Doctor Nerve
The Monkey Farm

(Punos Music)

Coming almost ten years after the release of Doctor Nerve's last album, Ereia, the recently released The Monkey Farm made me think about how much I really miss the US group. I obviously don't know whether my feeling is widely shared today, though in a way I suppose that the circumstance of the group being inactive for the best part of the decade - this after having released many interesting, not at all "difficult", works (still not impossible to get, by the way) for about fifteen years, could in a way be considered as a kind of answer of some sort.

I have to confess I felt a bit let down when I read in the CD liner notes that the material featured on this album was recorded (live, at the glorious New York venue called Roulette) on May 4, 2001. So it's not the group getting together again for a new start, just a nice episode from the past. Which, together with the peculiar nature of this work, could maybe explain the fact of The Monkey Farm being released by Punos Music, the personal label of group leader Didkovsky.

Again, we find the familiar line-up: Greg Anderson on electric bass; Leo Ciesa on drums; Nick Didkovsky on tabletop guitar, computer, and conducting; Yves Duboin on soprano sax; Rob Henke on trumpet; Michael Lytle on bass clarinet; Kathleen Supové on laptop. We also find the by now familiar mix of "martial" rhythms, free jazz echoes, daring stylistic combinations, and surprises.

The biggest surprise here being the presence of Valeria Vasilevski (who I read is a theatre director of some renown) as the narrator, and the nature of the work itself: The Monkey Farm sees Didkovsky's music coupled with Charles O'Meara's (who's maybe still better known under the name Vrtacek - I'm pretty sure some readers are familiar with at least some of his solo albums, and with his group called Forever Einstein) texts, all brief (and it appears, true) stories dealing with O'Meara's childhood.

Didkovsky's music comments on and completes the lyrics in ways that are never banal. It has to be added that Vasilevski's voice gets warped in real time by a special software designed by Phil Burk, Robert Marsanyi, and Didkovsky himself. Thirty-six brief episodes appear, total duration being about 1h.

Though the work is never less than good, I'm afraid its peculiarity will have as effect a kind of "selective" appreciation. It goes without saying that one has to understand English, but it has to be noticed that all lyrics - which are far from difficult to get by listening alone - are available online.

Maybe due to my lack of many reference points, some vocal parts reminded me more than a bit of some episodes from Laurie Anderson's catalogue (the music itself being quite different, of course). Some episodes featuring treated voice and strange backing made me think of Zappa's Lumpy Gravy, with certain passages for winds reminding me of the epic-filmic symphonic flavour of 200 Motels. Also, the instrumental part of Broken Wrist And Sympathy didn't sound to me too far from the acid, jazzy Mothers Of Invention on an album like Weasels Ripped My Flesh. But reference points are many and diverse, of course, starting with many different strains of cartoon music, and music we readily associate with many kinds of movie "genres".

We also have several instrumental episodes, for instance the whole series of pieces whose title start with the word Salvo; also The Ghost And The Goiter, Arguing About Money, and Another Problem Solved By Violence. The whole "vocal treatments" chapter is quite fascinating, indeed. I also especially liked the computer part on Guitar Pick.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2009 | Oct. 18, 2009