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Donkey - "Big Sur"

Donkey is the duo of Hans Fjellestad on analog & digital synthesizers, sampler and electronics, and Damon Holzborn on guitar, sampler and electronics. Big Sur is the follow-up to their Show album from 2000 (see AI #16) and consists of one studio track plus two tracks recorded at the Big Sur Experimental Music Festival. In general the music is similar to Show, except there are no guests that gave fleshed out the sound on some of the music on Show. Big Sur is more purely focused on the sound art and tripped out electronics that are the focal point of the project.

"Wood" and "Fog" are the live tracks, totalling just over 30 minutes. "Wood" opens with an an electro duel that covers a range of patterns and sounds. The mood is somewhat whimsical at the beginning but quickly shifts into high intensity freakout mode. Fjellestad and Holzborn excel at combining sound and tonal exploration with continually evolving patterns to create a sound art bonanza that also happens to be a hell of a fun cosmic trip into the wildest and most turbulent regions of space. I particularly loved the moments of pure spaced out chaos that brought to mind a blend of Sun Ra's Concert for Comet Kahoutek and Hawkwind's Space Ritual. It's wild and frenzied but the listener is still able to tune into the details among the primordial sound soup. "Fog" is much more sedate but no less interesting. It begins with Holzborn cranking out killer free-improv runs on guitar while Fjellestad creates an ambient and very alien backdrop. But the guitar soon drops off and the remainder of track features quietly drifting ambient waves that close the album.

The studio track that opens the album is the 30 minute "Crick", an improvised performance that the duo consider to be a re-imaging of their experiences at Big Sur. Field recordings made in the woods combine the sounds of streams, insects and various other natural sounds with the trademark Donkey electronic constructions, as well as dense walls of static, noise and drones. And throughout it's half hour length, the piece is continually morphing and building upon the artists' ideas, conjuring up all manner of both tangible and surreal imagery. These guys cover a LOT of territory, leaving the field wild open for exploration and discovery, while remaining impressively cohesive and controlled. Sound art and space exploration fans who want something that reveals new treasures with subsequent listens will find Big Sur to be delightfully challenging.

     - Jerry Kranitz, Aural Innovations

Donkey is the duo of Hans Fjellestad (synths, electronics) and Damon Holzborn (guitar, electronics), an electroacoustic improvising team whom I'm very surprised aren't garnering more attention for their efforts given their association with the San Diego-based Trummerflora collective. The first two pieces on Big Sur are long, over 20 minutes, and the results are an expansive, never-ending battle of fantastic sounds with references ranging from Morton Subotnick and AMM to '80s harsh noise artists - sometimes, it's hard to believe so much substantial din is emanating from only two people. On "Crick", it seems that some of the sources are obtained from the rushing water of a creek (hence, the title) yet that's quickly overwhelmed by the dense, roiling chaos that oozes in all directions, blurping and processing as it goes.

This duo pulls out all the stops in squeezing the most intriguing sounds out of their limited gadgetry, from buzzing, random space-synth tones ('70s Tangerine Dream arpeggiations cascade in a couple instances) to string-bending guitar manipulations to barrages of effect-laden power electronics. The closest analog I could think of is the work of Seattle experimental guitarist Bill Horist.

     - Manny Theiner, Grooves

Fjellestad and Holzborn create a dense, festering tropical sound texture... a compound sonic miasma of slushing water, skittering toots, crooning and mooing. It's a decidedly queasy and groaning soundworld, like a journey through a mud pool, at times reminiscent of the bubbling inventive density of Matmos and the psychotic drawl emerging from the bottom of a Frank Zappa cheeseburger.

     - Matt Ffytche, The Wire

Sunny California's Accretions label has released a partial live recording from the 2001 Big Sur Experimental Music Festival. Donkey (Hans Fjellestad, Damon Holzborn) tinker and toil with guitar and synthesized electronics in the development of eccentric arrangements that experiment with the infinite edges of their medium. On the studio recorded 'Crick' we are voyeurs to contained chaos in tinny languages and blurry subtexts. In moments a U2 bomber's surveillance of the depths and then suddenly dwelling on quieter flights into spacious caverns. With the anthropomorphic equivalents to a certain synesthasia this is a wild ride into forbidden cracks and crevices - an exploration in the weight of high pitched, deformed tones. At over one hour this is a participatory listen that might just keep you up all night.

     - TJ Norris, SOUNDVISION (Portland)

Vous atterrissez sur une planète inconnue, vous vous voyez offrir une visite guidée par deux autochtones, apparemment les deux seuls habitants de cette contrée faite de forêts et de marécages. Vous voilà embarquez dans une aventure extra-terrestre qui vous laissera des souvenirs impérissables.

Les deux guides, DONKEY, sont Hans Fjellestad et Damon Holzborn géniteurs d’espaces électroniques tordus, soucieux de laisser exploser d’eux des sons enfouis et de décrire sans pudeur les remous de leurs mondes intérieurs.

Avec des sons enregistrés en pleine nature (oiseaux, pas, eau qui coule) des samples de bruits peu identifiables , une guitare acoustique, des synthés, … le duo parvient à fasciner. Malgré un goût très prononcé pour l’expérimentation et l’improvisation, Fjellstad et Holzborn font de Big Sur un disque qu’on ne fait pas qu’écouter. On le réécoute, le ré-réécoute, et on découvre toujours avec le même étonnement des espaces sonores chaleureux et inattendus.

En mêlant admirablement une musique complexe à un univers visuel et captivant, DONKEY réussit là ou peu nous émeuvent, nous attirant tout en douceur vers un rêve éveillé

     - Quentin Dève, Soit dit en Passant (Toulouse)

Wenn Merzbow der Avantgardist ist, sind Donkey die Melodiker. So einfach ist es zwar nicht. Aber die Richtung stimmt. Donkey sind Hans Fjellestad (analog & digital synth, sampler, electronics) und Damon Holzborn (g, sampler, electronics), die in den 3 Stücken ihres Albums "Big Sur" eine tonale Bilderflut entfesseln, die spannender und entspannender nicht sein könnte. Vor allem das reichhaltige "Crick", eine verblüffende Tour ins Unterholz, durch Wasser, an allen Tiergeräuschen vorbei, Stimmen, Wind und Wellen analysierend; immer wieder neu, schräg und avantgardistisch, gleichfalls jedoch in seiner epischen Vielfalt ambient und harmonisch, beeindruckt ungemein. Da blubbert, quietscht und schrillt es, während der Syntheziser eine tonale Figur entwirft, die die Berührung der Mücke an der Glasscheibe imitiert. Die Mücke knallt immer wieder gegen das Glas und kann doch nicht hindurch. Die "Melodie", die "Musik" des Stückes ist steten Veränderungen unterworfen. Leise, harmonische Töne gebären harschen Lärm, lautstarke Tonfluten bersten in verhallender Leere. Knitterlaute streiten mit Vogelstimmen. Es ist, als hörte man das Gras wachsen. Wie sich der Grashalm Stück für Stück aus der Erde quält, die ganze Welt ringsum in ihren Urlauten, vorbeiziehend, stehend, ersterbend. "Wood" und "Fog" entwerfen ganz andere Bilder, die Songs sind live eingespielt und haben längst nicht die tonale Fülle von "Crick". Nichtsdestotrotz beeindrucken sie mit der unwirklichen und scheinbar disharmonischen Harmonie. Man muss sich nicht weit hinauslehnen, um diese "Musik" zu lieben, in der heutigen ambientverliebten Welt ist "Big Sur" längst nicht die avantgardistischste Variante musikalischer Möglichkeiten. Der Lärm auf dem Wege zur Stille.

     - Volkmar.Mantei, ragazzi

Of all the music which has come to MJ from the offices of ACCRETIONS, it was without doubt DONKEY's first album I have appreciated the most. I kind of assumed it was going to be a stand alone project, so was alive with anticipation when I received the unexpected second disc.

Initially I felt a certain disappointment when I heard this - I somehow expected a more complete sound - multiple layers of busy electronics creating strange new worlds. Instead this album seems to house little more than duets.

It's not until you hear it a number of times that the wide variety of ideas and sounds begin to make themselves known. And the pyrotechnic gymnastics of the performances make up for any possible imagined shortfalls.

I remember in the first review comparing them to THROBBING GRISTLE and saying how I wished I had grown up with that album in my collection. The more prominent comparison's I'd make to this album would be more RUNZELSTIRN & GURGELSTOCK, maybe the crazy indulgences of SCHNITZLER and THOMASIUS and maybe KARL GERBER and his various projects, although there's still elements of the TG sound here. Certainly the occasional belch of spoken word mixing with fast percussive sound scatterings bring those artists to mind.

Another comparison, more for the aggressive performance rather than the smorgasbord of sounds, would be with the JAPANESE school of Noise - this has all the elements of MERZBOW at his most acrobatic without delving into quite the same intensity of sonic destruction (although, to say the least, they have their moments, and may have found the missing link between Pure Noise and the comparatively sedate Traditional Industrial school).

If electronic music can be described as energetic, then this album certainly is, leaping between towers of abstraction, dragging note clusters over cruelly sharp rough terrain, they mess around in the margins of an ever-playful train of sonic events. Not one corridor of possible sound combinations is left unexplored. In the way that people believe that an infinite universe may house an infinite possible lifeforms, so DONKEY explore all avenues.

Deliberately or not, we are led past THE CLANGERS, DR. WHO and the puerile pleasures of a simple fart. And onward, through some angry inner soul scream, perhaps of someone finally tipped over the edge, maybe by the creature that roars some short distance away.

And on to newly furrowed ground, fertile and possibly being sown for the first time. And whatever might grow from such seeds is way beyond the human imagination.

There's a much deeper, more ambient passage right at the end of the final track. Reminds me of "Dreamt About Dreaming" - deep, moody, but busily gathering the forces of darkness.

To conclude I'm glad to report that this is another triumph for this duo. My initial misgivings found no foundation - this is a great album.

     - Metamorphic Journeyman

A studio track - 'Crick' - fills the first half of Big Sur, and it underscores the synth/electronic credentials of the duo of Hans Fjellestad and Damon Holzborn on their second Accretions outing (see 2001_03). It is a shifting piece of electronica - from a swirly deep underwater sampled swirl, fluttering and organic opening into distorted speech and boobling squeak; tuned percussion and little notes; sonary beeps and long waves, with more crackling voice-like sounds; bangy wavering guitar and percussive excitement; wild washy synths, fast and choppy; woobly squiggles, distorted guitar, buzzy, swirly, squiggly fast into an ending that echoes the start. A protean piece, it has the feel of having been created from various modules tied together with a focus on the sounds created rather than a structure - there is not a real feeling of coherence, although the individual parts are interesting; and I would have liked a bit more variation in the sounds and tone for a studio piece.

The first live track is 'Wood' is an extended battle and interplay between the electronica/synths of the duo - one is higher more variable, the other works at a deeper level, and there is a nice flow from the active entrance through a quieter middle and into a big finale. The second live piece, 'Fog' is my favourite on the album - the first part is a twangy guitar improv with supporting synth, which shifts into a soft dense synth piece: very nice variation. Overall an enjoyable album, that suffers from a narrowness in its textures and sounds, and something of the lack of coherence that can come with improvs.

     - Jeremy Keens, Ampersand Etcetera

Das DONKEY-Duo aus Hans Fjellestad (analog & digital synthesizers/sampler/electronics) und Damon Holzborn (guitar/sampler/electronics) legt mit Big Sur (ALP028) seine bereits dritte CD vor nach "Lake" (CDR, 1996) und "Show" (ALP020, 2000), wobei es noch eine weitere gibt einfach als Fjellestad/Holzborn ("Neon Salon", CDR, 1997). Wie bereits das Cover andeutet, gehören sie zu den Eseln, die, wenn's ihnen zu wohl ist, in den Wald gehen. 'Crick' ist ein halbstündiger, rein elektronischer Soundscape, der die Henry-Miller-Landschaft Big Sur im Studio nachzeichnet, nicht etwa als ambiente Idylle, sondern als üppig wuchernden Noisedschungel. Musique concrète im Brobdingnag-Maßstab 1 : OH, MEIN GOTT, ES IST RIESIG!. Das Gras wächst mit Star-Wars-Volume. Die beiden anderen Landschaftsmalereien 'Wood' (23:14) und 'Fog' (8:17) entstanden live auf dem Big Sur Experimental Music Festival und sind von ähnlich eindrucksvollem Kaliber. Kein Wunder, dass dort drüben laufend der Wald brennt.

     - Rigo Dittmann, Bad Alchemy


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