Erik Friedlander ~ Maldoror


Released on November 10, 2003
CD, Digital

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  1. May It Please Heaven
  2. One Should Let One's Fingernails Grow
  3. The Wind Groans
  4. O Stern Mathematics
  5. The Palace of Pleasures
  6. Here Comes the Madwoman
  7. I Am Filthy
  8. Flights of Starlings
  9. He Contemplates the Moon
  10. A Sewing-Machine and an Umbrella


"Little communities of like-minded musicians have a 'scene' but then these little scenes morph as musicians from other scenes join in, other players leave on tour, people move out of town or new amazing players show up, close friendships lose momentum and breakup, older players reach out to younger musicians for fresh ideas or to have their own ideas fulfilled by players who won't question their authority. It's a mad, sane, exuberant, inspiring and troubling community of very talented people."—Erik Friedlander

• Start with “May It Please Heaven”

• RIYL: Marc Ribot ~ downtown NYC jazz ~ a surrealist Pablo Casals

Erik uttered that quote in an interview promoting ‘Maldoror.’ He was already a veteran, performing in John Zorn’s Masada, and with artists like Laurie Anderson and Dave Douglas. It captures the role Erik played for us—as a guide to the world of creative scene making.

A mentor to label co-founder Bryce Dessner, Erik contributed to Clogs’ 2004 release ‘Stick Music.’ A zine review of Maldoror by John Darnielle aka The Mountain Goats led to some studio work and years of on and off collaboration. (Darnielle called the LP “dynamite.”)

Though he’d introduce us to the dynamics of artistic communities, Maldoror, his first solo record, was inspired by one of literature’s great loners, Comte de Lautréamont, the pen name of poet Isidore Ducasse. Dead by 1870, at the age of 24, his work was an influence on 20th century French art movements like the Surrealists and Situationists.

The LP was recorded at East Berlin's Teldex Studios. Producer Michael Montes created a seance-like atmosphere, placing Lautréamont’s texts in front of Erik, one at a time, and capturing ten improvisations. There are menacing groans (“I Am Filthy”), inspired but spontaneous melodic runs (“Flight of Starlings”), and pointillistic depictions of the mind’s calculations (“O Stern Mathematics”). Jazz Review praised its “stark beauty and haunting poignancy.” Pitchfork called Friedlander “a credible threat, working over the poet's perverse logic with power tools.”

Maldoror is Erik Friedlander's first solo recording, ten improvisations inspired by the surrealist poems of Lautreamont and recorded at Berlin's Teldex Studios.

In a darkened recording studio in old East Berlin, in a seance-like atmosphere, a time-traveling collaboration took place between the lawless black humor of the 19th-century poet Isidore Ducasse and the daring and sensitivity of the 21st century cellist Erik Friedlander. Producer Michael Montes, an audience of one, had carefully selected excerpts from Ducasse's Maldoror which he believed would be particularly good for inciting musical inspiration. In the course of one hour the excerpts were placed in front of Erik one at a time. He responded to each excerpt with what you hear on this recording. The music is beautiful, mystical, intense -- a journey into music's darkest heart.

Andre Breton wrote that the Comte de Lautreamont's Les Chants de Maldoror is "the expression of a revelation so complete it seems to exceed human potential." Little is known about its pseudonymous author aside from his real name, Isidore Ducasse, his birth in Uruguay in 1846, and his early death in Paris in 1870. Lautreamont's writings bewildered his contemporaries but the Surrealists modeled their efforts after his menacing visions of angels, gravediggers, hermaphrodites, pederasts, lunatics and strange children. Maldoror includes the full text of the poems that inspired Erik's improvisations, laid out in an elegant
package by designer Heung-Heung Chin.

PRESS by Jascha Hoffman: The formula is simple: put a piece of Ducasse's text in front of the cellist in the studio, along with a few notes, and let him compose music to match it on the spot. It panned out, more or less, not because Maldoror was conceived as a series of songs, but because Erik Friedlander can do things with a cello that should have a reasonable listener fearing for her life. Rostropovich one second and Rottweiler the next, Friedlander is a credible threat, working over the poet's perverse logic with power tools. by John Darnielle (aka The Mountain Goats): It's high-minded as it sounds, yes, but there's nothing wrong with being high-minded when you've actually got the chops. by Thom Jurek: Those familiar with Friedlander as a player will no doubt recognize his deep, earthly tone on his instrument... His approach is avant-garde to be sure, but far from atonal... For all its intensity, it is nearly shockingly accessible, even with its far-flung and dramatic sense of dynamics. This is an album created to be listened to as one work, the individual selections all contribute to a haunting, hunted whole...this is a brilliantly conceived and executed recording, alluringly musical, and decadently humorous in places. As Friedlander's latest chapter, it is also his finest.

KCRW commentary by Celia Hirschman: One man and his electric cello on an outdoor stage, in the middle of sonic mayhem...stopped traffic with his single, solitary bow.

The Wire (United Kingdom): "Free improvisation in my eyes is not free," [Friedlander] declares. "It's about immediately creating a frame within which one tries to work. ... One of the things I hear when I listen back is patience, a really great thing that I don't often have in improvising. I could just allow an idea to develop on its own without trying to force it."

Toronto Globe & Mail (Canada) by Carl Wilson: When I reach Erik Friedlander, he's rollerblading through the streets of New York, and asks me to wait as he passes through a tunnel. It's the first time I've interviewed an internationally acclaimed musician in mid-skate. But for a jazz player on the outer rim of expression, and an unlikely instrument, "cellist on rollerblades" is as good a Maldoror is the first solo recording by cellist Erik Friedlander, a New York improviser who's worked with John Zorn, Ellery Eskelin and Laurie Anderson, among others. It's filled with weighty pauses and languid sustains, and its harmonic and melodic content has more to do with classical music than jazz. An album of stark beauty and haunting poignancy...Maldoror is, quite simply, an important recording of solo improvised pieces, regardless of the instrument; but all the more compelling because it shows a side to the cello that has not been seen before. Every Friday, Dusted Magazine publishes a series of music-related lists determined by our favorite artists.

Erik Friedlander's Top 10:
1. Natalia Ginzburg: Cinque Romanzi Brevi e altri racconti (BOOK) Moving, funny stories of Italian life circa 1950. In Mio Marito a young woman describes her life with a an older man, a cold doctor who takes a lover who subsequently dies during childbirth -- heartbreaking and plain spoken La Ginzburg captures the nuance and the emotion of these complicated situations without becoming maudlin.

2. Shania Twain: UP! (Mercury, CD) Another pop confection from Twain/Lang team that I can't stop listening to. Like the Jam/Lewis team, Lang knows how to pace a song and to keep your ears occupied.

3. I Cannibali Ennio Morricone: Galileo (CD) Gorgeous introspective sound track writing from E.M.

JazzReview: Carving a Unique Place As an active participant in the New York downtown scene, Erik Friedlander is carving a unique place for himself in improvised music. "What makes it unique," explains Friedlander, "is that in a very small geographic space, you have such an enormous number of really fine musicians. All share a set of skills which include a high level of playing ability and a shared understanding that when you go to perform with other people, you bring not only your ability to play, but your knowledge of all these other kinds of music that are available?and the desire to bring that kind of flexibility to the situation," he says. "Although there are lots of gradations and colours to it, the basic ethos is about this kind of flexibility and curiosity, it's amazing."