The final studio recordings of sandbox trio find the band exploring territories only hinted at by their previous releases.
Urubamba begins with the familiar - a classical guitar gently invoking the Amazonian river of the CD's title.
As the journey continues, listeners are quickly introduced to the sounds of a place they have never been - or imagined existed.
Navigating through unexpected currents, exotic homemade instruments - pvc saxophone, electric erhu, wood box, thwackoleum - give voice to the strange inhabitants of the river.
Darkly organic and industrial, this hour-long collection invites the mind to create, reflect, and meditate - a brillant conclusion to the band's body of work.
sandbox trio is:
Martin Birke - octapad, percussion, drum kit, keyboard
Chuck Ehlis - lap steel guitar, fretless bass, thwackoleum, loops, tapes
Daniel Panasenko - classical & prepared guitars, pvc saxophone, electric erhu, clay flute, percussion
Sound And Noise Dictated By Ongoing eXperimentation - one of the mantras used by sandbox trio - described perfectly the inspiration and intent of the group. Brought together in 1992 by the common desire to explore new possibilities of music-making, the band's three members - Martin Birke, Chuck Ehlis, and Daniel Panasenko - initially used traditional instruments but quickly incorporated new ones designed and built by Ehlis. The group went on to perform and record for the next eight years until Chuck's death in January 2000. After three CDs and two film scores, the band made its final appearance during their 1998 tour of Germany. The final studio recordings of the band were released in Spring 2004 on the Frank Mark Arts label.
By T. David Wetzl:
sandbox trio, a Sacramento based improvisational threesome, are utilizing their peculiar brand of ambient, primal, techno-industrial, at times almost new age sounding compositions to Iend to us their particular musical version of physics. It is a musical vision that implies and reveals a physics based on stratified and layered patterns and varying densities of organic space and energy.
To attempt to define the idiom, or to quantify or pinpoint exactly what this group's three melilbers, Martin Birke, Chuck Ehlis, and Daniel Panasenko, are up to musically or instrumentally is to confront an ambiguous yet compelling complexity. A spare, yet atmospherically ambient, persistently unrelenting, spatially significant sonic structure is generated, and ever so carefully maintained and cultivated with an eclectic mix of instrumentations. Handmade instruments, with a post-apocalyptic feel, are at times coupled with - and at other times set against - electronically generated "incidental noise" tape loops.
For example, Daniel Panasenko has fashioned an instrument resembling a saxophone out of PVC pipe and duct tape: calling it, of course, "the PVC sax." Chuck Ehlis (also an accomplished visual arist) has fashioned a giant, percussive, mouse-trap looking thing, called a "thwackoleum", out of wood, springs, corks, and pickups. When I questioned Ehlis as to what they were doing musically, he responded by saying that they were simply making "post-modern bachelor pad music."
While the group latches onto, and is deeply indebted to, the improvisational nature of jazz, they altogether avoid the classic trio instrumentation (brass, bass, drums) as well as the hard driving densely structured blues based sensibility of Bop. Light, durational, ethereal, improvisational, new age yet industrial, space music with heart, soul, and wit comes close to delining their musical aesthetic.
Darkly macrobiotic and beautifully primal, although not without a touch of grace, the improvisational group Sandbox Trio gives original sin a run for its money with their new release Urubamba. The disc, dubbed after an Amazonian river, is a lyric-less navigation through primitive sound woven into gloriously complicated paths, producing a meditative confab of musical experiment. Blithely manipulating homemade instruments, the Sacramento three aptly capture the rural and aquatic magnanimity of the river they hail.
While citing improvisational jazz influence, sandbox trio has successfully maneuvered outside of any traditional jazz band set-up, instead creating an ethereal matrix of sound and space. Haunting melodies paralleling true vocals layered upon ambient echoes of noise cause one to question the need for rhythm, chorus and lyrics. The oxymoronic feel of the industrial against the elemental lend the band some sort of spaciness with soul.
Comprising the trio are Martin Birke, Chuck Ellis and Daniel Panasenko, and truly their innovation knows no bounds. Panasenko devised a saxophone-like instrument out of PVC pipe and duct tape, while visual artist Ellis invented the Thwackoleum - a percussion instrument said to resemble a mouse trap. The sources of their sound likewise feature a wooden box, electric erhu, clay flute and octapad.
These guys may call Sacramento home, but they live in a completely different world.
After releasing improvised sound recordings (on the collaborative recordings of Martin Birke , Daniel Panasenko and Roman Leykam) sandbox trio found themselves dealing with a particular subject: Urubamba. Urubamba is the title of their latest release and it's also the name of an Amazonian river. They took the river as a catalyzer of their inspirations and around this theme they recorded thirteen movements which form a sort of voyage. The title of the tracks seems to paint a sort of path that starts from "Urubamba" passing through people ("Headhunters"), sensations ("El Sol Ardiente", "The Serpent's View", "Ghost Waves" and "Scent of Vermillion"), places ("Black Currents" and "River's End"), etc. Even if thinking about a river makes me think about luxuriant nature, multi colored animals and about the relaxing sensation of the water waves, sandbox trio prefer giving form to the wild and scary aspect of those places. In this way the tracks paint moments that could seem quiet at a first listening but that are tense and dark most of the time. A lot of tracks are based on drone collages where only percussive instruments (drums or metal objects) and acoustic guitars break the tension created. Should we call it tribal industrialism? Maybe, but the main point is that on this new release the trio succeeded into creating something different and hypnotizing. Something that won't make you ask yourself what kind of music you're listening to and this is good. If you want to have a hint, well, if you love David Sylvian instrumental tracks, is highly probable that you'll love this one.