Sarah Peebles: Composer/Performer

Reviews of: Cinnamon Sphere | Hover | Insect Groove | Amber CD
108: Walking Through Tokyo at the Turn of the Century | Gathering
Performance Reviews, etc | Whose Forest? | Nova Journal
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  1. Wire

  2. Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter

  3. Exclaim!

  4. MusicWorks - Fall 2004 (group review)

WIRE; The Wire Adventures in Modern Music
(Issue 261  November 2005)

The Compiler. Various artists: reviewed, rated, reviled

Smash & Teeny featuring John Butcher
Reviewed by Keith Molinè

Toronto duo Smash & Teeny follow up their Hover album of 2001 (recorded under the name Cinnamon Sphere) with a double disc of 'greatest hits', which includes a luminous half hour in the exalted company of master saxophonist John Butcher. If Reductionism is maintaining a firm grip on Improve practice right now, someone forgot to tell Sarah Peebles (laptop and microtonal Japanese sho) and Nilan Perera (guitar). Their duets on disc one of Gathering are dense and urgent, as if the pair want to showcase as many of their effects and procedures at the same time. It takes a musician of Butcher's stature to tap them gently on the shoulder and encourage them to ease off a little.

Perera is the polar opposite of the ultra-minimal Japanese guitarist Taku Sugimoto. While his restless maximalism occasionally borders on the tiresome, such as his incongruous quasi-Metal soloing over Pebbles's glowing laptop atmospheres on "Lacemaker's Ruin" — which sounds like Buckethead scrawling over Ligerti's Lux Aeterna — he is a genuinely powerful new voice on electric guitar. Though informed by Derek Bailey, Fred Frith, Mike Cooper and Nels Cline, he is able to marshal and orchestrate these influences into fascinating and affecting patterns. His work on "Kite Storm Warning", on which he creates a shimmering matrix of slide loops overlaid with oud-like strummed figures, is quite lovely.

Peebles, meanwhile, creates thick, ambient computer backdrops that hover between the real and synthetic, the pacifying and the sinister. It is her on the sho that impresses most, however, as the high-end overtones dance and glint like rays of sunshine through sheets of cloud. The instrument's narrower frequency ranges opens up wider spaces than the occasionally over-egged laptop atmospheres allow. Tellingly, the main Butcher collaboration "Hummingbird Midnight", though featuring fewer fireworks from the duo, is by far the most satisfying piece of music on the disc. The saxophonist's impossibly delicate split notes seem to radiate from between the fluttering microtones of the sho, and his superb valve/breath play gently abrades the music's surfaces as if he's polishing a precious stone. Which, in some ways, he is.


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(DMG, New York City)

“Gathering (Spool 305/Field 5) CD-I features the music of Nilan Pereraon prepared electric guitar & effects and Sarah Peebles on laptop & shô (mouth organ), recorded at various locations live and in the studio. CD-features the same duo plus John Butcher on soprano & tenor saxes with enhanced video & calligraphy performance by Chung Gong. UK sax explorer John Butcher seems to be everywhere, playing with a wide variety of fine improvisers from different scenes, from Derek Bailey to Chris Burn to Georg Grawe to Phil Durrant to Phil Minton, as well as his great solo sax performances.

We know of electronics composer and musician Sarah Peebles from the few releases she has ('Suspended in Amber' & 'Insect Groove'), but weren't that familiar with guitarist Nilan Perera before this. Nilan and Sarah set the scene with intricate, eerie and subtle textures, insect-like electronics and suspenseful electric guitar drones shimmer and slowly mutate. It sounds as if Sarah has sampled some metallic percussion as well as other more mysterious sounds. Sarah's mesmerizing / unnerving insect sounds have a way of getting under one's skin, perhaps she should be doing soundtrack work for some science fiction films. On CD-II, John Butcher's chattering sax fits perfectly weaving notes around the duo's darkly enchanting pulsations. The DVD captures the duo playing live outside with Nilan bowing his guitar-on-lap as Sarah also creates her own electronic soundscapes on her computer.

Chung Gong works on a few larges canvases doing calligraphy, painting with a large brush made from (human?) hair. It is odd to see these folks creating these somber, yet strange, alien sonic sounds outdoors, barefoot with insects and frogs around them, yet it works quite well. The video portion is about 10 minutes, just long enough to entice us with these unique images. The trio seems to stretch out time as the sounds often drift through space and the pace feels like it has been slowed down. The final piece has some fine noisy guitar, Evan Parker-like tenor sax waves and eerie electronics surrounding. A perfect place to bring our journey to an appropriate close. - BLG


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Exclaim! November 30, 2004

Destination Out - Improvised - Year in Review 2004

Gathering (Spool)

As reductionism started to take hold in European improvising, Canada’s Smash and Teeny, aka Nilan Perera and Sarah Peebles, already had a foothold. A seminal lap-topper and a genre-crossing guitarist have combined their languages to form one of our country’s first minimalist improvising duos. Peebles processes field recordings to create vibrant soundscapes that are punctuated by Perera’s prepared plucks, strums and fingering. Smash and Teeny have seen the future through their complex bonding of natural and processed sounds. Mike Hansen

Exclaim! top 5 discs reviewed

Exclaim! May 31, 2004

By Kevin Hainey

Smash and Teeny are Nilan Perera and Sarah Peebles, a duo of Toronto-based sound artists who achieve their impressive and intriguing results through spontaneous performances, Perera on his prepared electric guitar, which he runs through various effects, and Peebles through her laptop and de-tuned shô, or Japanese mouth organ. Gathering is a mesmerising double-disc retrospective that encompasses various performances and studio recordings from throughout the past six years they’ve worked together. Like a lot of time-based sound art, Smash and Teeny place heavy emphasis on letting their spatial arrangements slowly and naturally unfold and intertwine, but there’s a throbbing inner tension within the pieces presented here that holds the listener’s interest. “Ox Tendon Enigma” is especially intense with its layers of tightly wound guitar loops and the opening pair of “Looking Glass” and “Stridulation Nation” recall the busily close-knit buzzing of the bees portrayed on this collection’s cover. The real standout here, though, is the 26-minute “Hummingbird Midnight,” which features the UK’s renowned experimental saxophonist John Butcher and pushes the performers tense interplay from well beyond the brink of comfort into strangely soothing corridors where double-locked doors unexpectedly open and lure the listener over foreboding thresholds.


Reviews of: Cinnamon Sphere | Hover | Insect Groove | Amber CD
108: Walking Through Tokyo at the Turn of the Century | Gathering
Performance Reviews, etc | Whose Forest? | Nova Journal
Back to Main Reviews Page