improvised ambient avant world music
Straylight is dedicated to the art of improvised ambient avant world music
The Reviews of Straylight
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  Excerpt from Open Ears
December 2001
By Laurence Donohue-Greene
To read the article in its entirety

As a final sampling of what Deep Listening recordings offer, the more recent Stray Light (2000), similar to McPhee’s Common Threads, centers around a single lengthy live work consisting of several movements. Recorded at New York’s Knitting Factory in February 1998, the group’s self-entitled debut recording continues the tradition set forth by Deep Listening in creating worldly and other worldly sounds that can not be specifically credited to one individual instrumentalist, but are rather resulting sounds from the combination of all participants on the recording. The ambient avant world trio, Straylight (, features a mighty threesome who together create orchestral-scale sounds. The veteran of the group, Charles Cohen, a composer and performer of electronic music since the early-‘70s, performs on the rare integrated analog performance instrument known as the Buchla Music Easel (created by synth pioneer, Don Buchla). Guitarist Geoff Gersh was a band member for the Off-Broadway production, Blue Man Group: Tubes in which he plays zither. And percussionist Jason Finkelman plays the Afro-Brazilian bowed instrument known as the berimbau, in addtion to various other traditional African and South American percussion instruments such as congas and the African fiddle known as the riti.

The five movement piece which nearly covers three quarters of an hour, starts off with a showcase for the berimbau of Finkelman’s with a sound that lies somewhere between a marimba and kalimba. Over a tapestry of sounds that resemble some of John Fahey’s latter day work, circa Womb Life (1997), the sound of twanging rubber bands and a Jews Harp are joined by single organ and bass tones, as well as jungle whistles of wildlife and bird wings flapping. With the complementing sounds of running water, everything culminates into a similar sound experience to Merle Saunder’s and Jerry Garcia’s Blues For The Rainforest (1990).

The next movement seamlessly is introduced by what seems to be one of the “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict” (remember Pink Floyd’s 1969 recording, Ummagumma?). Adjoined with the strikingly similar high pitch of a small and highflying skyrocket, the music is led into a momentous guitar groove traveling over shakers, whistles, and worldly clay flute sounds. The minimalist guitar approach, though hard to believe but true, is unedited from the original live performance and has a Bill Frisell-ian resemblance in tone.

Finkelman’s berimbau performance gives a nod to the master himself, Nana Vasconcelos. Maybe Nana’s 1979 ECM recording Saudades served as an inspiration, training ground, or at least educational tool for Finkelman as there is a striking similarity between the first tune on Vasconcelos’ recording, “O Berimbau”, and this specific movement. After four minutes, the poltergeist-like humming sound waves subside behind the berimbau and eventual plucked guitar strings beautifully echo the single string berimbau in a subtle manner.

The Pink Floyd-like theme returns in conjunction with a Jimi Hendrix blues riff that also occurs in the final few minutes to the first piece on the recording (check out Hendrix’s coda to “Pali Gap” from his Rainbow Bridge). Hand tabla and bongo-like percussion, resembling a horse steadily trotting and even cantering enter into the sound collage before the fourth movement offers up one of the first steady and regular melodic runs and consistent rhythms. A bass line accompanies the bowed berimbau of Finkelman’s, utilizing an ever so slow and occasional bowing effect not too dissimilar from a true master of this bow to instrument relationship, free jazz violinist Leroy Jenkins. It’s as if the bow is the instrument and it is no longer how the bow interacts with the instrument but the other way around. Climaxing into an ancient tribal-like pre-battle cry from a mass of warriors, there follows sounds of cymbal splashes, wood block/marimbas, and guitar-echoing effects as such have been performed and created by the unheralded and under-acknowledged guitarist, Loren MazzaCane Connors.

Next, foot taps and marimba beats solely lead into the following penultimate movement in syncopated rhythms. Gersh adds another layer eventually, perhaps via foot pedal, before all the so-called “screws” holding any semblance of order together fall out into a blanket of random sounds leaving the final movement of the Knit performance with silence to begin the last movement. Finkelman, unaccompanied on berimbau, is eventually joined by competing effects from Gersh and Cohen as if it were a chase between berimbau, guitar, and all other sounds contributed by Cohen. The sound landscape in a matter of moments opens up to greet the music, then closes up in a blink, swallowing all the sounds like a black hole into oblivion as the forty five minutes of sound exploration have passed.

The final piece is a basic slow bass and berimbau duet conversation. With a subtle repeated guitar riff foundation and various colorful sound effects, Finkelman again reveals his perfected slow bowing technique. The strong, short, and meditative piece actually may be the musical highlight of the entire recording as a complete concept. Following a minute of silence, a “hidden” bonus track then ends the actual CD, starting with bowed string effects and electronic sounds over a deep and slowly evolving drone with contributing male mumbles that climax into a frenzy, ending the CD. Necessary or not, it certainly covers ground that was not heard previously.

  Written by Bruce Lee Gallanter Downtown Music Gallery - NYC
DTMG's Contemporary Classical & Electronic Recommendations for 2001


STRAYLIGHT- self/titled (Deep Listening 15) : Straylight are ambient-world-space-improv trio that played monthly sets at the Knit with a different soloist sitting in at each gig. They consist of Charles Cohen on buchla music easel (one of the earliest synths), Jason Finkelman on ethnic instruments like berimbua, riti and percussion and Geoff Gersh on electric guitar. Their special guests have included Pauline Oliveros, Joe McPhee and I caught them with New Ghost guitar wiz Rick Iannicone. Straylight's music is completely improvised and often sublime, filled with suspense and cosmic floating sounds. They play three long pieces on their first release - "premiere" opens with strange electronic ghosts and distant sound fragments which are both spooky and rather mesmerizing. I am reminded of space travel as portrayed by the analogue synths of the past. Long tones hum and bubble quietly, ritualistic percussion also slowly floats in clouds which appear and disappear, el. guitar swirls also flow like Steve Hillage in one of those old Gong space jams. I also recall what sounds like some German space-rock like Ash Ra Temple or Cluster at times. The second piece is the longest and is called "live at the knitting factory" since that is where it was recorded and it sounds like there is some quaint kalimba in the beginning - a plane flies over my apartment and its sound fits perfectly with the other random, floating sounds. This piece has a soothing and uplifting melodic center with lovely guitar strumming and haunting jungle sounds like wooden flutes or something similar and hypnotic berimbau stroking with subtle echoes. The piece builds beautifully with Geoff's guitar hovering and gliding and swirling in warm pools of somber light, eventually Jason begins bowing his riti perhaps in ancient sort-of vibe - everything flows in a most natural way and builds to a cosmic conclusion with wonderful brain-numbing waves of transcendence. The last piece "riti riff" has more innocent bowed riti with dreamy guitar repeating just a few notes with elegant grace - a perfect ending to an enchanting set of dream sequences.

  Excerpts from The Internet

From -

Straylight - STRAYLIGHT: We first heard this group several years back on a tape submission for the Olympia Experimental Music Festival. This is their first CD release. You must be in to the out in order to enjoy this. Dense & thick sound sculptures, rich improvisations & long cuts... just wot' th' rotcod ordered fer' yer' trip! Tracks 2-6 were performed live at the Knitting Factory, segregated into separate cuts for easy indexing. Their spectrum is wide, all th' way from noise wall stuph to heavy underbeat with sculptures on top. Headphones are more'n a "recommendation", they are (like) a "requirement". Intense listening experience, very well performed! Gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from us who like their improv on the outer edge. Normals will shy away, as this requires an adventurous listening spirit. Features Charles Cohen (Buchla music easel), Jason Finkelman (percussives) & Geoff Gersh (guitar). Contact them at POB 1015, Canal Street Station, NY, NY 10013, on the website at or via email to Rotcod Zzaj

From -

STRAYLIGHT Straylight Trio - featuring Charles Cohen (Buchla), Jason Finkelman (winds, percussion), Geoff Gersh (electrical guitar) - performs a form of "liquid" improvisation, suspended temporarily and deeply "alien". The Buchla, the exotic winds and the guitars played in a non conventional way contribute to create an aura of mystery to this music which has a strong timbrec characterization. Suggested, for the extreme cohesion of the trio and the particularity of the sound, appealing also for the ones who are not interested in improvisation.(translated by Laura Biagi)

Trio formato da Charles Cohen (Buchla), Jason Finkelman (fiati, percussioni), Geoff Gersh (chitarra elettrica) che si esibisce in una forma di improvvisazione liquida, sospesa temporalmente e profondamente "aliena". Il Buchla, i fiati esotici e le chitarre suonate in maniera non convenzionale contribuiscono a dare un’aura di mistero a questa musica dalla marcata caratterizzazione timbrica. Consigliato, per la estrema coesione del trio e la particolarità del suono, anche a chi non si interessa di improvvisazione.

(CD; DLP; 17,6 euro )