Biota (band)

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Also known asBiota-Mnemonists, Mnemonists, Mnemonist Orchestra
OriginFort Collins, Colorado, United States
GenresExperimental music, electroacoustic music, musique concrète, free improvisation
Years active1979–present
LabelsRecommended Records (RēR) (1986-present), Dys (1979-1985), Bad Alchemy, Anomalous Records, No Man's Land
MembersMark Piersel
Larry Wilson
William Sharp
Tom Katsimpalis
David Zekman
Randy Miotke
Charles O'Meara
Kristianne Gale
Randy Yeates
James Gardner
Gordon Whitlow
Steve Scholbe
Past membersMark Derbyshire
Amy Derbyshire
Chris Cutler
Susanne Lewis
Andy Kredt
Genevieve Heistek
Rolf Goranson
Steve Emmons

Biota is an American experimental electronic music collective that has produced numerous albums since their beginnings in the late 1970s. Biota is known for its highly detailed and often radical compositional approach, which involves extensive electronic processing of traditional 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 northern 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 Dys label. Horde (1981), a seminal album of electronically processed music, garnered critical attention (including from the Recommended Records/RēR label) for its groundbreaking use of unconventional sound manipulation and musique concrète techniques. Shortly after the release of Gyromancy in 1984, the group split into two collaborative 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) and Bellowing Room (1987) (separate albums focusing on themes of displacement, solitude, and the consequences of long-term institutionalization), 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.

By the release of Object Holder (1995, RēR), the group had expanded to include U.K. drummer Chris Cutler (Henry Cow, News From Babel), New York-based vocalist Susanne Lewis (Hail), Denver prog guitar virtuoso Andy Kredt, and East Coast multi-instrumentalist/composer Charles O'Meara (a.k.a. C.W. Vrtacek of Forever Einstein), who subsequently joined the group as a full-time contributor of piano works. As with Biota's other releases, the extensive visual artwork that accompanied Object Holder was provided by the Mnemonists arts collective (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 feature "songs", with lyrics written by Katsimpalis and Cutler, and performed by Lewis.

For Invisible Map (2001, RēR), Biota's lineup included Gen Heistek (Set Fire to Flames, HṚṢṬA) on vocals and violin. Writing for, reviewer François Couture said of Invisible Map, "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 from the studio in 2007 with its next release, Half a True Day (RēR), an album of increased nuance and subtlety, introducing folk guitarist and vocalist Kristianne Gale. On Cape Flyaway (2012, RēR), traditional folk ballads, sung by Gale, are interspersed amid original Biota compositions. 2014's Funnel to a Thread (RēR) yields at times a more understated take on some of the same instrumental/vocal elements and themes contained within the previous two CDs, only now influenced perhaps more deeply by the aesthetics of Morton Feldman, Hector Zazou, and other masters of electroacoustic sound exploration, minimalism, and Americana. In the latter part of 2018, RēR releases the group's newest effort, Fragment for Balance:

"BIOTA: Fragment for Balance—After 4 years of work on their 11th release for ReR, this extraordinary, reclusive, and highly individual audio-visual collective continues to evolve through the painstaking accumulation and disposition of a seemingly incompatible range of both exotic and familiar musical languages, instruments, techniques and studio manipulations - into one of the few genuinely original bands at work today. It took a long time to refine their unique process of composition to this level of ambiguity and depth, and newcomers will wonder how they strayed so far from orthodoxy and yet managed to retain a lucidity and transparency that is quite rare in contemporary music. Timeless, almost weightless - yet teeming with life, motion and complexity - this is a music that suggests an untroubled world in which nostalgia, tragedy and agon, while rudely present, remain subservient to deeper, calmer currents. 'Sic transit gloria mundi.' More plainly, these are not conventional compositions, nor are they collective improvisations; but are made of simultaneities, conspiracies, accidents, careful planning and a guiding aesthetic that is both exacting and empirical. Classic."[4]

Biota's current lineup (Fragment for Balance) consists of Kristianne Gale, James Gardner, Tom Katsimpalis, Randy Miotke, Charles O'Meara, Mark Piersel, William Sharp, Gordon Whitlow, Larry Wilson, Randy Yeates, and Dave Zekman.

Working methods[edit]

Biota continues to adhere to an unpredictable method of organizing sounds that ultimately allows listeners to imbue proceedings with their own individualized interpretations and experiences (much like interpreting a work of abstract visual art), thereby allowing for an element of "listener composition". Such a concept is in keeping with notions of community collaboration and song evolution inherent in many forms of traditional folk music.


Biota-Mnemonists 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, featuring live (real-time) production and projected animation created by Mnemonists artist Heidi Eversley. The entire musical program of the New Music America performance was eventually released on CD 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, Dys, 1983)
  • Sorry For Laughing (Cassette, ADN, 1986/1988; CD, KlangGalerie, to be released)


  1. ^ Newgarden, David. "review of Object Holder CD". Biota homepage. Retrieved 2007-10-01.
  2. ^ Colli, Giuseppe. "Openness, Density, Mystery and Wonder... The Strange Case of Biota". Biota homepage. Retrieved 2007-10-01.
  3. ^ Couture, François. "review of Invisible Map CD". Retrieved 2013-11-01.
  4. ^

External links[edit]