Also Available


Improvisations and Compositions for Horn and Electronica

John Manning, James Naigus, Israel Neuman, Jason Palamara

Jim Dreier, percussion
John Manning, mixed media
James Naigus, mixed media
Israel Neuman, mixed media
Rich O’Donnell, percussion, Kyma programmer
Jason Palamara, interactive electronics
Aaron Wells, Mandala drums
Nathan Yoder, percussion

World Premiere Recordings



“This CD is a wonderful listen. Awash with all sorts of unexpected earthy sounds and filled with the sonorous, beautiful ease and freedom of Agrell’s playing, this CD explores some potentialities of the horn improvisation and mixed media. Agrell seems to achieve great success by having chosen excellent collaborative artists. With a slew of percussionists, a few composers with expertise in electronica and Kyma (sound design electronics), and himself as an overdubbed duo partner, Agrell explores some new, funky fun turf in the world of recorded horn music. Always the devoted teacher, Agrell’s first directive to the listener is to listen to the CD, rather than read the liner notes, and imagine how the sounds are made. This CD is wonderfully refreshing, as it will certainly cleanse your ears of any pre-conceived notion of what a horn CD is supposed to sound like!”
The Horn Call [October 2015]
I’ve been making my living playing the horn since I was twenty-two, and during all those decades I played music written by others: symphonies, opera, musicals, ballet, chamber music, solos and more. But beginning about a dozen years ago I started doing something that was very scary at the time: I started making up my own music on the horn. That is, I started speaking with my own voice on my instrument. This meant learning to think and speak in music and to have musical conversations with others in this way. This disc is the fourth in a series of my “classical” improvisational recordings, each wildly different from the other, but all sharing the premise of personal expression and discovery of new territory. All of them have given me the chance to improvise in some way; a number of them are combinations of written-out sections and improvisational sections. This release is an overdue exploration of what can happen when improvised horn playing meets electronics. Electronic effects and influences have been around for many decades, heard more often in jazz, pop or avant-garde music, but not so much with players of orchestral instruments.

All recordings in any genre make use of electronics in some way, even if they purport to be recordings of acoustic performances. The recording process itself is of course electronic: it uses analog or digital microphones, with other electronic processes coming in later such as editing, equalization, reverb, and so on. One big difference with Soundings is that we make a point of emphasizing the electronic component in order to discover new timbres and tone colors, to surprise and awaken our ears and imaginations. Horn players and classical listeners are accustomed to hearing the horn in a fairly narrow range of traditional timbres and settings, so no doubt some ears may be unprepared to know what to make of some of these new settings. We hope and believe that those who can make the leap of ear and imagination to these new realms of timbre, melody, and expression will be well rewarded.

Notes on the horn improvisation here: In speech, what a person says is selected in the moment (i.e. improvised) from everything that person knows and has experienced in life and language. The same is true in musical improvisation – all  kinds of styles and influences come forth at various times. The improvisation that takes place here is not jazz improvisation, where the player creates a line over a given chord progression. What I did in most cases was to listen to the atmosphere created by the background and then create something seemed to fit. There are no pre-set chord progressions, keys, styles, etc. As in conversation, it was all about listening. I listened to what had just happened and was happening in the moment and then made a quick decision – a guess – as to what to do next, much like what one does in a sporting event or theatrical improvisation. As you listen to the tracks, you can enhance your experience by guessing what choices I will make, or by imagining what your choices might have been.

Another thing to consider: we sometimes forget that in written compositions composers often create what is easy to notate, staying away from that which is difficult to notate. Since none of the improvisations were written down, I was free to add all kinds of colors and special effects (melodic, rhythmic, timbral) that would be difficult or perhaps even impossible to notate. This freedom, plus the addition of various electronic enhancements, gives this recording a truly unique flavor and spirit of exploration and, well, playfulness.

A number of the works on Soundings ended up featuring two horns instead of one. That was not originally planned. After a first take, I played a second solo over the recorded accompaniment, listening to the first solo as I did it. In this newer take, I often responded to the first voice, either in support or in contrast, further aided by what I could remember about what I did in the first pass. On hearing both musical lines together, I decided the results were interesting enough to let them stand as duets. The pieces by James Naigus and Jason Palamara are mostly notated, with opportunities for improvisation. Israel Neuman’s piece is entirely notated, although there is leeway for improvisatory interpretation. In the remaining pieces on the disc, all the horn parts were improvised in the moment - they are unique, one-time performances, as are the performances of percussionists Aaron Wells, Rich O’Donnell, Jim Dreier and Nathan Yoder. [Jeffrey Agrell, December 2014]
SOUNDINGS for Horn and Mixed Media

Improvisations by Horn and Mandala Drums
I. View from the Moon
II. I Don’t Think So
III. Hard to Believe

Improvisations by Horn and Percussion
I. Dangerous Things
II. One Too Many
III. Rings of Saturn

Improvisations by Horn with Electronic Effects
I. That Kind of Day
II. Lost in Spaces
III. Out of My Way
IV. Superhero’s Day Off

DARK Improvisations for Horn with Mixed Media

Improvisations by Horn, Percussion and Kyma
I. Arctic Visions
II. Last Time
III. House of Mirrors
IV. Side Streets

Improvisations by Horn and Mandala Drums
I. What if...
II. Just Go

RAGNOROK, BABY for Horn and Interactive Electronics

TURNAROUNDS for Horn and Mixed Media

MSR Classics
New Interpretations of Early Music for Horn