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Published: 2003/01/23
by Jeremy Welsh

In The Fishtank, volume 9 – Sonic Youth/ICP/The Ex


While Sonic Youth is most known for their fuzzed-out guitar-layered
rock – utilizing distortion years before J. Mascis or K. Cobain – they
have frequently delved into the realm of avant garde-jazz. This
cross-culturalization is actually quite logical, as Sonic Youth has long
been known for abandoning the norm and expectations for free-form
experimentation. Guitarist Thurston Moore
has been the most active member in the free jazz scene, playing at various
festivals and releasing a few albums. His interest is most
noticeable on his 1997 release Lost to the City and more recently on
the 2001 release Three Incredible Ideas, swinging the feedback of his
guitar from experimental rock to free jazz.

For Konkurrent Records' ninth In the Fishtank release, Sonic Youth
teams up with Dutch I.C.P. jazz musicians, Hans Bennik, Ab Baars, and
Wolter Wierbos, and the Ex's Luc and Terrie. As described in the liner
notes of the disc, Konkurrent invites bands that they feel are strongly
related to record together for two days while they are touring in
Holland. "These bands are given two days to put down on 24 tracks 20 to
30 minutes of whatever they like: regular songs, funny versions,
improvised pieces . . . The fishtank offers a space for expression and
experimentation." (Chicago's Tortoise was combined with The Ex on In the
Fishtank volume five, for example.) Sonic Youth was a natural choice for
Konkurrent's next volume as Konkurrent carries Sonic Youth's homegrown
labels Smells Like Records and Ecstatic Peace.

In the spirit of expression and experimentation, Moore and the rest
of the musicians combined to release thirty minutes of free jazz chaos.
Simply named with Roman numerals, each track is a snippet of noise — a
piece of improvisation, offered as glimpse into their session. The album
was recorded in one day, in between the musicians' sets at the Holland
Festival. The rush and desire to create music in such a demanding
setting is clearly evident. Each track comes across as simply layers of
noise provided by each musician, one on top of the other. No one
instrument leads, with each playing in the moment. It is not
until the last track, "X" that any sort of structure emerges — the
drummers latch onto a rhythm over which the trombone glides in and out.
All the while, a guitar elicits feedback, creating a feeling of an
impending storm. This song just builds and builds until only the
drummers are left, hammering out a beat . . .

In the Fishtank makes an interesting partner to Sonic Youth's other
2002 release, Murray
Street. While producer (and full-time member) Jim O'Rourke
successfully focused the band's energies on Murray Street, In the
Fishtank has no constraints. It is an album of energy — three different
groups of musicians had one day to become acquainted and play their
instruments. No rules, no expectations, so it seems (one can imagine
what it must have been like to sit the ten musicians down between sets
at the festival). As the back of the CD says, "the music went out on a
stroll without a specific direction, [and was] open for surprises and
unexpected turns."

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