Pauline Oliveros & David Rothenberg & Timothy Hill: Cicada Dream Band
David Rothenberg received deserved attention for his 2013 Gruenrekorder release Bug Music (issued in tandem with the book Bug Music: How Insects Gave Us Rhythm and Noise on St Martins Press), on which the woodwinds player used various insects as musical partners. Rothenberg's latest, Cicada Dream Band, represents a natural progression in that while it perpetuates the creature-oriented theme of the earlier release it expands upon it in two critical respects. First of all, the material supplements insect sounds with those of frogs, birds, and a Humpback whale; and secondly, Rothenberg, credited with bass clarinet, clarinet, iPad, and creatures, is accompanied by Pauline Oliveros (V-Accordion) and Timothy Hill (voice) on the sixty-four-minute recording, which was culled from three-and-a-half hours of music laid down at Dreamland Studios in West Hurley, NY during August 2013.
Cicada Dream Band is, as stated, a different animal than Bug Music. Less strictly governed by the insect theme, the new recording feels looser in spirit and more open to the explorative interplay of the three participants. In that regard, it's telling that three of the eleven pieces eschew creature sounds and feature ensemble interplay only (while the aptly titled “Three of a Mind” is perhaps the best example of these settings, the album-closing “How We Got Here” is striking, too, especially when it threads horn-like blasts into its arrangement). That said, the fact that the first sounds on the recording's opening piece “Who Said What?” are those of creatures signifies the importance of that dimension to the project. But as one attends to the subsequent interplay of Rothenberg's clarinet, Hill's wordless flurries and drones, and Oliveros's digital accordion, it quickly becomes clear that one is in the presence of an unusual and unique soundworld.
Though Rothenberg might stand out as the most conspicuous soloist, the others are hardly supporting players; if anything, they solo as much as Rothenberg. It's Hill, for example, who interacts most prominently with the European blackbird during the opening minutes of “Room at the Inn,” even if the others' contributions gradually prove equal to his as the piece develops; the later “As Many Inside as Outside,” on the other hand, is clearly a Rothenberg set-piece, given that his clarinet solo is, aside from the rhythmic whirr supplied by the Slightly musical conehead, the only instrument sound heard. That the sounds within a given setting sometimes seem to gather into separate fields—Hill interacting with the creatures and Rothenberg with Oliveros—also doesn't surprise, given the natural tendency for the vocal and instrumental elements to gravitate towards those of their own kind. But such a statement runs the risk of overgeneralizing, for there are numerous instances where Rothenberg is as intimately involved with the creatures as Hill (see “Several More Happened,” for example, where the saxophone communes with French cicadas and a Sage thrasher).Anyone familiar with Oliveros also will be familiar with the term Deep Listening, which she coined in the 1980s to accentuate the need for sensitivity and concentration in both listening and musical practice. While Rothenberg, Hill, and Oliveros share equal billing and compositional credit for Cicada Dream Band, it's easy to see it as an obvious example of the Deep Listening aesthetic at work. Certainly each participant is equally responsible for the arresting settings featured on the recording.