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.