Biota (band)

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Also known as Biota-Mnemonists, Mnemonists, Mnemonist Orchestra
Origin Fort Collins, Colorado, United States
Genres Experimental music, electroacoustic music, free improvisation
Years active 1979–present
Labels Recommended Records (RēR) (1986-present), Dys (1979-1985), Bad Alchemy, Anomalous Records, No Man's Land
Members William Sharp
Tom Katsimpalis
Randy Yeates
Larry Wilson
Mark Piersel
Gordon Whitlow
Randy Miotke
David Zekman
James Gardner
Charles O'Meara
Kristianne Gale
Steve Scholbe
Past members Mark Derbyshire
Amy Derbyshire
Chris Cutler
Susanne Lewis
Andy Kredt
Genevieve Heistek
Rolf Goranson
Steve Emmons

Biota is an American experimental musical collective that has produced numerous albums since its beginnings in the late 1970s. Biota is known for its highly detailed and often radical compositional approach, which involves extensive electronic processing of myriad acoustic sound sources, often blending and coalescing folk, jazz, chamber, and rock idioms, among other music forms. In a review of their 1995 album Object Holder, David Newgarden wrote "Biota is not even remotely like any other group I can think of."[1]

Musical career[edit]

Founded in Colorado in the late 1970s, Biota's first recordings were released under the name Mnemonist Orchestra (a.k.a. Mnemonists). Produced and engineered by Mark Derbyshire and William (Bill) Sharp, Mnemonists released five albums between 1980 and 1984 on its self-produced label, Dys. Horde (1981), a seminal album of electronically processed music, garnered critical attention (including from the Recommended Records/RēR label) for its use of unconventional sound manipulation and musique concrète techniques. Shortly after the release of Gyromancy in 1984, the group split into two factions: a visual arts collective, which retained the name Mnemonists, and the musical group, Biota.[2]

Since the mid-1980s, Biota has released numerous idiosyncratic titles, mostly on RēR. These include Rackabones (1985, Dys), Bellowing Room (1987), Tinct (1988), the Awry 10" (1988, Bad Alchemy), and Tumble (1989), a commissioned work for RēR. Almost Never (1992, RēR) features three voluminous suites for winds, strings, and processed acoustic/ethnic/antique instrumentation.

On Object Holder (1995, RēR), Biota expanded to include drummer Chris Cutler (Henry Cow, News From Babel), vocalist Susanne Lewis (Hail), electric guitarist Andy Kredt, and pianist Charles O'Meara (a.k.a. C.W. Vrtacek of Forever Einstein), who later joined the group as a full-time contributor. As with Biota's other releases, visual artwork that accompanied Object Holder was provided by Mnemonists (featuring Larry Wilson, Ken DeVries, Tom Katsimpalis, Bill Ellsworth, Dana Sharp, Heidi Eversley, Dirk Vallons, Randy Yeates, Ann Stretton, E.M. Thomas, Stan Starbuck et al.). Object Holder was the first Biota album to include sung lyrics, written by Katsimpalis and Cutler.

For Invisible Map (2001, RēR), the group was joined by Genevieve Heistek (Set Fire to Flames, HṚṢṬA) on vocals and violin. In his review of Invisible Map, François Couture of writes "With its wide range covering delicate post-folkish pop songs to ambient soundscapes, Invisible Map may be the collective's most accomplished and accessible release to date. All music styles (folk, jazz, blues, rock, musique concrète, free improv, etc.) coalesce to be filtered through the dreamer's ears — background vocals are slightly treated, soloing instruments are heard from a distance, rhythm tracks are deliberately just a bit out of sync. This way, the simple tunes never really come into focus, giving the whole album an aura of mystery."[3]

The group re-emerged in 2007 with its next release, Half a True Day (RēR). On Cape Flyaway (2012, RēR), traditional folk ballads, sung by group member Kristianne Gale, are interspersed amid original Biota compositions. Funnel to a Thread (RēR) followed in 2014:

"BIOTA: Funnel to a Thread—Since the late 1970s, Biota has ploughed its own furrow, producing a body of work that resembles nothing anyone else has done or is yet doing. Their compositions evolve in long, constantly shifting timbral blocks filled with fragments and echoes of quasi-familiar musical languages and sounds – or none - and use instrumental resources that span half a millennium and two thirds of the planet to create unique combinations of timbral colour in constant motion; this is a music in which everything is in flux, constantly dissolving and reforming and mutating while, from a distance, there is calm. It’s a music in which movement and stasis share a single endless moment. And although we arrive nowhere, the path beguiles, both familiar and strange and – on this record – strangely comforting. As always, it’s meticulously recorded, with layer on layer of subtle processing and mixing. Like all their earlier releases, Funnel has been some five years in the making. You can hear why. Comes in a lavish package with copious artwork by the Biota/Mnemonists collective."[4]

Biota's current lineup consists of Tom Katsimpalis, Bill Sharp, Larry Wilson, Mark Piersel, Gordon Whitlow, Randy Miotke, Dave Zekman, Randy Yeates, James Gardner, Kristianne Gale, Charles O'Meara, and Steve Scholbe.


The Biota-Mnemonists ensemble has performed onstage only twice — at the Colorado State University art school in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1981, and at the 1990 New Music America festival in Montreal, Quebec, where the group premiered a suite of original works composed specifically for the occasion, with live (real-time) production and projected animated video footage from Mnemonists artist Heidi Eversley. The entire musical program of the New Music America performance was eventually released as Musique Actuelle 1990 (2004) on Anomalous.


As Mnemonist Orchestra[edit]

As Mnemonists[edit]

As Biota[edit]

As Biota-Mnemonists[edit]

  • Musique Actuelle 1990 (live) (CD, 2004, Anomalous Records)

Guest appearances[edit]

Related projects[edit]

  • Mark Piersel, Distant Lives (Cassette, 1983, Dys)
  • Sorry for Laughing, Jesus Wept (Cassette, 1986, ADN) (G.H. Whitlow, feat. Biota members)[5]


External links[edit]