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Portmanteau

by Black Forest/Black Sea

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1.
Gemittarius 10:06
2.
3.

about

(10" vinyl, 2008)
Secret Eye Records [AB-OC-37]

Jeffrey Alexander - guitar, electronics, strumstick, omnichord
Margot Goldberg - tambura, vocal, maestro rhythm king
Miriam Goldberg - cello, electronics
Joseph Grimm - violin

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Pittsburgh City Paper - June 12, 2008:

Experimental improv duo Black Forest/Black Sea performs at ModernFormations
By Andy Mulkerin

In its five years of existence, Black Forest/Black Sea has cemented a reputation amongst connoisseurs of experimental improv, garnering wildly positive reviews from Pitchfork and British avant-music mag Wire. Now based in Pittsburgh, the duo of Miriam Goldberg and Jeffrey Alexander has toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe, combining American-primitive guitar and banjo-picking with otherworldly cello drones to create an entrancing sound enhanced by occasional electronics.

Goldberg and Alexander moved to Pittsburgh from Providence, R.I., last winter, bringing with them the band and a number of related projects. Both run Secret Eye, a record label Alexander founded in 1995 in his hometown of Baltimore. Alexander also actively books shows at several local venues, an extension of his work in Providence as booking agent for AS220, a well-known mid-level venue.

Black Forest/Black Sea quietly released a new 10-inch vinyl record, Portmanteau, earlier in the spring. The band's fourth release, it features the duo along with guest musicians Joseph Grimm and Margot Goldberg (Miriam's sister and a Pittsburgher as well). Divided simply into two improvised halves, Portmanteau layers simple underlying themes created by the string instruments with electronic noise -- sometimes raucous and sometimes shimmering, but never overly harsh. Side A, "Gemittarius," is largely quiet, the bowed strings taking the lead and percussive sounds acting as punctuation. The feedback manipulation that permeates the B side, "Aquemini," threatens to overpower the ensemble, but is always kept in check, never quite careening out of control.

That control and thematic sameness -- within reason, without inducing boredom -- colors the recording and BF/BS's music on the whole. It might be a stretch to call BF/BS immediately accessible to the uninitiated (experimental improv rarely is), but the music does appeal on a visceral level, creating emotional moments and ideas without relying on an assumed musical meta-knowledge as some experimental work does.

The band's appearance Fri., June 13 at ModernFormations will be its first in Pittsburgh since 2004 and its first since the members moved here; Margot Goldberg will join the duo live as well. Also playing are Ireland's United Bible Studies and Sharron Kraus, of the U.K. All three acts will appear the following weekend in Louisville, Ky., at Terrastock, a major nomadic psychedelic music festival, the most recent edition of which was curated by Alexander and Goldberg in Providence in 2006.

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Losing Today - October 2008:

Black Forest Black Sea
Portmanteau
Secret Eye

Something of a rare outing for Black Forest Black Sea all lovingly pressed on ultra limited quantities (500) of ten inch slabs of wax housed in silk screened metallic sleeves. The core duo – Secret Eye label owners Miriam Goldberg and Jeffrey Alexander are accompanied on this occasion by Miriam’s sister Margot and Providence based musician Joe Grimm (more readily recognisable to the record buying underground as the Wind Up Bird).

Two cuts feature within with ‘Gemittarius’ opening the set, a trippily confused cutie or at least that how it initially appears, shimmers of dislocated squealing cellos that creak and disturb with nonchalant abandon to entwine and arc around fractured though plaintively primitive in design neo folk accents in terms of reference points imagine an early career Black Heart Procession collaborating with Set Fire to Flames with Sunburned Hand of the Man applying their strangely alluring mystical pagan magic across the mixing desk. The textures dark, decidedly haunting and yet disturbing enchanting almost stumbling blindly to carve out what is essentially a drone mantra imbibed fog bound archaic folk shanty.

Flip the disc for ‘Aquemini’ (of course we get it now – the play on star signs) – if anything this provides for a slightly more obscure and strangely ominous slice of psych folk that should appeal in the first instance to fans of Our Glassie Azoth and Alphane Moon while those much loving of mid career Volcano the Bear and elements of Muslim Gauze may also find themselves suitably satiated by the ostensibly blissed out and tribal-istic curiosities that lie in within. That is of course before things go a little off radar mid way through wherein a weird and fried electronic transmogrification occurs and everything goes – shall we say – a little EAR / Spectrum / Jessamine on us, all weird looping manipulations, hypnotic frequency twiddling, spaced out montages, sheens of controlled mind warping hazes of white noise and a discernible though absolutely tasty spot of wig flipping is exacted. Damn fine if you ask me.

by Mark Barton

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credits

released January 1, 2008

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Jeffrey Alexander Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Founding member of The Iditarod in 1996, Black Forest/Black Sea in 2003 and Dire Wolves in 2008. Joined JOMF in 2013. Started The Heavy Lidders in 2019. Former label owner of Magic Eye Singles and Secret Eye Records. Also toured with and featured on recordings by Kemialliset Ystävät, Avarus, Es, Fursaxa, Christina Carter, Gravenhurst, Jeffrey Alexander-Andrea Belfi-Stefano Pilia Trio. ... more

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