Edmund Welles
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Edmund Welles

Oakland, California, United States

Oakland, California, United States
Band Rock Avant-garde


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I heard this extraordinary “chamber music“ style quartet, literally of four bass clarinets, opening for the band Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. SGM is a wonderful band, distinctive and ever progressive and theatrically stimulating but hardly unique--they're very much in the tradition of King Crimson, and to me seemed, at times, a kind of Goth version of the late-period Mothers of Invention (that's a good thing). But Edmund Welles: The Bass Clarinet Quartet, really is unique. Their intricate, classically arranged but sometimes rock-inflected clarinet music--BASS clarinet music--transports the listener into a special state of mind, where strange notions flower. The album, AGRIPPA'S 3 BOOKS, is largely taken up with a long piece in 6 parts, from prelude to postlude, somehow evoking the hermetic sensibilities of the Renaissance magician; the second section of the album comprises bass clarinet renditions of tunes by Black Sabbath, Sepultra, and--they have a sense of humor--Spinal Tap. It's all fairly indescribable. I can only recommend that you go to www.edmundwelles.com and discover how to obtain it...
---John Shirley - Edge Trends Online Magazine

"Agrippa's 3 Books (Aquarius Records)"

Occult symbols on the cover of this black digipack... song titles like "Asmodeus: The Destroyer, King Of Demons"... covers of Black Sabbath's "Into The Void", Sepultura's "Roots Bloody Roots", and Spinal Tap's classic "Big Bottom" as bonus tracks... what is this, some sort of metal album? Well... no. It's not. And Edmund Welles isn't a person either (in this context), it's a band. A bass clarinet quartet to be exact. That's right. Four bass clarinets, that's it. So rather than metal, the weirdly dark and proggy and oddly groovy music on here ends up sounding more like some kind of '30s cabaret jazz meets 20th century classical chamber music, with some cartoon-soundtrack Carl Stalling stylings too... like if Raymond Scott was possessed by some Cthulhoid demon and outfitted his whole ensemble with bass clarinets, to pipe and hoot in worship of the Great Old Ones, both stutteringly and sinuously (and surreptitiously enough to still get nightclub gigs, swingin' it but still taking a toll on listeners' sanity). And as a nice touch, the very first track features an authentic helping of sampled, mixed-in "record crackle" to give this more of an antique, period feel.
Of course, with all the metal signifiers present -- especially those aforementioned bonus tracks -- the easiest thing to do is to compare Edmund Welles to Apocalpytica, the Finnish cello quartet famed for their Metallica covers. (And they covered a Sepultura song too!) So, there is a slight resemblance of course. But we have to say that Edmund Welles really reminds us more maybe of some sort of John Zorn project, or chamber prog brainiacs Zs. Whereas Apocalyptica somehow seems -more- metal, maybe 'cause you're more likely to hear cellos than bass clarinets on metal records anyhow, and also 'cause their cellos are amplified and sometimes they even have a drummer. Bass clarinets are, indeed, bassy and droney -- but not as heavy as some amped up cellos sawing away.
So the Sabbath cover here is more like the Bad Plus's "Iron Man" than how it would sound if Apocalyptica did it.
Maybe it's just a cool gimmick, but we can't help but like it... and we can safely say this is the best bass clarinet quartet album we've ever heard! - Aquarius Records Review July 2006

"Clarinet Rock"

You might call it "clarinet rock." If the clarinet brings up painful, high school band memories, this album is an absolute must. And if it doesn't, still, this album is a must. Never have you heard the clarinet take on so much attitude, so much angst, so much personality. Mixing in styles and approaches from contemporary classical writing to jazz to just good old rock 'n roll licks, Edmund Welles's album, "Agrippa's 3 Books," wins the award for capturing the most imagination and making the most out of one instrument family. Just listen.
- CD Baby

"Agrippa's 3 Books (All About Jazz)"

After having been rescued from the back rows of the orchestra by ‘60s jazz, the bass clarinet has found many homes. Today it is no longer rare but has become the province almost solely of the less composed spheres of the genre. This is a shame really because the bass clarinet can be one of the most expressive instruments around, pleasing yet subversive with a remarkable tonal range in the right hands. Edmund Welles, a San Francisco-based bass clarinet quartet, has created a symphonic repertoire that mixes the best elements of chamber music, jazz, heavy metal and “religious� music. The group, led by composer Cornelius Boots, must have quite a following, evidenced by the remarkable turnout at a late August performance at The Stone. There the group played material from Agrippa’s 3 Books as well as some older original material and covers. The album is a four-part suite (not including pre- and postlude) inspired by the 16th century philosophical treatises of the German intellectual. The music is simply remarkable. Boots has the ability to write compelling melodies and mix them with fascinating counterpoints, all while fully utilizing every black laquered inch of the instrument.

Stylistically, the pieces owe more to the realm of Black Sabbath than Eric Dolphy but are still firmly based in the new music tradition. The rest of the album is filled out by covers - Sabbath, Sepultura, Spinal Tap - which somewhat diffuse the seriousness of what preceded them. On album, they come at the end as a respite. In performance, they came first, acting as an initiation before the more difficult works. And difficult they are. Never before has the instrument been written for so well and most listeners might not be prepared for so much of this sound. And with a remarkable recording, no detail is missed. A stunning document.

---Andrey Henkin - All About Jazz NYC

"Agrippa's 3 Books (allmusic)"

Review by Stephen Eddins

It would be hard to improve on the description of Agrippa's 3 Books found in the CD booklet: "This multi-movement piece delves into the expressive and rhythmic extremes of the four bass clarinets and is primarily inspired by occult philosophy and heavy metal music." It's also one of the few absolutely lucid statements found in the booklet, whose notes include extensive references not only to the Three Books of Occult Philosophy by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1531), but to Agrippa's apocryphal Fourth Book, Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, Roman Polanski's film The Ninth Gate, and David Lynch's Twin Peaks. Not that that's a bad thing -- the clever obfuscation in the notes adds to the fun of the CD, and how could music for bass clarinets merging occult philosophy and heavy metal not be fun.

Despite the CD's title, Agrippa's 3 Books by Edmund Welles, the music is composed by bass clarinetist Cornelius Boots, and also includes Boots' arrangements of tunes by Black Sabbath, Brazilian metal band Sepultura, and Spinal Tap. Each movement has three titles, one of which describes the musical content ("Hip-Hop Electronica Pop With Chorale," "Odd-Meter Pop Meets Dirge With Chance Operation Melodies," etc.) and also prepares the listener for what to expect. The music itself matches the titles well, consistently out of kilter, full of disarmingly quirky juxtapositions and rhythmic surprises. Boots has an inventively playful take on his material, and the unforeseen turns that the music makes are both highly sophisticated and highly entertaining, even more fun than the program notes lead us to expect. For fans of new music and/or heavy metal, Boots' original voice is not to be missed. - allmusic.com

"by Winny Gerst Roker June 22, 2007"

Arts Bass Clarinet Quartet by Winny Gerst Roker June 22, 2007 The bass clarinet is what the baritone saxophone aspires to be. The bass clarinet has a smoothness and liquidness of tone that the brassier sax can't match, yet in the hands of a competent player, it can be bold and brassy as well. It has a wider range (an amazing four-plus octaves that rivals the range of the bassoon) that allows it to stand in for other members of the clarinet family, yet its bottom notes, mellow and rounded, have a visceral impact. In the hands of good players, this is a thrilling and versatile instrument. The Edmund Welles Bass Clarinet Quartet had four good players, and a concert repertoire that showed off these instruments to their best advantage.

In their June 22 concert at the Hillside Club in Berkeley, California, this program of “heavy chamber music� (jazz, chamber works and heavy metal tunes, most composed by members of the quartet) showed aspects of the bass clarinet not normally heard, including a percussive sound that provided a rhythmic foundation for several of the pieces, and a sound like an electric guitar in overdrive, a feature of the three rock pieces arranged for this group.

Many of the numbers were in a jazzy style with repeating figures that owed much to Stravinsky. Rich, creamy harmonies centered at the lower end of the bass's range supported melodic phrases in the middle and upper ranges, with staccato rhythms that were reminiscent of the Morse code one hears in movies about naval combat.

One piece was especially well suited to this ensemble: a 16th century motet for four voices (soprano, alto, tenor and bass). Usually performed by choruses or recorder consorts, this music was enriched by the unusual instrumentation.

Most of the rest of the offerings of this unusual group were composed by the members: Jeff Anderle, Cornelius Boots, Aaron Novik and Jonathan Russel. The lack of a printed program and the often indistinct introductions by Cornelius Boots, the leader of the group and composer of many of the numbers, made it difficult to know the names of the pieces and who composed them.

An album, "Tooth & Claw" is in preparation. Its title track has already won 2nd place in the International Songwriters Competition instrumental category. The Quartet's first album, "Agrippa's 3 Books", made the All About Jazz WNYC's Top Ten Performances of 2005.

Building bridges between "avant jazz, new music, black metal and classic rock", not to mention renaissance and classical music, is not for the faint-hearted. It is a tribute to the Quartet to say that they have succeeded, and that they have upheld their founding principals, that "the bass clarinet can achieve a virtually unlimited range of sounds, and ... when multiplied can be as powerful as a boogie woogie piano, a gospel quartet or a rock band". - New York Stringer Magazine

"Agrippa's 3 Books (Gothic Beauty)"

This strange thing may be the most original and total use of the clarinet yet recorded. Steeped in arcane symbols, clever wit and skilled musicianship, Agrippa’s 3 Books defies all expectations of the range of its featured instrument. Despite the dense philosophies expounded in the accompanying booklet, the Edmund Welles quartet is hardly a somber experiment, calling forth honks, buzzes, beeps, hums, the stormy grind of a heavy-metal guitar, and the bluesy cry of a saxophone all from the clarinet’s throat. It surges in staccato bursts and slows to a vintage vibrato, demanding attention, irritating if left as mere background music. If there’s such a thing as in-your-face classical, this would be it, deft and tricky, nervy yet polite. Includes diverse and astute references to David Lynch, Arturo Perez-Reverte, Black Sabbath, and Spinal Tap. - Gothic Beauty Issue 24

"(2012 preview in SF)"

Performers at "Worlds Apart: Local Response" include Edmund Welles: The Bass Clarinet Quartet, surely one of the most unusual chamber music groups. It premieres 2012: A Requiem for Baktun 12 [the 13th and Final Cycle], inspired by a Mayan prophecy about the end of an evolutionary cycle in the title year. ---Rita Felciano - SF Bay Guardian

"Worlds Apart"

Last night, kind of on a whim, I headed down to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to catch the first night of Worlds Apart: Local Response. The performance featured four short works by local artists commissioned by YBCA to respond to the theme of globalization.

Normally, this kind of event, with its marriage of a vaguely socio-political theme and contemporary art leaves me cold. The work produced tends to be didactic and unpolished.

But what made me go and see the production was the excitement at seeing such an eclectic mix of performers. I knew a couple of the companies already.............I was extremely excited at the prospect of hearing Edmund Welles: The Bass Clarinet Quartet play. How can I resist a group that advertises itself as "the world's only composing group of four bass clarinetists, who invent and perform heavy chamber music"?........
The highlight of the evening for me came after the intermission, when the very bizarre but strangely intoxicating bass clarinet quartet performed. I have never heard a group like this before. I couldn't fathom the premise for the piece they played, obscurely entitled 2012: A Requiem for Baktun 12 [the 13th and final Cycle]. But I didn't care. The music rattled around my mind and heart and left me feeling profoundly calm yet vibrating all over. The sheer range of sounds and moods that a quartet of bass clarinets can create is broader than I thought. Sometimes I heard jungle noises like elephants screaming. At other times, the sound was sweet, like a plodding old man. Sometimes I heard heavy artillery. At other times, the molasses-rich jazz voice of Bessie Smith. The performance also made me laugh out loud. Accompanied by a very earnest percussionist and vocalist (whose styles ranged from Tuvan throat singing to falsetto pseudo-operatic bellowing) the group seemed on occasion to be belching or playing like three-year-old kids. I have no idea what the piece was about or how it related to globalization, but it was mind-blowing anyway. - Chloe Veltman


Imagination Lost (2011)
Tooth & Claw (2007)
Agrippa's 3 Books by Edmund Welles (2005)
muzak for devils: selected works (2003)



Edmund Welles: the bass clarinet quartet has the distinction of being the world's only original, composing band of four bass clarinetists, they invent and perform heavy chamber music. The bass clarinet has a 5-octave range and a huge span of tonal, melodic, and rhythmic capabilities.

Since 1996, Cornelius Boots has led and composed for Edmund Welles, which received a Chamber Music America Grant in 2004 for the creation of Agrippa's 3 Books, a multi-movement work inspired by occult philosophy and heavy metal music. This piece is featured on their debut album of the same title [mixed and mastered by Grammy-award winning sound alchemist Oz Fritz]. The album was named on the Top Ten Albums of 2005, and the New York premiere of the piece made the Top Ten Performances of 2005 in All About Jazz NYC. The title track of their second album, Tooth & Claw, placed 2nd out of thousands of entries in the "Instrumental" category of the 2006 International Songwriting Competition. In 2007, The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco commissioned the group to compose and perform 2012: A Requiem for Baktun 12 [the 13th and Final Cycle].

In 2008, the quartet was a featured ensemble at the International Clarinet Convention in Kansas City in addition to sharing a bill with the innovative "rock against rock" power-ensemble Sleepytime Gorilla Museum at several California venues. As their influence grows, Edmund Welles continues to be sought out for cutting edge music festivals and series including Three Drops of Blood (Installments II and IX), Switchboard Music Festival, and Hornucopia. There have also been several acolyte bass clarinet quartets (such as Acid Bass in New York) crop up around the globe over the last 3 years, playing both Edmund Welles arrangements and innovative pieces of their own. Engendering enthusiasm and expanding the musical horizons of both clarinetists and the general non-clarinet-playing public is at the core of the ensemble's existence.

Drawing virtuosic precision from the classical realm; innovation and texture from jazz; and power, rhythm and overall perspective from rock and metal, the quartet's sound is characterized by a thickness of tone, a density of texture, absolute rhythmic precision, and the extreme use of dynamic contrasts: a dense, pulsing sound capable of expressing and reflecting the full range of human emotions. The quartet is like Tony Iommi, Wendy Carlos, Les Claypool and Howlin Wolf playing blackjack against Eric Dolphy. It was originally founded on two principles: the bass clarinet can achieve a virtually unlimited range of sounds, and when this same instrumental voice is multiplied, it can be as powerful as a boogie woogie piano, a gospel quartet or a rock band. Indeed the very first arrangements were of the Swan Silvertones, Montana Taylor and the Pixies. The originals compositions have evolved into a style unique unto themselves while maintaining a stylistic consistency at their core, and the arrangements conquered by the quartet now include Black Sabbath and Sepultura songs.