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Donkey - "Stone"

He has returned as half of Donkey (with Damon Holzborn) on Stone, their third release from Accretions (ALP043). This explores their interest in various forms of electronics in a single live set recorded last November in New York. Bloopy scraping honking sirens of analogue synth constantly shifting in a crazy workshop of electrical goods gone wrong. Slower squelching sections flow into more burbling rhythms and then back to searching the radiowaves for crackles. Like many things in the broader world of 'music' it shouldn't work but the complex interweaving the their two soundtracks provides an unsettling noise ambience that is actually very rewarding and quite enjoyable.

     - Jeremy Keens, ampersand etc.

Donkey is a duo formed by Hans Fjellestad and Damon Holzborn, who started playing together in 1991 as a guitar/piano improvising unit then, as years went by, shifted their focus on the abstractions born from the use of analog machinery, processors and homemade hardware and software. After a five-year hiatus following the two Accretions CDs "Show" and "Big Sur", Donkey decided that the moment had come for another try, thus they secluded themselves in a Mexican ranch and came up with the basic materials for a freeform structure that was performed live at The Stone in Manhattan, in 2006. Fjellestad, a classically trained pianist, has traded synthetic amenities with a lot of like-minded artists, and Holzborn is "currently pursuing his doctoral degree in composition"; this is immediately evident when one listens to the five tracks (fused into a 50-minute aggregate) of "Stone" which, although maintaining the mightiness of a scintillating anarchy, is one of the most coherent improvisational efforts involving "irregular" synthesis and low-budget electronics. The music is abrasive, unpredictable, luminescent, alluringly repetitive, never insolent, always fascinating, a perfect cross of evocation and momentum which lets the listeners thoroughly enjoy every single moment of its life. We’re reminded of the pioneering experiments of Tod Dockstader, but also get thrown in a time capsule populated with freaky creatures whose skin bubbles and fumes. What starts like a fuzz-tone guitar becomes a syrupy magma, and there’s no trace of a "melody" if we look with a lantern. Harmonically gratifying buzzes stand up in the mix every once in a while, but should your dentist try something similar when you’re lying on his chair, expect big trouble. Great stuff, with no exceptions.

     - Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes

Donkey - STONE: Ha! Ha! From the sweet and lilting tones of the jazz ladies to the somewhat disturbing and odd sounds created by "noise structurists" Hans Fjellestad and Damon Holzborn is quite some leap. Ah, but I don't mind - not a bit, since many of my own creations are founded on the same kinds of madness... the difference, of course, is that these guys are much better at this art than I am. Would I recommend this to Bertha Baptist? Doubtful, as she'd have nothing positive to say. Would I recommend this to the (now defunct) Olympia Experimental Music Society? In a heartbeat, as I know Arrington would know how to digest this accumulation of layers. Their structures are more subtle than most... no onrush of walls of noise assaulting your senses... they have in mind to infiltrate your conscious, then gradually WHACK IT! It's been a while since I've listened to noise sculpture this good, & I give it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for any and all who like to explore new realms of sound experience. Get more information at

     - Rotcod Zzaj, Improvisation Nation

Live documents tend to work well with noise; they nurture the spontaneity, the improvisation, the need to force out some fresh abomination from the means of production, that marks out the best of the scene. They foreground the fact that noise is a ludic flinging of sound at the wall, and also, ultimately, a species of performance art. Stone captures Donkey performing at the East Village venue of the same name in late 2006. Hans Fjellestad's analogue synth and Damon Holzborn's short-circuited electronics corkscrew in and out of each other, with a playful agility. The competitive abrasiveness which characterises much noise is sidelined for a series of dialogues in which neither Fjellestad nor Holzborn are afraid to fall completely silent for a while. But most of the time the two are zigzagging into wild tangents, modulating tone and texture, attack and decay with a restless impatience.

     - Sam Davies, The Wire

Twisted improvised electronic ambience. LA's Hans Fjellestad and NYC's Damon Holzborn jammed this avant-garde glitchathon out on a Mexican ranch, then recorded it live at a club in Manhattan's East Village. How Bohemian? It is to-the-bone abstract artcore sound manipulation, full of crackles, screeches and pops, in five tracks but designed to be listened to as a whole. A specialist taste, but very impressive.

     - Joe Muggs, Mixmag

Fold your hands and listen: Attentively. Actively. Ambitiously.

Even contemporary artists often establish a clear border between sound art - which is essentially made up of noise and (occasionally) harmonic semblances - on the one hand and conventional music on the other - a territory marked by harmonic progressions, themes, motives, their development and scoreable compositions. "Stone" proves that Donkey, made up of respected solo artists Hans Fjellestad and Damon Holzborn, either do not recognise the vailidity of this division - or have decided to ignore its consequences, meeting at the border post for eccentric improvisations in a league of their own.

Even if you're listening to experimental releases on a daily basis, this CD does not make for easy consumption. The document of a live session in New York last Winter, it is both a test of the performers' telepathic abilities, as well as a statement of their conscious or unconscious proximity to other artistic genres they dabble in - film with regards to Fjellestad and dance for Holzborn.

The associations are never all that obvious despite the high metaphorical value of the sounds and even though one could right away imagine this as a great soundtrack for contemporary ballet. Instead, another discipline is much closer: Field recordings. Instead of capturing a street scene, a rural paradise, people talking, dogs barking or bees buzzing, however, it points the microphone at the future. On many occasions, the record creates the illusion of a imaginary musique concrete, of a UFO caught on tape, of flying saucers hovering up above and strange little creatures trying to immitate the Babel thing with their galactic voices.

The world usually labelled "music" only rears its head for a couple of seconds, when Fjellestad sends deep Moog waves into the canyon of bleeps and cuts or when an unidentifiable tune is fed through at least a thousand effect pedals. And yet, it is never completely absent. Donkey use the most wayward aural objects, but they use them in quite traditional ways. Their cosmos is full of melodies, positive and optimistic ones even, if you listen carefully. Fjellestad and Holzborn are playing their samplers, sequencers, stomp boxes, minidisc recorders and tape machines like regular instrumentalists would their violin, piano or accordeon, creating meticulous avantgarde sound battles in the process.

You do not drive your car to this music, You do not sing or swing to this music. You do not wash the dishes to it, nor do we advise to play it while giving water to your flowers. If there is any functional application we could think of related to it at all, then it might be flossing your teeth until your gums bleed. Other than that, you sit down, fold your hands and listen. Attentively. Actively. Ambitiously.

In the meditative mind, the two world of "sound" and "music" converge, leaving just an open space where the border used to be. It's a great moment, full of expectations and adrenalin. Don't let it pass you by.

     - Tobias Fischer, Tokafi

Hinter Donkey verbergen sich die beiden "Laptoper" Hans Fjellestad und Damon Holzborn. Seit 1991 arbeiten die beiden Musiker sporadisch zusammen, "Stone" ist die dritte Platte des Duos. Ausgehend aus der freien Improvisation, wo sie zu Beginn noch "echte" Instrumente wie Piano oder Gitarre benutzten - tatsächlich sind die beiden Laptop-Spieler "wirkliche" Musiker, die wirkliche Instrumente zu spielen in der Lage sind - sind sie nunmehr in die freie tonale Landschaft außerhalb jeder Norm gelangt. 5 Stücke sind auf der CD enthalten, die genau 50 Minuten lang ist. Das Duo nennt die harmonischen Strukturen "global sounds" und tritt damit live im Duo, solo oder in anderen Besetzungen auf.

Die beiden in diesem Feld geübten Avantgarde-Spezialisten geben keine Vergleiche zur "herkömmlichen" elektronischen Musik etwa von Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze oder anderer alter Vorbilder. Sie haben die Elektronik viel weiter entwickelt, haben Strukturen und Klänge gefunden, die nach Chemie klingen: das Brodeln einer Flüssigkeit im Reagenzglas, nach Physik: Laserstrahlen einer Amplitude während Labormessungen, nach Natur: stürmische Winde oder Geräusche aus zersplitterten Gebirgen, deren Natürlichkeit wie unwirklich, fast angsteinflößend klingen, nach Industrie: als hätten die beiden mit Mikrophonen bewaffnet in großen Werkhallen Maschinen- und Arbeitsklänge eingefangen: das Rotieren eines riesigen Bohrers, eines elektrischen Hammers, einer Schleifmaschine - das etwa ist der Film, der mir dabei durch den Kopf geht - und dabei sind dies alles nur Geräusche und Sounds, die aus den Laptops des Duos kommen, aus elektronischer Wurzel. Harsche, harte, weiche, melodische, abstrakte, witzige, erschreckende, zarte und düstere Töne, deren einzelner keinen Sinn, deren Gesamtklang aber eine neue Klangsprache erfindet: Elektro Avantgarde in seiner freiesten Ausführung.

Das Duo mixt keinen Techno-Rhythmus oder anderen harmonisierenden oder strukturell vereinfachenden Dinge in ihr Soundgeflecht, sie lassen einfach ihre Klänge sprechen - und haben Erfolg damit. Das Duo und die beiden Einzel-Laptoper arbeiten live erfolgreich weltweit, treten auf Jazzfestivals und solchen für Freie Improvisation auf, spielen mit Bands oder anderen Musikern zusammen und gelten als die "verrückten Wissenschafts-Improvisateure". Kein Wunder, klingen ihre "Songs" doch stets wie aus dem Labor, wie ein wissenschaftliches Experiment, ein zuhöchst interessantes Experiment, bei dem sie ungeahnt abstrakte und kernige Sounds erfinden, dabei aber auch allerlei harmonische Einflüsse zulassen, da klingt eine Partie mal wie Disko-Funk, eine andere wie eine sehnsüchtige Anspielung der Berliner Schule oder wie ein bekanntes Musikstück - Zufall? Will ich das so hören? Es gibt eine Menge in diesen Sounds zu entdecken. Ich frage mich nur, wann endlich das Duo in das nördliche Stralsund kommt, um hier zu spielen - immerhin ist das hier der Mittelpunkt der Welt, oder will das jemand abstreiten? Bitte ausführlich begründen - und nicht im Internet abschreiben!

     - Volkmar Mantei, Ragazzi

Die Schnellen und Hellen setzen sich ins Flugzeug, um sich zwischen der East- und Westcoast keine staubigen Füße zu holen. ‚Esel‘ wie Hans Fjellestad & Damon Holzborn, der eine in L.A., der andere in Brooklyn, überwinden die Kluft durch eine Klangbrücke. Stone (ALP043) ist schon ihre dritte Veröffentlichung als Duo, nach Show (2000) und Big Sur (2002), doch gemeinsam aktiv sind sie bereits seit 1991. Warum sich zwei Elektroniker ausgerechnet den Esel als Wappentier gewählt haben, keine Ahnung. Aber ihr Projekt heißt nun mal DONKEY und in dem Sprichwort ‚otra véz la burra al trigo‘, übersetzt "once again the donkey's in the wheat", mit dem sie den Konzertmitschnitt aus dem Stone im New Yorker East Village in 5 Abschnitte gliederten, zollen sie dem Grautier weiteren Respekt. Zuvor hatten sich die beiden im Sommer 2006 ins mexikanische Hinterland zurück gezogen, um gemeinsamen Stoff zu entwickeln. Fjellestad mit Analogsynthesizer, Prozessoren und Vacuum Tubes, Holzborn mit Software Instruments (MacDuffs Anthem?) und selbstgebauten Hardware Controllers erzeugen altertümliche, charaktervoll und eigensinnig trottende Geräuschverläufe. Krumm und buckliges Geläuf, Disteln und Dornen, sind ‚normal‘ im elektronischen Mittelalter, das Donkey durchpilgern, schnarrend, blubbernd, zwitschernd, knarzend, wummernd, zischend, zuckend, bratzelnd. Als ritte der Elektrische Mönch statt einem Pferd einen Esel und sähe die Welt nicht pink, sondern in ‚a whiter shade of grey‘.

     - Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy #56

Après une interruption de quelques années, le duo de Hans Fjellestad et Damon Holzborn s'est retrouvé pour travailler puis faire ce concert à New York. Tels qu'on les voit sur la photo de la pochette, Fjellestad manipule un synthé analogique et Holzborn travaille sur un ordinateur. Le son serré, parfois proche de jeux vidéos, ne contredit pas l'image. C'est un affrontement, des sons sont jetés dont on mesure les effets. Les événements arrivent en rangs serrés, sans repos, les deux musiciens se provoquent plus qu'ils ne s'écoutent, l'essentiel semble bien être les aller-retours entre eux. Leur musique charnelle, pugnace et sombre s'éclaire parfois d'un rire ironique.

     - Noel Tachet

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