July 11, 2013

At long last our new record, Bella Ciao, is finished and coming out on John Zorn's Tzadik label on August 27th. The genesis of the record began in 2009, when I was at the MacDowell Colony and befriended an amazing composer named Yotam Haber. Yotam introduced me to the mysterious, beguiling music of the Roman Jewish community. Neither Ashkenzi, nor Sephardi, nor technically even part of the Jewish diaspora, the Roman Jews are the oldest continuous residents of Rome and their liturgical music was passed on orally from generation to generation, surviving even the Holocaust thanks to a visionary ethnomusicologist named Leo Levi and scholars like Elio Piattelli who recorded and transcribed these melodies after the war.

In the summer of 2009, I journeyed to Rome to learn more about this unique music.  I heard dozens of Levi's recordings, which are archived in the magnificent Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cicilia. While there, I found myself walking one afternoon down a narrow, quiet street called Via Rasella. Toward the end of the street stands a bullet-ravaged building, where, on March 23, 1944, a small group of Italian partisans attacked a column of more than 150 S.S. officers with a homemade bomb and mortar shells. It was one of the largest and most daring partisan actions in all of German-occupied Europe. Thirty-three German troops were killed, and in one moment the myth of Nazi invulnerability in the occupied city was shattered.  In response to the partisan attack, the Germans murdered 335 innocent Italian men and teenage boys, including more than 70 Roman Jews.

Earlier, in July 1943, Benito Mussolini was overthrown in a coup; by early September the new Italian government had signed an armistice with the Allies, and the Germans responded by occupying Rome. They demanded 50 kilograms of gold from the city's Jewish community, to be delivered in less than two days, or the community would face mass deportation. Somehow, the enormous amount of gold was found in time, but on October 16, 1943, the Gestapo deported more than a thousand Roman Jews to Auschwitz; only sixteen survived.

Bella Ciao is an homage to the Roman Jewish music I heard and to the memory of the Italian Resistance during World War II, symbolized by that bullet-ravaged building. This album's title track, probably the most famous artifact of the Italian Resistance, is central to the album's theme. The song's lyrics were written during the war by an unknown author and have been translated into dozens of languages. "Bella Ciao" describes a partisan's wish to fight--and die, if need be--so that others may one day be free. "Bury me up in the mountain, under the shadow of a beautiful flower," the song goes. "And the people who will pass by will say to me, 'What a beautiful flower.' This is the flower of the partisan, who died for freedom."

Bella Ciao was recorded and mixed by our incomparable friend and collaborator Martin Bisi at his legendary studio, B.C. Studios in Brooklyn. This is who played on it: Pamelia Kurstin (theremin), Dan Kaufman (guitar), Danny Tunick (marimba, vibraphone, organ, piano), Peter Hess (clarinets), Catherine McRae (violin), Peter Lettre (bass), John Bollinger (drums). We were very, very honored to have Dawn McCarthy and Fiona Templeton as special guest vocalists and our longtime cohort Dan Coates on electronics join us as well.

Many thanks are owed to countless other people, but especially to Yotam Haber and John Zorn, without whom this record would not have been made. The music is dedicated to my beloved father, Jerry, who died in January 2013.


Older news

July 24, 2010

2007 (!) what the... Here we are again, with the promise to be more vigilant on the updates....sorry, friends. you know how it gets. were off to Portgual this week all seven (yes, that's right) of us Pamelia, Dan, John, Andrew, Peter, Danny, and Catherine (plus some very special people joining us for the travels) to perform at two lovely festivals, the Sines Festival of World Music and Paredes de Coura, in that fine country and a third show in the great city of Porto with good friends, F.R.I.C.S.

Our April-May schoolbus jaunt in the States was sublime. all the places and people were wonderful with a particular shoot-out to the good folks in Detroit (we stand in awe of the Rivera murals, soundman Ian, and all the great peeps at that fine museum) .Chicago as our van died on the near south side and Peter miraculously hailed a couple of cabs so we could make the gig (thank you again, Carlos, for your understanding) then beautiful times in Athens, Ohio and Athens, Georgia and Columbia, South Carolina and just good time all along the road ..the bus recovered with minor surgery and we made it home.

We're working on two new projects one is a mysterious political document, of sorts, the other is inspired by the Jews of Rome among other things..we'll have more on that shortly, though probably just as cryptic until we finish;..in the meantime stay cool wherever you are and we will be back at this page much more often. We swear.


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October 3, 2007

Okay….it has been ridiculously long. (does that previous entry really say August 23, 2006?!?) We now have the wonderful A. Froehner helping with the site so hopefully more news will be given (not hard to top once a year!)….We have been quite busy….there’s a brand new 7” with two new songs….the A side is a song called Mexico City Impressions and it’s a kind of kaleidoscopic impression of that amazing city led by Danny’s vibes and Pam’s theremin….the B side is called “Somebody Get Rid of the King” and it was inspired, if that’s the right word, by George Bush’s policies that sanctioned torturing prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib among other places. It’s a kind of desperate plea for an end to the Bush presidency. There’s still nearly a year and a half left in his term and it’s quite remarkable how much (permanent) damage he seems to have left in every sphere of life. I did the artwork for the album and the song and the cover was a legacy of working as a researcher with the great investigative reporter Seymour Hersh on his book “Chain of Command.” The flip side of the album cover has a more pleasant provenance, a honeymoon to the Caribbean. There’s only 400 copies of this record and they’re available here and here and it comes on beautiful colored vinyl….

We’re also heading out on the road in November to perform music from a new album that came out on Tzadik on September 25. It’s called Force of Light and it’s an homage to the great Romanian-Jewish Holocaust poet Paul Celan

The record was recorded and mixed by our friend, the masterful Martin Bisi over a year and a half and it features long-time band fixtures (John B, Danny, Pam, Dan Coates, Peter Lettre, and Peter Hess) as well as some very special guests: Fiona Templeton, the Scottish poet and experimental theatre pioneer reading Celan’s words, Sarah Bernstein and Catherine McRae add violin on several songs, and Julia Kent adds cello on the title track…

Almost all of the tour dates are set and can be found here. We also are planning to bring this music to Europe next April….Portugal, Italy and some other places are on the schedule…..

Also, if you haven’t checked it out yet, Pamelia’s solo record on Tzadik is absolutely amazing….you can get it at their site among other places….

I think that’s all for now….


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August 23, 2006

We have gone through many evolutions in the past year (more details on this when The Secret Historer iny of Barbez is published in 2020 by M. Azerrad)…Ksenia is no long the band, the material is divided now between instrumentals and songs that Dan and occassionally Pam sing…the music is evolving and growing and we’re just letting it take us where it wants to go on, which always seems to be an interesting, beautiful place…this year promises further adventures and wonder…we’ll be traveling to Moscow, Russia in September, then touring in October across the U.S., starting in California and then up the West Coast and back home to Nueva York…Pam will be opening most of the U.S. dates on that tour with her mesmerizing, solo theremin improvisations…And then we’ll be playing in Europe in late November into December, starting in Austria, then to the East, then to Italy, France, Belgium among other places… …Important Records will be releasing a new “Election Year” single sometime very soon, which features our new sound/new direction…we’re working away at it at a our secret location deep in Brooklyn with the always brilliant Martin Bisi…stay tuned for more on that

Also, we have a myspace page, please check it out if you’re curious…the photographs at the top are by Peter Cunningham, a master photographer…the link is

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November 9, 2005

We’re heading off next week for an exciting tour across the ocean with shows in Portugal, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, France and Germany...all the dates are posted here...we’ll be back in New York at Tonic too on December 16th...

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October 13, 2005

Well, we mostly survived out Fall tour. Check out the shows page for upcoming shows in New York.

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August 31, 2005

Bob Moog was a dear and special friend of ours and a huge hole fills our hearts at the news of his death on August 21st. Bob was such a beautiful person, unbelievably kind and generous. It was our great privilege to have known and been taken in by this unpretentious visionary. Bob will be missed terribly and remembered forever. Our deepest condolences go out to his family. May he rest in peace.


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August 1, 2005

Welcome to our new website. It seemed like a good time for a change and our friend, the master designer Aaron Lazar made this new site with some consultation from us. Some other meanderings....

Our tour dates are pretty set, we’re playing all across the country (if you have a great mechanic in your city, please e-mail us in advance) from Sept 8th-October 8th. Mechanic requests aside, ye old geriatric bus seems to be holding up (knock on something) quite well, though you never know what can happen, especially in Death Valley!

Along the way we’ll be playing with some special bands and friends like Spires that in the Sunset Rise, Rosin Covin, Two Star Symphony and Akron/Family among many other great bands. For the schedule so far please go to the shows page. One show in particular that we’re thrilled about is opening for the DKT/MC5 (the three surviving members of the MC5) and Sun Ra’s Arkestra. We are very honored to be asked to play with those incredible bands. That’s at UCLA’s Royce Hall on September 17th.

Please check back frequently as we’re adding tour dates still...

best, barbez

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June 9, 2005

Finally, after years of struggle, joy, and late-night, blurry-eyed coffee-fueled mixing sessions at the great Martin Bisi’s, our new record is coming out on the excellent Boston-based label Important Records. The record is called Insignificance, and it’s (we think and hope anyway) the best and most compelling portrait of the band so far, full of passion and weirdness and a haunting Slavic voice, soaring theremin, uncanny palm pilot, and killer marimba, vibes, guitar, bass, drums. It also features a guest spot by our friend Mr. Jeremy Jacobsen (The Lonesome Organist). It’s out officially on August 22nd and we’ll be doing a serious cross-country tour around the album in September and into early October and are most certainly coming to a city near you. Please check on the site for tour dates. They should be posted in the next couple of weeks.

We’re also planning a festive New York record release show/party and that will be at Tonic on September 10th and a European tour around the album in November/December and hopefully also to Berlin again to perform in John Jesurun’s epic avant-soap opera Chang in a Void Moon. More details will be coming.

One upcoming show we’re particularly excited and honored to play is the Moog theremin festival in Asheville on August 6th. Should be thrilling, just as long as nobody moves a muscle (heh heh). Besides Barbez playing, Pamelia will be doing a solo show and some workshops as well. If you’re a budding thereminist or just love this special instrument this festival is not to be missed. Please check back on our site for more, and there’s also more info on the Moog site, and the official Ether Music 2005 Website

Best, barbez