Big Sur represents a surprising shift in Donkey's sound. If Show featured a duet interested in textural electro-acoustic free improv, there is absolutely nothing ambient about this release (at least the first 55 minutes). The music rages on, filled with outbursts from Hans Fjellestad's analog synthesizers and Damon Holzborn's electronics (despite his playing the guitar, listeners rarely hear sounds associated with the instrument). The album takes its name from the Big Sur Experimental Music Festival, where two of the three tracks have been recorded in 2001. But the album opens with a studio piece, the half-hour-long "Crick." Forest-related field recordings provide a backdrop for some mad improvising. Noisy and occasionally brutal, the piece nevertheless leaves room to breathe. This is not a Merzbow-esque assault. There is pace, tension, and most of all invention, but it sure feels overwhelming at times. If Xenakis had been an improviser, he may have sounded like Fjellestad. One imagines him torturing his knobs with red-hot iron tweezers. "Wood" follows the same direction with less subtlety. More of a noise fest, it attacks instead of engages the listener. The closing "Fog" explores much quieter pastures. It features Holzborn's sole guitar spot, a cross between Fred Frith and Derek Bailey's techniques, and ends in low-synth frequencies and wind-related treated samples. The short liner notes tie Big Sur to Marcelo Radulovich's Titicacaman character, premiered in his album Hello, which was released a few months earlier.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture