We Need No Swords was a relative latecomer to the Coppice universe. I first came across them in 2015, on their excellent ‘Bypass/Ideal’ tape on Hideous Replica. And even though it probably wasn’t the most representative of their works – the cassette separates two parts of a piece that were performed originally in combination – something about the attention to detail and the textures deployed by the duo rocked my world. I’ve been fascinated by their compositional techniques, not to mention the results of those methods, ever since.
Experimental music from Coppice is always worth paying attention to.
For a long time, Coppice—the intimate collaboration between sound artists Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer—was focused on the physical; Kramer and Cuéllar approached their work with clinical objectivity, eschewing representation and mimesis to let their restricted palette of sound generators (bellows instruments) and filters (analog tape) be both the subject and the medium of the music. The abstract soundscapes and drones of their early work seem to belie the fact that they were created by human agents. In 2014, that all changed. In a long-term project called Newly Cemented Dedication to Freedom, the pair have expanded their old approaches to create a new sound world based on emulation, modeling, and illusion […]
For a while it was possible to describe the duo Coppice’s often indescribable music simply by identifying their many instruments, particularly the harmonium and accordion wielded by Joseph Kramer and Noé Cuéllar. But the notion of renewal is built right into their name: the word “coppice” refers to the practice of pruning a tree to promote new growth.
In concept, presentation, and execution, a Coppice record can feel a lot like a puzzle. The solution, however, is not a matter of decoding or uncovering, but of becoming more puzzled. Since 2009, Chicago’s Joseph Kramer and Noé Cuéllar have recorded and built numerous albums, instruments, and installations, bluring the boundaries between music, sculpture, and visual art by emphasizing their shared materiality and internal mysteries.
[…] subliminal echoes through a respirating hiss, your ears are primed for even the subtlest sounds to feel like an event.
[Coppice’s] organizational principle is partly intuitive and partly mechanical, a map of the way every part interacts, relates, and behaves.
Boombox loops, pump organ stutter, separated at birth.
Nothing here sounds static, as Coppice scans surfaces of their instruments in a varying amount of spaces (small ones, bigger ones) and all of the irregularities of the surface become alive in this music.
[…] Coppice’s focus, as it has been consistently through their work, is a three-pronged exploration of sound, noise and silence, confronting once again what might otherwise be called ‘deliberate’ and ‘extraneous’ quantities, and to some extent rendering both terms entirely moot.
Coppice is a name to watch out for!
Their music is full of noises caused by what most musicians would consider imperfections, creaks and clatter, but instead of masking these noises, they are drawn out and become the defining characteristic of the sounds produced. These delicate sounds are knit into heavy textural pieces and the reward of these painfully crafted instruments is immediately apparent in their music.
Electro-acoustic improvisation need not be the pleasant cohabitation of two avant-garde musicians agreeing with each other than nothing of import needs to happen for there to be a scribble of a record that gets released. There can be, nay, there SHOULD be grit, risk, and error; and through the process, some sort of meaning or revelation comes through the sound. […] hand-crafted texture thrust into expository movements of communed intellect and instinct.
Extremes of a different kind are to be found in the latest release from Chicago-based experimental duo Coppice. The word that springs to mind every time i listen to their work is friction, due to their output emanating from a variety of mechanical devices, chiefly a prepared pump organ. This is entirely foregrounded and emphasised, filling their music with creaks, squeaks, scrapes, clatter and air noise, sounds that are often so crude one has to overcome the urge to hear them as superficial disjecta membra, secondary artefacts littering the primary material that lies beneath. But Coppice’s work is deliberately constructed from these—to use the term literally—raw materials, formed into textural pieces that invariably defy received notions of structure and development.
The music sounds so volatile, on the verge of slipping into disintegration. Precisely here is where the paradox of power of Coppice music lies.
Though clearly recorded and rigorously performed, Coppice’s songs bewilder. They teeter on the edge of the familiar and flirt with recognition, but are comprised of sounds that evade identification. Those sounds are microscopic, magnified to the point of seclusion, and hermetic, as if trapped inside a great machine churning endlessly in the dark.
Coppice make both their methods and their materials known, and in doing so defy the obscurantism of an age in which so many of the things you use conceal the mechanics of their operation.
I love how this isn’t explicitly “Electro-Acoustic Improvisation” – despite appropriating many of the genre’s corner/touch-stones – “Composition,” “Sound Art,” or any of the kite-flying / card-carrying experimental-sound allocations; it’s music that simply exists on its own terms.
The industrial drowsiness swelling into roaring, crispy textures over broody textured suspense, the sculptures Coppice make, emanating from bellows displacing air, almost reflect an apotheosis of life itself here. What else are the airborne sounds than a reference to discovering how air waves can transform into sound, a hose being rotated in air, reminding us of our childhood and the ephemeral character of it all. Coppice again prove to be undisputed masters in making the artificial sound authentic.
Removing (or replacing) reeds in a pipe organ might seem like blasphemy to some, but for Coppice, it’s a daily task that forwards their career. Born in 2009, this Chicago duo is pressing forward, and creating sounds that capture the raw emotional power of audio.
While the music is rich and highly abstract, the listener is never far removed from air current passing through the reeds and bellows of their instruments.
Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer’s windblown recordings portray the inner life of their instruments. […] The music, as fascinating and physically impressive as it is on its own, points away from itself and underscores the systems that bring it to life. Those systems are modular and endlessly adaptable, capable of producing way more variety than any one performance, installation or album could contain, so Coppice makes music that emphasizes that fact. Sounds are processed and reprocessed, instruments are broken down and rebuilt with new functions, and previously recorded material is given new life as part of a new composition. The music begins with these core elements and grows from them the way a tree grows up from its roots. It’s also limited by those elements, but that’s what pruning is for.
Even if you’ve never heard another one of their recordings, that organic sensibility comes across in the way Coppice handles its compositions. They’re loose and free-flowing, seemingly improvised and ramshackle, as if held together by duct tape and Elmer’s school glue. That messiness is part of what makes them so mesmerizing; it generates tension and lends them an impossible sheen, like watching someone build a house of cards on a moving bicycle. We can enjoy the spectacle while it lasts, even if Cuéllar and Kramer eventually demolish it for the sake of something new.
Some music fits comfortably within a single genre, and some builds a bridge between a couple of them. The genre doesn’t exist that will hold Coppice, and the Chicago-based duo’s releases don’t so much connect musical styles as peer deeply into the spaces between them in order to find sounds that flourish without framework or form. Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer use an antique harmonium, a cassette deck modified so that it plays and records simultaneously, and diverse electronic devices to make fluctuating streams of sound that stretch towards the horizon, but rarely simply drone, and that attain moments of grinding harshness, but don’t stay there long enough to satisfy noise-mongers. Rather, Coppice’s work uses continuous movement and slow change to freeze time, and makes records into mirrors that make you ponder the virtues of the formats on which they are released.
Coppice, the duo known for bending genres with their unorthodox instruments, is making their Empty Bottle debut this hump day. Although their output ranges from compositions to recordings to sculptures, one thing is consistent: their ability to create haunting, transcendent art that is in a genre all its own.
Just saw this Chicago based duo play a spectacular live show […] These guys combine cracked electronics with harmonium (or pump organ, or some damn thing) into brilliant extended pieces of generally quiet, slowly unspooling sounds. It seems as though their approach would result in a series of discrete musical events, but they manage to give their compositions a narrative cohesion that transcends a lot of similar work.
Coppice have been bringing out some amazing releases over the past year or so, often using battered, broken sounds to build their unnerving, unsettled sound art.
There are very musical and concrete aspects in Coppice, and yet there is always a very enigmatic, floating, lunar atmosphere, which tends increasingly towards a more clean and smooth digital sound. Coppice operates in unknown areas, sound and musical territories like no one has ever heard. It resembles a kind of outdated or offset electroacoustic music, as if a 19th century organist/handyman made electroacoustic music, or as if the ghost of the musician returned today to make electronic music. There is a kind of nostalgia and ghostly atmosphere always present in their compositions, in abstract phases (pure breaths) as well as in their melodies.
Coppice are a curious and unusual duo in that they feel as if (to me at least) they exist as some kind of ongoing project that is developing in public, growing outward from a small collection of sounds, instruments and techniques that expand upon one another, building blocks of sound put together in increasingly interesting and complex ways to make new works, dismantled and then rebuilt again. the duo seem to revel in a particular, unusual and recognisable set of sounds they have made their own and its as if they take great joy in moulding these elements over and over again to discover new solutions with them. The results along the journey are all quite fine, but for me at least, it is when viewed as one long and developing body of work Coppice come into their own.
Simply put, there is not a lot of other material to compare it to. While use of phrases like ‘genre-bending’ or ‘hard to classify’ is as wildly common as it is blindingly inappropriate for the vast majority of its contexts, I am often at a comparative and rhetorical loss with this duo’s output. All the more impressive since the approach itself (a variation on instrument + myriad effects) was so prone to abuse for much of the last decade. Whether its approachability is derived from a personal empathy for its textures, or the unashamed use of occasionally overt harmonics, or intriguingly complex relations between acoustic, analogue and digital sounds, there is something unique going on here.
The sound of broken shortwaves, industrial machines, mellow & breathy drones intertwined together in a way that sounds almost effortless.
Prepared pump organs, boombox, customized cassettes, karaoke machines, electromagnetic interference, microphonic oscillators could, certainly, add up to any sort of event, but in the patient hands of these two talented soundscapists from Chicago, what emerges are territories simultaneously warm and frigid, bleak and welcoming, robotic and sensual. The tapping of a blown reed submerges into a warm electronic wind as distant choruses grieve their bodilessness. These events change impressions according to space and volume, uncategorizable as gothic or post-classical, experimental or industrial, impossible to describe but NEVER boring, always morphing and ALWAYS presenting an important and completely unique point of view. Stunning!
[…] offering corporeal textures that often give way to eerie, subtle melodies […] ‘Noise’, yes, but so much more.
Highly recommended if you like early Merzbow, early Wolf Eyes, but not early mornings.
A little spirit of innovation.
This is music that sounds like no other, both familiar and soothing, foreign and alarming. A universe unto itself.
Their music is pure avant-garde, we are faced with something that stands out as stylistically reckless, deliberately sought […] A meticulous construction of sound that thrives on abstraction that isn’t an end in itself: the result of a strong personality and outlined vision of composition. A landmark of contemporary avant-garde.
Coppice is able to restore life into [their instruments]. I wouldn’t have ever imagined harmoniums would sound like this, and neither experimental music. Noé Cuéllar & Joseph Kramer explore the acoustic properties of electric and magnetic phenomena, but with sensitivity, poetry and musicality. This rare duo has found an unprecedented sound while working on form accurately. I loved their early research, but 2012-2013 marked the fulfillment of Coppice, as it is no longer only virtuosos experiments, but unique and splendid music.
Highly recommended to everybody wants to ear something different and really original, out of common and (why not) rebel to the “establishment”.
I’d like to call [Coppice] the elite of the new avant-garde; their brand is that of anonymity and their artistic use of images, the minimalism and intimate sounds might support the idea that only if we come closer, when we get a more detailed look at the surrealistic scenery seen through a miniature hole in a box, to the realization all is a set up. As soon as the listener gets too close, the image darkens and changes. Their approach is to distract, to always camouflage a deeper intention, pure, shallow and transparent.
Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer continue to present imposing and monumental works as the duo Coppice. These two have built up a valid new vocabulary of sound. Keep your eye on these two.
Coppice has just taken me by storm! No one sounds like them. They are “wholly original”. They compose music for archaic instruments, and make it beautiful and faceless and emotional and daunting, but always purposeful. Imagine the collision of a proto-industrial steam huffing start-up and the electromagnetic-sizzle&fry of modern western civ.
Though their projects range from compositions and recordings to sculpture and performed installations, Coppice consistently produces transcendent, undulating music that excites the senses and haunts the imagination. […] Coppice’s fluid processes and dynamic experimentations with sound, air, and objects result in sounds that are alive—they breathe, pause, pass through objects, and maneuver easily between spaces. From their icy, austere work to their humid, “florasonic” ambiances in the conservatory, Coppice is breathing new life into Chicago’s experimental music scene.
[..] Coppice play the ace they had hiding up their sleeve: all remaining vestiges of rarefied abstraction dissolve into haunting, moonlit melodies, the conceptual fuzz taking on the shimmer of fantasy. A direct play for the emotions, its brazenness proving almost as surprising as the fact that it works [..] it seems as if Cuéllar and Kramer have reached a point at which they are comfortable and confident enough in their practice to throw caution to the wind and let rip, while retaining a formidable conceptual rigour even in the moment of its negation. This is a situation that this reviewer is more than happy with.
After years of hearing their name bandied about, I finally saw and heard the Chicago duo Coppice earlier this year. I’m slowly making up for lost time, because the sounds produced together by Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer are as enticing, interesting, and mysterious as anything I’ve heard in recent months. […] I’m still not entirely sure how Coppice does what they do, but that hardly matters. They typically describe themselves as a “bellows and electronics” duo, but while that’s pretty much accurate, it doesn’t indicate the specific techniques they use. When I saw them perform, Cuéllar was sitting at a pump organ, and while there were occasionally sounds you might expect from the instrument, more often than not he creatively hijacked its wheezing potential in all kinds of hard-to-describe ways. Kramer sat at some device with several cassette decks, but he was using various wires and electronic currents to create an array of noises just as compelling as what his partner does. […] Not knowing what the hell is going on is part of the appeal, and that effect is not lost when they perform live.
Prepared pump-organ and magnetic tape — a dream-machine, an over-grown garden, full of bioluminescent algae and fossil.
Genuine individuality in music is quite rare. The practice of recycling and recombining influences makes most groups some forbearers’ “children.” Not so, Coppice, the Chicago, IL-based duo of Joseph Kramer Noé Cuéllar. With unlikely, unique instrumentation, Coppice create a pulsating, shimmering, delicate sound world. […] Unidentifiable audio traceries make the duo’s music engaging and mysterious. Maybe John Cage’s “Cartridge Music” could be considered a musical ancestor, but Coppice has the seldom achieved distinction of having utterly its own sound.
A Chicago-based duo with Joseph Kramer and Noé Cuéllar that explores sound in search of music with very special instrumentation: harmonium, cassette player, oscillators, and other electromagnetic phenomena, all customized as well it should. We listen to noise organized with a strong musical potential of sound phenomena that seem to speak of electricity, bellows that bring tension and horizontality. Superb!
Their sound intimates something just below the threshold of articulation that can instead be comprehended through the body. Their attention to nuance is especially felt witnessed live.
[…] the duo continues to explore the possibilities of expanding acoustic sonorities through the use of subtly placed electronics, and the results are stunning […] Despite this seemingly limited palette of sounds, Coppice excel at creating a surprisingly diverse tapestry out of their tools of choice.
Given the state of technology and society, no group should sound quite like Coppice does. However, the brilliance of their recent work has proven otherwise, blasting open the gates of the status quo and helping to redefine the future of music. Through their “sense of quiet risk” and their delicate balance of the transparent and the occluded, Coppice’s compositions parlay a double-tease of seduction and nuance: the humming and wheezing of the universe, breath by bellow breath.
[…] the rhythmic cues more than the drone form allow the listener to dive body and soul into Coppice’s sonic masses. The listener can easily fall into this archaic, post-industrial (and post-EAI) universe, full of abstract sounds always deeper and more abyssal, always newer and more inviting.
Compound Form is a very strong composition, this is musical narrative at its highest potency; these are human emotions and thoughts effectively activated by sound, building an intimate, personal story where the only character is the listener and his subjective view.
Totally fascinating sound work. Perhaps in a way also highly conceptual, but also highly musical. Excellent.
Talking about Coppice music as a whole, it’s hard not to mention that their music evokes many images and associations. This music leaves some aftertaste. And this is a good thing.
Sitting down with Cuéllar and Kramer in their studio, they describe their interest in the “behavior of sounds” and the ways in which different sounds demand a different kind of listening. However, Coppice is not necessarily interested in making the listener more aware of the plethora of quotidian sounds that may surround her. Rather, the listener is encouraged to connect to the collection of sounds Coppice draws from to create their compositions. […] Many of the sounds Coppice finds, makes, and records relate to the human body and its rhythms. The breath that passes through a tube and the air that traverses through the bellows of an accordion or pump organ indicate the necessity of the body to the production of that sound, whether it is the musician’s breath, hands, or feet interacting with the instrument or apparatus. They claim that it is the “air on the edge of things” that makes its way into the auditory.
In forestry, to coppice something is to cut it down to allow for new growth. A coppiced wood is the beginning of a cycle where new shoots will emerge to be harvested. Coppice, then, is a fitting name for the Chicago-based electronic music duo of Joseph Kramer and Noé Cuellar, who alter familiar instruments and musical modes to create new and surprising compositions.
The pair is interested not only in sound, but how noise is manipulated and recorded. Coppice strips music down to very basic elements: airflow, breathing, buzzing, grinding and humming. Using instruments both mechanical and handmade, such as Shruti boxes—devices that produce sound through a system of bellows—Coppice combines ancient instruments with modern technology.
Often using unique, customized instruments, Coppice makes sounds that pair unusually well with Happenings and art installations. Their CDs, like Vinculum (2010), are sold in limited edition and packaged in hand-embroidered pouches.
The prolific Chicago based duo of Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer have produced a steady stream of increasingly impressive music for a few years now. [Epoxy] is more a kind of immediate, acoustic musique concrète than improvisation in its natural sense, full of murky but vastly contrasting colours and a wide range of dynamics.
Constructing or manipulating many of their own devices, Coppice modifies instruments like accordions to make them sound like sad, strange breathing machines that wheeze and sigh in beautiful syncopation.
The method of these men is special: new pieces are largely based on what instruments are available […] for example a pump organ, a walkie-talkie, and a number of double-cassette recorders. Previously, the band played the famous aluminum piano of the Baschet brothers. The common thread in their repertoire is clear: the sounds are organic, relatively pleasant to the ear, conjuring of images of plains, urban chaos, and forests. It’s especially fascinating to find out how their sounds are brought about in live performance.
In forestry, coppicing is the practice of cutting back a young tree to a stump but leaving the roots intact so that shoots will sprout from what remains. Chicago duo Coppice are similarly ungentle with their music, stripping things down to the essentials in a way that fosters new growth.
[…] extraordinarily pleasing and hypnotic tones. But it’s the duo’s meticulous pacing and dynamics that makes [Pied] work as it moves between deeply engaging organ drones and decaying tape textures. The result is more exquisite proof of Coppice’s unique vision of creative and honed sound exploration.
[…] I discovered what I was searching for: a way to make the abstraction of storage media into a physical presence, a way to make the metaphysical bodily. I experience these works as bodily expressions of abstract, psychic, spaces. I feel like, in a lot of ways, devoting as much attention as I do to probing the possibilities of tape helps me to more clearly and carefully outline its body: like fleshing out the corporeal possibilities of this tool that was conceived for very limited purposes. I find similar concerns in the work of this duo from Chicago called Coppice. They call themselves “a duo of bellows and electronics.” This means that they work with various kinds of electronics, both handmade and not, as well as various instruments with bellows. These include Shruti Boxes and accordions. I think that the focus that they place on combining bellows with electronics is both conceptually interesting and viscerally pleasurable. I like the idea of bellows, a broad category of instruments associated with breath and life, being combined with very mechanical electronic instruments that can feel cold and lifeless. It is a beautiful combination.
Absolutely thrilling. Really mindblowing!
The most original music being done right now. I don’t know how they make the “music” that they do.
Coppice tends to try to focus more on their perception of the effects of the music, […] the ability to slowly bend the reality surrounding us, making it much more viscous, sometimes even difficult to breathe […] Continuously being on the edge of abrasiveness, they manage to handle potentially ear deafening noises sounding gentle and almost clean.
Extremely minimal and incredibly compelling.
There’s a palpable intensity to the work. Inspiring – hard to pigeonhole, contemporary without playing to fashionable idioms, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable […] contributing a dash of meaningful originality to the ever expanding field of new experimental music.
Everything at work at almost being a world […] Audible growth.
An amazing duo using bellows and electronics. Safe to say I am now a completist. God knows we have all heard enough textbook electronic treatments of acoustic instruments (eg. violin and Max/MSP), but this is an entirely different beast. More narrative in structure than exploratory, with great attention to detail.
Intriguing and oddly listenable in what at times comes across as an alien sound world, intelligible to someone or something if not to you – like trying to follow a game when you don’t know the rules, or listening to a conversation in a language you don’t speak.
A very good, tough electronics duo.
Some sort of parallel reality – a micro-emotional environment of great formal aesthetic value, revealing a delicate narrative character that compellingly evolves, rewarding the listener with a very powerful experience.
The music is almost subliminal, more suggested than stated […] humming and wheezing quietly along, rich with activity, but somehow peripheral, offering the most potential for getting lost in.
The maturity and restraint suggests a group with decades of activity behind it, rather than a pair of artists at the beginning of their careers.
A real capacity to create space and universe.
Beyond any aesthetic that seems foreign to any standard or musical language. […] Coppice us tells a story, perhaps irrational, at least outside pre-established aesthetic codes, but a story that’s worth it for its uniqueness, the originality of the language it implements, but also for its often surprising structure. An alien music, which does not seem produced on the same planet, which seems to arise a new species, a species with a very sharp perception, sensitive and poetic sound.
Since 2009, Coppice has worked with reed instruments and custom electronics to form a truly unclassifiable style of music […] It may seem negative to say that something sounds salvaged, but it’s a testament to how easily Coppice’s music allows the imagination to probe for the secrets behind it.
Coppice make lovely music. […] The pair have a strong understanding of the unusual instruments they set out to work with and so are able to create music that is at once aesthetically refined in its quietly tense mannerism and also structurally well considered- nothing here sounds like a happy accident.
An agreeable and yummy mix of sounds, generally, the reedy drones of the mini-organ (along with, I think, other extended sounds derived therefrom) bump up against the electronics, the latter often clunky and pleasingly awkward.
If you need less obscure coordinates, Can made ethnographic forgeries – these guys craft fictional locations.
Microscopic behavior such as moving up through the sound of buzzing, whirring, and often totally different melodies and rhythms.
The concept of “intensity” itself is a purely relative one, because as “present” as the work becomes, that is largely in contrast with just how fragile it was when originated.
A delicate mixture of bellows and processed reeds […] Fragile in its beauty, firm in its construction.
Obscure and accidental sounds at the edges of perception.
It is easy to become engrossed in their performance and lose any sense of time. […] Coppice weaves a well-conceived musical narrative with a strikingly alien grammar, undeniably mesmerizing.
I’m excited by the referential opacity of sound—referencing intent and context and subjectivity, but not clearly establishing which is represented by what. […] Coppice’s work was most successful because it celebrated this indistinction—not just in the compositional intent and execution, but by embracing that which had not been its intent, as its intent. With good humor.
It’s not precise music in the sense of a virtuosic cellist realizing a Ferneyhough score exactly motion-for-inkblot, but in the sense of deftly listening through the absolutely tiny variations in sound that these fragile instruments produce and coaxing them gently to behave, aggregate, and bend. Virtuosic and exact listening.
Sounds of one thing’s effect on another.
They set up 8 speakers around the room, hiding them under tables, putting them in the creases of the ceiling, etc. Played an incredible set of crackles and pops that slowly built and absolutely never got louder than a whisper.
I remember feeling very relaxed and intrigued by the pieces from which the sounds were coming […] all together it had a very ethereal effect on me due to all these light headed sounds of swoops and swells.
Encapsulated in a radiating way.
Collaborative mind travel with a soundtrack.
The means by which they create their sounds are no longer evident once Coppice employs their skillful manipulations. I hear only the twisting of wretched trees and get swallowed up in the environment of flow and spread evoked by their score.
It’s like when people are severely iron deficient and they develop pica disorder, and want to eat dirt to ingest iron. I’ve got pica now. I want to bite it.
Music searching for a body.