Three Free Radicals: avangarde ambient music, Scott L. Miller & Mart Soo on #neuguitars #blog


Apparently free radicals are not quiet entities. In chemistry, a free radical is defined as a very reactive molecular entity with a very short average life, consisting of an atom or a molecule formed by several atoms, which presents an unpaired electron: this electron makes the radical extremely reactive, able to bind to other radicals or to subtract one electron from other nearby molecules. One of their characteristics is that of easily reacting with any molecule in their proximity (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, nucleic acids), damaging it and often compromising its function. Furthermore, by reacting with other molecules, they have the ability to self-propagate by turning their targets into free radicals and thus triggering chain reactions that can cause extensive damage in the cell.

And in music? What happens if free radicals are introduced into the music? Interesting things happen, like the ones that we can listen to in these three records of Three Free Radicals. In reality these three free radicals are a duo formed by Minneapolis live-electronics composer and expert Scott L. Miller, known for his interactive electro-acoustic chamber music, ecosystem performance and use of the Kyma sound design environment in the in the field of free improvisation, and by the Estonian guitarist Mart Soo.

I think that Mart Soo is one of the most undervalued and least known guitarists. In addition to the guitar, always used in a creative and masterly way, he uses electronics for free improvisation, jazz and minimalist music. He has played and collaborated in dozens of CDs and composed music for radio, theater and soundtracks. The two met thanks to a five-month scholarship sponsored by Fulbright in Tallinn, where Miller discovered a fertile scene dedicated to improvisation and avant-garde music.


So far they have released three CDs, all of which are top level: “Diary of a Left-Handed Sleepwalker” in 2015, published by New Focus Recordings, “Radical Travelogue” in 2017 and recently, the excellent, “Atlas fo the Heavens” where they are joined by the harpist Liis Viira. Three excellent records featuring an extremely creative use of both electronics and guitar.

Thre Free Radichals play a very complex avant-garde ambient music characterized by a rigorous and free approach at the same time. This is given by the union between a composer and an improviser, both linked by a fluid and perfectly integrated inter-play. An intense and complex call & response where electronics play as a third creative element. I have often had doubts about ambient music. Result of the splendid insights of Brain Eno, it’s a genre that has been able to continue to evolve independently of its creator, often thanks to the guitarists who have used the genre itself as a field of study and innovation for the integrated use of electronics and of the guitar itself, looking for new sounds, far removed from the iconic models of rock. In other cases, instead, it has become an extinct repetition of less creative modules.

I think the difference is given by the ideas and settings adopted and that Three Free Radicals have adopted really interesting solutions with an approach linked both to the Miller’s compositional abilities and to Soo’s improvising sensibility, fused by the possibilities of interaction offered by the Kyma sound design environment. The last “Atlas of the Heaves” represents a further evolution of these possibilities. If the maps and stellar constellations are of obvious inspiration, the inclusion of Liis Vira’s harp expands the creative possibilities of the group, adding a new melodic and rhythmic element. A further innovative element. We are light years away both from the classic iconographic models for the electric guitar, whether we talk about rock, jazz or “classic ambient” like that of Eno and Fripp. The Three Free Radicals rather exploit these elements by grafting them into a more evolved and descriptive narrative. I see them as an interesting evolutionary branch of ambient and free improvisation.

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