Organ Grinder writer’s roundtable on Solum

A delightfully lucid and poetic collection of reviews of Solum from Organ Grinder’s group of writers, “….it lays suspended in tense liminality between the stratosphere and the dark underground…”

complete text below:


Fraufraulein, Solum (Notice Recordings, 2021)

From Bandcamp: “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.”

Purchase Solum on Bandcamp.


Maxie Younger: I’ve been having a hard time looking at any kind of screen lately—I’m tired of waking up and scrolling on my phone for 20 minutes before I stumble out of bed, tired of turning on my laptop after breakfast to start the workday. I’m bothered by the matte-ness of it all, the bright surfaces that draw in light like localized black holes; when the tools power down, I don’t gaze at myself, but at darkness. Solum has been accompanying me through most of this disillusionment, and its wispy blend of field recordings, piano, esoteric vocal phrases, and deep stings of patchwork electronics is a perfect companion to unreality. In Solum’s universe, time stretches, lingers, snaps closed at the drop of a hat: tracks bump up against one another and fade outward like pond ripples, a waking dream in shades of grey, smoke-like, transient. It all stirs to life rather delicately, with Anne Guthrie’s voice meandering over swirling, murky waters of soft piano and blown-out sample collages, before cracking its shell from the inside out in “Untitled 3”: the air begins to rattle with thunderous bass tones that pull menacingly at your coattails, daring you to look down. This speaks to the fundamental power of Solum—it lays suspended in tense liminality between the stratosphere and the dark underground: to listen is to hover inches from the abyss. It’s a captivating package, and every time I experience it, I’m gladdened, inspired, and pulled out of my funk a little bit. I’m reminded that, any time I wish, I can close my eyes and look away from the world; and maybe, too, I can dream.

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Audrey Lockie: “It started with rain / A simple mistake.” These lines, delivered in a wry, deadpan quasi-melody by Anne Guthrie on the second untitled track off Solum, point to the core ethos of her new album with Billy Gomberg as Fraufraulein. Every sound is at once passively incidental and monumental past its own appearance; both a coincidental combination of frequencies and a pack mule for the weight of context. The duo’s mélange of electroacoustic sounds, field recordings and art-song fragments negate the grounding effects any source materials might provide, relishing in the sonic illusions and misdirections inherent in a catch-all, never-stop-tinkering approach to music-making.

In many moments, as during the middle section of “Untitled 2,” this blend melts into a mangled construction like a haywire game of exquisite corpse. Atop burbling, rustling and scraping sounds, Guthrie intones a series of electronically treated, microtonal French horn passages that resemble the ghostly echoes of hunting calls. The conflict—between the horn’s languor and the fervor of the underlying clatter, between canned and organic sounds—paints a lopsided portrait that Fraufraulein sketch again through the mix of dull bell tones and noise bursts on “Untitled 3” and through the indistinguishable clatter of “Untitled 5.”

At either end of Solum lie whispered fragments of songs driven by piano and Guthrie’s plaiting, haunting voice. The duet’s firm tonalities offer the most jarring of the album’s willful juxtapositions: “Untitled 1” opens with a torrent of volatility and distortion, a frame-filling blur antithetical to the sparsity of Guthrie’s tune. When her voice returns in the closing track, the bed of sounds—here, blunted metals and lingering pops of noise—seems to bend and ebb underneath her intonations with natural grace. If the sonic sculptures still evade conventional shapes, at least now they possess a semblance of muscle memory, the comfort of familiarity in these still-strange forms.

Kevin McKinney: A few years ago, I lived in a basement apartment with a roommate who refrigerated mutton stew in lidless containers and played a weekly covers gig at an Irish pub; he therefore spent hours in our living room practicing Steve Miller Band and Van Morrison songs, singing ever more drunkenly without even sharing his Jameson. In that apartment, my bedroom was right next to the furnace, which roared and squeaked and clattered whenever it ran. Needless to say, I didn’t own noise-cancelling headphones, so my listening habits changed drastically over the few months I lived there. No “normal” song made sense—any words or melodies were sure to be drowned out or interrupted—so instead I was listening to harsh noise, Alan Licht’s “Minimal Top Ten / The Next Ten / Minimalism Top Ten III,” and the more extreme strains of free improvisation. Maybe you’ll think this is nonsense, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt closer with the music I was listening to than I did then. The songs I loved felt like physical forms, like actual barriers I could hide behind when not much in my home felt under my control.

In their artists’ statement, Anne Guthrie and Billy Gomberg mention the way the noise of a nearby restaurant’s exhaust fan impacted Solum’s recording. Its noise forced the duo either to wait until nighttime to make music, or to record while it was running, reckoning in improvisation with the way it affects their space. Maybe it’s because this kind of sense memory has such personal significance for me, but I find one key to Solum in the fifth untitled track, where what I assume must be the exhaust fan is most audible. Here, we hear quiet percussion, scraping, tapping, occasional bursts of electronic interference, Guthrie’s breath through her horn—all alongside the fan’s constant thrum. To me, this track encapsulates Solum’s big question: are Fraufraulein playing with the noise or against it?

Each time I listen to this album, I hear a different shade. I don’t think there’s a way to neatly describe how I feel about Solum except to say that I really like it and that it leaves me feeling unsatisfied and that I think this lack of satisfaction is important to my liking it. There’s a tension that draws me here again and again, a push and pull between comfort and frustration, discord and harmony—between a recording of wind and the microphone’s clipping.

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Jinhyung Kim: I haven’t been sleeping too well these days. I usually take a “fake” nap right before (or after) dinner, where I just lie half-awake on my bed for an hour or so—I’m unable to fall asleep but too tired to do much else. In Solum, I hear a soundtrack for the groggy haze I experience during that hour: Anne Guthrie’s voice and horn playing drift ethereally above undulating waves of resonant white noise and restrained found-object splutter; whistling sines and creaking analog signals linger in the fog, drifting in and out of view, while Feldman-esque piano dissonance or Billy Gomberg’s muted bass guitar occasionally anchors the music in a more palpable eeriness. The audio tends to clip, blurring the contours of articulations and producing muffled distortion similar to the sound a microphone picks up in blowing wind. It’s all soothing in a way that isn’t explicitly comforting; Solum is a sonification of the barren yet teeming uncertainty through which I amble in my half-sleep, rather than a palliative for it.


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.