February 2001: Montreal multi-instrumentalist Jean Derome and drummer Pierre Tanguay are touring Canada and the US. They give Fred Frith a call, he invites them to play at Mills College in Oakland, California where he teaches. After a student workshop and late-night concert, the trio enters the studio. Sitting at the mixing desk with computer at hand, engineer Myles Boisen captures and manipulates the improvisations in real time. He would be similarly involved in the making of Digital Wildlife, Joan Jeanrenaud's collaboration with Maybe Monday (Frith, Larry Ochs, and Miya Masaoka). During the improvisations, Boisen had access to multiple microphones (giving him the possibility to switch between "listening points" -- see also René Lussier's CD Deboutonné), digital treatments (reverb, looping, and much more), and applied creative mixing. Everything was captured direct to 2-track DAT master tape and later edited and re-constructed into a finished album. Derome and Tanguay approach free improvisation with humor and a sense of self-derision. The saxophonist's array of small objects, bird calls, ocarinas, and toys, provides him with a wide sound palette filled with evocations of childhood. Frith attacks the session with a similar state of mind. He is witty, humorous, at times downright slashing, trying to catch the others off guard with outbursts of power chords. "Heads Up" opens the disc with some sinister laughter through a megaphone. In "Landscape with Fire" and "Canadian Psycho," Tanguay throws in a few measures of deconstructed rock to keep things on the edge of insanity. "Where Your Children Are" and "Élégie Électrique," move into childlike imagination, with Derome shuffling through his instruments relentlessly while the guitarist sticks to atmospheric soundscapes. Drawing inspiration from Frank Zappa's famous quote, we could ask "Does humor belong in free improvisation?" Damn, one can only hope that it does: this CD makes a convincing argument.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture