The Twin Unavoidability Factor

One of the perks of owning a record label is from time to time I get to pretend to be a record producer. I say pretend, because most of the artists I work with don’t really need to be produced. In many cases the musicians are my longtime colleagues and closest friends, and they often have mad production skills of their own. Usually my involvement is limited to booking the studio, hiring the engineer, and making sure everyone gets fed. I make myself available as a second pair of ears, and I keep extensive notes. But at least as far as the musicians I produce are concerned, the artist is almost always right.

I’ve been working with guitarist Nels Cline and drummer/percussionist Alex Cline for about 30 years (and yes we did start out as small children). For about 15 of those years we co-led a new music ensemble called Quartet Music with bassist/composer Eric von Essen. After Eric’s untimely death in 1996, Alex and I continued playing in each other’s ensembles, and Nels has played and recorded in many of my groups as well.


Not many people know that Nels and Alex are identical twins (mirror twins to be exact). Most people don’t know because they don’t advertise it. They don’t advertise it because their musical paths don’t cross quite as often as they used to, and besides, it’s kind of old news to them. I think more than a few people in the world at large were surprised to discover that Nels and Alex shared the same birthday at their 50th birthday concert in LA a few years ago. Two musicians with same birthday, wow what a coincidence!

Coward Continuation

On February 10th, 2009, Cryptogramophone will release two recordings: Coward by Nels Cline, and Continuation by Alex Cline. This is the first time in the history of the world that Alex and Nels will have CDs coming out at the same time on the same label. I’m afraid I must take partial credit for this, as it was important to me that these two artists, who have been so instrumental in my life, make definitive statements to cap Cryptogramophone’s tenth anniversary year. This radical idea unleashed a wild set of coincidences (the Twin Unavoidability Factor as Alex calls it) which if examined closely extend far beyond the bounds of serendipity or genetic predisposition. And just for the record, until recently both artists had been working with absolutely no knowledge of what the other was doing.

For instance, both albums were unintentionally recorded the same week. Both album titles are one word beginning with the letter C. The covers of both recordings were painted by women artists. Both albums make references to orchids. Both contain two pieces that are 18 minutes long. Both have one piece that is over 15 years old. Drones are featured in several pieces on both CDs. The original designs of both CD discs were (again, unintentionally) practically identical, although Nels’s was changed because of this. And finally, Alex’s CD is about 7 minutes longer than Nels’s. Not a coincidence, you say? Maybe not, unless you consider that Nels is about 7 minutes older than Alex. OK, maybe that’s stretching it a bit.

This is all very entertaining, and having performed in many ensembles with these guys I can attest to an otherworldly and intuitive twinescence that is both infectious, and part and parcel of their musicmaking. But what is most striking about these new CDs is the individuality of their expressions. In both cases the music is intensely personal, and obliquely autobiographical, yet despite the above
coincidences, one is amazed by how radically different Nels and Alex’s musical expressions are. Nels’s CD is a solo/overdub effort, perhaps more rooted in the acoustic side of his musicianship than many of his fans might expect. Nels plays a plethora of instruments from acoustic and electric guitars, to zithers, effects, and the Quintronics Drum Buddy (go ahead, google it). Alex’s record features himself on drums and percussion, myself on violin, Peggy Lee on cello, Myra Melford on piano and harmonium, and Scott Walton on bass. Alex’s music strives ever toward the transcendent, yet incorporates extensive improvisation, swinging string lines, and at times an infectious power and drive. Both releases utilize luxuriously rich sonic palettes, and feature stunning compositions that astound in both their depth as well as their range of influences. This is not the place for an extended review, and besides, I’m horribly biased. But if your interest has been piqued, you can get a tiny taste of these two CDs by streaming songs (right-click to download) from the following links:

Prayer Wheel by Nels Cline
Clearing Our Streams by Alex Cline

I hope you enjoy these unreleased tracks from our twin Cryptogramophone releases. May the twin unavoidability factor prevail.