Experimental Artists YoshimiO, Susie Ibarra, and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe Join Forces on 'Flower of Sulphur'

Three unique experimental music minds meet for a powerful improvisational recital in Flower of Sulphur.

Flower of Sulphur
YoshimiO / Susie Ibarra / Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe

Thrill Jockey

23 Feb 2018

In December 2016 in New York City, three prominent figures of experimental music met and performed together for the first time. YoshimiO, multi-instrumentalist known from her participation in experimental rock outfit Boredoms and bizarre alternative folk act Saicobab, joined forces with percussionist extraordinaire Susie Ibarra, free jazz spirit of Earl Buster Smith's lineage and John Zorn, Yo La Tengo and Wadada Leo Smith collaborator, and sonic artist Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, also known as Lichens and member of spiritual doom dreamers OM.

Still hungry after their first live performance, the trio decided to keep collaborating, and they are now releasing their debut album Flower of Sulphur, an hour-long exploration of time and space. The record is a testament to the free spirit approach that all three members share regarding music, its characteristics, its progression and its core values. Music for these three individuals is not necessarily a string of notes, placed the one after the other neatly to evoke a sense of melody, but something much more complicated, something primal and yet majestic.

There is a strong spiritual essence surrounding this work, and it spawns from the minimalistic take of the trio when it comes to progression. The start of the album is such a moment, coupling the subtle percussion and sparse notation with ethereal chants. The trip through the soundscapes becomes quickly otherworldly, as the abstract rhythms meet the slow-moving drones to create an exquisite moment of bliss and serenity. Ibarra's knowledge of Philippine music comes in very effective towards this spiritual end, granting an expansive scope to the influence and direction Flower of Sulphur takes. "Bbb" travels down a much more atmospheric path when this side of Ibarra's playing comes to light, combining diverse elements into a more cohesive form.

In big part, this is a record led by percussion not only through its spiritual and ethereal side. The crazed, free-jazz rhythmic structures provide a counterweight to the abstract, minimal renditions, performing an ecstatic dance of beats and tempos seamlessly. Tribal movements give way to old-school jazz grooves, the two combining perfectly to create a strange temporal haze. It is a record that balances between the spiritual side of jazz, and the force of free improv. Tracks like "Bbb" dive deeper into the free jazz space, exploring the full effect of dissonant injections to the main structures, while the drumming acts as a balancing force with its fluid and dynamic recitals.

On top of this mix, Flower of Sulphur offers an additional layer of experimentation, in the form of audio manipulation. The trio makes excellent use of audio effects to enhance the mind-bending quality of this trip, be it in the form of bleeping noises or hazy delays. That grants a more spacey and psychedelic effect to the already unstable trip. A prime example of this practice is the final part of "Aaa", with the voices appearing and then dissolving into this cosmic haze, almost despairing when reaching a final crescendo.

The heritage of each musician compliments the overall result in Flower of Sulphur. The influence and heritage that Susie Ibarra carries meet with the chaotic and uncompromising viewpoint of YoshimiO, offering an off-kilter twist to this endeavor, and finally Lowe's sonic expansion stretches further the scope of the record. The three minds become one to bring this cohesive result, presenting a unified stream of consciousness that appears as a force of nature.





'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.


Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.


Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.


Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.


Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.


British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.


Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".


In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.