• Hibernation
  • The Woman awakes...
  • The Hunt
  • The Target
  • Silence
  • Interlude
  • Guilt
  • Confrontation
  • Circle
  • Chase

Formerly known as The Young Composers Collective, Seattle’s Degenerate Art Ensemble continue to amaze with their blending of modern classical music with Asian and experimental influences. From Zorn-style avant-jazz crazyness to Boredoms-esqe noise attacks with a stopover in Stockhausen country, this album is absolutely worth delving into.

Available from:
Dead Angel - Issue #48

This Seattle orchestra, formerly known as The Young Composer's Collective, is sort of like a Kronos Quartet for the Coffee Generation (only with way more players -- ten on this release, to be exact). Which is not to say that they're amped up or anything, but that they have a more "modern" approach to classical musical and traditional sounds. Under their earlier name released a soundtrack to Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS [un-labeled records]; on this one they worked with Scott Colburn, who has also worked with The Climax Golden Twins and The Black Cat Orchestra. So obviously they have a good pedigree.... Their sound is that of an orchestra (albeit a most unconventional one), and they coax some unusual rhythms and sounds from their instruments on this release, the music based on a butoh dance and concept by Haruko Nishimura. I'm not familiar enough with butoh to know how this fares by comparison to other butoh-styled music, but it's certainly engaging enough in its own right. Occasionally unsettling, too -- just as you've been lulled into submission by the low-key "The Woman Awakes," the giant percussion of "The Hunt" will make you literally jump out of your seat. The opening piece "Hibernation" is a perfect example of their sense of dynamics, with the instruments slowly swelling in volume then receding, over time growing louder and more "awake."

The danger and uneasiness of traditional butoh comes through in "The Target," which is almost all wildly unpredictable percussion (percussionist Robert Walker is particularly spectacular all across the disc, actually). I find "Interlude" especially interesting, given its echoes of Tony Conrad in the dissonant intervals and drones that build to a frenzied full band climax before fading away and coming back in a more chromatic fashion. The thundering rhythms in in "Confrontation" are closer to tribal psychosis than anything i normally associate with the orchestra -- maybe i've been listening to the wrong stuff all the time, eh? The crickets (or mimicry of such) at the end are a nice touch...

Their initial assault of sonic violence at the beginning of the final track, "Chase," is worthy of early Neubaten, only in the context of an orchestra as opposed to maniacs playing shopping carts and bandsaws. In fact, the whole tone of the the piece is pretty strident, and much heavier than you'd expect, plus laced with plenty of dissonance for my taste. Drop in unexpected bursts of percussion heaviess and riffs that gradually fade out and slow down in perfect time and you have moments of pure heaviness in a most unexpected context. Recommended, and not just for the classical or butoh enthusiasts, either.

Exclaim - October 19th, 2001
This ten-piece unit from Seattle have put together a suspenseful, thought provoking disc that combines jazz and classical. Rinko is a suite to accompany a Japanese Butoh dance performance. Most of this disc moves at a glacial pace, heightening the suspense with drawn out, sinister chords and strange instrumental groupings. This disc would definitely work well as a dance performance, or better yet, a film noir soundtrack - in an earlier incarnation, the Degenerates wrote a score for Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The recording is superb, highlighting the incredible detail in the writing and ensemble playing. The ensemble doesn't rely on a rhythm section, each member of the group reinforces the meter, whether brass, string or reed. This is not a jazz ensemble - not once does it fall into a bop-driven groove or collective improvisation. Nevertheless, there are horn riffs and chord changes that recall Mingus's more thematic pieces. The level of playing among each individual is very high, and almost everyone gets a little moment in the spotlight in little solo sections within the composition. Rinko is a highly accomplished surprise that would appeal to a wide variety of people who like their music dark and stormy. - David Dacks
Hi-Fi News - February, 2002
A nonet with a name like the Degenerate Art Ensemble promises Brecht\Weill-style cabaret, but the music steers clear of Weimar cliché. Composer Joshua Kohl doesn't play an instrument, but conducts, and one suspects that he's also directing the improvisors in real time. The music has some of the quest, melancholy, Mahlerish quality of Butch Morris's Current Trends in American Racism Today. Lowering and nostalgic sequences make use of some highly-individualized violin (Kendal Seager), trumpet (Josh Stewart) and electric guitar (Ben McAllister). The title track was performed with Butoh dancers, and the hilariously abrupt drums and shouts capture the dada impudence of Frank Zappa's Weasels Ripped My Flesh. It's rare to find a sizeable improvising ensemble that can evoke determinate moods without suppressing the personality of the individual players, but DAE manage it. Engravings of bullets, guns and other torn-up Victoriana decorate the sleeve, underlining the macabre vibe: jazz noir, deft and dark. - Ben Watson
History of Rock Music

The Degenerate Art Ensemble (formerly Young Composers Collective), led by composer Joshua Kohl, is a Seattle-based ensemble, formed in 1993, that stradles the line between jazz, classical and rock. Their instrumentation includes electronics, violin, sax, clarinet, trumpet, guitar, percussion, bass. It is also a theatre, dance and performance-art group, conceiving and performing multi-media operas.

Rinko (Unit Circle Rekkids, 2001) is the soundtrack to a butoh dance piece by Shohei Nishimura (Kohl's wife). The music here is more mature and sophisticated, exploiting the pauses as well as the counterpoint, calculating the mix of timbres and focusing on the dramatic tension. The ten brief tracks are basically micro-concertos that don't continue.

Improvijazzation Nation - Issue #49
This Seattle-based group used to be called the "Young Composer's Collective". While we didn't have the good fortune of reviewing their music while they were in that incarnation - we are happy to hear them now; 'specially with a name like this! Take some (very solid) classically-trained players (about 7 of 'em, looks like) who maintain a real sense of being composers (in an improvised sense), & their skill(s) will either shine through or make them sound startlingly amateur... & there's not ONE "amateur" lick here. They've been together for around 4 years, & I've no doubt that has a lot to do with the levels of (group) maturity & sensitivity they display - in SPADES, mon'.... while there is clear unbounded ENERGY evident, there is no rush to judgement. Their comfort level in the explorations comes through on each cut! Heavy oriental influences, as you might expect if you'd spent any time on the western side of the state... but in a sorta' "shocking" way. There ARE no dull moments, & the spontaneous state of (musical) events will keep you (literally) on the edge! This is some of the most enjoyable classical improv composition I've heard in the last couple of years. Funk-based-classical-improv with a taste o' funny! Gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from us, for any listener who wants some adventure for their ears! - Rotcod Zzaj
LMNOP - August 2001
If it's on the Unit Circle Rekkids label...you can BET it has no commercial value whatsoever. That is certainly the case with this disc. Degenerate Art Ensemble is a group of Seattle artists who were originally known as The Young Composers Collective. Possibly their most well-known achievement thus far is the soundtrack they recorded for Fritz Lang's film Metropolis. Rinko the album is the audio portion of one of the group's first full-scale performances. What does it sound like? Actually many different things...and yet nothing at all. The music is abstract modern classical with lots and lots of experimentation going on. At times the sound is like an awkward, nervous orchestra...and at other times things get creepy and almost stagnant. Some of the pieces are similar to Frank Zappa's classical compositions. This is not for everyone...but for folks into the odd, the bizarre, and the peculiar...Rinko will be a welcome treat. Our favorites here are "Hibernation," "The Target," and "Circle." The folks at Unit Circle always release intriguing stuff... (Rating: 4+)
Outburn - Issue #16
(4 out of 5 stars) Experimental Musical Theatre: It's difficult to critically approach music that is meant to stand as a deconstruction of one's idea of music. Degenerate Art Ensemble is just as they sound, a full band of musical drifters masterminded by Joshua Kohl, who tweak, trumpet, and slam their way through a 10 song set based on the butoh dance choreography of Haruko Nishimura. If nothing else, the album Rinko will leave you wanting to see the Nishimura performance from which it drew it's inspiration. Rinko's soundscape is frustrating at times - like going to the symphony and only being able to listen to the orchestra tune up - but is also theatrically provocative and, if you give it a chance, will have you playing the part of filmaker/playwright as the surreal narrative progresses. Narrative song titles like "The Hunt" and "Confrontation" give you an idea of what may be going on in the choreography, just in case you hadn't picked up the clues from the ever bleating trumpets and distinctly sinister stringwork. You get the feeling that something bad, something really, really bad, is always about to happen. But the climax is delayed, and delayed, and suspense remains. The album closes with a breathless adrenaline rush, aptly dubbed "Chase," that sucks you right into the twisted plot. If nothing else, you'll have your neighbors wondering what unspeakable horrors are happening behind your door. - Adam McKibbin
Prem's Favorites of 2001 - KUSF DJ
music composed based upon a butoh dance choreography which could just as well serve as the soundtrack for a creepshow; a plethora of instruments (violin, flute, clarinets, toy piano, bass, electric guitar, saxophones, more) accompanied at times by a whacko Japanese female vocalist (and led by a conductor!) produce dissonant, fricative music which alternates between pensive and frenetic, succinct and exaggerated, amusing and disturbing
Dig straight into the mother lode of melodic instrumental weirdness and embrace conductor/composer Joshua Kohl’s explorations with The Degenerate Art Ensemble. They and vocalist Haruko Nishimura knocked my socks into next week when they played Portland’s Medicine Hat, a show trembling with horns, guitars, and drums, building sensationally from easily-comprehended grooves to wild rhythms and feverish wails. I am pleased to report that their Unit Circle Rekkids release Rinko lives up to that live promise. A soundtrack to the performance piece of the same name (involving Butoh, I’d guess from the liner art), Rinko is not for the faint of heart. It’s better suited to the open mind and the active ear.
Badaboom Gramaphone
Based on a Butoh dance piece, Rinko brings the presumed restrained movements of the original performance duo to musical form. The Ensemble itself is made up of ten members, although most of the piece (which is divided into ten sections) is based around percussive shifts. On top of this, strings and woodwinds sweep from centered notes to atonality, no doubt sonically reflecting the gliding cadence of the dancer's bodies. The true artistry of the piece lays in its ominous temperance, which is broken by sudden bursts of volume only to fall back again to a tense silence. - Bada Ben
Vital Weekly - Issue 294
First cd by an ensemble from Seattle. They made quite a name for themselves as The Young Composer's Collective. Their most well_known achievement under that name is the soundtrack they recorded for Fritz Lang's film Metropolis. The Degenerate Art Ensemble is made up of 9 musicians playing violin, bass, electric guitar, trumpets, sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, persucussion, toy piano, roto toms and vocal. The music is composed by Joshua Kohl who also conducts the ensemble. Scott Colburn, who has also worked with The Climax Golden Twins and The Black Cat Orchestra, engineered the album. The group is not just a music ensemble but they incorporate also dance, theatre and performance in their productions. 'Rinko' was one of their first full-scale performances. The music is based on 'Rinko' a butoh dance choreography and concept by Haruko Nishimura who also does the vocals. I'm not familiar with butoh dance and music so I cannot judge on the possible interplay between the two. The music moves between slowly swelling parts growing louder and louder and percussive outbursts, making together a very dynamic whole that lasts only 33 minutes. The band is a sort garage avant rock ensemble that reminded me of the Bang on a Can formula (Michael Gordon) , also bands like The Ordinaires came to my mind and John Zorn of course. For those interested in these kinds of electric orchestras, that play violently their version of New Music the Degenerate Art Ensemble will fascinate for sure as they are a bunch of fine musicians. - Dolf Mulder