Ed Osborn {Stone North}

The Sound Projector - December 2014
Three pieces spanning twenty years from this Providence, Rhode Island-based recipient of a DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Stipendium and a Guggenheim Fellowship. I’ve gleaned little useful information from the biography on his website, as it is full of deliberately facetious and extremely dubious “facts”. Osborn, I am assuming, would describe himself as a sound artist. The first piece on this collection, ‘In Memoriam Elisha Blakeman & Tabitha Babbitt’ (1992) holds a surprise — and this is a new one on me; a piece of music performed on “electric skis” (no gimmick this, surely?). You can practically hear Osborn sniggering up his sleeve at this point. Presumably [deep breath] a pair of skis liberated from the slopes of Chamonix or some such top-flight winter sports destination, strung possibly, and then contact-mic’ed so that Ed Osborn and partner in crime on this piece, Brenda Hutchinson, can wreak havoc upon our senses. We are told that back in the 1980s, Osborn played in an ensemble of some notoriety (perhaps in Osborn’s own head): Ski-A-Delics, who troubled Boston gig-goers with performances on multiple single-string-equipped skis. These days, he exists in a more sober position pursuing a teaching career; currently he is a tutor at the Visual Arts department at Brown University in Providence, having previously taught at institutions in Boston, Oakland and Santa Cruz.

Tabitha Babbitt, of the Shaker faith, is the probable inventor of the circular saw in 1810 (along with other inventions credited to her), and Elisha D. Blakeman wrote The youth’s guide in Zion: And Holy Mother’s promises, given by inspiration at New Lebanon, N.Y., January 5, 1842. But where skis fit into the scheme here is beyond me. Wikipedia throws a small patch of light on the proceedings: “Isaac Newton Youngs (July 4, 1793 — August 7, 1865) was a member of the religious organisation Shakers. He was a prolific scribe, correspondent, and diarist who documented the history of the New Lebanon, New York Church Family of Shakers from 1815 to 1865. Two members of his society described him as a genius. One of his students, Elisha Blakeman, wrote that Youngs’ mechanical genius was remarkable. He could turn machinist, mason or anything that promoted the general good. Many conveniences, which added so much to Shakers’ domestic happiness, Blakeman concluded, owed their origin to Youngs”. So, it’s clear that in referencing Tabitha Babbitt, Osborn is attempting to make an observation on how prevalent gender prejudice still is, although I have yet to ascertain the significance of Blakeman — there’s no further information forthcoming from Osborn himself.

The sounds on ‘In Memoriam&elips;’, although unremarkable, are nonetheless extremely pleasant to relax to. The range of the instrument is wide — keening high pitched and almost cymbal-like splashes of colour reside alongside powerful bass tones like the depth charge let loose to begin the track. Those expecting a lot of filigree detail might be disappointed however. There then follows a sadly predictable five minutes of unsurprising bowed sounds which are followed swiftly by the next piece.
‘Guitar Mechanical’ (1989-92), a composition for guitar, which is a collection of tics, jitters and fluffs, culminating in a process of agitation which ends with the guitar flapping about on the floor on its back in its death throes. It all goes very quiet here, mastering wise. The sleeve states “guitar and pickups” as the instrumentation but I’m not sure if the guitar in question is acoustic, electro acoustic or electric or if the pickups mentioned are the instrument’s own or additional units and if so how many, and so forth. Apologies if I’m boring you now but I’m quietly interested in this sort of thing. The track increases in volume with no small amount of stereo agitation which makes it sound to me like being in a flight/passel/kit of woodpigeons at the moment of take-off and road-testing some exotic new type of dynamic gate processor simultaneously. In the unlikely event that this may actually be true, I’d recommend the manufacturer call this new product a “Flim-Flammerer” in case they are stuck for a name. ‘Guitar Mechanical’ (1989-92) continues in a distinctly metallic / magnetic way, the stereo playfulness outstaying its welcome somewhat.

The third offering from Osborn’s personal archive is ‘Stone North’ (2009) which is like a fan with worn bearings or a bladeless circular saw (Tabitha Babbitt’s influence again?) attempting to engage with a concrete lintel. Alternately, you could consider it as a moving tone experiment. The guitar appears to be activated by a rotary device of some kind, maybe a second hand Wankel petrol engine out of an old Mazda, and its resulting output amplified and processed by unspecified electronics.
These pieces all suggest this question; there’s a lot of people who’ve seen Keith Rowe at some lavish European festival recently now making their own records with detourned guitar, but who is actually buying them? Its sounds like as the years have rolled by Osborn’ s ideas have become more and more compressed and specific, which is all well and good, but I found that it was all diminished slightly by his own over-use of mockery, which could be seen as somewhat juvenile, in his online presence. However, his achievements are many and varied and can be investigated here, so perhaps his biography is intentionally specious, reflecting its superfluousness.

Nice cream and blue letterpress and embossed image on card sleeve, limited to 300 units. -Paul Khimasia Morgan

Chain D.L.K. - June 2014
I was unfamiliar with Ed Osborn's work, but he is currently on the faculty of the Visual Arts Department at Brown University and has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Creative Work Fund, and Arts International. He uses modified electric guitar, bowed 'electric skis' (yeah ' I'll bet you haven't heard of that one), ebow, and real-time processing. Sounds promising. We kick off with 'In Memoriam Elisha Blakeman & Tabitha Babbitt,' with just over five minutes of guitar improvisation and heavy drone. Here is where we get to hear electric skis; 'monochords built from skis are laid flat and bowed using another pair of skis.' I found this to be interesting, but a bit slow moving for my tastes. Next, the album takes a turn or the better with 'Guitar Mechanical,' which is some serious guitar abuse. My wife thought that something was wrong with the player, which is always a good sign. But this is someone who is actually playing the guitar, so there is skill on display here, not just destruction. Still, everything is cut up and overdriven for maximum distortion. Osborn continues his assault on your ears with 'Stone North,' which is really heavy on the dissonance, making it a bit hard to listen to at times. The squalling guitar drones slowly shift between different levels of coherence and dissonance, keeping it interesting and engaging but always unrelenting. Make no mistake about it ' this is music that refuses to blend in to the background. It will have your complete, undivided attention. File this with some of Fear Falls Burning's noisier outings. This album weighs in at around 43 minutes and limited to 300 copies. -Eskaton

Neural - April 2014
Live electronics and tabletop guitar: these are the main elements of Stone North by Ed Osborn, a 2009 production now released by Estuary Ltd, a label focused on experimental fields that stands out for its approach toward the contemporary: moveable and open, but rigorous at the same time. From the first cuts the signals generated and released by the guitar are developed and delayed to create an effective background for layering other sounds. The album keep attention focused on the solidity and definition of the treatments, and the distinct audio emergencies move in concentric patterns. "Guitar Mechanical" (1989-92) weaves together finely constructed guitar manipulations and other sound elaborations in a free-form electroacoustic setting that is based on unusual evolutions and highly variegated and sometimes fragile loops. The first track is performed in memory of Elisha Blakeman and Tabitha Babbitt (two seminal inspirational leaders for Osborn): the combination of sequences paying homage to the inventor of "piano violin", a chordal table instrument (Blakeman), and to the designer of the first model of circular saw (Babbitt). Both were members of the Shaker community, a branch of Quaker puritan Protestantism at the beginning of the 18th century. This is the first Ed Osborn album since 1989: as a result it is dense with "sensitive connections", idealized and gathered together giving life to a listening experience that is perhaps not immediately gratifying, but has an undeniable charm, depth and pleasure. This is absolutely a release not to be missed.

Metamkine - April 2014
Trois pièces de cet artiste sonore d'origine finlandaise instalé sur la cote ouest des États-Unis, centrées autour de la guitare électrique plus ou moins modifiée. Un travail de rythmiques percussives avec des micros pickups extérieurs, une accumulation de résonances réinjectées et une pièce d'intro réalisée sur des skis transformés en monocorde !!! Puissant et captivant donc fortement recommandé ! Limité à 300 copies.

Loop - February 2014
Ed Osborn is a Finnish sound artist who is based in Philadelphia and his works include installation, sculpture, radio, video, performance and public projects. Osborn has performed in various educational centers, art galleries and open spaces in the U.S. and Europe. He has a permanent collection at the MOMA in San Francisco, works at the School of Visual Arts at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and has taught at several American universities.

'Stone North' consist in three pieces and is his first album since 1989, which is released by Estuary label in a limited run of 300 copies comprising over twenty years of sound activity.

For this album Osborn plays several custom instruments manipulated by himself as the modified electric guitar, 'skis electric' concave and real-time processing.

'In Memoriam Elisha Blakeman & Tabitha Babbitt' is a track performed live in studio by Osborn and Brenda Hutchinson and is dedicated to who invented a single-stringed tabletop instrument called the 'piano violin' (patented in 1871) and the circular saw in 1810. Both use a pair of electric skis laid flat producing expansive drones in a minimalist environment, where silence and noise have a common place.

Osborn on 'Guitar Mechanical' use pickups encapsulated in a cylindrical metal in each hand and play them over the modified guitar layed flat. The result is a spiral of scrapes that produce countless reverberations.

'Stone North' was created in 2009 and is a piece of electroacoustic improvisation and prepared guitar. The metal timbre is permanent in this issue and is changing the frequency, from the highest to the lowest sounds bursting hypnotic generating sound waves. 5 / 5 -Guillermo Escudero

Textura - January 2014
Estuary Ltd. follows up its recent {Impact + Aftermath} release by Mem1 member Mark Cetilia with another bold collection, this one the first first full-length album from Ed Osborn since 1989. Presented in a distinctive letterpress-printed sleeve and issued in a numbered edition of 300, the forty-three-minute release {Stone North} presents three live recordings, each piece different in character, instrumentation, and length, with the shortest five minutes and the longest twenty-six. They are, to be sure, challenging experimental works and not always easy listening either. They're also fascinating explorations of the range of sounds that conventional and unconventional instruments are capable of producing.

Fittingly titled after Shaker community members Elisha D'Alembert Blakeman and Tabitha Babbitt, who respectively invented a single-stringed tabletop instrument called the “piano violin” (patented in 1871) and the circular saw in 1810, “In Memoriam Elisha Blakeman & Tabitha Babbitt” (1989-92) was realized live in the studio by Osborn and Brenda Hutchinson. In keeping with Blakeman's creation, the two used skis to bow across a pair of electric skis laid flat, resulting in five minutes of monstrous scrapes whose reverberant residue dissipates into the extended pauses following each pass. As daunting as such a description might sound, the piece itself is generally easy on the ears, especially when it's performed in such a way that it grows progressively quieter and more peaceful as it unfolds.

Osborn realized 1992's “Guitar Mechanical” by laying the guitar flat and playing it from above with pickups in each hand, pickups in this case encased in cylindrical metal containers so that they also could serve as slides. The result is eleven minutes of prickly, spider-like thrum and shudder whose waves sometimes crash aggressively ashore, in a manner of speaking. Dispersed across the stereo field into separable halves, the sound masses charge, their attack sometimes delivered in a hocketing formation and their speed of attack modulating between slow and fast.

Composed in 2009, the long-form title track was performed by Osborn in one take using live electronics and tabletop guitar, with the latter's tones produced by E-bow and slide and the tones processed and delayed in evolving manner. The creaking sound mass in this case crawls, its arc rising and falling in seeming slow-motion and its metallic timbres metamorphosizing as they writhe. While the pitch-shifting at times calls Ligeti to mind, the rather creepy result could pass for a recording of the amplified communications within an insect colony far below ground. If the soundtrack for Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey ever went missing, Osborn's piece would be an especially good choice to accompany the colour-saturated sequence where Dave Bowman hurtles across the vast expanses of space.

KFJC On-Line Reviews - January 2014
Three pieces (5, 11 and 26 minutes) by mysterious sound artist Osborn, who seems to be affiliated with Mills College and various other institutions of creative music. He uses extended techniques and electronic processing on electric guitars and, on the first piece, amplified skis as a sound source. The ski piece is full of deep roaring sounds, which is evidently what you get if you take skis, amplify them, and coax sounds out of them. The second piece is the most percussive as Osborn bangs on his guitar and its pickups—it's probably the noisiest track. The third piece is the most electronic sounding with its fractured layers of droning feedback emanating from Osborn's tabletop guitar. Attractively active ambient works here. The compositions are from 1989, 1992, and 2009. -Max Level

Bad Alchemy 80 - January 2014
Dass Osborn in Helsinki geboren ist, will ich etwas weniger in Zweifel ziehen wie die Behauptung, dass er 1985 das 24-Stunden-Rennen von Le Mans gewonnen hätte. Es sei denn, er wäre 'John Winter' (und nicht tot). Aber das wäre dann eine andere Geschichte als die, dass Studien bei Alvin Lucier und Ron Kuivila und die Erfahrungen mit den Ski-A-Delics einen für eine akademische Karriere als Klangkünstler qualifizieren, der zur Zeit an der Brown University (Providence, RI) lehrt. Das mit dem Ski erklärt sich gleich bei 'In Memoriam Elisha Blakeman & Tabitha Babbitt' (1992). Diese Hommage an zwei erfinderische Shaker - Babbitt erfand 1813 die Kreissäge, der Tischler Elisha Blakeman ließ 1871 eine 'piano violin' patentieren - wird nämlich von Osborn (zusammen mit Brenda Hutchinson) auf electric skis intoniert. Das sind zu Monochords umgebaute Skier, die wiederum mit Skiern gestrichen werden. Das Erfinderische wurde Osborn durch seine Quäker-Eltern - die Shaker sind aus den Quäkern hervorgegangen - offenbar mit in die Wiege gelegt. Er nutzt seinen Einfallsreichtum auch für 'Guitar Mechanical' (1989-92), wo er mit zwei in Metallzylinder eingefassten Tonabnehmern eine flach gelegte Gitarre slide bespielt. Und auch 'Stone North' (2009) entstand nach diesem Prinzip, wiederum mit einer Tabletop und mit Slideglissandos, diesmal aber mit Ebow, Processing und Delay. Alle drei Arbeiten entfalten Saitenklang in außerordentlicher Weise. Vom Dröhnklang der Skier, mit erstaunlich sonoren Resonanzen wie aus dem Innenklavier gescharrt. Über die prickelnd tremolierte, flackrig bebende und detonierende Gitarrendramatik. Bis hin zum titelgebenden Prachtstück mit seinem herrlichen Sirren und Schillern in Schmeißfliegen- und Ölschlierfarbtönen. Das Ganze kommt in einem ganz feinen Hockdruckcover dazu auch noch als Augenschmaus daher. Fürwahr, when true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed! -Rigobert Dittman

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