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2002 Knitting Factory Records

Live unrehearsed recordings of improvised vocal and string duets with Ren-Lay and each of the six musicians, edited, mixed together and re-created in the studio.

Executive Producer: Michael Dorf 

Producer: Alan Schneider 

Musicians: Allan Jaffe - Guitar, Mark Helias - Bass, Rufus Cappadocia - Cello, Joe Gallant - Bass, Brett Heinz - Guitar, Ken Butler - Hybrid Strings 

Performance Recordings - Brett Heinz & Daniel Golderacena

Engineers: Rob McCabe,
Brett Heinz 

Graphics: David Rodriguez 

Dona Ann McAdams, Jud Hart 

Creative Concept/Words/Vocals:
Judith Ren-Lay


The Critics Write

of "Out Of Nowhere" 2002 Knitting Factory cd release

"Out of Nowhere is one of the best records so far in 2002, a unique collection of sounds that transcend the arbitrary genre boundaries."

"Out of Nowhere succeeds mostly because it's experimental by stealth. Ren-Lay is interested in the personal, in what's inside. This attachment, this familiarity, this is the heart of the disc."

"...some of the most amazing sounds I've heard a human make."

Full text of review by Luke Martin, Splendidezine online

Judith Ren-Lay has been a respected figure in the world of experimental performance for a number of years, and this album -- the tunes on which were originally drawn from unrehearsed gigs of improvised duets -- sees her stretching in a direction that experimentalism rarely follows: that of subtlety. Of softness, even: the disc is understated, for the most part, and lacks many of the facets that make other works of vocal experimentation an acquired taste, at best.


That said, Diamanda Galas comes to mind occasionally when listening to Ren-Lay's intonations -- particularly when Ren-Lay spits out passages in rapid-fire mode. The incomprehensibility, coupled with complete, muscular control of the voice in this regard (take album-opener "On The Table", for example), are similar and equally strong. In a way, this recording is more pastoral than any of Galas' work; there's a feeling of ambient folksiness that's almost at odds with the operatic swoops displayed throughout. There's a burred softness here: "Genii"'s sense of vocal play is a Galas-meets-Faithfull moment that's quite delightful, lyrics notwithstanding. A tale of death and creation is played out over frantic cello lines. The sense of calm that works across this disc -- with moments of heightened tension being occasional, rather than standard -- functions positively here. "Born" has far-off tones, evocative of light heliographing across a lens, layered across the top of an almost-Bill Frisell guitar backing. The languid feel it conveys makes you forget that the tones you're hearing -- which often sound like an electrical hum -- originate from a human throat; "Creature Parade" and "In Cages" are some of the most amazing sounds I've heard a human make. Elsewhere, shades of Indian music are applied to Ren-Lay's vision: "Ophelia" is a low-key, drone-filled excursion, featuring channels of voice that evoke the corpse-bearing river. It's a powerful track, one that king-hits the listener with its coupling of musical understatement and the raw primacy of the wailing spiritual. This is where it's at, frankly -- the vocal effects and wavering strings communicate more pain than most indie rock manages in a lifetime.

Out Of Nowhere succeeds most because it's experimental by stealth. That's not to say it's weak or somehow less effective; indeed, I'd argue that Judith Ren-Lay is more likely to bring people into the experimental fold because her work is not about the Other, as is so much other avant-garde endeavour. Ren-Lay is interested in the personal -- in what's inside. This attachment, this familiarity -- this is the heart of the disc, and it's what makes this collection so compelling. Sidestep the occasional moment of dodgy lyric-writing -- a continual bugbear of the avant-garde, it seems -- and you have a phenomenal piece of work that deserves to be heard.  

Full text of review by David R. Adler, All Music Guide

"Experimentally inclined vocalists like Judith Ren-Lay don`t come along that often... OUT OF NOWHERE offers an artist poised somewhere between the free-form avant-gardisms of Patty Waters and Yoko Ono, the more studied, New Music-oriented path of Joan La Barbara or Kathy Berberian, and the conceptual pop of Laurie Anderson. It`s this fresh amalgam of off-kilter approaches that makes Ren-Lay so interesting. As the lyric sheet bears out, Ren-Lay`s text is worthy on its own, but she stretches her shockingly flexible voice to such extremes as to nearly remove the semantic value of the words, making them simply another weapon in her sonic arsenal. Often she`s undulating around the odd corners provided by atmospheric bass and guitar (percussion`s not part of the picture here) in an unusual but organic way. Occasionally, studio techniques are utilized for collagist overlays where Ren-Lay`s voice meets itself in a hyper-kinetic funhouse mirror. Whatever the mode, the most important thing is that OUT OF NOWHERE helps to expand the common concept of what a vocalist is and does."  

Full text of review by Ted Kane, Jazz Review

"This release by performance artist/singer Judith Ren-Lay is a fascinating mixture of provocative lyrics, vocal acrobatics, studio innovations, eastern influences, and the proverbial kitchen sink. The overall sense of the work is more akin to artists like Laurie Anderson and Diamanda Galas than it is to what we generally think of as jazz. That said, this is high-quality improvised music that seems unconcerned about what genre it "belongs" to.

Ren-Lay's vocals employ an oscillating technique reminiscent of Galas. Several cuts are constructed out of several tracks of vocals by Ren-Lay, with and without other accompaniment. The siren-wail and sympathetic strings of "Born" brings to mind the late Tim Buckley's classic lp Starsailor, and echoes of that work can also be heard in "Nun's Revenge" and "Creature Parade."

Ren-Lay's interesting words (helpfully included as text) and her unique way of delivering them are the backbone of this recording and her talents are fortunately well met by the rest of the musicians on the CD. Guitarists Allan Jaffe and Brett Heinz are both unique players that, though not derivative of these artists, will likely appeal to fans of players like Richard Thompson, Marc Ribot, Fred Tackett and the many guitarists associated with Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. Ken Butler proves a more than able accompanist on strings (including some of his own design) and Joe Gallant's bass admirably navigates the different musical territories the group stakes out."  

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