Syrinx Effect – gnarly & sweet (2013)

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As members of Seattle’s vibrant, underrated improvised music scene, Kate Olsen and Naomi Siegel are rising stars there who have pooled their creative talents into the project Syrinx Effect. Olson plays soprano sax and Siegel the trombone, but there’s more to this duo than just two horns. Much more.

gnarly & sweet is not just a short description of their album just made available on Bandcamp, but a declaration of their experimental style of music. Unlike other bands making electro-acoustic jazz way out on the margins, Syrinx Effect doesn’t think that devising actual melodies or just being tonal dilutes the impact of going outside: they often venture into the vicinity of folk and classical. The duo effortlessly spin off loops to increase their sonic footprint to one three times their size, constructing simple ostinatos layered on by electronics and articulated by inventing on the spot with their horns. It’s music that’s both organic and electronic, minimalist and improvisational.

So yes, these women embrace technology and do it the right way, not using it as a crutch but as an extension of their imagination and ingenuity. With the help of a laptop, effects pedals, field recordings and even an iPhone, odd noises adeptly deployed shoos away monotony and adding a sharp edge to the music. What’s more, since it can all done on the fly — see video of live performance above for proof of that — none of the spontaneity is lost.

It’s that spontaneity that adds to the intrigue, whether it’s the random static on “rakaD,” Siegel’s tortured, electronically modified warbling on “leviathan sway” or Olson’s echoing sax blending in with the barren sonic landscapes amid odd bouts of short breaths during the “tableau.” But “the gentlest thing in the world” also features a comely melody expressed by multiple-tracked horns that the little, unobtrusive eccentricities only seem to strengthen somehow.

Even on the fringes, it’s hard to stand out these days without being shocking. But with a little resourcefulness and a whole lot of musicianship, Olson and Siegel show that it can still be done.

Buy a download of gnarly & sweet here.

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