Coppice · Holes/Tract

Coppice · Holes/Tract

Debut full-length release by Chicago duo Coppice (Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer) comprising four compositions that explore the widely dimensional sonic range of a strictly narrow instrumentation: shruti box/acoustic filters and modified boombox/tape loops.


Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer are Coppice, using shruti box, filters and tapes. It an agreeable and yummy mix of sounds, generally, the reedy drones of the mini-organ (along with, I think, other extended sounds derived therefrom) bump up against the electronics, the latter often clunky and pleasingly awkward. Where the various whooshes and other elements arise from, I’m rarely certain. The music is loose, sometimes a bit too much so perhaps and there’s a small tendency toward meandering--some editing, live or post may have helped--but it regularly rights ship and passes some intriguing shores before winding up and, in toto, the disc progresses well, cresting toward the end. Rhythms are introduced on occasion, but they’re the result of the internal workings of the machines involved more than the instincts of the players, an effect that serves to cast a good, icy pall over some minutes here. Overall, it strikes me as akin to the music produced by the younger NYC-based denizens of the eai world over the past few years, which is to say, adventurous with some very good ideas, not always fully formed but not bad at all and well worth watching.

Tonight a new CD on the Consumer Waste label by the Chicago-based duo of Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer who perform under the name Coppice. Holes/Tract is a four track album that sees the duo work with shruti box and a modified boom box tape player with tape loops. Quite an intriguing combination of instrumentation then, and the end result is in fact rather nice indeed. What the music isn’t really, is overly droney. Given the choice of tools used by the duo you couldn’t be blamed for assuming that a continuous, layered music might emerge, but for most of the time this isn’t the case. Both the shruti box and the tapes generally lean towards quieter, textural sounds, and while sometimes they can extend out into longer lines, and in the final track in particular, we don’t really ever hear the two inputs doing this at the same time.

I’m not certain who plays what here, but there is a nice subtlety involved with both sets of sounds. The shruti box often becomes an earthy set of bellows sighing dry air rather than anything tonal, but there are no end of clicks and scratches and other vaguely percussive sounds that may also come from the instrument as "acoustic filters" are also applied to it. The tapes are mostly used in a similar way, little intrusions of quiet abstract sounds rather than anything particularly overt, with just one moment early in the disc where a mesh of high pitched wails build and combine before being cut dead with flapping distress really sounding like traditionally recognisable tape work. Often it feels like we are hearing the mechanics of the boom box slowly whirring over, perhaps manually interrupted rather than the tapes playing themselves. The deathly quiet, and quite beautiful third track Scour (great title) certainly suggests this.

The closing Brim is where the music finally slips into full-on drone, but even here I find the music surprisingly detailed and with a constantly shifting grain running through it. An entire album of such linear music would bore me, but offset against the other three quarters of the album this track sounds like a celebration of the instruments finally set free to go where they feel they should be going. Towards the last third of the track the sounds break down again, forced into corners and choked as they are on the earlier pieces.

Coppice make lovely music. If I have heard material from Cuéllar and Kramer before then I don’t remember it, but certainly this album has price my ears up to their names. The pair have a strong understanding of the unusual instruments they set out to work with and so are able to create music that is at once aesthetically refined in its quietly tense mannerism and also structurally well considered – nothing here sounds like a happy accident. Holes/Tract is also a tough one to pigeonhole. The liner notes state that the music was composed between 2009 and 2010 and yet I am certain at its core it was improvised, reminding me if anything of the lowercase sound of London and Berlin at the turn of the millennium, though to be honest its some way away from anything in particular. Fine music then, one to pick up even if you haven’t heard of the musicians before, and do so quickly as only 100 hand-made copies exist.

The word "coppice" describes an area of newly formed growth that has emerged from the stumps left behind in deforestation. In keeping with this theme of life budding from death and the new spawning from the old, the Consumer Waste label, which released the debut full-length from Coppice’s Noé Cuéllar & Joseph Kramer, use only (you guessed it) post-consumer waste in the packaging of their releases. Regardless of one’s opinion on the sounds, it’d be hard not to at least appreciate this lucid connection between label and artist.

Since 2009, Coppice has worked with reed instruments and custom electronics to form a truly unclassifiable style of music, full of shruti box wheezing, subtle feedback, and all the pops, buzzes, scrapes and thuds that idiosyncratic analog sound treatment can deliver. On Holes/Tract, the duo bring tape loops and a modified boombox into the mix, lending the sonic swill and ever-present shruti a distinctly salvaged quality. The result of Coppice’s intentionally imperfect process translates as a stitching together of sound scraps, as if culled from bits and pieces of a library of recorded live performances, or sonic fragments patched together from various turntable experiments.

It may seem negative to say that something sounds salvaged, but it’s a testament to how easily Coppice’s music allows the imagination to probe for the secrets behind it. In reality, this isn’t some one-in-a-million "found sound" record, but one derived from two hard working musicians who perform their art live, as cumbersome as it might be to do so, and as challenging as it might be for their audience to interpret.

Holes/Tract is the latest release from Chicago artists Coppice (Joseph Kramer and Noé Cuéllar); this work is published by british label Consumer Waste one of the very interesting young labels in the concrete and acousmatic composition line of work.


The first piece of the release is a work where the sound textures, scales and shapes present strong emotional content. Here the listener is already exposed to a work that could emotionally move and affect him while still establishing a quotidian and incidental aura.

Through almost 49 minutes Holes/Tract slowly reveals a delicate narrative character that compellingly evolves rewarding the listener with a very powerful experience.

Mild Grey Lustre

Something that I find quite compelling in regard of this piece is the fact that the incidental and the human action are merged creating some sort of parallel reality, a construction that formally evokes the relationship between the subject and an observer.


Scour, the third piece, presents some sort of harsh character that is dealt with on a very austere and compelling way. Scour goes from phonographic moments of hard sound textures to moments of extreme focus on the detail where the tiny incidental sound events help constructing this continuos sense of narrative. Through the last third of the piece, a series of treated mechanical sounds create a new layer, a new texture that helps building some sort of micro-emotional environment of great formal aesthetic value.


This is probably the more ‘musical’ piece of the release, at least through its first half. Through the middle the more musical sonorities fade away to this beautiful sounds where this emotional harshness is brought back, again dealt with on a very delicate and austere way which only helps making this harsh character stronger.

Holes/Tract is a work that should be kept in mind for those who are interested on the more formal aspect of the concrete line of work in particular on the emotional content that can be found on the phonographic capture via treatment and montage.


{Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management which takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level. In subsequent growth years, many new shoots will emerge, and, after a number of years the coppiced tree, or stool, is ready to be harvested, and the cycle begins again. – Wikipedia

Autre immersion profonde dans le son, Holes/Tracts est une suite de quatre pièces interprétée par le duo Coppice, nom de scène pour Noé Cuéllar et Joseph Kramer. Des pièces étranges et uniques, composées à partir de shruti box, de filtres acoustiques, et de boucles magnétiques. On peut s’en douter, il s’agit là de pièces principalement axées sur le timbre et l’exploration sonique d’instruments/objets acoustiques. Clapotements, grincements, frottements, le son est noyé, répercuté, amplifié, on ne sait jamais trop comment ni avec quoi. Et c’est sans compter sur les silences et les nombreux passages très faibles et calmes où les repères deviennent encore plus évanescents, flous, obscurs.

Un album dur d’écoute, hors de toute esthétique et qui semble extérieur à toute norme et à tout langage musical. Holes/Tracts immerge l’auditeur dans des profondeurs soniques acoustiques abstraites et non-musicales souvent, mais tout de même poétiques et envoutantes. Car Coppice semble raconter une histoire, un fil narratif semble conduire ces quatre pièces, mais il s’agit bien évidemment d’une histoire purement sonore, où les rebondissements se font par modulations d’intensité, par évolution de textures. Coppice nous narre une histoire peut-être irrationnelle, en tout cas extérieure aux codes esthétiques préétablis, mais une histoire qui vaut le coup pour sa singularité, pour l’originalité du langage qu’elle met en place, mais également pour sa structure souvent surprenante. Une musique extraterrestre, qui ne semble pas produite sur la même planète, qui semble surgir d’une nouvelle espèce, une espèce dotée d’une perception extrêmement aiguisée, sensible et poétique du son.

Coppice are Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer, a young chicago based duo who use bellows-driven instruments (accordions, harmoniums, etc) alongside a raft of homemade electronic devices. Their debut CD, Holes/Tract, fins the pair investigating the sonic potential of a deconstructed sruti box, whose often pitchless wheezing drives all four tracks. Modified tape players and filters accompany the windy hiss, providing close-up, brittle crackling, evoking raked piles of dead leaves. It’s all very attractive, if utterly stark. The last track’s long decrescendo – a thin howling tone that hovers at the edge of perception – is absolutely exquisite. The maturity and restraint on display here suggests a group with decades of activity behind it, rather than a pair of artists at the beginning of their careers.

Coppice are Chicago-based duo Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer, and Holes/Tract is their debut full-length recording, though they have been making works together for stage, fixed media and performed installations since 2009. Their sound art tends to be based around bellows and reed instruments and custom electronics, though with Holes/Tract there were few moments when I felt I could identify a particular sound source, or even a particular method of processing. Nor did the five tracks seem immediately evocative of a specific situation or setting, such as a landscape. Bereft of any material referents, I found myself paying more attention to the sounds themselves – their tonal qualities, the ways in which they were combined, and how they changed over time.

Perhaps the only material trace still recognisable on Holes/Tract is the great number of sounds that oscillate, repeat, or recur in a cyclical manner, suggesting that they came from a bellows instrument. However, such is the variety of these sounds that the notion of oscillation or cycling could perhaps be considered as a sort of organising principle for the album as a whole, drawing out oscillating qualities in sounds from other more diverse sources. It is interesting to compare these more-or-less regular patterns with the metrical rhythms of traditional Western music: whereas the latter are imposed and enforced by a particular kind of human intervention, becoming raw building materials for an edifice of effect, the former are arguably intrinsic to the sound itself, repetitions emerging from the physics of particular methods of sound production rather than being imposed from the outside. The result is a kind of temporality that repeats and recurs without appearing at all concerned with the ways in which musical time is conventionally measured by humans – a kind of rhythmicality of objects, if you will.

Apart from the oscillation motif, there is little to separate Coppice’s sounds from the usual sound art repertoire of buzzes, crunches, hisses and saws, cycling through all the settings from ‘harsh’ to ‘grating’. Pretty this ain’t, but there is still something intriguing and oddly listenable in what at times comes across as an alien sound world, intelligible to someone or something if not to you – like trying to follow a game when you don’t know the rules, or listening to a conversation in a language you don’t speak. Holes/Tract is available on CD from Stephen Cornford’s label Consumer Waste, and with a recent 7-inch from Giuseppe Ielasi’s Senufo Editions and a now-obligatory cassette release forthcoming on Notice Recordings, now seems to be a good time to get acquainted with Coppice’s pump-operated sound world.

Released on the UK label Consumer Waste, Holes/Tract was composed and recorded in late 2009 / early 2010 by Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer who go by the name of Coppice.

The artists write of their work thus:

Holes/Tract documents the origin of a sound palette of bellows and electronics – the formation of our collaboration as Coppice. The four compositions highlight the widely dimensional sonic range of a strictly narrow instrumentation: shruti box/acoustic filters and modified boombox/tape loops.

So what we have here is a very tightly focused approach to music made with a carefully chosen and simple blend of acoustic and electronic instruments. A palette has been developed, flexible enough to merit a full length album, yet restricted enough, in the main, to offer the listener a very original, unique and recognisable sound world.

Before commenting on the music I have to say, in very simple and personal terms, that I find their work inspiring – hard to pigeonhole, contemporary without playing to fashionable idioms, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable. A good dig around their website is thoroughly recommended, if only to speculate on the range of influences brought to bear on the duo’s work.

Agate [11:36]

Some artists work uniquely with raw field recordings, some with the processed versions. Others add dashes of recorded sound here and there for various reasons, musical and otherwise. Coppice, with their selected instruments, however, manage to make music that sounds like field recordings, a practice which adds another layer of complexity to the ‘what is music’ debate. Agate in particular sounds for all the world like some of the textile mills that I’ve been recording of late. I have no doubt that many recordists will recognise the sounds of (apparent) small industrial processes. But then one could reasonably argue that what we have here is indeed a cottage industry defined by the grit, crackles, blasts, whirrs and whines of machinery and mechanisms in motion. This onomatopoeic world is a world of agency and of physical labour.

There’s a palpable intensity to the work. Instead of measurable change in the larger structure, we have a focus on small variations in texture and density. There is no attempt to make ‘beautiful’ music in the conventional sense of, say, evoking emotional sweeps by means of dynamic gestures. Any post production is well hidden. Everything seems to be the result of performed or initiated sonic processes, lending a sense of immediacy to the music.

Mild Grey Lustre [5:28]

This piece is characterised by its strong formal arrangement: four finely shaped passages framed by periods of rest as the bellows draw breath. Always in motion, each of the main passages exhibits a blend of electronic textures with what I’d call organic sounds, human activated sounds of uncertain provenance.

Scour [16:21]

Scour has more of the purr, hiss, whine and whirr of the first piece, along with crickety jungle sounds, some delicious passages of indeterminate foutering and a range of breathy sounds, presumably part of the bellows and reed mechanisms.

There are lengthy periods of what might at first be taken for relatively gentle activity, offering fine contrast with more obvious industrial processes. But these passages are as deceiving as they are clever. Whilst offering genuine contrast (a long period of apparently nothing much more than a ticking sound) a closer listen reveals a hive of small industry, as if something’s being repaired or prepared in the lab. Certain passages remind me of some field recordings I captured recently of horses in their night stables – some fidgeting and the odd snort, then silence, then more of the same.

Brim [15:26]

Brim begins with a long drone which turns out to be rather complex if you listen closely for the harmonics and other ‘noise’ in the signal. One might be forgiven for drawing parallels with the darkness and austerity of a medieval processional, sackbuts and shawms in full voice. The processional is accompanied by the beating and wind of bellows which eventually give way to more recognisable dynamically filtered instrumental timbres – those of a (cleverly amplified) sruti box. As the texture becomes ever denser, and richer, interesting morphologies emerge in the combinations, becoming quasi-orchestral, like an ensemble of bowed zithers with electronic overtones. The piece ends on a very long decrescendo, one third of the total duration of the piece.

On a technical note, the track has been very well equalised. I say this because the region around 2kHz has been kept prominent in the mix, without stripping the enamel off your teeth – not an easy task.

Brim stands apart from the other three pieces. A different approach seems to be at work here, no less successful, but which risks compromising the integrity of the album, considering the nature of the other three pieces.

Finally, to complete my reading of this work, I would consider the duo’s overall approach as a following-on from the work of Harry Partch and others like him, whether conscious or not, and of course setting aside obsessions with tuning systems. Holes/Tract succeeds in contributing a dash of meaningful originality to the ever expanding field of new experimental music.