Robert Poss
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Robert Poss

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
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After the dissolution of his criminally underrated Band of Susans project, Robert Poss continued his obsession with the various noises of the electric guitar, no longer restrained by the constraints of "rock" music (though he pushed those boundaries pretty hard with BoS). Settings is a collection of music recorded for various purposes, but follows the concepts established on his 2002 album Distortion is Truth, reveling in the dissonant and not so dissonant tones of both guitar and analog synthesizer technologies.

Although it is a compilation album, there is a definite sense of consistency and quality that unifies the pieces. Even though they may have been written and recorded for disparate purposes, Poss' overall approach keeps them nicely tied together. The two opening pieces, originally composed for choreographer Alexandra Beller, are unified through the use of resonating bells. The first piece focuses on the sound of bells and quiet underlying electronic textures, the sharp bell rings initially disturb the calm, but their natural decay then strengthens the subtlety. By the second piece, a series of treated, repetitive guitar notes appear, creating an odd combination of erratic bells, rhythmic guitar, and sustained electronic ambience that somehow works perfectly together.

Other pieces further focus on drawing together almost opposing sounds and instruments to create idiosyncratic, yet compelling works. "Feed Forward" (also for Beller) pairs shrill guitar feedback with sparse synths and warbling electronic sounds to great effect, and the clash of melody and abrasive electronic buzz on “Inverness” seem greatly influenced by Poss collaborator and former Wire guitarist Bruce Gilbert’s solo outings.

Two of the three Gerald Casel commissioned pieces combine this concept with a distinct marching sound: "Border Crossing March" uses marching band percussion, dour industrial textures and bleeping modular synths to create a piece that is reminiscent of some of Cabaret Voltaire's earliest experiments, but with a stronger focus on composition and structure rather than pure experimentation. "Border Piano Walk" follows a similar rhythmic path, but instead uses piano as its sole source material. With sharp tunings and clanging reverberation, it takes on a very tense, metallic motif throughout.

Regardless of the setting, Poss seems to be unable to avoid allowing some traditional music/rock structures into the mix, in a good way. "With Music No. 2 (Excerpt)" has a looped riff that’s used throughout, mixed with more open, drifting guitar and a natural feeling bass line. While it takes a drastic turn towards improvised percussion at the end, there is still a rock feel to it. "Concordance" also utilizes mostly untreated guitar, chiming and layered with only the most subtle effects to create a warm and inviting piece. The one that made me smile, and probably will have the same effect on other Band of Susans' fans, is the closing "Robert Palmer Tribute Coda (Live Excerpt)," which is a wonderful, but painfully short blast of lo-fi guitar noise and squall that simply ends too quick.

Robert Poss' solo work has definitely shown the influence of his collaborators, which includes such luminaries as Bruce Gilbert and Phill Niblock. However, he is definitely following his own path, combining modular synths and guitars in ways that others haven't. Not a collection of songs, this feels more like a diverse and strong album, and is one not to be missed. I just hope he never forgets his love of raw, guitar noise, because he still does it like no other. - Brainwashed (Review by Creaig Dunton)


Robert Poss, “Settings”
Tuesday 12 October 2010

I love receiving swag, and I’ve been listening to so much capital-A Arty Stuff lately, so I was happy to get hold of a copy of Robert Poss’ new CD, “Settings”. My knowledge of Poss’ music didn’t go much beyond him being that bloke from the Band of Susans who I’ve heard play Phill Niblock’s music, so the neat photo of pedal porn on the front cover was encouraging.

This album’s subtitled “Music For Dance, Film, Fashion and Industry”, but it’s more than just a grab-bag of background music for completists. The fourteen tracks build up into a varied and substantial body of music with some unexpected twists and turns.

You might get that Brian Eno Music for Films vibe over the first few tracks: relatively short pieces of sustained guitars and rin gongs made for Alexandra Beller/Dances. If you’re anticipating a collection of more-or-less variegated slabs of guitar drone, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the shifts in tone and style, such as the chiming guitar patterns in “Concordance”, which reappear later as a sinister set of interlocking piano loops in the darker “Border Piano Walk”. Brooding, atmospheric guitar-based tracks like “Inverness” are contrasted by the tumbling reverse samples that make up “Trio (excerpt)” and the undulating flute from which “Stare Decisis” builds.

I could do without the brief intrusions of tablas at a couple of points, and some of the synth patches used grate in one or two places, but that’s probably just me being a snob. The thing is, the more elaborate and ambitious pieces such as “Tourniquet Revisited” confirm what I already had come to believe, that I’m listening to fully-formed music by a serious composer, not just some muso noodling around (or droning on, in this case) to fill out the time.

Occasionally in the past I’ve struggled with the critical distinction so casually made between Proper Composition – which usually means stuff played in concert halls – and music like on Poss’ CD. (The reviews section of The Wire magazine helpfully illustrates this distinction in reverse, sequestering certain discs in a subsection headed “Modern Composition”.) Listening to this album reminded me why I usually conclude that attempts to rationalise this distinction are futile.

Filed under: Music by Ben.H
- Ben Harper


Robert Poss -- SETTINGS: MUSIC FOR DANCE, FILM, FASHION AND INDUSTRY

Trace Elements Records, 2010

The former Band of Susans leader Steve Albini once called "an enormously underrated guitar theorist" is back with his first full-length release in eight years, a compilation of fourteen tracks mainly commissioned for the arts (hence the title), and it's very much a continuation of the sound he began exploring on DISTORTION IS TRUTH and CROSSING CASCO BAY. (In case you're wondering what took so long between albums, he's been busy doing location sound for the likes of ABC, the BBC, Discovery Channel, and the Learning Channel; he's currently running the sound board for Suicide -- yes, that Suicide -- on their latest European tour.) If you've heard either of the two previous records, then you know that the heavily electronic and processed sound realm in which he now works bears little resemblance to the distortion-laden sheets of sound he used to lay down when the Band Of Susans brought the rock... and yet that band's ghost puts in a spectral appearance from time to time here. "With Music No. 2 (excerpt)," for instance, is built around a looped version of the main riff that anchored "Sometimes," only here it's surrounded by wailing drones and ambient sound. Then there's "Tourniquet Revisited," an orchestral reinterpretation of sorts of the original LOVE AGENDA song "Tourniquet," in which the song is reduced to its drone elements and augmented with strings to interesting effect.

The rest of the album is mainly informed by electronics -- the amazing cover picture, featuring a vast array of pedals, sound processing modules, and cables everywhere says volumes about where those mysterious sounds on the disc are coming from -- in service of repetition, wave-like sound, and (of course) the almighty drone. One of the best tracks is "Inverness," nine-plus minutes of steadily building rhythmic drone and hoverbot sounds that could have been lifted from a science fiction film soundtrack; about halfway through, simple but effective bursts of percussion add a new element as the sci-fi sounds grow increasingly agitated. "Concordance" is a surprise -- a waltz built around a repeated, tinkling guitar arpeggio buoyed by a gentle rhythmic pulse; it's easily the most accessible thing on the album. Distortion and feedback show up on tracks like "The Pleasure of Stillness (live excerpt)," "Trio (excerpt)," "Other Stories Interlude," and "Feed Forward," often in the form of piercing wails that weave in and out of the electronic sounds or burst forth in great droning waves, but it's on "Stare Decisis" where the feedback really takes on a life of its own, wailing and droning in the background behind a series of pinging electronic loops for over eight minutes. Toward the end, the droning sound is joined by minimal but upbeat percussion, a development that's most pleasing. "Border Piano Walk" is another intriguing slice of the unexpected, built around brief and repetitive bursts of treated piano. This is all good stuff -- Robert's adventures in the avant-garde remain consistently interesting throughout the album, which is yet another testament to his continuing desire to expand the boundaries of sound. Let's just hope we don't have to wait another eight years for the next one, huh?
- The True One Dead Angel


After Band of Susans called it quits in 1995, Poss involved himself in numerous projects with other artists. He joined Stenger's experimental supergroup, the Brood, for a critically acclaimed London performance and teamed up with Stenger and Wire's Bruce Gilbert as gilbertpossstenger (an alliance resulting in manchester&london); he contributed to recordings by Chatham, Collins, Phill Niblock, Ben Neill and Seth Josel and collaborated with composer David Dramm and visual artist Margret Wibmer, among others. Poss also produced records for Combine, Tone and the Meat Joy.

Released together in late 2002, Distortion Is Truth and Crossing Casco Bay feature live material and studio recordings that offer an overview of Poss's own guitar-based experimentation since BoS. The title, Distortion Is Truth, sums up the theory underlying much of Poss' work: that rock's authentic essence is the element traditionally considered non-essential and inauthentic. Poss rejects the idea that distortion (a component produced by accident or by deliberate manipulation) is a corruption of pure, true sound that either requires correction or merely supplements the primary sound. He turns that notion on its head, making distorted, impure sounds the foundation of his compositions. These two records put that theory into practice.

Distortion Is Truth is the more diverse of the two albums. Built around feedback — rock's paradigmatic accidental noise — "You Know the Drill" succinctly exemplifies the aesthetic. Although he explores the possibilities of guitar across 16 eclectic tracks, the results frequently don't sound like a guitar because of extensive processing. This is most striking on ambient numbers like "Radio Free Albemuth Revisited," which suggests the music of deep space, and the dense, dreamlike "Brakhage." But while the avant-garde experimentation transforms the guitar into radically different identities, there are some more traditional sounds here: "Showbiz" has a jazzy flavor, and "Memphis/Little Rock" pays tribute to the blues. Other numbers, like "You Were Relentless" (on which the ghost of BoS lurks), flirt with a more familiar rock idiom while simultaneously deconstructing it. Equally successful is the material that finds Poss blending electronics and guitars to focus more explicitly on his trademark drones, for instance on the buzzing, pulsing "Henix Sambolo."

Crossing Casco Bay is more of a minimalist affair, almost exclusively drone-oriented. A pair of layered, looping numbers comprise 40 of its 50 minutes: the title track and "Drift," a live recording featuring Stenger on guitar and Kato Hideki on bowed double bass. On these tracks, Poss eschews melody to craft sparse, trance- inducing epics. They underscore his knack for creating engaging musical soundscapes in the seeming absence of melody, progression and variation. These droning textures come to life with myriad patterns emerging, coalescing, and dissipating. Elsewhere, music is completely absent — "Daybreak in Hanga Roa" is a recording of ambient noise on Easter Island (rain, birds and insects). On a more conventional note, Poss resurrects Band of Susans' "Throne of Blood" and injects an Eastern groove, thanks to multi-percussionist Pete Lockett's tabla. - Trouser Press


[I]t is great, a reminder of what's still fascinating about the electric guitar. If you need a clear, clean refreshing blast of the basics, distortion is definitely truth. -Nick Reynolds, BBC Radio


At the same time as Poss's avant-garde experiments transform the guitar and open up new possibilities for the instrument, he doesn't completely forsake some of its more traditional sounds. -Wilson Neate, Dusted


This is highly innovative and highly melodic music for the experimental set. This is art, this is noise, this is feedback, this is blowing apart conventions, this is damn good songwriting. The guitar love affair continues and things just seem to be heating up. -Jonah Flicker, Lost At Sea



Whether riding resonating crests or layering light sounds of strums and hums, Robert Poss' emotive directions are equally moving and exciting. -SK, Free Williamsburg



What all the tracks have in common is Poss's love of texture, tone, timbre, whatever you wish to call it, in all its variety....These CDs both ranked among my favorite albums of 2002.-Steve Holtje, The Big Takeover



Guitar genius, drone meister and ex-Band Of Susans member...Robert Poss is the master of treated and manipulated guitars along with distorted drum machines and synths. -Larry Crane, Tape Op



Anyone under the impression that Sonic Youth were/are/could very well be the kings of six string overkill never crossed paths with Band Of Susans. What a glorious din of guitars, loops, wires and pedals that was. Chief Susan, real name Robert Poss, plugs back in to rekindle that old old amp magic. -Thrust



GREAT! Ranging from wonderfully twangy ambient textures to dancey post-punk songs, this album is a fantastic retrospective of solo experiments from Band of Susans guitarist Robert Poss, a punk rocker who discovered John Cage and minimalism. -KZSU Zookeeper Online



...[A]n ADD-friendly hodgepodge of compelling fabrics, raw feedback, and driving noise.... -Michael Chamy, AustinChronicle.com


An eccentric underground guitar hero.-LMNOP, Babysue

- Various


All hall the overdriven amp, the feedback-saturated guitar pickup, the hum of harmonic sustain, the clamorous collision of power chords in the heart of the sonic maelstrom. Let us bow our heads in the direction of New York City and pray for deliverance from mindless metal riffs and warmed-over grunge. Let us now praise Band of Susans.

BOS are a different kind of guitar band. Instead of locking themselves into lead and rhythm role-playing, the group's three guitarists collaborate in the shaping of a soaring sonic architecture, subsuming individual identities in a volatile but highly focused group aesthetic. As conceived by founding guitarist/singer/songwriter Robert Poss, the BOS sound involves equal parts guitar formalism and Stonesy swagger. But Poss and bassist/singer/songwriter Susan Stenger, despite their avant-garde backgrounds, seem to value group chemistry more than concept. In other words, this is a rock & roll band.

On Veil, their fifth album, Band of Susans deliver the songs as well as the sound. Tunes like "Mood Swing," "Not in This Life," "Trouble Spot" and the sublime "Blind" unfurl sharp, bold melodies over stick-in-your-head ensemble riffs. Ron Spitzer's drums kick and snap, and Stenger's bass lines provide melodic as well as rhythmic backbone. Guitarists Poss, Anne Husick and Mark Lonergan are also developing a noisier, nastier but still coherently thematic brand of collective improvisation, showcased in the instrumental rave "Trollbinders Theme." Mayhem and transcendence, sweetness and bite: The thought of what these people might accomplish with a more substantial recording budget is almost frightening.

(Four Stars)

ROBERT PALMER September 2, 1993 - Rolling Stone Magazine


Adamantly arty, these New York subversives have since 1986 never lost faith in hypnotic guitar. Members have come and gone (Page Hamilton of Helmet, for instance), but songwriter and guitarist Robert Poss and bassist Susan Stenger prevail with dronefests rich in texture and heavy with stream-of-consciousness musings. A lyric from "Dirge" catches their tone: "Love mixed with dread." They also champion political outrage, fierce feminism and wily humor. Seizing a riff, they ride it for at least seven minutes, piling on three guitars until the entire affair thuds toward transcendence. On demanding fare like "Pardon My French" and "Elizabeth Stride (1843-1888)," the radical strategy pays off in music that is brainy, visceral and bracing. (RS 708)

(Four Stars)

PAUL EVANS May 18, 1995 - Rolling Stone Magazine


(Excerpt) Band of Susans was a noise-rock institution of the New York scene back in the 80s. Spawning five full-length albums, the band was big on guitar buzz and drone, much of which oozed from the amps of Robert Poss. After the band parted ways in 1995, Poss performed with others and eventually released a pair of solo albums in 2002 – Distortion Is Truth and a companion record – Crossing Casco Bay. Rich with experimental sounds and improvisation, both teemed with the left-of-center guitar genius he had nurtured throughout the years.

WTDP? recently caught up with Poss, whom producer Steve Albini once called ‘an enormously underrated guitar theorist’, to talk about his music and love for gear.

WTDP?: What have you been up to since the dual album release in 2002?
Robert: Since Distortion Is Truth and its companion CD Crossing Casco Bay, I have composed and performed music for three choreographers – Sally Gross, Alexandra Beller and Gerald Casel. I have worked with ex-Band Of Susan member Susan Stenger on a 96-day musical installation for the Musée d’art Contemporain in Lyon, France. I performed at the premier of composer Phill Niblock’s piece Stosspeng in Krems, Austria. I contributed music to an Albert Maysles/Kristen Nutile documentary, Sally Gross: The Pleasure Of Stillness. I performed with Rhys Chatham at a Metropolitan Museum of Art retrospective and participated in Chatham’s Crimson Grail project for 200 guitars at Lincoln Center. I have played on a few television commercials for composer Ben Neill, and done a few one-off gigs with Knox Chandler and others. I’ve engineered/produced a few CDs for guitarist Seth Josel, among others, performed solo at a tribute to writer Robert Palmer at Le Poisson Rouge, and have done front-of-house sound for my friends Alan and Marty in the band Suicide. I also have collaborated with Austrian visual artist Margret Wibmer and with filmmaker Cat Tyc. I guess I’ve been busy. - WTDP


Discography

Selected Recordings: Band Of Susans: "Blessing And Curse" (Trace Elements Records, 1987 and Furthur Records [U.K.], 1987); "Hope Against Hope" (Blast First U.S. and Furthur Records [U.K.], 1988); "Love Agenda" (Blast First/Restless Records, 1989); “Nothing Short Of Total War” (Blast First label compilation) (Blast First 1989); "The Word And The Flesh" (Rough Trade Germany/ Restless Records, 1991); "The Peel Sessions" (Strange Fruit/Dutch East India, 1992) "Surprise Your Pig" (R.E.M. tribute with other artists) (Staplegun Records, 1992); "Now" (Restless/Rough Trade Germany, 1992); “Veil” (Restless/Rough Trade Germany, 1993); “Wired For Sound - Band Of Susans 1986-1993” (Blast First/Rough Trade Germany, 1995); “Here Comes Success” (Restless/Blast First/Rough Trade Germany, 1995); “Whore” (Wire tribute with other artists) (WMO/Caroline, 1996). Robert Poss/Susan Stenger: “Deconstruct” (Compilation with other artists) (Blast First/Disobey, 1994). GilbertPossStenger: “Manchester-London” (WMO, 2000). Robert Poss: “Distortion Is Truth/Crossing Casco Bay”(Trace Elements Records, 2002); "Sometimes" (Trace Elements Records, 1986). Rhys Chatham: "Die Donnergotter" (Dossier Records, 1987; Homestead Records, 1989). Nicolas Collins: "Going Out With Slow Smoke" (Lovely Music, 1982); "Let The State Make The Selection" (Trace Elements Records, 1984); "100 Of The World's Most Beautiful Melodies" (Trace Elements Records, 1989); "It Was A Dark And Stormy Night" (Trace Elements Records, 1992). Robert Poss and Nicolas Collins: "Inverse Guitar" (Trace Elements Records, 1988). Ben Neill: "Mainspring" (Dossier/Ear-Rational, 1988); “Automotive” (Six Degrees Records, 2002). Phill Niblock: “Guitar Too, For Four” (Moikai, 2001); "Touch Strings" (Touch, 2010). Various Artists: "Pure And Painless Pleasures (John Doe Recordings, 1988); "Bring The Noise" (LowLife, 1989); “Eclectic Guitars” compilation -- contribution: “Nagasaki Bells” (Unknown Public, 1996). When People Were Shorter And Lived Near The Water: "Bobby" (Shimmy Disc, 1989). Tot Rocket: "Reduced/Fun Fades Fast" (Whiplash Records, 1979); "Eviction" (Trace Elements Records, 1980); "Security Risk" (Trace Elements Records, 1982). Western Eyes: "Western Eyes" (Trace Elements Records, 1984).

Photos

Bio

ROBERT POSS has performed and recorded with Rhys Chatham, Nicolas Collins, Ben Neill, Phill Niblock, David Dramm, Susan Stenger and Bruce Gilbert. In 1986, he formed the wall-of-guitars group Band Of Susans, which Rolling Stone Magazine described as "adamantly arty, brainy, visceral and bracing." BOS released two EPs and five full-length CDs (all produced by Poss) before disbanding in 1995. In 2002 Poss, whom Steve Albini once called "an enormously underrated guitar theorist," released two companion solo CDs Distortion Is Truth and Crossing Casco Bay on Trace Elements Records. At the time, Tape Op Magazine described him as a “guitar genius, drone meister …the master of treated and manipulated guitars.” Since his 2002 releases, Poss has composed and performed music for choreographers Sally Gross, Alexandra Beller and Gerald Casel, has worked with ex-Band Of Susans member Susan Stenger on a 96-day musical installation for the Musée d’art Contemporain in Lyon, France, performed at the premier of composer Phill Niblock’s piece "Stosspeng" in Krems, Austria and contributed music to an Albert Maysles/Kristen Nutile documentary, Sally Gross: The Pleasure Of Stillness. In 2009 he performed with Rhys Chatham at a Metropolitan Museum of Art retrospective and participated in Chatham’s Crimson Grail project for 200 guitars at Lincoln Center. He has also collaborated with Austrian visual artist Margret Wibmer and filmmaker Cat Tyc, and has written guitar-centric articles for The Leonardo Music Journal and The Tone Quest Report. He resides in New York City and continues to perform his guitar and electronics pieces in the U.S., the U.K. and Europe.

SETTINGS' imaginative soundscapes represent a departure from Poss’ dense, wall-of-distortion guitar-and-electronic solo pieces and from the ecstatic Rock minimalism of Band Of Susans, yet threads of both are evident in this latest release.

Band Members