David Borgo, “Chance, Discovery and Design” (Circumvention DVD) and “Initial Conditions” (Circumvention CD).
Abstract music with abstract moving images -- more artists oughta be exploring the kind of galaxies David Borgo probes on his new DVD.
It’s not a new idea. Oskar Fischinger, Harry Smith and a few others were making inroads in the 1930s and ‘40s, as you could’ve seen at MOCA’s 2005 exhibit “Visual Art.” Concerts had psychedelic light shows in the ‘60s. MTV videos tried a little, sometimes. Right here in L.A., visual artists such as Carole Kim (projections) and Norton Wisdom (screen painting) regularly accompany the music of G.E. Stinson, Banyan and many more.
Yeah too, there are mathematically activated programs such as G-Force for your computer’s sound player, and DVDs such as “Luminous Visions” loosely link morphing images to big-beat sound for your bong-suckin’ enjoyment. But nonlinear cinematic art that seriously tries to interact with nonlinear music is still rare. So it’s good to see Borgo, a windman and educator at UC San Diego, havin’ at it. And largely succeeding.
The sounds on the DVD -- richly and cleanly reproduced, by the way -- are full-on abstract, but listenable. Borgo’s saxes and flutes waft and echo, matched in small groups with a wide sampling of musicians, many of whom use electronics either as a starting point or to treat their instruments. They aren’t messing around, either; most of the selections develop like short stories -- characters, narratives, twists of fate.
Borgo came up with many of the visuals; other artists also contributed. The best example is Borgo’s own “Fractal Worlds,” where sea-snake tendrils undulate to a romantic violin and a caressing sax; the scene changes subtly from underwater to outer space, the music from forward to backward, in a vividly colorful observation on cosmic cycles. In “A Rhetorical Answer,” an aerial target screen records structures blown to hell as an impersonal digital soundtrack clicks along. Geometric worms alternate with dilating circles as the music squeezes and bends in “Rivers of Silicon.” The hypnotic wave forms and bright dancing diamonds of “Lexicon-Sonate Improv” balance beautifully with Borgo’s wistful sopranino and some algorithm-triggered electronic klonks. Synths mutter underneath a Tarkovsky-like orange void in the title film.
In addition to its function as ponderable art, most of this stuff would make a great party background, especially on a big screen. As visualizing programs improve, too, it will be worth watching how Borgo’s approach evolves. Huge potential. You can check out all the videos ***********http://music.ucsd.edu/~dborgo/David_Borgo/DVD.html here.
Now to the CD. Not just an experimentalist, Borgo has coordinated the DVD’s release with an entirely separate album most any jazz fan can slap on and dig: “Initial Conditions.” His trio with bassist Gunnar Biggs and drummer Duncan Moore can it all, but first of all they want you to know they swing -- Sonny Rollins-style or with a taste of that old downtown blues.
Hold on, though -- they’re taking off around the world with bass-riff-centered numbers from Africa and the Near East, and offering a taste of New Orleans to wrap things up. The open trio format makes the geography-jumping easy, just three guys out for a groove. And when they pay a couple of visits to Ornette along the way, you begin to understand that, hey, he’s part of the world tradition, too. All three sound like they’re having a blast, and with Borgo working two saxes and two flutes, it never gets samey.
No kidding, “Initial Conditions” will spend more time in your deck than any Wynton Marsalis record -- or even anything Sonny Rollins has done in about 40 years. It’s got the feel.