On the first Saturday in March, Seattle saxophonist Wilson Shook handed me the future of the compact disc. The self-released Solos 2009 is the most elegantly hand-packaged disc I've seen in recent memory. Shook folded a photograph and applied an off-center staple to keep a three-inch CD-R (and a wispy insert) snugly inside.
The music is just as deft; Shook's saxophone flinches with almost-electronic sounds, all speckled with unexpected pauses and muted tones. He recorded the disc live on Chicago's venerable Something Else radio show on WLUW and here in town at Gallery 1412, which is probably the only place to get Solos, at least next week: Shook opens for Peace, Loving (Tues March 23, Gallery 1412, 8 pm, $5–$15 sliding scale donation), a Boston-based collective that combines tinkling percussion, agile guitar picking, lo-fi electronics, and lonesome vocals.
The vulnerable (thus anticommercial) packaging of Solos reminds me of the mid-1990s, when distribution was fragmenting and awareness of other scenes and developments was still cursory. While Seattle remains blessed to have two shops that champion the avant—Wall of Sound (315 E Pine St) and Dissonant Plane (5459 Leary Ave NW)—the near-infinite number of artists preclude a sure grasp of what's going on. As a result, avant CDs are usually artisan objects: haphazardly available, often more mythical than actual, and in many cases secret.
Two other discs answered questions about artists I had lost track of: Portland sound artist Daniel Menche, whose Seattle appearances are reliably magnificent (I still remember his opening for MSBR as "DJ Dungflaps" at the Last Supper Club in the late '90s), has a new disc, Kataract (Mego). In this single-track, 39-minute disc, Menche builds up field recordings of various waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest into a flood of frequencies that jitter with crumpled-up static and waves of whooshing, serrated fuzz. The ending, which I won't spoil with a description, moved me. Again, Menche proves that depth and drama can reside in what most superficially dismiss as noise.
I was also happy to discover Suddenly, Sound: 21 songlines for piano, drainpipe, etc. (ILK Music) by Soren Kjærgaard and Seattle poet Torben Ulrich. Curious about the status of Ulrich's group, however, I was dismayed to hear that threat of legal action impelled them to rechristen themselves Instead Of. Among the near-infinite number of artists on the web, duplicate monikers are inevitable along with, alas, needlessly petty territoriality. Suddenly showcases Ulrich's texts—imagine a still-defrosting 1,000-year-old David Sylvian intoning Delphic wisdom learned from Samuel Beckett—amid calliope-like toy pianos, icy piano chords, and generous bands of silence. Seek it out.