Borbetomagus - Biography
Is Borbetomagus the noisiest ensemble that ever stomped across the face of the planet, the one that really cracked the mantle, slopped through magma, and kept right on going? Admittedly, this sort of question has always been a part of rock ‘n’ roll, and yes, there’s a degree of gender specificity to it. Do girls get in a froth about brute volume, blunt force, and raw demonstrations of puerile, unfocused, indiscriminate power? Not really. But if the answer is Borbetomagus, know that they arrived at the pinnacle of Loud on the shoulders of their influences and predecessors: 1970s acid-jazz Titan, Pete Cosey; Jimi Hendrix; Albert Ayler; Motorhead; Peter Broetzmann; Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music; and the Tony Conrad/John Cale version of the Dream Syndicate. And if Borbetomagus utilize sheer, paint-peeling, unmitigated, unforgiving Volume as a trigger to induce ecstatic, meditative, trance-inducing, psychedelic epiphanies, then, well, maybe there’s a trans-gender appeal after all.
Borbetomagus was formed in 1979 in Upstate New York, by saxophonists and childhood buddies, Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich. After a few gigs in New York, they came across Donald Miller, and soon added him on electric guitar. From the beginning, Borbetomagus shows were more like ritualistic purification ordeals than concerts. For all of their bluster, Sauter and Dietrich were pioneers of free improvisation, and the sheer athleticism they demonstrating during the course of any given performance was enough to drop an Olympian in mid-stride. They sprayed notes in an incessant, ferocious attack, like desperate German machine gunners on Omaha Beach. They also mastered any number of extended techniques that would make a Tibetan monk squirm in envy, including circular breathing, and their “trademark” move (every good act needs one: even if you’re avant garde, if you’re on a stage, it’s theater), “bells together.” Visually, it’s self-explanatory. Sauter and Dietrich would place the bells of their saxophones against each other while they play. Aurally, it’s the equivalent of forcing sound through a wood chipper. Sheer insanity.
Aware that they weren’t going to have much commercial appeal to the jazz market, Borbetomagus self-released many of their recordings on their own label, Agaric, although a few intrepid indies rose to the challenge. The eponymous debut, Borbetomagus (1980 Agaric), was followed by Work on What Has Been Spoiled (1981 Agaric), III (1982 Agaric), Barbed Wire Maggots (1883 Agaric), Bells Together (1985 Agaric), and Zurich (1985 Agaric). There were a few non-Agaric albums, including Industrial Strength (1983 Leo 113), Borbeto Jam (1985 Cadence), Seven Reasons For Tears (1987 Purge 027), and a collaboration in which Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore replaced Don Miller, Barefoot In The Head (1990 Forced Exposure).
Otherwise, the fire finally cooled at the end of the 80s, with New York Performances (1986 Agaric), Fish That Sparkling Bubble (1987 Agaric), and finally, Snuff Jazz (1990 Agaric). So yes, boys and girls, Borbetomagus rocked beautiful violence, and don’t even mention pups like Wolf Eyes. Next to Borbetomagus, those boys should be performing in elevators. In their prime, Messrs. Sauter and Dietrich blew their guts out.