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People's Picks: Wendy Eisenberg

People's Picks: Wendy Eisenberg
People's Picks: Wendy Eisenberg | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

After improvising together nearly a decade ago, the great gayageum player and composer DoYeon Kim told me I played like there was a pocket of air around every note. It had never been my intention to play that way, and I was touched by the surprise and tenderness of that insight. I had understood “silence” as the precondition and context for what we call music, having grown up on Timbaland, having read and heard my John Cage and Pauline Oliveros—but I had overlooked the more granular sense of space my friend heard in some miracle of my articulation. It set me on a line of questioning: is “technique” what we call the ways we allow silence to be perceived as space? What, then, is articulation but the borders around what is definitively not silence, and does that surrounding silence, that negative space, have borders too? Is what we think of as silence just one point on the spectrum of all textures? Heady stuff, all from a small, generous, concisely-articulated comment.

This playlist is a meditation on the relationship between silence and texture. It begins and ends with Sounds of the Junk Yard, a perfect smack of musique concrète that always sounded great to me. I first heard that record when I was a budding noise freak playing with my friend Brian Blatt. I was trying to find more sounds beyond the guitar and beyond idiom, towards everyday life, reading Henri Lefebvre and Pierre Schaffer and thinking about the shifting rhythms of other times and jobs, how voices changed over time too. This playlist is loaded with voices with tons of grain—singers from Belarus, Sumatra, Italy, Malawi, Japan, and Ireland; the poet David Antin’s perfect voice; different vocal approaches to instrumental music, from Sonny Treadway’s holy steel to the expansive compositions of Mary Lou Williams and Louis Armstrong; the circular spaciousness of Sam Rivers and James Fulkerson. I love the staggering vastness of the Folkways catalog, and hope that this playlist inspires its listeners to feel the pocket of air around each sonic phenomenon it sings.

Wendy Eisenberg is an improviser and songwriter who uses the guitar, the tenor banjo, the computer, the synthesizer, and the voice. Their work spans genres—from jazz to noise to avant-rock to delicate songs—and their performances span venues, from international festivals to intimate basements. Though often working solo as both a songwriter and improviser, with acclaimed releases on labels like Tzadik, Ba Da Bing, VDSQ, Out of Your Head, and Dear Life, Wendy also performs in the rock band Editrix, with the Bill Orcutt Guitar Quartet, in a free jazz country trio with Ryan Sawyer and Lester St. Lewis, and in many other collaborations including with Caroline Davis, David Grubbs, Carla Kihlstedt, and John Zorn. They also write about music and other things, and have published essays on music in Sound American, Arcana, and the Contemporary Music Review.
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