Carlos Zingaro,
Cage of Sand
(SIRR, 2002)

There's a fine line between music and noise, between improvisation and chaos, between the avant-garde edge and the annoyingly outre. For proof, take a long listen to Cage of Sand, the 2002 release from Portuguese violinist and electronic manipulator Carlos Zingaro. Categorized as jazz, this is the sort of attenuated experimentation that could convince a traditional jazz aficionado that the walls are closing in.

Zingaro's sole traditional instrument is the violin. However, the critical elements here are Zingaro's other tools, an undisclosed array of electronics. These acoustic processors produce a plethora of diverse sounds from the sonic raw material provided by the violin. While some sounds can be easily traced back to the source, they're matched by many noisy reflections, treated distortions and other esoteric fragments. In addition, Zingaro heavily favors improvisation, playing along with his electronics in real time with "very little editing or remixing."

Simple to outline, this approach is difficult to fully capture. Zingaro plays off-the-cuff duets with his own electron-based ghosts, parries hideously time-delayed mutations of his own instrument, manipulates his own infinite replications into unrecognizable walls of sound. There's seldom a melody or a clear structure; instead, Zingaro offers an array of consistently challenging experiments.

"The Cities and the Dead" is the 9- minute opener, a duplicated set of odd violin lines that devolve into a string section warming up, then become a cloned drone over a wave of underlying sonic textures that eventually smother it. "White Fire" starts with an oddly soothing, continuously evolving distortion field bearing no resemblance to any natural string sound before breaking into an almost pure violin line with an ominous hum as accompaniment. When the identifiable violin vanishes near the end, it's like a wake-up call. A crystalline, ambient introduction of sustained tones opens the finale, "Nothing Is Remote," but these are joined by mutated whale songs and time-distorted backward masking sounds, before it all breaks off in an utterly unresolved ending.

Listening to Cage of Sand, I'm reminded of the discordant moments of Howard Shore's work for director David Cronenberg, the minimalistic coldness of Crash or the free jazz collaborations with Ornette Coleman on the Naked Lunch soundtrack. It's easy to imagine Zingaro's effort scoring some equally experimental film.

Do I actually enjoy listening to Cage of Sand? Yes, in many ways I do. Zingaro's creativity mastery of the electronic manipulation of his violin is fascinating and admirable, and after some exposure, the sheer foreignness is replaced with a certain appreciation. However, there are still days when Zingaro's work forces me to reach rapidly for another disc, any other disc, instead. This cacophony can be as overwhelming as it is interesting.

This is certainly music for the "difficult listening hour," as Laurie Anderson might put it. But if you enjoy heavily experimental music and can appreciate being trapped between the worlds of Form and Pandemonium, then enter Carlos Zingaro's Cage of Sand.

You may not exit Zingaro's enclosure humming its praises, but at the very least, you'll leave feeling challenged by its confines.

- Rambles
written by Ken Fasimpaur
published 19 April 2003