Salvatore Dellaria
Adam Sonderberg
Olivia Block: trumpet
Steven Hess: percussion
Jason Kahn: analogue synth
Ilja Komarov: electric bass
Tomas Korber: treatment
Brian Labycz: computer
Eric Lanzillotta: moog
Joseph Mills: electronics and devices
Jon Mueller: percussion and cassettes
Jason Soliday: open circuits
Jason Stein: bass clarinet
Brendan Walls: electronics
Christian Weber: contrabass

and/OAR is very pleased to present
Safety, the second release on
the either/OAR division and the third Dropp Ensemble release.

It's not long into this mysterious offering before it gives you the
feeling of standing in a dimly lit location with something hovering
among the shadows, while seeing occasional quick movements
from the corners of your eyes, leaving you wondering if your eyes
are playing tricks on you. Translate this feeling to sound and we
have common enough instruments, devices and processes, but
hanging in a strange delicate balance, never quite exposing their
true identities. Such is the skill that Dellaria (now purportedly
retired from music) and Sonderberg possess. Whomever has
followed the history of Sonderberg from the earliest days of his
Longbox Recording imprint to the present, has hopefully noticed
his increasing mastery of oblique and abstract production with
releases also from labels such as Tonschacht, Cathnor, Crouton,
Absurd and Twenty Hertz, plus his work with other projects such
as Haptic and Civil War.

Background in brief: In 2003 Dellaria/Sonderberg founded, and
co-direct Dropp Ensemble (pronounced "drope" - Swedish for 'drip
feed') which consists of an international grouping of musicians
and technicians that work together in person or through the mail.
The materials are pooled, and undergo extensive production and
editing by the duo.

catalog number: either/2
title: Safety
format: CD
status: sold out
THE WATCHFUL EAR  (March 2009)
Discs still continue to arrive here and pile up on the desk. One
much anticipated release landed here today and got played
straight away, namely the new release by Dropp Ensemble on the
and/OAR offshoot label either/OAR entitled Safety. Dropp
Ensemble are a large group made up of continually changing
muscians but always including the core of Adam Sonderberg and
Salvatore Dellaria. Their first release, The Empire Builders was
recorded back in 2003 and released on Sonderberg’s own
Longbox label. In 2005 a 7″ single followed and now Safety is the
third release from the project.

I anticipated this release so much because I really love The
Empire Builders CD. That one really slipped out under the radar
(as many Longbox releases sadly did) and has never really
garnered much attention but those people that know the disc
invariably speak highly of it. It was originally recorded as music for
a theatrical performance, and is a percussion heavy, slow
rumbling album with a dark, morose beauty to it.

Five years on back in 2007 Safety was recorded by a new set of
musicians, with some of the musicians intact for some of the
tracks, but also plenty more names added. The full roster on this
release consists of Dellaria, Sonderberg, Olivia Block, Steven
Hess, Jason Kahn, Ilja Komarov, Tomas Korber, Brian Labycz, Eric
Lanzillotta, Joseph Clayton Mills, Jon Meuller, Jason Stein, Jason
Soliday, Brendan Walls and Christian Weber. Only Dellaria and
Sonderberg appear on all four tracks.
I am not certain as I have yet to ask any of the musicians
involved, but I suspect that to some degree the music on these
pieces was composed and assembled apart from the recordings
themselves, with the final pieces we hear on the disc the end
result of this assemblage process.

The music inhabits a similar place as The Empire Builders did,
slow, sullen landscapes of booming percussion and electronic and
acoustic drones and details. After just a couple of listens it has
really grabbed me again. The album is only half an hour long and I’
m left wishing each of the tracks was longer as all contain a
progression through a wealth of detail that just seems to end too
soon. If you just left Safety playing in the background it might
easily just slip past without making much impact, but careful
listening reveals a depth that betrays the careful thought that
has gone into the placement of sounds here. Quite sumptuously
gorgeous stuff.

Early this morning I played the Dropp Ensemble disc through
twice more, this time at volume. Such a great disc if you ask me,
just beautifully composed music. I heard from Adam Sonderberg
this morning and he told me that indeed the music was pieced
together using recorded parts made all around the world, with
only Adam and Salvatore Dellaria privvy to the final product before
the disc was released. I just think its a superbly balanced
recording, with the placement and weighting of its individual parts
on a par with a well written string quartet. So good. Last year
Sonderberg and Dellaria undertook a project that lasted (I think)
eighteen weeks posting a piece of music as an MP3 file each
week at this site. I haven’t listened to much of the material there
yet myself, but the little bits I’ve heard are quite different to their
work as Dropp Ensemble. I’ll try and listen sometime soon.  
(Richard Pinnell)
JUST OUTSIDE  (March 2009)
Dropp broods. The Adam Sonderberg/Salvatore Dellaria-centered
ensemble, here augmented with thirteen other musicians (full
personnel listed here on four cuts with group sizes of three, six,
eight and eight, tends toward dense, dark continuos containing
layer upon layer of rich sound and they do that in spades here.
Assembled by the pair from, I'm guessing, any number of
performances, they manage to construct absolutely cohesive,
convincing works; the four tracks totaling only a bit over a 1/2
hour feel like movements in a mini-symphony. The inclusion of
instruments like bass clarinet and organ, which often hold long
tones, is very moving, recalling some Gavin Bryars pieces from
back in his prime. Really benefits from being played loud, exposing
all the booming undercurrents; one of the fine points here, as in
much of their work, is the sonic balance between the throbbing
and the pointillistic or gritty. An excellent release, get it.
(Brian Olewnick)
As with other projects led by Adam Sonderberg, ie Haptic, Dropp
Ensemble (pronounced “drope”) allows for the inclusion of kindred
musicians without the logistical or financial burdens that come
with session music. Since 2003, Sonderberg and Salvatore
Dellaria have been making music with numerous artists by way of
mail and data transfer, with the duo finalizing the work at home in
Chicago. Safety, the latest of their Dropp Ensemble initiatives
(and the last? Dellaria has reportedly retired semi-permanently),
was released early this year on the new either/OAR imprint as
Dale Lloyd’s (and/OAR) venture into a supplementary robust
experimental catalog. On hand for Safety’s four tracks are
musicians from everywhere, including Olivia Block, Jason Kahn,
Christian Weber, Steven Hess, Jason Stein, Jason Soliday, Eric
Lanzillotta, Tomas Korber, Ilja Komarov, Jon Mueller, Brian Labycz,
and Brendan Walls. The roster, evenly balanced with sound
artists and experimentalists, doesn’t feature as a full unit, but in
two octet tracks, and a trio and sextet apiece. Those who’ve
heard the most recent Haptic release are familiar with Sonderberg’
s fondness for the low end, and there are considerable segments
here with rumbling undertones from bass instrumentation. “Inlet”
is one of those tracks, a true teaser at <2 minutes, but one of the
more beautifully "composed"-sounding pieces in its passing and
perhaps coincidental call to Ligeti. Given the conditions, the
participants made their contributions without signals or eye
contact, with Sonderberg and Dellaria tasked to unravel and meld
sketch ideas into something that sounds quite natural. What a
challenge a project like this must be -- at what point can the final
cut be decided upon? The engineering is uniformly excellent, save
for a moment or two of speaker buzz in the first track, which may
well be my equipment, not theirs. On the whole, Safety is
wonderfully coherent with easy-on-the-ears segments that come
in adequately spaced doses.
(Al Jones)
Had this come out some 20 years ago, the Dropp Ensemble would
have only been able to pull this off by the slow process of tape
exchanges through the post, in other word: mail art. But through
FTP and hefty upload sites, the principle authors / engineers for
the Dropp Ensemble can be a bit more nimble and not have to
wait for the mailman to deliver that tape from halfway 'round the
world. Those two farflung protagonists in the project are
Salvatore Dellaria and Adam Sonderberg. The former, we're not all
that familiar with his work although he's stated that he's retired
from the realm of sound art; and the latter has produced a
handful of exceptional tactile-minded drone records under his own
name and in the ensemble Haptic. The two had managed to rope
together a world class collection of experimental musicians:
avant-percussionist Jon Muller, former Anomalous Records
bossman Eric Lanzillotta, feedback drone specialist Jason Kahn,
the concrete / field recordist Olivia Block, one-time Andrew Chalk
collaborator Brendan Walls, prepared guitarist Thomas Korber,
and seven others. For such a huge cast of characters, each with
their own particular take on the drone, the composition, the
noise, the sound, whatever, Dellaria and Sonderberg had proven
to be deft not only in coalescing all of these sounds into an
exceptional composition but also coaxing sympathetic sounds
from all of the contributors. Heavy subharmonic plods and
scraping gestures open the album gradually harmonizing into a
thrumming arc of sustained rumblings that bellow with the toxicity
and pressurization of deep sea vents, accentuated by an agitated
motorik clicktrack. Glistening tones emerge out of controlled
feedback, and softened textures undulate in what sound like
sand pushed around a surface to allude to wind, tidal flow, or any
number of hypnotizing forms of white noise. Muted drones from
what we're guessing is Olivia Block's trumpet elegantly wrap
around some of the found object manipulation to offer somber
melodic interludes to these already impressive compositions. If
this seems not all dissimilar to the non-Jewelled Antler work of
Loren Chasse or field recording manipulation of Tarab and Eric La
Casa, those are pretty apt references. And considering how much
we love all of those artists, "Safety" certainly gets a thumbs up
here at Aquarius.
Every week for 15 weeks starting in December 2007, Adam
Sonderberg -- best known as one-third of Haptic -- and Salvatore
Dellaria posted a new piece on their web site, creating a series of
experimental sketches as part of a project named
"Untitled_Ongoing." Sonderberg and Dellaria, who've worked
together in various contexts since 1998, hoped to rework and
develop the material for an eventual album, but heard as a
collection the pieces can stand on their own -- the MP3 files
remain available at their site.

Many of the track titles simply describe instrumentation ("Snare
Drum," "Piano"), while others reference a musical approach
("Musique Concrete," "Indeterminacy"). You can certainly identify
specific sounds here and there -- guitar-amp noise, metallic
rustling, bowed percussion, urban field recordings -- but the work
revolves around abstract texture and gesture. Most of the pieces
range in duration from two to five minutes, and manage to convey
a rewarding sense of development in that brief time.

Those experiments weren't used on the recently released
(either/OAR), the superb second album by the Dropp Ensemble, a
studio collective with only Sonderberg and Dellaria as steady
members ("Dropp" is pronounced "drope," and means "drip feed"
in Swedish). But in the four new pieces here, you can hear where
they might've been going with them. The album includes
contributions from an international cast of experimentalists (Olivia
Block, Christian Weber, Tomas Korber, Jason Kahn), who mostly
sent sound files via e-mail for Sonderberg and Dellaria to process
and adapt.

Compared with the duo pieces, the Dropp Ensemble material is
infinitely more elaborate and elusive. Much of Sonderberg's music
puts great emphasis on resonant, rumbling low end, and these
beautifully billowing, fluid works are no exception. Sometimes you
can make out what's clearly an instrument, like Weber's arco
double-bass scrapes on the brief opener, "Inlet," but most of the
time the various components are too slippery to indentify--just
tones, washes, and flutters. Close listening reveals a wealth of
patiently shifting detail--the way rhythmic fluctuations in long
tones change pulse, the exquisite layering of disparate colors, the
aural friction created by the pairing of oppositional sounds. It's a
minimalist gem.
(Peter Margasak)
Chicago based sound artists Salvatore Dellaria and Adam
Sonderberg have been working together since 1998, producing a
small but distinctive body of austere electroacoustic composition,
much of it released on Sonderberg's now defunct Longbox
imprint. Their most ambitious project to date is Dropp Ensemble, a
virtual big band featuring musicians with whom the pair have
collaborated over the years. That 'Dropp' is pronounced 'drope',
which is the Swedish for 'drip-feed', and is an appropriate
description of the slow, patient process by which Sonderberg and
his mysterious (retired?) playing partner distill and refine
contributions from the members of their ensemble before
inserting them into carefully preconceived formal plans.
Safety is
only the third Dropp Ensemble outing in six years, following their
debut "The Empire Builders" (Longbox, 2003) and the "Ingen Tid"
7" (Tonschacht, 2005). What sets this music apart from the
common or garden electroacoustic improvisation - whose po-faced
puffs, fizzles and hisses are becoming increasingly boring and
predictable - is simply that it's not improvised at all. "We're
composers, not improvisers," Sonderberg is at pains to stress.
Well, yes and no: this is clearly composition, with every tiny stone
of the four dark grey brooding soundscapes meticulously polished
and set with a jeweller's precision - but many of the members of
Sonderberg and Dellaria's 13-piece ensemble, most of whom sent
their contributions by (e)mail, are improvisers, raning from
Sonderberg's playing partners in Haptic, Steve Hess and Joseph
Clayton Mills, to Swiss lowercasers Jason Kahn, Tomas Korber and
Christian Weber. Not that their individual contributions are easy
to spot among the open circuit crackle, analogue synthesizer
glow, draughty trumpet (courtesy of Olivia Block), and rumbling
percussion (Jon Mueller). The album is aptly named, though: even
the most accomplished sets of semi-composed improvised music -
Polwechsel is an obvious precursor and influence - contain a hint
of danger, but one senses that every detail of this 32 minute
masterpiece is calibrated with chilling, straightjacketed precision.
(Dan Warburton)
Over the 2006/2007 biennium Salvatore “Sam” Dellaria and Adam
Sonderberg gathered and assembled recordings from a literal
who’s who of inquisitive improvisers and composers, mostly from
the advanced areas of EAI (names include Olivia Block, Jason
Kahn, Tomas Korber, Eric Lanzillotta, Jon Mueller, Brendan Walls,
Christian Weber to quote the most “famous”). The results are
now available in 32 minutes for which adjectives like “stunning”,
“mesmeric” and “anguishing” weigh equally.

In a milieu of partially tarnished harmonic contents, the prevailing
impression is that there’s no way out of an unending obscurity.
Sounds apparently coming from the viscera of the instruments
take possession of the immediate environment straight away,
causing a sense of uneasiness enhanced by the absolute lack of
resolutions or, worse still for someone, sections to memorize.
Everywhere – except perhaps the short opening track “Inlet” - a
sort of gradual deterioration of the mood constitutes a prominent
compositional trait, providing a necessary dose of slight
precariousness which prevents the music to become just a flabby
superimposition of disjointed elements.

Every detail appears carefully planned and executed, and the
splendid stability between electronic and acoustic factors,
connecting softness (say, a rhythmic low-frequency pulse as
heard at the end of “Everywhere Present And Nowhere Visible”)
and ruggedness (Jon Mueller’s instantly recognizable stridencies,
for example), pushes aural exhausts and concrete threats in the
same direction, a grey sky anticipating rainstorms that never
begin. The overall scent of this record is therefore an organic one:
we felt both swallowed up and authorized to pensive movement,
needing to walk across the room while listening, hoarse murmurs
and percussive parsimony marvellously mixing with the tinkling
bells of the cows pasturing around the house, the abnormal
pulsation of particular sound waves determining a sensible
modification of the pressure on the membranes.

This meshing of mixed-media experimentalism and unvarnished
ineluctability is a winning procedure throughout, attributing to
Safety – the title a bizarre counter altar to such a non-serene, if
introspective offering – a psychological influence which is typical of
an album to remember for years to come.  
(Massimo Ricci)
From the earliest examples of musique concrète, practitioners
have started from instrumental rather than environmental
sounds, taking samples from sympathetic performers as the origin
for their electroacoustic works. Although environmental and field
recordings become more prevalent in recent years, in the mid-
1990s composers like John Wall re-initiated the use of
instrumental fragments. Wall's earliest work originates almost
entirely with short, nearly recognizable snippets of commercial
recordings, as if his compositions sought a performance practice
that the diverse set of sampled musicians could not produce
together. Partially because his methods inadvertently lumped him
with plunderphonics, his more recent releases have avoided pre-
released material, or at least made it completely unrecognizable
and unacknowledged, in favor of live recordings which he then
manipulates in the studio.

Wall retained connections with the British free improvisation
community, so his musician sources perform on piano, double
bass, and trumpet. Adam Sonderberg (also a member of Haptic)
and Salvatore Dellaria's project the Dropp Ensemble also works
with musician sources, but the credits on their recent album
Safety also include open circuits, oscillator, treatments — obscure
and elliptical sounds from the outset. Their stable of fifteen
contributors (plus six more musicians credited for "Research and
Development") includes noted improvisers Jason Kahn, Tomas
Korber and Christian Weber. For the various and sundry
electronics and synthesizers, one is hard pressed to identify any
individual contribution on the four tracks that comprise this set.
But one of the unifying factors is how Sonderberg and Dellaria
incorporate acoustic instruments, often leaving them identifiable,
anchors that focus the listeners attention amidst the background
noise. The authors are reticent about their methods as far as I
can find, but the album notes that the contributions were
recorded around the globe, and they confirmed to Richard Pinnell
that the musical fragments were assembled in their studio, solely
by the duo.

The four pieces pace themselves together extremely well, starting
a trajectory from the amuse-bouche
Inlet leading to the slow pace
that begins
Everywhere Present and Nowhere Visible. Levels of
activity bubble up to the surface, each level with its own rhythm
and frequency level, and each has its own story to tell. There are
three fairly distinct sections, and it almost sounds like the same
source with different treatments underpins each one. What
sounded like fast drum beats gets progressively slower and drier,
until the last silence leads to
Vernacular Rooms. Here, the
frequency spectrum is much wider, a clattering, rich sound with
hidden layers of static. As Weber's bass was briefly identifiable on
Inlet, so Jason Stein's bass clarinet becomes a focal point guiding
the listener through the abstract rattling. The clarinet's long,
sustained tones provide a slow moving harmony at the piece's
core, but the outer layers are very active throughout. The noise
and static suddenly become background, revealing the previously
hidden gentle murmuring.

The suite's conclusion,
Forget Collapse, starts with a thunderclap,
a wide hissing environment like the rain, and high pitched sine
waves from
Everywhere Present circle the sound field. Individual
percussion strokes on bells, sticks and drums, appear like
beacons in the mist, adding an urgency mitigated by the
occasional lingering gong or cymbal stroke. A transitional hi-hat
stroke extends endlessly to an extended white noise with
individual elements and frequencies gradually isolating
themselves. Slowly evolving into a metallic and noisy drone, a
brief window shows the quiet white noise and tape hiss that has
been subliminally present all along, and to which the suite will
slowly ebb.

Besides the integrating presence of acoustic instruments, I hear
these pieces as a suite because of sound elements that recur
across the set. As shimmering high sine waves in the finale recall
the earlier suggestive ones in
Vernacular Rooms, a few persistent
sounds provide a foundation for the countless sonic variations
and unique, abstract gestures. The relatively short length, just
over a half hour, gives Safety an opportunity to be heard as a
whole, more than a collection of four disparate pieces, a rare
example of an electroacoustic suite that really hangs together.
Safety is available directly from and/OAR as well as creative
distributors worldwide.
(Caleb Deupree)