35 Whirlpools Below Sound presents a fantastical soundworld of 19 short, richly detailed, multilayered electro-acoustic soundscapes jointly composed by Newman and Cox, whose musical friendship and ongoing working relationship date back to 1985.
These enigmatic works, built of often mysterious juxtapositions of sounds, have been gestating and changing shape for many years, with ever an eye toward their eventual completion and release, which this CD marks. The album’s title was taken from a line in Hervey M. Cleckley’s classic psychology study, The Mask of Sanity, in which the author quotes the following sentence from one of his patient’s letters: “Until you gentlemen decide further what my occupation is, you may as well announce me as comforting 35 whirlpools below sound.
Thomas Newman is the popular and widely acclaimed composer of more than 50 film and television scores, a highly varied body of work that includes American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption, The Player, Skyfall, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, Angels in America, Road to Perdition, Scent of a Woman, Erin Brockovich, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Good German, Jarhead, The Horse Whisperer, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Meet Joe Black, Oscar and Lucinda, Little Women, Unstrung Heroes, and The Iron Lady. For this work, he has earned twelve Academy Award nominations and six Grammy Awards. Newman also writes concert works, among which have been pieces commissioned by Kronos Quartet, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony, and the Cleveland Orchestra. Newman has appeared as a pianist on three previous Cold Blue CDs, performing the music of Rick Cox.
“Newman’s writing is comfortable in many worlds and fun to listen to.”—Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times
“[Newman is] a versatile talent…fond of experimentation…. The result is distinctive, often haunting music that can be lush and melodic or stark and edgy.”—Los Angeles Times
Rick Cox is a Los Angeles-based composer and multi-instrumentalist whom guitarist/composer Ry Cooder called “the hidden master of the crepuscular and the diaphanous.” Cox was an early explorer/developer of “prepared electric guitar” techniques, and his music, which often employs himself (electric guitar, woodwinds, and/or electronics and samples) in the company of other instrumentalists, has been recorded on the Cold Blue, Grenadilla, Advance, and Raptoria Caam labels. As a performer, he can be heard on recent recordings by trumpeter/composer Jon Hassell (including Maarifa Street, Fascinoma, and Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street), with whom he has also toured, and on such popular film scores by Thomas Newman as The Shawshank Redemption, The Horse Whisperer, and American Beauty. Cox has also worked with Ry Cooder, arranging, composing, and performing on the film scores Last Man Standing and End of Violence. Cox’s music appears on seven previous Cold Blue CDs.
“[Cox’s] enveloping harmonies are less innocent than they first appear. Prettiness with a tough core.”—The Wire
“Edges and contours are all smoothed away, the music insinuating much more than it says.… Cox’s elusiveness soon becomes subtlety…opening up spaces and filling them—patiently, softly—with music.”—Gramophone
For a recent interview with Rick Cox in Guitar Moderne, go to:http://www.guitarmoderne.com/artists/spotlight-rick-cox#more-1972
“[D]efinitely consider picking up this recording by composers and multi-instrumentalists Thomas Newman and Rick Cox…. [T]hey’ve created an eerie and fascinating soundscape that will be pretty much unlike anything else you’ve heard before .” —Rick Anderson, CD HotList: New Releases for Libraries
“I have a feeling that this music is what one would have heard if they’d put a stethoscope to the forehead of Samuel Beckett.”—Film Score Monthly
“The label’s latest release by Rick Cox and Thomas Newman is a work of electro-acoustic origin and performed by the composers…. I assume these two men work together because they know each other, and wanted to have a great time working together, other than also creating a fine work. Cox plays prepared guitar, xaphoon, cello, and voice, and Newman, toy accordion, violin, piano, phase metals and there is help from Jeff Elmassian on clarinet and a bunch of field recordings (wind, leaves, water, cars) are also used. This is quite a strange release: It has the bearings of improvised music, but then with sampled sounds of instruments. Sometimes it all seems very simple to me—too simple perhaps, but in many of the pieces there is a beautiful tension between the players, a fine deep-end bass rumbling below, sparse piano tones set against a drone or two, and all of this in nineteen rather short pieces…. This release seems an oddball in the catalogue of Cold Blue Music, but I quite enjoyed it. Sometimes it sounds like a processed orchestra, then purely musique concrete, followed by a bit ambience. Excellent!”—Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly (Netherlands)
“Newman and Cox have been longtime collaborators, and on this nineteen-track album, they have put together some utterly compelling work. These soundscapes are an intriguing blend, sounding like something from a subterranean orchestra, mixed with hints of ambient and experimental music, all wrapped up in a beautiful eeriness. 35 Whirlpools Below Sound is a distinctive effort, and certainly something much different than Newman’s film works.” — Kevin Jagernauth, IndieWire
“Precisely how far Thomas Newman and Rick Cox’s 35 Whirlpools Below Sound distances itself from Cold Blue’s other releases becomes most vividly apparent midway through the album when “Mort” evokes a muffled soundworld reminiscent of the mutant ones trumpeter Jon Hassell conjured with Brian Eno on Fourth World Vol. 1 in 1980 and by himself on Dream Theory In Malaya shortly thereafter (interestingly, Cox has appeared on recent Hassell recordings, including Maarifa Street and Fascinoma). In itself, that shouldn’t come as too great a surprise to those acquainted with the many recordings Cox has issued on Cold Blue. A no doubt familiar name to devotees of the West Coast label, the LA-based composer and innovative multi-instrumentalist jointly composed the album’s nineteen settings with Thomas Newman, himself well known as a soundtrack composer for films such as American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption, Skyfall, and The Horse Whisperer. 35 Whirlpools Below Sound is hardly the first time Cox and Newman have collaborated: in a working relationship that extends back to 1985…
“Mort” is certainly not the only unusual piece on this eclectic collection of rich electro-acoustic soundscapes, which features Cox on cello, Xaphoon, prepared guitar, and vocals, Newman on piano, phase metals, toy accordion, and violin, and Jeff Elmassian on clarinet. Each setting, it seems, traverses enigmatic territory, and though they are short, they still manage to explore multiple zones within a single piece. The opening “A Well Staring at the Sky” illustrates as much in the way it scatters fragments of accordion, piano, and music box playing across nature-based field recordings during its three minutes. “Slate Overture,” on the other hand, plays like a recording of subterranean geological activity, what with its relentless burbling and steel-edged textures, while “Smith’s Arcade” and “Eyes of Blue” are dominated by woozy acoustic piano shards and haunted violin scrapes, respectively. Perhaps the most experimental of the pieces is “Carapace,” which is characterized by a hyperactive flow of stuttering sound treatments and voice snippets. Throughout the hour-long release, wondrous, fairy tale-like dreamscapes (“Goldmine Nectarine,” “Paper Thin”) rub shoulders with murky ambient-drone evocations (“Ashland Schine,” “Venice Mule,” “Stair”) that rumble with mysterious portent. Admittedly, the shape-shifting character of the release makes it a hard one to pin down, but to its credit it offers no shortage of stimulation and surprise.” —Textura
“Both renowned soundtrack-making entities, Newman and Cox have worked on this joint album for years. They ended publishing nineteen tracks that…reveal bizarre substructures and a plethora of visuals, halfway through REM (not the band) and a fluid acoustic imagery relating to semi-altered states…. Most pieces are quite aleatoric in terms of intrinsic movement and aural grain: one moment identifiably “tonal,” a minute later totally unfathomable. Loops and seamed snippets introduce us to complex systems of reduplication, at times moving rather convulsively (“Carapace”). The awareness of the past is evidently an essential source, a faint transitoriness at the basis of memories that refuse to be tagged (“Goldmine Nectarine” being the finest representation). In “Negative Rhythm” we’re confronted by inhomogeneous materials which, curiously enough, seem to stimulate a transition towards a quiescent state of mind…. Finally, you come to something like “Ashland Schine”—a woofer-quake trip across subsonic blows and inscrutable backgrounds—fully prepared to acknowledge the truth: Newman and Cox have removed any ill will from your inner mechanisms. So, the eventual wish is to keep floating amidst these nerve-recharging repercussions for another good while.”—Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes (Italy)
“Composers Newman and Cox create a world of fragmentary electro-acoustic vignettes that wander and drift between structured melodic work, textural explorations, and floating ambient worlds, reflecting the film scoring background of both. There are 19 short distinct pieces here that work together as a complete aural journey through mysterious subconscious spaces. Familiar sounds, like scraping guitar strings, a multi-tracked chorus of random piano, a toy accordion, tuned percussion, some cello, violin and clarinet juxtapose with the unfamiliar—sampled and found sounds, electronic bits, and those that are processed to a point beyond recognition, but everything fits together nicely. One piece in particular, “Goldmine Nectarine,” hints of 19th-century impressionist classical work, while several others are open-form deep-space explorations…while others yet approach the work of minimalist composers like Terry Riley. There are no rough or hard edges here, no evidence of rock, jazz, or any other standard forms, but with that said, this is not soft and pretty either, existing in a world of its own. It’s best to listen to this and just let the magic work, without trying to dissect or analyze it too much; I’m sure that’s the way it was intended, to just immerse the listener into this new strange world of ever shifting sounds and textures, occasionally revealing something faintly recognizable, but without breaking the spell. This is one of those discs that one could easily play around the clock as a soundtrack for just about any activity, inactivity, or slumber. Excuse me while I hit the repeat button again.” —Exposé magazine
“I know Rick Cox from his work with Jon Hassell as well as a couple of his previous discs on the Cold Blue label. I was familiar with Thomas Newman before this disc arrived. The music here evokes ghosts or floating spirits of some sort. An accordion drifts on waves with eerie wind-like sounds or odd samples. Soft sounds and slices of instruments (clarinet, strings) drift by. Each sound seems to be carefully selected so that everything evokes different spirits. Other worlds slowly unfold and shift into other spaces. At one point a disorienting piano sequence takes over and then fades into something else, a distant cello squeaking softly. The somber music and floating samples are carefully sewn together into a most hypnotic tapestry. There is another sequence where it sounds as if someone is breathing or snoring while a distant storm is brewing, quietly ominous. Consistently fascinating.”—Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter
“The 19 tracks on this release are mostly short—from just over 30 seconds to 7 minutes—but together comprise an hour of electro-acoustic works that are intriguingly experimental and richly varied…. The first track, A Well Staring at the Sky is typical of this CD in the way it evokes a vivid image of surreal loneliness. There is the brief sound of an accordion playing a vaguely familiar street tune and this gives way to the swooshing sound of strong wind accompanied by a few piano notes and a low bass rumbling underneath. Now there is a rattling sound—perhaps some underground pipes—and brief snatches of a piano passage followed by the sound of a music box. All of this is packed into a little more than three minutes but there is the distinct feeling of having been alone for an afternoon in some wind-blown and abandoned desert town.
“Other tracks contain similarly striking imagery, often built from unusual sounds. Slate Overture starts with bubbling and clacking, as if standing before some giant alien chemistry experiment. A repeating passage of light bells is heard overhead as a metallic, alien sound is infused into the mix. The mysterious bubbling returns, louder now, building drama but also inspiring a sense of awe before it fades at the finish. Negative Rhythm includes the same scratchy bubbling sound and has a similar feel and texture. Negative Rhythm develops into a slow rolling roar, like a distant volcano with ribbons of flowing lava. A recognizably organic sound, but one made from unnatural sonic materials; the result is convincing and intimidating.
“Some of the pieces include familiar acoustic instruments that provide the listener a welcome handhold. Paper Thin, for example, is 40 seconds of repeated and layered music box sounds. Stair contains ominous, deep piano notes with warbling, meandering clarinet tones that add to a mysterious, sinister feel. Some wooden knocking is heard, as if something malevolent is stirring about. Other tracks are pure electronics, such as Carapace, a piece that contains the boops and beeps of a retro arcade game. Carapace is active and busy, with some brief moments of unintelligible speech and disjointed guitar riffs. There is a nostalgic feel to this, like standing inside an arcade surrounded by people playing video games.
“The variety of sounds and emotions in 35 Whirlpools Below Sound is impressive, and not all of them evoke a mystery or menace. Goldmine Nectarine is smooth and welcoming, like sitting in a warm bath. Smith’s Arcade features tones slipping and sliding around, a sense of uncontrolled imbalance as if we are looking at fun house mirrors. Or Pluton Creek, a piece that joyfully contains 50 seconds of melodious playfulness.
“35 Whirlpools Below Sound is a skillfully realized work that takes us to places we have only dreamed of, using sounds that work on our imagination in new and exciting ways.” —Paul Muller, New Classic LA
“One of my favorite tracks here is ‘Mort,’ in which a mosquito’s whiny buzz is soon revealed to be a distorted human voice…or is it the other way around?… ‘Goldmine Nectarine’ is a peacefully chiming nocturne, slowed to the point of hypnosis, and lightly garlanded with the pattering static of record surface noise (although it might be the rain instead). A couple of the selections feature bass rumblings loud enough to disquiet one’s animal companions and make one wonder if an earthquake is nigh, or if the moon is about to crash into the Earth. In other words, if real estate is all about location, location, location, 35 Whirlpools is all about atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere. I’ve come to expect Cold Blue Music’s releases to be, for the most part, pretty, but this one is often unsettling and even threatening. Not that I am complaining. This is terrific for late-night listening…. In the darkness of its mood, this is a departure for Cold Blue Music, but I will be returning to this CD often, especially on cold nights when I feel like huddling under the blankets.” —Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare magazine
“The public notice of what is now called electroacoustic music is nowhere near as wide-spread than in the days when electronic music was a palpable force on the new music avant-garde scene. Yet there is very good work being done if you look for it. An excellent example is 35 Whirlpools Below Sound, a collaborative effort between Thomas Newman and Rick Cox. Rick is on prepared guitar, Xaphoon, cello and voice; Thomas plays a toy accordion, violin, piano and phase metals; Jeff Elmassian plays clarinet, and there are also field recordings of wind, leaves, water and cars. All of these elements (and others, to my ears) combine in various stages of transformation for 19 very evocative soundscapes. Many have a natural sort of ambiance, some less so, but altogether there is a sequence of sound events that makes very effective use of musical tone and noise to create vivid sound poetry. There’s nothing truly jarring in this whirpool, so it invites you to drift along with its ever-varying architectonics and sound washes. I found it fascinating and very worthwhile. You traverse diverse landscapes willingly and with satisfaction, and perhaps you attentively dream of other worlds as you listen. Very nice, indeed.”—Grego Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
“The notion of film composers releasing non-soundtrack albums is not new, but it is unusual. For the most part, they are excursions into the classical world. . . . In a somewhat different category is Thomas Newman’s experimental 35 Whirlpools Below Sound.”—Jon Burlingame, Variety
“The 19 tracks on 35 Whirlpools Below Sound took me on one of the most fantastic, kaleidoscopic journeys into soundworlds I hardly believed could exist! My interest was triggered because the album is released on Cold Blue Music—a label focused on (West Coast) minimalism and post-minimalism—ánd because Newman teams up with Rick Cox, with whom he regularly worked since 1985. Cox is a composer and multi-instrumentalist, explorer of ‘prepared electric guitar’ techniques, who has played with the likes of Ry Cooder and Jon Hassell…. The strange title was another indication this could be something very special. It is taken from a line in Hervey M. Cleckley’s classic psychology study, The Mask of Sanity, in which the author quotes the following sentence from one of his patient’s letters: ‘Until you gentlemen decide further what my occupation is, you may as well announce me as comforting 35 whirlpools below sound.’
“Scoring successful soundtracks obviously provides the luxury to break completely free of the usual constraints and create something beyond any expectation. Simply put, this is one of the strangest albums that I can imagine. And not just because of the fantastical soundworlds Newman and Cox create in these ‘short, richly detailed, multilayered electro-acoustic soundscapes’—but also because of the way these sounds are recorded, the depth of the sound itself.”—Ambientblog