fraufraulein, Solum,
(CS/digi, Notice Recordings 2021)

Our new tape Solum is now available from Notice Recordings.

On their first release since 2017, the duo of Anne Guthrie and Billy Gomberg craft a world inhabited by both the familiar and foreign. Guthrie’s intimate vocals float like smoke over mysterious piano phrases; elements vacillating in and out of a sense of awareness. Bass and French horn, the duo’s main instruments, are inquisitive and gentle, often present as a whisper, a quiet wind, an exhale. Sounds exist as distant vertical pillars, soon shifting into three-dimensional shapes, spinning autonomously. In this album there are meticulously placed auxiliary sounds, including textural field recordings and object play. They complicate and enrich the rigorously sparse instrumental notes, resulting in pieces that, in a vividly engaging way, are less domestic than they are the music of dream-like errands, or an inverted walk through a residential neighborhood.

What became Solum is built from a handful of improvisations collaged with recordings made separately. Necessity somewhat determined creativity, and the work responds to and articulates the rather heightened domesticity of 2020. We still have to wait until 830-9p for the exhaust fan from the restaurant below us to shut off for the night if we want to do any acoustic recording, or accept (amplify) the way it vibrates our apartment. Our studio is really just our lives as they can be lived. As in most things, we have to trust that the other’s direction is a good heading. 

Materially, the instrumentation is somewhat more broad than the above would imply. I think our mix of electronics, recordings, horn & bass are still there but not as consistent a thread throughout, more dispersed in their roles. The range of electronics is certainly more varied and much less glossy than I think either of us have really applied before. We both brought homemade or found materials more than we have previously.

Anne Guthrie and Billy Gomberg 2021

Abnormal Distributions:
Writing in The Wire Jan 2021 Issue.

Following from ongoing online discussions (mostly on Twitter -> @billygomberg), I was asked to write on how digital platforms for music, and also those adapted for music, have shaped our experience of 2020. The writing continues my critical perspective on Bandcamp as part of a monolithic social media system, and grows from thoughts I began articulating in the notes for Scaffolding, what seems like whole eras ago, earlier in 2020. The entire text of the article is included below the embedded image, and you may download a PDF as well. Thank you to Derek Walmsley and The Wire for reaching out to me about this topic.

I encourage reading of this article (in German), as it provides additional perspective on Bandcamp and the “ecosystem” I am writing about. (click here for English translation)

As I wrote in the notes paired with Scaffolding:

I want to emphasize the relationship, the exchange between myself and a listener, our perceptions and expressions, our understanding. I want to remove the mediated space of the website, the algorithm, one’s retail trail and the immensity of machines keeping our purchases online, the bloodless code handling ourselves as metrics. The mirror of prestige in the working of capital.

This is…a porous perspective. This is what I was inspired to do. I wanted to take a step to engage the reception of my music differently, and taking that step is all I can do.

Abnormal Distributions

San Francisco musician Billy Gomberg wonders how real communities can flourish on online platforms filling the vacuum left by live performances

We fell into our screens. There was nowhere else to go.

Fortunately, independent musicians, labels and organisations have earned a reputation for being creative and resourceful, and are deploying tools that this mirror makes relatively easy to summon. The myriad disconnects thrown at us in the calendar year of 2020 are fought against by all available means.

Now, live performance of independent music persists, by turning online platforms into venues. Twitch – “the world’s leading live-streaming platform for gamers” – has revealed itself as a new place for broadcasting live performances from musicians in different geographies, on the same concert, including real-time collaboration across continents. Views into our gardens, apartments, bedrooms – unglamorous glimpses of musicians’ domestic lives, now repurposed as their stage – are sometimes populated by lazy or curious pets and irrepressible children. Available light frames performances in awkward webcam angles, splashed in browser windows against other performers’ feeds, with occasional creative digital backgrounds and overlays. The chatter of the audience is replaced by a chat window, real-time commentary on the music ticking by, the relative anonymity of account handles and emoji replies one of many ways we slip away from the past.

Bandcamp, remarkable for being a platform serving digital music that actually pays artists, has absorbed countless independent musicians into its eminently usable interface, with the promise of near immediate payment when a customer makes a purchase, all for clicking “I agree” with their straightforward fee structure. Soon, at the end of March, came the promise of the first Bandcamp fee waiving day. The service relinquishing its usual cut from record sales was welcomed as a way to encourage listeners to support musicians who have lost paying gigs, if not also other sources of income they had left stranded out in the world. PayPal, the monolithic global payment processor, has not waived their transaction fees, to say nothing of the privilege of access to these services an artist needs in order to participate.

As Bandcamp Day came around again at the end of April, and then in May, independent digital music flocked to the plaform. A day of benevolence turned out to be good business: releases are increasingly yoked to the first Friday of the month to line up with the waiving of fees, creating a wave of nearly identical promotional emails from artists and labels accounts.

Casting Bandcamp as the Good Guy for independent music is easy when there is little competition – streaming outlet Spotify continues to be awful for independent musicians. However, that Bandcamp has become a nearly untouchable bastion of independent music on the basis of musicians getting paid puts into sharp relief the broader, structural problems, namely that many musicians simply do not get compensated at all for their music, much less get enough (Bandcamp advertises its total payouts, but naturally does not break that figure down for each artist it has a business relationship with). It is little surprise that independent musicians and labels, given a single, easy portal to take direct control over selling their music, flock to it. I hope rents are made and bills are paid, and the many charities supported through sales this year benefited.

But with an endless procession of Bandcamp Days has come an inevitable flattening: how is this Bandcamp Day different from any other? The implied demand that a musician or label adhere to a monthly schedule is encouraging a set of release dates and promotional strategies around music. This new system produces casual formalisms across genres, music that needs to pop up from the hashtags with an aesthetic shorthand to fit a listener or, more accurately, a consumer’s expectations, and get them to “Add To Cart” before the next open browser tab beckons. An artist or label has to maximise engagement with their followers, with a social media hype ecosystem stuffed full by the lack of other retail options, the usual urgency of anticipation compounded and multiplied, breathless every day.

A lot of the language around online engagement, particularly through social platforms, suggests we are in a community, and that we are in distant touch with each other through our Likes, Shares and Purchases. We are also in relationships with these platforms, these mirrors. We perform our lifestyles in various ways – announcing creative intentions or accomplishments, displaying our retail acquisitions and letting those whose materials we have purchased know we are here. Here’s my records, here’s my gear, here’s the corner where it all goes. These are new uniforms: download codes and album art tiles, flat layouts of merch received or creative materials at the ready. This is how we present everything we can, to be seen, to be met, even if no one is here with us but the code turning our reflections into further reflections. The sly glint of keywords and tagged accounts are our new beacons, signalling our ongoing survivals.

Writing in November, Twitch has now issued its first Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown warnings to users, as musicians and labels try to monetise the music played in video streams and performance. Bandcamp has now also launched a platform for ticketed live streams. This is not slowing down. These systems, these placeless venues, they aren’t ‘bad’ – they’ve been made to work in both typical and novel ways. Artists, labels and merchandise, all still exist, increasingly, as part of the presence of a monopoly. We are all there, yet absent from each other.

We have the means to promote and distribute digital music without relying on big business – peer to peer, BitTorrent and private hosting are all options. They are not as readymade, and don’t dangle the carrot of cash, but they work. Microforums assembled ad hoc on Slack and Discord (the latter another service for gamers finding great utility for artists) are growing communities for independent music and digital art, a delocalised hyperlocality of sorts. Paths and places are there – we have to be committed to looking for them. And making them.

fraufraulein ties two Facts together (digital, Erstwhile/amplify 2020, 2020)

Invited by Jon Abbey of Erstwhile Records to participate in his Amplify:Quarantine online festival of releases, Anne & I present two briefs pieces in ties two Facts together.

a note from Jon:

“4/14/20, 53rd piece/s.

for obvious reasons, almost every piece so far has been solo, with the only exception the stellar long distance English blind overdub duo, check that one out if you missed it.

so here we have the first live duo entry, from fraufraulein, the longtime couple of Billy Gomberg and Anne Guthrie. both are well established on their own, but their duo is in its own area, comfortable yet challenging, relaxing yet unpredictable, always a pleasure to see/hear perform or to listen to their recordings. this is their first released work as a duo since moving from Brooklyn to SF in 2018, and I can’t wait to dive in.

very happy to present “ties two Facts together”, two pieces recorded on March 31 and April 7.”

and a note from us:

“words: waiting for the restaurant downstairs to close (takeout only means they now shut down the exhaust fan at 9pm instead of 10pm), yet also staying quiet ourselves so as not to wake the kid, leading to small and simple sounds. clearer moments from a few nights this week”

Recent mentions in Dusted!

My recent tape Beginners and digital collection of live recordings both get some words out of Bill Meyer at Dusted:

Billy Gomberg is no beginner. He’s been releasing music of his own and with Fraufraulein, a duo with Anne Guthrie, for nearly a decade. And the sound sources he uses on this tape are familiar ones — electric bass, urban field recordings, synthesizer and hand-manipulated objects. Even so, it feels like something new is happening here. Gomberg’s music has often seemed to stretch away from the listener, luring you to follow it through virtual expanses of space and time. Now it seems closer at hand, the sounds like sunning fish just under a pond’s surface. They’re simultaneously more recognizable and more processed that what he’s played in the past, creating a discreet reality that never quite loses its mystery no matter how often you play it.  (link)

In his summary of his Voting Rights Day shopping on Bandcamp, Bill found my bundle of live sets to defy his “not quite a physical object” rule:

Well, there go the rules. This DL-only compilation of concert performances by one of my favorite ambient recording artists of recent years shows that the carefully wrought, ultra-deep atmosphere of his recent cassettes is no fluke. (link)


We Need No Swords on Beginners

We Need No Swords comes back with a take on Beginners:

‘Beginners’, from San Francisco’s Billy Gomberg, is prime Dinzu. An artist who draws from different experimental and underground musicking practices – ambient drift, electroacoustic composition, improvisation, and so on – Gomberg has amassed a pretty decent-sized discography over the past few years, with releases on Another Timbre, Strange Rules, Marginal Frequency and others (the muted clonks of 2016’s ‘Slight At That Contact’ are a favourite round these parts). This is Gomberg’s second outing for Dinzu Artefacts, following on from last year’s ‘Transition’, and it amps up the fusty, fuzzy eerieness this time around to produce a creeped-out soundscape that’s up there with Jandek’s ‘Ready For The House’ in terms of skin-prickling spookiness. Here, muffled clunks and bangs merge with queasy, sustained tones, with ambient hum and tape hiss providing an uncomfortable translucent sheen. Everything sounds disconcertingly out of phase, as if bleeding through from a parallel dimension, the everyday life of ghosts captured accidentally by a hapless field recorder. EVP via the Tascam DR-40. Sonic ectoplasm in the Zoom. Most eye-popping of all is ‘Seeing The Sequel First’, where a plangent chorus of clangs plays out against a backdrop of subdued growls and murmurs, like some wraith gamelan playing lullabies for the beasts of the abyss.