Symbiotique, the debut release on newly formed experimental and improvised music label Mother Brain Records, traverses an eclectic path. Recorded by electric guitarist Seth Davis and saxophonist/flutist Michael Eaton, the album glides between glitching electronics and meandering improvisations, combining harsh noise with contemplative musings, cacophony with neatly-formed phrases. No two songs on the record provide the same listening experience; each piece is its own package, and they’re juxtaposed such that it’s impossible to guess what sound will appear next.
Eaton and Davis have been performing together since 2017, and in listening to Symbiotique, their history is evident. They craft music with an intricacy defined by inherent knowledge of each other’s performance style, forming call-and-responses that flow with ease, even as the melodies they pursue are ripe with technical difficulty. Their skills as a duo have been honed in groups like Social Ecology Project, a New York-based trio that makes music without constraint, leaning into the freedom of exploration rather than the confines of organization. Similar to their work with Social Ecology Project, Symbiotique provides a hodge-podge of untamed sonic explorations.
Perhaps the most successful work on the album is “Galactic Peace,” a dreamy improvisation that uses reverberation and frenetic trills to create a frothy atmosphere. The melodies wander, bleeding into each other with mystery, though the duo’s core sense of togetherness remains intact throughout. It stands out for its ambient resonance, compared to the note-filled pieces that surround it. Where “Galactic Peace” succeeds is in its subtlety, some of the other tracks of the record get jumbled up in their layers. The opening track, “Swamp Thing,” for example, seeks to blend a variety of glitching electro-acoustic samples with dissonant free improvisations, but it’s overwhelming. The constant shifts and layerings become muddled by their frequency, and the precision and simplicity that shines on other pieces on the album is lost. “Swamp Thing” ends with a catchy electronic bit, but the journey getting there isn’t as satisfying as the other winding roads the record takes.
The duo’s capacity for detail rings strongest on “Distress Call,” a jagged improvisation that sees saxophone and electric guitar interacting in a lucid call-and-response. Their energies feed off of each other; as Davis’ guitar pants an anxious melody, Eaton’s saxophone interjects with matching sincerity. The piece meanders into a variety of directions, even taking a moment to explore slowed down sparsity, providing new perspectives within immense dissonance. The saxophone’s harsh overblowing gives way to a more introspective section, where the sound of distress is found in delicate uncertainty rather than chaotic sound. These shifts provide intrigue, giving us a constant swirl of melodic action to grasp onto within the mayhem of free sound.
As a whole, Symbiotique is a riotous album, traveling through a variety of captivating sonic pairings and fiery melodies. It shines strongest in its moments of calm and its inherent intricacy; Davis and Eaton move in-sync throughout, creating a cohesion that’s necessary in enjoying music based on tearing structure apart. If Symbiotique is any indication, Mother Brain Records will continue to be a free improvisation and experimental music label to watch.