Polyorchard on IndyWeek’s best of 2015 list

Polyorchard’s Color Theory in Black and White made IndyWeek’s list of the Triangle’s Best albums of 2015.

From Grayson Currin:

Polyorchard was born a collective. Founded by upright bassist David Menestres, the always-evolving, forever-improvising ensemble could sprawl into a big lineup or shrink into modest formats. For Polyorchard’s debut, Menestres anchored two distinct trios—a “Black” trio with viola and cello and a “White” trio with trombone and saxophone. The string-based group is more prone to dig deep into ideas, as when they explore every millimeter of a textural drone late in “Black 1.” With horns, though, Menestres’ crew grows only more conversant and communicative. “White 4,” for instance, is a low and slow fireside circle, while “White 5” suggests a gaggle of chattering birds, sending signals to one another across an otherwise blank space.

Read the full list here.

Buy/stream the album in full here.


Polyorchard 1 + 1 and Bad Luck


On October 14th, the newest iteration of Polyorchard will be opening for Bad Luck at Tortuga Gallery in Albuquerque. Polyorchard 1 + 1 will feature the double bass madness of Ben Wright and David Menestres. Bad Luck from Seattle will be on tour featuring Chris Icasiano on drums and Neil Welch on saxophone/electronics. Show starts at 8pm and is $10 at the door.

Listen to recordings of Polyorchard 1+1


Listen to the new album from Bad Luck

More on Bad Luck:

Over half a decade after their first performance, drummer Chris Icasiano and saxophonist Neil Welch continue to develop a unique musical voice together. Bad Luck has become a sonic outlet to be reckoned with. In the highly trodden medium of drums and saxophone, Bad Luck proves that there is much left to be said.

Called “One of the best Seattle jazz recordings in years” (Earshot Jazz) Bad Luck was awarded the “Best Outside Jazz Group” of 2009 by Earshot Magazine, and a finalist for “Best Avant Group” in the 2009 Inside Out awards. Performing all original compositions, the pair use live loops and pedals to create an astounding range of sound. Icasiano and Welch can quickly shift into fierce improvisations, sound art and carefully constructed harmonic palettes. A duo with skin tight precision and melodic inventiveness, their music is set off by a commanding stage presence.


May 2: Polyorchard + Jon Mueller

Polyorchard will be opening for the great Jon Mueller on May 2 at Neptunes Parlour. Very excited to be opening for one of my favorite musicians (Death Blues, Volcano Choir, Collections of Colonies of Bees, Pele, etc.). The show will start promptly at 7:30pm.


Buy advance tickets here.

IndyWeek Preview:

Jon Mueller is one of music’s most versatile drummers. Pounding on the kick and cracking at the snare, he has served as the engine behind the rock-scrambling bands Pele, Collections of Colonies of Bees and Volcano Choir (essentially a collaboration between that last act and Bon Iver). As an improviser, he’s created long-form, stamina-demanding pieces that turn simple beats into pulsing, tantric drones. And as a bandleader, he built Death Blues, a cathartic and communal collective that treated symphonic forms, gospel choirs and string arrangements as methods for going loud and triumphant. For this solo tour, he will create an immersive, meditative soundworld using a hand drum and wordless vocals that he loops and mutates in real-time. Don’t be surprised if the set rattles your perception; Mueller’s ecstatic explorations have a tendency to do that. With Polyorchard. 7:30 p.m., $10, 14 W. Martin St., Raleigh, 919-833-1091, www.kingsbarcade.com. —Grayson Haver Currin


From Jon:

Within a 40 minute solo performance of percussion and voice, using a hand-made Arabic bass drum and looped wordless vocals, Mueller conjures world music and sound while remaining very particularly other worldly. Drawing from minimalism and a variety of musical and non-musical disciplines, including meditation, trance, and physical stamina, Mueller’s solo performances have been described by audiences as resilient, intense, and meditative.

The aim of Mueller’s solo performance is to engage an audience in listening practice by creating a variety of input both recognizable and not, understood and not, which causes a unique experience in each individual.

Jon Mueller has been a drummer and percussionist for over twenty-five years, performing throughout North America, Europe, United Kingdom, and Japan at places such as New Museum (New York), The Arnolfini (Bristol, UK), Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, (Montréal, QC), Issue Project Room (New York), Guggenheim Museum (New York), Alverno Presents (Milwaukee), Hopscotch Fest (Raleigh), SXSW (Austin) and Cafe OTO (London, UK). His recordings have been released by record labels such as Table of the Elements, Type Recordings, Hometapes, Important Records, SIGE Records, Taiga Records, and others. A founding member of the bands Volcano Choir, Collections of Colonies of Bees, and Pele, he has also worked with musicians Rhys Chatham, Jarboe, James Plotkin, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Marcus Schmickler, Asmus Tietchens, and Z’EV, dancers Molly Shanahan and Heidi Latsky and filmmaker Scott Kawczynski, among others. In recent years, Mueller has directed the multi-disciplinary project Death Blues, encouraging presence and celebration of each moment. More info at www.rhythmplex.com.

“An audacious ringleader for new music.” – Pitchfork

“A complex experience you touch, live in, and meditate on.” – NPR

“Cerebral, emotional, and spiritual in nature.” – A Closer Listen




Color Theory in Black and White

Polyorchard - Color Theory in Black and White - booklet - page 1


In the two and a half years of Polyorchard’s existence the band has blazed a trail across the territories of modern music performing their own compositions (spontaneous or otherwise), collaborating with Merzbow, paying tribute to Sun Ra on his 100th arrival day, and performing Terry Riley’s In C on the 50th anniversary of its premier. Polyorchard is a flexible fighting unit morphing to fit the battle of the day in formations ranging from small scale trios to the sprawling madness of a double dectet. Polyorchard has shared bills with artists as diverse as Duane Pitre, thingNY, Ken Vandermark/Nate Wooley duo, Michael Pisaro & Greg Stuart, Jon Mueller, and Half Japanese. Plans for 2015 include collaborating with Olivia Block, exploring the late work of John Coltrane, and further work with balloons.

Over one beautiful weekend in late September 2014 Polyorchard laid down it’s first studio recordings. Color Theory in Black and White represents two aspects of the trio personality. The first trio on the album is a string trio of Chris Eubank on cello, Dan Ruccia on viola, and David Menestres on bass. The back half of the album is occupied by the trio of Jeb Bishop on trombone, Laurent Estoppey on saxophones, and David Menestres on bass.

Color Theory in Black and White was recorded in glorious binaural sound by Dan Lilley and mastered by Andrew Weathers. Listen at maximum volume in front of your best speakers or get lost deep in the sound of your favorite headphones.

Chris Eubank (cello)
David Menestres (bass)
Dan Ruccia (viola)

Jeb Bishop (trombone)
Laurent Estoppey (sax)
David Menestres (bass)

All music by Polyorchard ©2015

Binaural recording by Dan Lilley at The Store, Raleigh, NC September 27-28, 2014

Mastering by Andrew Weathers, Oakland, CA October 2014

Design by Lincoln Hancock

Liner notes by Emily Leon

Downloads & limited edition 2xCDr boxsets available at polyorchard.bandcamp.com

April 13: Polyorchard opens for Michael Pisaro and Greg Stuart

On April 13th Polyorchard will be opening for the composer Michael Pisaro and percussionist Greg Stuart and the Nightlight as part of the Experimental Music Study Group.

From the EMSG:

Monday, April 13, Nightlight, 8pm – EMSG performance + Polyorchard + Michael Pisaro and Greg Stuart
Tuesday, April 14, The Carrack, 8pm – Michael Pisaro and Greg Stuart: numbers and the siren
Join the Experimental Music Study Group for a captivating two-night residency featuring California-based composer Michael Pisaro and South Carolina-based percussionist Greg Stuart. A member of the Wandelweiser collective, Michael Pisaro crafts intricate soundscapes that hover at the boundaries between sound and silence, drawing attention to the act of listening. Greg Stuart’s inventive percussion music explores alternative techniques including sustained friction, gravity-based sounds, and sympathetic vibration. For nearly a decade, Pisaro and Stuart have collaborated on heralded projects and released recordings on the Gravity Wave label, forging a close bond between composer and performer.
On April 13 at Nightlight, Pisaro and Stuart perform closed categories in cartesian worlds, ethereal music for crotales and sine tones; performers from the Experimental Music Study Group will perform Pisaro’s fields have ears (4); and local improv collective Polyorchard will perform a set. And at the Carrack on April 14, Pisaro and Stuart unleash the spellbinding numbers and the siren, a ninety-minute duo for percussion and electronics in which distant sounds seep into the main performance space from a separate location. Both nights will offer a typically EMSG mixture of the unfamiliar and the enchanting: we hope to see you there!
$7 cover

(Set order: EMSG, Polyorchard, Pisaro/Stuart, Crowmeat Bob/Patrick Gallagher)
*Note: there will be an EMSG discussion meeting at 6:30pm prior to the performance; if you are interested in participating, please email williamlrobin@gmail.com

Collapss + Polyorchard present COBRA: March 29 & April 3

Every society has rules that people deal with in different ways. What I basically create [in the game pieces] is a small society and everybody kind of finds their own position in that society. It really becomes, like, a psychodrama. It’s like scream therapy, or primal therapy. People are given power and it’s very interesting to see which people like to run with that power, which people run away from it [and] who are very docile and just do what they’re told [and those] who try very hard to get more control and more power. . . . It’s very much like the political arena, in a certain kind of a sense . . . [where performers] are having a little carrot dangled in front of them. And it’s interesting to see who tries to grab the carrot and who doesn’t. And a lot of times the people who try to grab the carrot, it’s pulled out of their hands by someone else in the band. So, it becomes kind of a scary, frightening thing to be in front of that band to see these people blossom and become the assholes that they really are.

-John Zorn speaking about Cobra to Derek Bailey




Collapss + Polyorchard present John Zorn’s Cobra:

March 29 at The Shed 8pm (807 E. Main St., Durham NC 27701)

April 3 at Empire Books in Greensboro at 7:30pm (1827 B Spring Garden St., Greensboro NC 27403)

Scheduled to be participating:
Carole Ott (voice) Tadeu Coelho (flute) Steve Stusek (saxophone) Nick Rich (guitar) Jonathan Wall (electronics) David Menestres (bass, objects) Jason Bivins (guitar) Dan Ruccia (viola) Bill McConaghy (trumpet) Christopher Robinson (saxophone) Charles Phaneuf (clarinet) Laurent Estoppey (Cobra Commander)

IndyWeek preview:

John Zorn’s Cobra is a sort of musical game. The composer becomes the conductor, leading an ensemble of varying sizes by holding up cue cards, making some gesture or movement, and commanding a subset of players to respond to the instructions. By design, it’s incredibly mutable, capable of shifting from atonal paroxysms to dreamy drones without any sense of logic. For this performance, Raleigh’s Polyorchard and Greensboro’s Collapss combine for a two-show tour, starting in Durham tonight but ending in the Gate City April 3rd. For maximum edification, see both, and understand just how flexible games can get. —Grayson Haver Currin


February 28: Polyorchard + Microkingdom


Polyorchard + Microkingdom will be playing a house show on Saturday February 28 at 719 Devereux St. (Raleigh, 27605). Show starts at 8pm with an $8-10 suggested donation at the door, cash only.

Polyorchard will be Jeb Bishop, Chris Eubank, Bill McConaghy, David Menestres, & Dan Ruccia.

Microkingdom will be on tour supporting their new album Smooth Tendencies, released by Friends Records on Valentine’s Day. Check out a recent live performance from Microkingdom:

And the new album


January 13: Polyorchard opens for Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley

Polyorchard will be opening for Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley at Neptunes Parlour on Tuesday January 13. Polyorchard will be Jeb Bishop, Chris Eubank, Dan Ruccia, and me.

9pm show, suggested donation of $8-12. Read more here.


IndyWeek preview:

Nate Wooley and Ken Vandermark, both giants of current American free jazz and experimental scenes, convened as a duo in the summer of 2013. The pair issued the resulting live recordings last month as East by Northwest, a nine-track set that finds Vandermark’s saxophones and clarinet and Wooley’s trumpet to be wonderfully expressive partners. They both have the ability to be plaintive and brooding or spastic and restless, qualities that make their navigations of even very familiar pieces feel invigorated. A weekend dance club, Neptune’s is becoming one of the Triangle’s better weeknight listening rooms thanks to engagements just like this. —Grayson Haver Currin

January 12: EMSG & Polyorchard

Monday January 12 marks the beginning of a new group “for the exploration and performance of experimental music in Chapel Hill and Durham.” The Experimental Music Study Group meets at 7:30 at the Nightlight in Chapel Hill for a discussion followed by a performance of this month’s scores at 9pm after which Polyorchard will perform. This line up of Polyorchard will be Jeb Bishop, Jil Christiansen, Laurent Estoppey, and me.

Polyorchard presents In C

Polyorchard will be performing Terry Riley’s In C at Kings Barcade on November 4, 2014, 50 years to the day of it’s original premiere. Show starts at 9pm, tickets are $5 at the door.

Scheduled to be performing (in no particular order): Jason Bivins, Heidi Wait, James Gilmore, Charles Phaneuf, Will Robin, Missy Thangs, Dan Ruccia, David Mueller, Joanna Helms, Eddie Davis, Chris Eubank, Mary Huntimer, Chris Robinson, Bob Pence, Bill McConaghy, Allen Anderson, Cameron Britt and other special guests.

Read the article in IndyWeek:

With a little effort, the ambient can become the active. Think of the sounds in the world around you, the sort that fill those easy-listening nature soundtracks—a crackling campfire, waves washing onto the beach, a bustling café, an all-day rain broken by occasional thunder. They can serve as immersive mood music, sure, but if you listen closely, you may begin to register the slightest differences between waves or thunderclaps.

This is the kind of listening experience that In C, the iconic 1964 minimalist work of American composer Terry Riley, fosters. On Tuesday night in Raleigh, a ragtag group of 20 or so musicians—from symphony members to rockers and experimental improvisers—will gather to play In C, marking 50 years to the day since its premiere. Listen, and what may seem like mass madness reveals itself as two-dozen musicians making unscored, unpremeditated decisions.

If Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was the game-changing musical work of the first half of the 20th century, In C helped revolutionize the second half. Its tonal, rhythmic and procedural DNA can be traced through multiple genres of the last five decades. The piece’s radical, decentralized composition—in which the musicians all play the same series of musical “cells” or fragments, but at a pace of their own choosing—inspired a generation of composers to loosen their grip on centuries-old, symphonic mores.

But history isn’t why you should witness In C live: You should go for the sheer pleasure of an open listening experience, for the moment itself.

“Everybody has an epiphany every time they see it live,” says David Menestres, Polyorchard leader, bassist and organizer of this performance. “The last time we played In C, I had a very clear epiphany. I understood the cosmos for about three minutes. It all made perfect sense. By the end of the piece, I’d forgotten it.”

Saxophonist Will Robin, who’s getting a doctorate in musicology at UNC-Chapel Hill, organized that 2013 performance at the experimental bastion Nightlight on a frigid, rainy night. He recognizes that moment, too.

“There are certain cells for me that, when I hit them, it’s just really exciting to be playing them in the moment, if you get there first or if someone gets there before you,” says Robin, an occasional INDY contributor. “In the moment, you get caught up in it, and you can assume that other people are getting caught up in it, too.”

Every performance of In C is unique, and intentionally so. It’s less a strict composition than a page of 53 discrete musical fragments and a set of performance instructions. Most cells are equivalent to a measure of music; Riley put only one note in some of them. There’s no set instrumentation, either. Menestres has about 20 musicians coming Tuesday, but if someone’s babysitter bails at the last minute, that’s fine. The Kings stage will still be filled with reed and wind instruments, electronics and guitars, violas, cellos and basses, keyboards and percussion.

In C begins like a rainstorm. No conductor taps a baton on a music stand. No drummer counts off a beat. Instead, the musicians mingle onstage or nearby, talking with each other and tuning up. Then, one musician will step up to an instrument—usually a keyboard, marimba or xylophone—and begin “the Pulse,” an unchanging series of eighth notes played on the two highest C keys on the keyboard. Once it begins, it does not stop until the very end of the piece. It’s a call to worship and a benediction, the first and last sound you’ll hear.

“Then, everybody comes in one at a time when they feel like it,” Menestres says, “and play the 53 cells and listen to each other and try to construct the piece of music out of it. There’s ebb and flow as people drop in and out, as people choose to play very dynamically for moments. The freedom that you have within the form is pretty remarkable.”

There’s no tune or musical line to the piece, but the Pulse keeps that pervasive C in your ear the whole way. Because the Pulse is so repetitive, it can be brutal on a musician. Try tapping your finger on a tabletop twice a second for almost an hour without losing the rhythm. Sometimes ensembles handle the conundrum electronically, with a tape loop or by placing a brick on a keyboard. Menestres wants a human to do it, although he has yet to anoint the lucky instrumentalist.

“I don’t mind doing it electronically,” he says, “but the piece is so organic that I want the Pulse to breathe. It doesn’t breathe with electronics.”

Riley’s instructions state that, across the whole ensemble, musicians shouldn’t be more than two or three cells apart from each other at any moment. While a clarinetist might be on cell 20, the cellist in the next chair should be on cell 18 or 22. And musicians can stop playing altogether, too, taking a break to sit in the sea of In C.

“When you stop playing for a minute or two and just listen, that’s incredibly enjoyable,” Robin says. “You have these musicians surrounding you, and then you decide, ‘I’m going to come back in right here.’ You kind of walk back into the groove. There’s definitely some feeling of community onstage with the musicians around you that happens during this piece. It feels like a group of friends putting something together.”

For Menestres, that feeling of being surrounded should translate to the audience, too. That immersive quality is what’s made In C so beloved and influential. It’s a radical, experimental composition that also sounds wonderful.

“The person listening isn’t going to hear just me playing bass or just the person next to me playing keyboards—they’re going to hear the full effect,” Menestres says. “Part of any good show, regardless of genre, should be transporting your audience somewhere else. In C is designed to take you out of yourself. It should take you somewhere interesting. Unless we suck.”

This article appeared in print with the headline “Mass of cells”