themselves with
Likeness (Kranky, 2007). The music is just too sloppy and amateurish.
Clearly the band does not spend enough time designing and editing their output.
The 13-minute Memory Takes Hold could be worthy of their past catalog,
but it stutters and repeats itself to the point that one wishes it were
half that long.
Tom Carter's Skyline Grinder (2008) is a 36-minute solo meditation,
a colossal "om" for fat and distorted guitar drones that turns into
a series of whining sounds mimicking a praying monk.
Tom Carter's From the Great American Songbook (2008) was a collaboration
with Christian Kiefer.
Badgerlore was the supergroup of Tom Carter of Charalambides, Ben Chasney of Six Organs Of Admittance, Pete Swanson of the Yellow Swans and Rob Fisk of Seven Year Rabbit Cycle that recorded Stories For Owls (Free Porcupine Society, 2005). Glen Donaldson of Blithe Sons and Liz Harris of Grouper joined the merry men for We Are All Hopeful Farmers, We Are All Scared Rabbits (Xeric, 2007).
Mudsuckers (Important, 2006) documents a collaboration among
Tom Carter, Robert Horton, and two members of the Yellow Swans.
Carter's Bridge Music (2006) contains two lengthy solo improvisations: All the Lightning Waves (14:56) and Sea Swallows Sun (17:59).
Carter's next solo, Whispers Toward Infinity (2007), contains three lengthy improvisations for guitar or lap steel: Colors for N (18:24), Ursa Prime (18:27) and At the Gates (15:50).
Eleven Twenty-Nine (2011) documents a collaboration between Carter and steel guitarist Marc Orleans.
Carter's cassette All Ahead Now (Root Strata, 2011), contains a distorted 15-minute raga, Naked Stoned and Stabbed, and another 15-minute composition, Go to the Mirror Boy.
Charalambides' Exile (Kranky, 2011) was actually recorded between 2006 and 2010 but released on their 20th birthday.
GIven the guitars' unfocused doodling, the main attraction of the songs is
Christina Carter's voice, especially in
the hypnotic 14-minute Pity Pity Me.
Christina Carter recorded two wildly different albums in 2008.
Original Darkness (Kranky, 2008) was in line with her previous output,
an eccentric lo-fi affair.
Texas Blues Working (2008 - Blackest Rainbow, 2011), instead, was
a collection of much better arranged and focused songs
(The Outer Planet, Bird's Nest).
The 21-minute Lady Friend, on the other hand, still belongs to her
original style, skeletal sonatas for voice and guitar only; but it is rather
mediocre and repetitive, probably a leftover that did not deserve to be
Charalambides' Tom Carter and Yellow Swans' Pete Swanson formed
Sarin Smoke, that released Smokscreen (Three Lobed, 2007).
It Chars Our Lips Yet Still We Drink (Wholly Other, 2007) and
Vent (Mie, 2012).
Highs In The Low Twenties (Blackest Rainbow, 2013) documents solo guitar performances of 2008.
Tom Carter and No Neck Blues Band's Pat Murano (aka Decimus)
collaborated on Tom Carter/Pat Murano, featuring the 21-minute
Avalokitesvara and the 20-minute Guanshiyin Pusa,
and on Four Infernal Rivers (MIE, 2014), that contains four 20-minute
improvisations, notably Phlegethon. These lazy and repetitive jams
are clearly not meant as punch lines but as intellectual wallpaper, background
music for transcendental meditation or simply for reappreciate the power of
Tom Carter's "New York trilogy" consists of three solo albums, each one containing two lengthy improvisations.
The first installment,
The Dance From Which All Dances Come (2009), contains
the two 20-minute pieces:
Siva-Sakti, which rises from ultra-minimal to ultra-distorted, and
the densely, whirling, polychromatic Hari-Hara, one of his career's peaks.
The second installment,
Long Time Underground (2015), contains the romantic,
nostalgic, evocative August Is All (21:51), with some of his most
and then occasional captivating ideas like
the raga-like beginning of Prussian Book Of The Dead (13:36),
the first five minutes of Into The Out Of (13:15),
the demonic distorted second half of Beauty Draws The Seed (12:14),
but too little to justify such a long album.
Numinal Entry (2014), the third part of the trilogy, contains
the 17-minute In Us, a slowly unfolding avalance of distortion,
the 18-minute Numinous, a humble celestial impressionistic piece that actually weaves intricate shivering patterns.
The lengthy solo was Carter's favorite format, although rarely thought out carefully:
the two pieces of Fields (2019), i.e.
Centrale (9:03) and
Blues for Lilah (19:47);
the 27-minute lengthy piece of the EP Shots From a Room (2020);
the two pieces of A Self Regarded Behind Eyelids (2020), i.e.
Metalogical Induction (10:57) and
Invisible Premise (12:34);
the two of Age of the Exit (2020), i.e.
Almost August (16:30) and
Slick Drifting (21:56);
etc (not counting the live recordings).
Carter was involved in countless collaborations:
Kawnyarna (2015) with Pat Murano ,
Tom Carter & Loren Connors (2016) with Loren Mazzacane Connors,
Lonesome Bootleg (2017) with multi-instrumentalist Robert Horton (recorded between 2007 and 2014),
Looming Vanishing (2019) with Barry Weisblat on electronics, Michael Evans on percussion, Sonia Flores on upright bass and Sarah Ruth on harmonium,
Sliders (2019) with fellow guitarist Ryley Walker,
Tau Ceti (2020) with Haker Flaten,
Ajax Peak (2020) with Susan Alcorn,
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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