Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


by Ian Mann

December 16, 2021


The trio’s brand of electro-jazz, with its nods to ambient and industrial music, won’t be for everyone, but I found most of their output to be thoroughly absorbing and never less than fascinating.

Oli Kuster / Cyrill Ferrari / Dee Byrne

“Motherboard Pinball”

(Efpi Records)

Oli Kuster – modular synths, Cyrill Ferrari – guitar, banjo, Dee Byrne – alto sax, effects

In February 2020, shortly before the start of the pandemic, I reviewed the rather splendid album “Going Down The Well”, recorded by the sextet MoonMot, an Anglo-Swiss collaboration featuring members of the British musicians collective LUME and the similarly inclined Jazzwerkstatt, based in Bern. Album review here;

Two of the performers on that release, Swiss keyboard player Oli Kuster and British saxophonist Dee Byrne now come together on this album for the Manchester based EFPI record label. They are joined by the Swiss guitarist Cyrill Ferrari, who also features fleetingly on banjo.

“Motherhead Pinball” was created remotely during the 2020 Covid lockdowns, the initial impetus for the project coming from keyboard player Kuster who purchased a number of small modular synths during this period. He began to improvise obsessively on these in his home studio in Bern, forwarding the results to guitarist Ferrari who was similarly isolated in his own studio, some ten kilometres away in another part of the city.

Ferrari selected individual tracks and added his own improvisations to them. The Swiss duo then sent their audio files to Byrne, some 1000 kilometres away in London. She then added a final layer of alto sax improvisations and electronic effects.

The finished album features nine relatively brief pieces realised through this process of remote improvisation. The nature of the project, with its heavy reliance on technology caused the trio members to ask;
What if we all become cyborgs one day? Part human, part machine. What would our lives be like? What would our worlds look like? 

With this in mind the pieces were all given futuristic names, reflective of the technology enabled manner of their creation. It all ties in very nicely with Byrne’s love of science,  the cosmos and space travel, fascinations that also inform the music of her own quintet Entropi.

I’m grateful to Dee for sending me the audio files for this release some time ago, so my apologies to her for only getting around to writing about it now. The album is available in both digital and CD formats from the trio’s Bandcamp page.

The opening track, the vibrant “Silicon Intersection”,  establishes the trio’s sonic identity, a mix of electric and acoustic sounds,  including electronically generated beats and rhythms. Kuster’s synths represent the bedrock of the music, Byrne’s saxes, the last layer to be added, the humanising element. Meanwhile Ferrari’s guitars are employed both rhythmically and texturally, often heavily treated and deploying a wide range of effects. They rarely sound like orthodox jazz or rock guitar.

That said Ferrari does deploy a slightly more conventional guitar sound on the less frenetic “Walking The Dogotrons”, but it’s still pretty ‘out there’, suggesting the influence of Marc Ducret, among others. Kuster’s synths generate glitchy, percolating rhythms, these underscoring Ferrari’s sometimes abrasive guitar textures and Byrne’s softer, lengthier sax melody lines.

Clocking in at a little two minutes “Transistor Torment” is a brief sonic squall featuring clangorous guitar and acerbic alto sax.

This is followed by the synthesised throb and whinnying sax of the marvellously titled “Cyborg Aerobics”, with Ferrari’s guitar shredding flitting from speaker to speaker. This is an uncompromising, but thrilling,  piece that features the trio at their most ‘industrial’.

As its title might suggest “Disintegrated Pixel Bluegrass” is the one featuring the banjo, although its banjo as you’ve never heard it before, heavily treated and combined with eerie alto sax, ethereal disembodied sampled female voices and synthesised glitches to create a shifting, but consistently compelling soundscape.

The title track is a brief, but fractious,  outburst featuring Byrne’s sax multiphonics, Ferrari’s abrasive extended guitar techniques and the percolations of Kuster’s synths.

“Used Planet Disposal” is another example of the trio’s ‘industrial’ approach as monstrous, throbbing synths combine with scratchy guitars and electronically generated percussive sounds that sound genuinely metallic. Byrne’s sax squalls over the top, resorting to multiphonics to make herself heard.

“The Metaverse Inn Lounge” emerges out of industrial style synth and guitar noise to embrace Byrne’s sax melody. It’s all over in around a minute and a half, the title perhaps suggesting that this could be the ‘lounge music’ of the future.

The album concludes with the chilly, spacey ambience of “Requiem for a Red Dwarf”, as doomy synth and guitar textures combine with melancholic, elongated, echoing sax lines. It all sounds very far away and utterly desolate – but no less compelling for that.

“Motherboard Pinball” is an unusual, but unfailingly interesting recording. The manner of its creation represents a story in itself and one suspects that a degree of careful editing has been deployed to bring these pieces to their finished state, with some of them sounding almost through composed. The brevity of the improvisations ensures that no single item outstays its welcome, and although the trio have established a recognisable ‘group sound’ each piece is complete within itself.

The trio’s brand of electro-jazz, with its nods to ambient and industrial music, won’t be for everyone but I found the majority of their output to be thoroughly absorbing and never less than fascinating.

Although this is music that was created in lockdown the trio have subsequently made a number of in person appearances, with a short series of UK gigs having taken place in November 2021 with shows in Manchester, Sheffield and London, the latter forming part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. This then appears to be a project with legs. It will interesting to see what Kuster, Ferrari and Byrne do next.


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