Perfect Sound Forever

No Smocking with PEEVISH
They even eat the Skin

by Domenic Maltempi
(July 2003)

Sometimes you forget that you don't need to blast the doors off the safe. Varying treasures appear one moment, the pyrite for example, and later leave the vault, to be substituted with peanut brittle. As such, I want to say a few things about the Portland, Oregon music/performing vortex called Peevish. I'm taking certain pains with those words, the idea of a 'collective,' 'ensemble,' and so forth- it does not seem to pull the tongue out of the wrist for descriptive accuracy.

"One key thing about Peevish is that it 'is' something, it's not "Zorn-Foster-Reese-Aglipay Quartet and Friends," or any such thing, which is divergent in some ways from the dominant mode in free music these days."

Joseph Foster, who's quoted above, does not summon the definition of the word Peevish from what I gleam of his attitudes towards music or other things, nor the numerous others' input that are involved in the Peevish musical world. Perhaps Peevish can be understood as a pot luck dinner with foods you might have seen somewhere in a reverie, eaten and digested with a careful sort of serious play instinct coddled with ad hoc and serious love that manages to move beyond questions of structure and her sisters.

Peevish essentially means 'discontent' and a little curly about it, a little fretful and hardened. Well hah! One can understand being a little Peevish over the state of sound lately. As Bryan Eubanks who performs with Peevish in Portland puts it: "sound is banal these days and only process remains an effective tool in music production. The source must be inside the sound."

Listening to Peevish and other kindred 'movements' by dint of an electronic correspondence had with John Foster when he was still in Portland (now in South Korea), I became interested in new conceptions of what was considered 'free music' in 2003 or in this country. I, like many others reading this, like to whip around my ideas of what is it about music, sound and philosophies that might have me appreciate everything I hear more so, and differently. The expressive latitude of the recordings I first sampled online felt for me and felt me, like being in an exciting rumination of an author who is content in the fecund buzz of the spirit of stirring creation rather than hacking away the lush forest for a denouncement or a few plumped round characters to condition the ideas.

This sort of foray I'm questing is never very inclusive of other expressions that would relate their music to others as 'free.' There are various levels of sophistication, freshness in approach, cultural difference- you know, the usual important stuff that can't be slighted. So I make mention of this, as well as historical differences in the idea of 'Free Music' when treating Peevish, as opposed to 'Freedom rock' or something. You go out and ask some dude or whoever kicking back listening to the Eagles, or Buffy Sainte Marie for that matter, what they think 'Free music is' as a sound and then think about what they tell you- visiting a park, marrying an unpopular bird. Certainly we are on amorphous ground, but let's make interesting shapes then with our movement.

Jesse Foster was my original contact into this world, as well as one of a few initial pushers of Peevish. So I must state here an asking for pardon on my unfortunate necessity to not have voices of some other participants heard. I do hope to spur interest in Peevish and others involved in similar endeavors so a stronger dialogue is promulgated.

The Scene is Portland, Oregon. A guy named Ezra who sometimes lives in trees to show solidarity with the arboreal and beyond, leads a sort of avant-rock unit called Uneasy. The trio features Jim Foster on drums and toaster, and they're still around. Jenny (previously and hereafter unknown) shows Ezra some of his many notebooks where certain words among other things are found, and selects 'Peevish' without knowing at the time what this word meant, which pleased Jeff.

I will spare you the part of the cosmogony where Baal's sister Anat, also a deity of fertility and life, defeats the dick head Mot in a bottle seven years later, freeing Baal from death and a non approved FDA hair gaining pill.

Peevish is not really a collective nor a band. Really want you to know that. It is as morphing as a fledging idea in the knurl of thirty or so minds almost converging. Dig it?

As Julia Foster included in an email concerning some of the ad-hoc incubating activities of Portland improvisers and fun makers (including of course Peevish), "it's tempting for people to see us as a "band" or even and "avant rock band" which, of course, we can be, but blurring those distinctions or making them as irrelevant to others as they are to us is a worthwhile pursuit." That understating, at least to this writer, seems to be a good enough 'credo' if you will.

The participants are many, and Peevish really only plays in Portland for obvious transportation, coordination, and other logistic reasons. These are creative people- a great many from my understanding do not have any formal musical background, and perhaps some of them would say they are not necessarily musicians. But why not say you are if there is something in you musical? I'm not trying to get all Marry Popkins on you either.

With Peevish, no excluding of possible accident, interruption, interaction, or so called infringement on the amazing weaving together of the pieces takes place. Is this just a fancy way of dressing up haphazard fucking around? Not even close.

If someone breaks your nose before singing a Puccini aria in front of your Serbian nationalist second cousin and a large impatient fifth cousin (who you could make love to) begins rubbing two pieces of Best Western stationary together in concert, her annoyance begetting the makeshift flautist sensation and water tight junkalist reporter for the newspaper mind... and so on. Meaning, the interest in this type of all-embracing free music is not about dicking around with received performative, structural, theoretical, and so on- types for parodic play or statement. It is in short, an interest about something much more perennial.

I am reminded when listening to late 2002 Peevish record Makes a Difference (Urantia 04) of the very real sense in which our bodies are temporary coagulations in the flow of body mass. Why? There is a verve, a lightning bug hop inside this music that pulls the underwear over the square head of super linear thinking, schematic and plain dogged plots of so much music that advances a dumbed-down false self-centering of experience on either egos or the various trappings of methodologies or so-called abandonment of any such thing. This in turn often dooms experience as intervention into the linear goal riddled path as an end or a means to endings. There is no anecdote to a thick and too smooth sucking up from the cup of mottled modeled heavy ends and means even if purporting to in some cases as it would thwart, blunt, sabotage an existing 'mode.'

'Here we are,' says Making a Difference, an elliptical shower matt under the soles of our feet, keeps you from having to think the slippery element of everything too consciously if at all, as everything going on is in fact not just in flux, but slippery fucked flux fucking.

But back to the 'coagulation point...'

This movement of free music found in Peevish as our subject here, removes itself on grounds where one finds dictates attempting to push the human, act, song, race, or whatever, as the pinnacle or principle peak of some disguised map to 'progress.' Even if this progress is not the old fashioned philosophical notion still held by many as constant refinement in technological means, narrowly understood skill, or the like, but rather something approaching this understanding in the modern argot of cutting the edge and all that bok bok bok.

Bryan Eubanks plays for Peevish and other units such as The Foster/Jenkins/Eubanks Trio with sound makers as: alto saxophone and percussion, poo poo-ing the idea of what he calls 'Out Sounds,' as well as the idea of structure and non-structure.

To quote him: "It is not the instruments that are very important, sounds and music are infinitely diverse so it isn't just the combination or these 'out' sounds that constitutes a free music, but the motivation inside it. The term free is misleading, but it is most suitable because the process is free in comparison to the oft found narrow production methods currently established. Each meeting of players is infinitely unique, and generates its own code of conduct or rules." To take a look at The Trio's work, check out:

Peevish has integrated such plays into their work such as Wilson Zorn's Haymakers. They have indeed crossed currents with several arts and creative people's own directions.

DM: Do you think the music that Peevish puts together is free in the sense of it being built with amorphous thinking/musical tools so to speak, and built-in with so much unique minute by minute diversity that it will not ossify into any strangulating structure, so-called experimental hardened in its usual 'on-guard' guises...?

WZ: It's interesting that you ask this question. I've been contemplating myself as to the possible ossification over time of Peevish's music/performance. Honestly, someone commented at the last show we did (sorry it's not on the web site yet!) that it was "a safe show for Peevish," which I suppose I'm not supposed to say in any sort of interview. But it gives cause to pause.

The issue of "structure" isn't so much one of adapting to any other preexisting structure but the erection of a structure that, even if unique, becomes instantly identifiable and ultimately constricting- a good reason that musical (as well as other sorts of) collaborations break up (or better put in my view, "deform"). And of course, there's simply the listener/viewer reaction which in turn becomes structured perhaps even independently of the music, which in my view is a not-so-good reason that such collaborative efforts deform.

The human mind seeks structure, often to a clinically insane degree. One school of thought would say chaos mathematics is a thin sham to cover up whatever doesn't fall into an easily identifiable structure. But I digress (and make stuff up, too, sometimes)...

I can't really explain it well except that we use lots of concepts (and yes, structures) but somehow keep those as a natural flow of happy and not so happy accidents and premeditated purposefulness, at least when we play well. And it just isn't that serious, and it is neither against art nor for art. It's sort of art's bratty cousin who comes over to play and is somehow endearing more so than obnoxious, provocative as much as benign.

Here, lifted straight from the Peevish History freezer is a snippet of what Peevish's seventh performance was about, at least what we can gleam from print and the allowances of Anat:

July 21, 2001.
Improvised Music Workshop, at It's A Beautiful Pizza, Portland, Oregon.

Wilson - vocals
Joe - cornet mouthpiece
Joseph - recorder
Jean-Paul - flute

Spell In Which Every Incantation Is Filled With Teeth
Wilson - electric guitar
Jean-Paul - electric guitar
Joe - cornet
Joseph - cello

Square Robin
Joe - cornet
Wilson - synth
Joseph - cello

Preliminary Analysis With No Critical Distance
Wilson, Joe, Jean-Paul, Joseph - vocals, movements
Machine - music

Improvised nursery-rhyme song about ourselves and the performance. All 4 players making up/singing their songs at once, in time with the music played by the machine.

Macro Game 003: Easter
Prior to performance, each player devised short instructions, placed them in small containers ('easter eggs') and hid them around the room. Throughout the performance the players exited the stage in search of instructions and then carried out the instructions immediately. Special mention: "eat the snickers that is in the jar of water on the front of the stage. drink the water."

Slides and projections by Joseph Bradshaw

Descriptions of these acts, or songs, do get the toes wet enough and whet the appetite to further investigate just what types of differences Peevish makes on a minutely or hourly basis depending on your state of mind and if you woke up under or over the bed or have no bed at all.

The spirit within this formation is affirmative; it aligns and informs itself onward and out-there as such. There is an ephemeral beauty in the music's effect in the best sense, with sound movements that evoke the coming together of variegated entrances and almost exits, paper shuffling, ennui busting, coronet slouching strongly in barley visible shades broken into shine by percussive imaginations, electronics that finally act like bushy tailed animals, building, burrowing, fooling the seasons. This description is not even based on seeing these people perform! I live across the country unfortunately.

There is something about Peevish at loggerheads with ephemerality. Perhaps that may be to a non-participant trying to understand, the way the spirit of cooperation without the striations of pacts, or hyperbolic self-reliance credos. Let Peevish be Peevish. That is, even if a drum is punctured, or a few participants disappear in a pear tree, what is Peevish cannot really be shrunk down to any wallet size essence, it is so much freer in this simple and strong regard. Jacopetto really made that point abundantly clear to me.

"It's what you do when no one's looking," track 11 of Makes a Difference, rewinds me of Vladimir Ussachevsky's "Wireless Fantasy" of 1960, except wire is dispensed in fluids in sawed off decanters, the cadence of the transmission takes a back seat to the commingling sound struggles that gets the hopeless need bathed and out of the house. In the end, the message is like being hit in the head with a very venerable document from high up in the canopy, the concussion gushing quickening a revelation that would never have occurred to the subject in any other circumstances. Oh dangerous battle for dessert!

I urge everyone to check out, and hope to have exhaled some interest on this topic, and on these people who are known as Peevish.

If interested in an audition, more music, booking, hearing/telling secrets, or personal recollections of our time with Samuel Pepys, please contact us: or

Go to Portland and see these people have fun loving music.

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