Post Pandemic Post

Current state of the studio, below. The big Serge triple-decker XL box in the top photo was finished in the first months of 2020 and I picked it up in June last year. I’ve been working on it intensively since I got home and I’m just recently feeling strong on it. I managed to not buy any gear during the pandemic (uh, except that Blippoo Box…) but recently broke that streak. New stuff still in transit but its advent perhaps may signal a whole new direction for djll musik. Spoiler alert: SPECTRAL RESYNTHESIS. ‘Nuff said.

In August 2020 I began a 13,000 mile road trip in a borrowed 24 foot RV, visiting family and friends and playing with people; all told, about 20 sessions in four months — which is respectable for such extreme times. Musical friends (some new) included Ross Rabin, Jay Kreimer, Miguel Frasconi, gabby fluke-mogul, Andrew Raffo Dewar, LaDonna Smith, Rob Cambre, and Donald Miller. September through half of December. Washington state, Colorado, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Kentucky, New England, New York, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona… and back to California finally. The whole story is on my non-musical blog, Mutootator and Friends. Scroll down to the August 24 entry for the earliest post about the trip.

Euphotic managed to play one of the first live gigs in post-lockdown San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, at Canessa Gallery. Video here.

Euphotic’s new album came out last winter, YAY. And also the new one from Kokuo, BRITTLE FEEBLING, which you can find on Bandcamp. Which you should find, and purchase. Both scooped up a ton of nice reviews. I’m extremely happy with both these recordings. Tender Buttons new album is not out quite yet, but soon. Like the first, it was recorded at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California — one of the last sessions done in that storied location, if not the very last.

I included a cut from that Tender Buttons unreleased recording in the set of music I shared with Mike Watt for his WATT FROM PE!DRO internet broadcast, which goes live today as I type. It’s three hours of music from djll and some other nobodies like John Coltrane, plus interviews. You can learn all about why I’m afraid of pigs (the four-legged kind) but not afraid of Captain Beefheart. (Photo of me hammering trumpet notes into the floor by Lenny Gonzalez!)

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2019… and beyond!

Who knew year numbers could get so big? Yet here we are, even surpassing the rare OCTADIGIT PALINDROME date of 02/02/2020. (Not to mention Groundhog Day/Superbowl Sunday Octadigit Palindrome Day.)

The year previous was memorable for lots of good reasons. One, being released by my employer in March to re-discover the joys of having time to create. Two, the results of creative time: more time with my co-creators.

KOKUO at VAMP in Oakland, January – Kyle Bruckmann, Kanoko Nishi-Smith, and Jacob Felix Heule. We’ve been trying to release an album for awhile now.

EUPHOTIC tourette from SF to LA in April, with Cheryl Leonard and Bryan Day.

Wendy Reid’s AMBIENT BIRD 433 at Frank Ogawa Plaza, on a cold afternoon in April, with many many folks chirping in the chill air, to the delight/puzzlement of onlookers and homeless people

MICROFESTIVAL OF INSTANT COMPOSITION – Michael Fischer from Vienna provided the spark for this joyous occasion, with Matt Ingalls, Phillip Greenlief, gabby fluke-mogul, Kanoko Nishi-Smith, Kevin CK Lo, Lisa Mezzacappa, Brett Carson, Gino Robair, Kim Nucci, Jordan Glenn, J-F Heule, Karl Evangelista, and John Shiurba. Jordan Glenn has a nice post about it on his page.

Gino Robair’s UNPOPULAR ELECTRONICS – a series of interlocking sets with ROVA at Garden of Memory, in the memorable California Columbarium room (surrounded by the ashes of the departed), which turned into a complex, uninterrupted 4-hour collaborative piece, then a separate recording session, and — YAY! —concerts in San Francisco in June 2020! Stay tuned at Rova’s page.

Polly Moller’s TOMOGRAPHY FORTUNAE with 7 guys named Tom, at the Outsound Festival in July. Besides Djll, the Toms: Duff, Dambly, Dimuzio, Scandura, Nunn, Weeks!

Tim Rowe’s MY PAL KRUPA episode of “How to Play the Drums,” featuring my (mysteriously) highly regarded John Cage impersonation.

DAY AFTER THE DEAD INCANTATION, an arbitrary name I gave to this large group put together by Tom Nunn for the occasion of Ed Herrmann’s visit to the Bay Area (a much too infrequent occurrence), with Thomas Dimuzio, Andrew Voigt, David Michalak, Ron Heglin, Ed Herrmann, Scott Looney, and instrument maker/genius Tom Nunn. Video by Djll, in Nunn’s studio, which is why Djll does not appear in the video.

PGLRG playing Phillip Greenlief’s compositions and guided improvisations, at Center for New Music, and I’m still meeting new people! w/ Greenlief, Michael Dessen, gabby fluke-mogul, David Boyce, Thomas Dimuzio, Cory Wright, Mark Clifford, Kim Nucci, Matt Ingalls, J-F Heule, Sharkiface, (?) Cargill. A possibly larger orchestra did PG’s “Los Angeles” score in February 2020 at the Active Music Series in Oakland. Beautiful creations from a beautiful soul.

Birgit Ulher’s visit in November, which sparked a number of gigs and logistical improvising as well. A new trio was born out of it, with Bill Hsu and Matt Ingalls. We quite like the sounds we make together, which span the entire electronic and acoustic spectrum.

2020 got off to a great start with RDuck at KZSU on his New Year’s Eve SOUND WHEELS show, with Ernesto Diaz-Infante and Clarke Robinson.

Finally, Tender Buttons had a great week in February. Tania Caroline Chen made it happen, and four memorable shows resulted:
Godwaffle Noise Pancakes, 2/8 (no Gino – out sick)
KZSU Day of Noise, also 2/8 (also without Gino)
Stanford CCRMA, 2/13, with Gino and with video artist Bill Thibault! (very nice concert video at the link) Organizer Constantin did an outstanding job, and fellow CCRMA worker David Kerr treated us to wonderful late-night tapas in downtown Palo Alto.
Tom’s Place in Berkeley, 2/15, to a sold-out house. Tim Perkis and Madalyn Merkey delivered an breathtaking opening set.

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A slight retrospective.

I’m kind of overdue for a check-in here. Even if nobody reads this, I need it to reflect and remember an especially momentous year in my musical sojourn; this last month — and a year ago in November and December — being some high points. It seems one reaches a point in life where the self-reflection often echoes in one’s head, “I’m lucky to have made it this far.” Years like this last one make that sentiment extra sweet.

First, I want to mention a gig that falls outside this time frame, one so special and mind-shaking, it must be mentioned for sake of completion. And, bragging. What was in all likelihood the only time I will ever play at the SF Jazz Center: January 29, 2017, ROVA Saxophone Quartet gathered a large group of players to perform their sprawling tribute to John Coltrane’s Ascension, which they call Electric Ascension. Complete personnel included Steve Adams, Bruce Ackley, Larry Ochs, Jon Raskin, Donald Robinson, Trey Spruance, Zeena Parkins, Fred Frith, Ava Mendoza, Darren Johnston, Gino Robair, and Djll. Gino and I got to do a 5-minute duo that reached farther outward than even the heavenly interstellar space where Coltrane himself resides. I like to position myself as against professionalism, but at times like that, with so many potentially flailing egos and malfunctioning equipment and other kinds of things that need serious wrangling, having a band and crew of professionals handling it all makes a huge difference. A big thanks to Rova for including me and for being such stalwart supporters of the local scene for over 40 years!

A little over a year ago I was interviewed by Aaron Oppenheim for the Other Minds netlabel (aka “Modern Hits”) album of Tom Djll: Serge Works, which was released this past July of 2018. I’m proud to have been picked by Other Minds to be part of their artists roster, and proud of the noises I was making back during the Reagan era — my non-commercial counterpoint of protest to the prevailing culture back then. Includes a live track from the 1988 Seattle Festival of Improvised Music, the third of that hoary old series. Some of it’s as noisy as anything I’ve ever done, and it’s available wherever fine noises are sold! (OM website, Bandcamp, Apple Music, Amazon Music…) The interview was published in the book with the release, along with my notes to the pieces. Download yours today!

The same week as that interview, Carl Ludwig Hübsch was in town, taking statements from Bay Area improvisers about this evanescent art we practice. The results (playing and speaking) are collected here. Carl took one of my off-the-wall comments for the title. CL’s project was sponsored by SF MOMA and the Headlands Center for the Arts.

In October 2017 trio Euphotic (with Cheryl Leonard and Bryan Day) played at the Canessa Gallery on a bill with Elliott Sharp and Morgan Evans-Weiler. A fine night of subtle sounds, encapsulated on CatSynth TV.

November and December 2017 saw my return to Europe — after only 30 years — as the third leg of Tender Buttons (with Tania Chen and Gino Robair). We started in London, playing first at IKLECTIK, as friends and fellow-oddsound-worshippers Steve Beresford, David Toop, Steph Horak, Phil Durrant, Burkhard Beins, Bertrand Denzler, Bill Thompson and quite a lot of other players and audients gathered to shake ‘n’ bake the ears, or simply be treated to an evening of freely improvised electro-acoustic music. My favorite kind of evening.
A day or two later, the TB trio were joined by master saxist John Butcher for a nice long set at Ray’s Jazz, on the fifth floor of Foyle’s Bookstore on Charing Cross Road. A lovely venue, a lovely audience, and great books and records downstairs. (The current listing shows Ray’s Jazz on floor 2, so I guess they have since moved it from 5).
We moved on to Oxford, and a cozy, intimate, well-fed house concert put together by Martin Hackett, a very fine gentleman, musician and artist. There we played, ate and drank and caroused and met the great improvising violinist Phil Wachsmann.
Hopping a train, the Buttoneers arrived in Glasgow the next evening for a 3-day residency with the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra GIOfest X. What a superb group of people and players, so nice, and such party-heartiers: Gerry Rossi, Raymond MacDonald, Lori Freedman, Corey Mwamba — I wish I could remember them all — with guests Maggi Nichols, Guro Gravem Johansen, and Rhodri Davies. TB played individually in workshop pieces with the orchestra, and a trio set on Friday 12/3 (both the performance and the run-through were of a quality for a release… someday.). The weather was pretty good and Glasgow nightlife showed itself proud and vibrant (and drunk). I wanna go back!

From there, Gino and I traveled direct to Berlin for some concerts and private sessions and recordings (the two of us had also joined Phil Durrant for a recording together at the legendary Dave Hunt Sound Studio, in London, back in November). We had a hilarious time at Schneidersladen — the synth shop in Berlin — talking with Herr Andreas Schneider himself, all of which was captured on video for the SL channel. I was feeling a little tired and ill and saw a pair of silly sunglasses on a mannequin there, so swiped them for the interview. (Since I knew I wouldn’t be talking for long stretches, I tried to sit stone-faced behind the shades, a la Andy Warhol.) We also visited with the folks at KOMA Elektronik in Neuköln and got the full tour. With a beer cooler in the front of the shop (called Common Ground), it proved how civilized a city can be, if given the right atmosphere. A couple of days later we scheduled a bleepy-bloopy session with Richard Scott, a master of electronics and improvisation, who’s been in Berlin for some years now. He runs a label called Sound Anatomy which you should def check out. On the last evening, Gino and I joined Prof. Guilherme Rodrigues for an outstanding trio set at Spektrum.

Whew. Back in the states, and, more specifically, Oakland, Euphotic played an insect-inspired trio set on opening night of the 20th Annual Thingamajigs Festival at the Oakland Museum, December 15. Sometime after that, 2018 came lumbering through the door.

January of the new year was notable for two sessions with KOKUO, an all-acoustic group dedicated to delicate soundwork, with Kyle Bruckmann, Kanoko Nishi-Smith, John McCowen, and Jacob Felix Heule. Also me. I hope some of that music makes it onto more plasticky media some day so that all of you may enjoy it. We have some studio recordings that are nearing a finalized edited state (but without John). Another studio recording session by Tender Buttons happened that month at the (now nothing but a legend) Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. February saw radio KZSU’s Day of Noise occupy its 24 non-stop broadcast hours, with the Djll participating in sets by Runcible Spoon Fight, Tender Buttons, Rent Romus‘ Ruminations, and Karl Evangelista‘s REVENANT. You can look around in this video and others on YouTube for those sets. Rent and Karl = two of the hardest-working men in Bay Area show business!
Later in February, I re-freshed my musical partnership with Jack Wright, with whom I have been making music here and there since 1987 or maybe ’88. Jack’s book also came out last year and you should buy it. (Like, here.) His trio ROUGHHOUSING is an absolute BLAST and I was so happy to be able to enjoy multiple driving, kaleidoscrappic sets by them (Jack + Evan Lipson and Zach Darrup).

In May I spent a couple of weekends in Seattle and Portland, visiting and playing with friends old and new: avant-trumpet master Greg Kelley, who I first met in 1997 during nmperign‘s first (there’s that word again, legendary) tour of the US. Greg and I played our first duo — unfortunately, that’s one that got away from the recording machinery. In Corvallis I was the guest of Jim Whittemore (aka Luthor Maggot) and played a solo set at his series Interzone.

The summer was busy with new and existing projects, then in September something pretty unusual came my way, accompanying a book reading. The book was Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology; the author: Lisa Margonelli. The project brought about an unexpected cinematic flavor to the results, and I am planning for more collaborations with Lisa and other authors.

Later in September, some of my favorite people visited the Bay Area — Per Anders Nilsson, Palle Dahlstedt, and, coincidentally, David Toop. Per Anders and Palle have been working with Tim Perkis and Gino Robair on a long-term international project concerning interactive scores for improvisers. That concert, at CNMAT, is immortalized here. Mr Toop was a robust participant in that event, which included an afternoon of playing, experimenting, discussion, and dinner, then performance — was without doubt one of the best hang-outs I’ve ever been a part of. These Systemic Improvisation cats are doing important work, and, happily, two of them live in a country whose government and civic institutions support the arts. What a crazy concept!
The very next evening, also in Berkeley, Toop, Robair, Djll and the estimable Jon Leidecker (aka Wobbly) came together to freely improvise electronically and acoustically (David played leaves and cones of paper, a small box, skittery toy bugs that got stuck in a paper cone and buzzed for longer than David wanted, transducers, tapes, radio, lap steel guitar and bass recorder (and probably some other stuff)). A pinnacle moment to play in such company (and another one that didn’t get recorded). Toop has been a hero of mine since 1980 when I first heard Alterations. As a teacher and contributor to music publications since the 1980s, Toop’s writing is world-class: his book Into the Maelstrom is one every improviser ought to read if they intend to understand this vast and improbable, sometimes unaccountably gorgeous métier.

Speaking of things unaccountable: Yesterday I played an uncompromising, very loud, very gnarly trumpet-feedback set at Robotspeak in San Francisco. Afterwards I felt almost mobbed by the crowd, and sold out my schwag table. That’s never happened before. And this morning, Serge Tcherepnine, inventor of the Serge Modular Music System that I (and so many others) love and work with, shared one of my bloopy synth videos on Facebook to the Facebook Serge Modular Synthesizers page. Another first.

I want to squeal like a little kid. And then sample and mangle it…

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Tom Djll CV

Performing in Berkeley with Grosse Abfahrt (photo by Michael Zelner)


“Tom Djll has been making thoughtful, elegant music for nearly 30 years and has taken the trumpet as far beyond its silver, snarling vernacular as it is possible to go, and as far from the extended technique proponents as Bill Dixon is from Roy Castle. ” – The Wire




Current and recent projects include:

Tender Buttons with Tania Chen and Gino Robair
with Cheryl Leonard and Bryan Day
Beauty School with Jacob Felix Heule and Matt Chandler
with Kyle Bruckmann, John McCowen, Kanoko Nishi-Smith and Jacob Felix Heule
kinda green
 with Tim Perkis
Runcible Spoon Fight
 with Clarke Robinson
CDP, led by Amanda Chaudary with Mark Pino and Joshua Marshall
Grosse Abfahrt
with Gino Robair, Tim Perkis, John Shiurba, Matt Ingalls + guests
hackMIDI – circuit-bent electronics and digital piano sounds
quartet with no name with Tim Perkis, Matt Ingalls and Scott Walton

The rest of the story, from 1977 on, can be assembled from the links below.

An alternate history of Djll, from a trumpet’s POV.

Tom Djll music on Soundcloud

Tom Djll streaming at Bandcamp

Download PDFs (current as of March 2019):
Tom Djll Biography
Gigs and other significant events, 1977 – 2019
Published writings

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