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Album Review: BCJsPS — ‘Myth Arc’


BCJsPS Myth Arc is a collection of pieces improvised over two days in Chicago by Brian Penkrot, Justin Comer and Jason Palamara. Myth Arc is more noisy and chaotic than Comer’s last release; it combines violin, clarinet, laptop synthesis, sampled sound, hand percussion and drums in polyrhythms that shudder with energy.

These pieces aren’t that far from Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music — but this trio brings a different skill set to bear. Reed produced that work solo, setting up feedback loops between multiple guitars and amps. The interplay of three musicians makes Myth Arc a more interactive experience. The listener hears the musicians listening and responding to each other. And the listener is challenged to find the coherent whole in what seems like a collection of tattered, smashed sounds.

Comer has a Masters in Composition, and Palamara is a professor of Music Technology at Indiana University-Purdue University, but they haven’t let their academic experience limit the music they make. Jason and Justin are part of the latest wave of people coming to Iowa City to study and finding a community of like-minded players.

The BCJsPS trio play outside regular ideas of form and intentionality embedded in conventional music, finding a new, improvised structure made possible by achieving a technical peak without thinking in technical terms.

“My Favorite Little Prayer” combines a recitation of a poem by Thea Brown with a slow, unsteady collection of isolated sounds. The chaotic drumming and Comer’s clarinet glissandos, combined with stuttering instruments and voices, interact with delay effects to build an echoing dub space. The saxophone “melodies” — sometimes three notes spaced out over 30 seconds — echo 1950s noir detective movie jazz soundtracks, but chopped up like confetti and thrown up in the air to see how it lands.

“Compline” is the most “Metal Machine Music” piece on Myth Arc: a continuous drone from wind instruments and what sounds like slide guitar combined with drunken glissandos. Sheets of hard-to-identify sounds weave in and out. Palamara’s amplified violin recalls John Cale’s viola on the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin.” This music is more for surrendering to than listening to.

“Zebra” combines polyrhythmic drumming with scronky violin and clarinet outbursts. It’s anti-jazz. It deliberately avoids finding any groove and replaces sophisticated harmony with atonal fragments. Yet it has formal structure, where each phrase is led off by drums, followed by violin and clarinet playing short phrases. It has a start-stop rhythm. After every phrase, they pause before inventing a new atonal outburst that ends as arbitrarily as it begins.

“Manners” samples what sounds like a 1950s educational film-strip about good manners, but structurally it’s a succession of rude interruptions. It devolves into an argument between fluttering drone notes, anti-rhythmic drums and harsh amplified violin drones. As chaotic and dense as “Manners” is, it still has a constant through line. At around 3 minutes 30 seconds, Palamara introduces a triumphant melodic figure on the violin. Very much like Indian Raga the three players stay on the major scale with a pedal tone on the root note. In the end it fades away with an acousmatic flutter of processed voices or instruments.

This article was originally published in Little Village’s December 2022 issues.


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