Berkeley 14. Nov 2016 – Jacob Felix Heule and Tom Djll

7. December 2016

Travelling with my electronic setup, trying to learn, what better place to stop than Berkeley? Berkeley, home of Don Buchla, inventor of the modular synthesizer, and also where Pauline Oliveros, creator of ”deep listening”, started out as director of San Fransisco Tape Music Center.

The San Fransisco Bay Area has been central to innovation in electronic music since the sixties. On our way to Hawaii, we made a stopover there. I did not know anyone in the area, but my friend Guro Moe put me in touch with  drummer Jacob Felix Heule who was so kind as to arrange a jam session with himself, trumpeter/electronic musician Tom Djll, bassist John Lilja (my husband), and me.

Now this was already 3 weeks ago. Due to some technical problems with the new blog I have not been able to publish, so I have some posts on wait. However: In the dark evening of November 14th Jacob met us and took us to his Berkeley rehearsal space, through a big locked gate, into a dark narrow passage full of artistic debris, into the backyard of an abandoned looking building. Turned out it was not abondoned at all, but teeming with artist activity. Jacob shared a big space on the first floor with several other bands. The lineup for the jam was interesting, two electronic trumpets, drums and bass. Meeting and playing with total strangers, with John and I’s internal clock on about 3 am, straight out of an 11 hour flight, this was also going to be interesting for sure.

But we immediately felt very welcome, and had a great time. It was an honour to meet and play with Tom and Jacob, two experimental musicians, who play a lot together, for instance in the band ”Beauty School”. We played for several hours, and the session was recorded, here is an excerpt:

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I will tell you a little more about Jacob and Tom. Jacob, as I already told you, was the one who organised the jam on short notice. Jacob is an excellent drummer and improviser who is very good at listening to what’s going on. In addition to being a warm and welcoming person, he seems calm and aware of the value and beauty of connecting people and organizing impromptu sound meetings like this. He seems like he does this kind of thing every day.

Jacob Felix Heule is a percussionist and electronic musician focused on sound-oriented improvisation following the traditions of electro-acoustic improv, noise, and 20th-century composition. His playing embraces both rough-edged intensity and disciplined instrumental technique. As an acoustic musician, Heule employs diverse techniques to activate the sonic potential of physical objects, usually drums and cymbals. The primary content of his music arises from this heightened awareness of the physicality of sound — vibrating material objects creating air pressure waves. His playing is minimalist in allowing the raw sounds of objects to stand on their own: The material is the music.”

Jacob’s website:

As much as Jacob is a ”musician who plays the drums”, Tom is a ”musician who plays the trumpet” which is quite a different thing from being a drummer or a trumpeter. I realized after the session, when I heard his last name, that I had heard the name Tom Djll before. It turns out Tom has been well known in the ”trumpet avantgarde hall of fame” for decades. Tom’s approach to trumpet playing was very liberating for me to witness first hand. The most immediately striking was that he used a modular synth with the trumpet. His electronic music background and how he integrates it with the trumpet is incomparable to anyone I’ve met before. Some clips from his website”Tom Djll’s approach to playing the trumpet has been characterized from its inception by an anti-professionalism that locates itself within a political rather than musical continuum. (…) Inspired by punk and DIY approaches to performance and soundmaking (Trans Museq, PiL, The Contortions, Alterations, Eugene Chadbourne), Djll eschewed formal lessons in lieu of nearly fifteen years of blazing an idiosyncratic pathway through the instrument based on his studies and performances of analog electronic music. Working with a Serge Modular Synthesizer from 1981 until 1999, Djll described his trumpet sounds as products of an “analog lip synthesizer,” among other colorful epithets.”

”Tom Djll is a composer, improviser, and occasional writer on music. He is the recipient of a Masters degree from Mills College in Electronic Music as well as a Deeploma from the Deep Listening Organization, and was awarded the Paul Merritt Henry Prize for Composition at Mills. His projects include hackMIDI, impossible mechanical piano manipulations; Grosse Abfahrt, large-group free improvisational music; and Beauty School, hardcore electronic free-noise. Djll appears on recordings from EMANEM, Tzadik, Creative Sources, Rastascan, and Artifact. ”

”Djll’s 2012 formation of the freenoise band Beauty School (with Matt Chandler and Jacob Felix Heule) marked a new phase of his trumpet development, re-integrating electronics and situating the whole in a sonic environment uncompromisingly hostile to brassplaying heroics.” 

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