Outer Limits

Cleveland's Sam Goldberg explores music's fringes

Ever since Sam Goldberg gripped a test pressing of Having Had Forgot, he's been pondering how fans will react. "When I recently listened to it, I realized just how weird the record is," he says of his latest solo album, due out soon on Arbor, an indie label focusing on music's outer fringes. "I don't think this new record sounds like my peers or anything else that is going on. It has elements of post-rock, but it is also very free-jazz-oriented."

Goldberg shouldn't worry. His fans expect the unexpected. Over the past three years, the Cleveland musician has established himself as one of the country's most prolific and inquisitive surveyors of modern ambient music and neo-krautrock compositions for the synthesizer. The sonic terrain he wanders, to put a topographic spin to it, is alien, obscure, and abstract.

Much like his pals in Emeralds, Goldberg sustains a staggering release schedule — one that is, even for the most zealous fan, damn near impossible to follow to completion. Since 2008 he has dropped more than 20 releases under his own name and the alias Radio People. In that time, his discography has blossomed into a wonderfully sprawling mess, a mishmash of small-press vinyl, CD-Rs, and cassettes, a medium that has never fallen out of favor in music's experimental zones.

"I don't really like repeating myself," admits Goldberg with matter-of-fact resignation. "Every record has to be different."

In addition to all this, Goldberg runs Pizza Night, a small but productive label specializing in underground noise and drone music. And he makes even more music as one-half of Mist, a project co-founded with Emeralds' John Elliott. The duo is currently putting the finishing touches on a double LP, which Elliott's label, Spectrum Spools, will release in June.

So yeah, Goldberg's reputation as intrepid sound explorer is well established, yet his concerns over Having Had Forgot's reception do have some weight. It is a weird record, even by Goldberg's standards. His most high-profile recordings — 2009's full-length Current, Radio People's self-titled debut from last year, and the two albums Mist have released — share common ancestry: the vintage krautrock and progressive electronics of Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream, Cluster, and Jean Michel Jarre.

Having Had Forgot is an entirely different beast. The album is a fusion of Pharoah Sanders-inspired spirit jazz and prog-rock dynamism, suffused with a folksy electro-acoustic atmosphere. "The record is influenced by the Band's Music From Big Pink, where the songs are as much a part of the house Big Pink," explains Goldberg, referring to the place they recorded it. "I used to live at [Cleveland performance space] Cool Ranch, and as much as it was a party scene, it was also the perfect place for recording and living. Rather than the direct-input method used on my synth records, I wanted to record a bunch of songs there that captured the room."

Goldberg admits that the Band comparison is personal and intensely abstruse. After all, Having Had Forgot has nothing at all to do with hippie desperados or space cowboys. It's modern avant-garde music. Yet the record definitely exudes a warm communal vibe that echoes, however distantly, the back-to-roots camaraderie the Band innovated in the late '60s. "Basically at this point, I want to find a balance between an American rock sound and the 1970s krautrock stuff," he says.

Helping Goldberg search for this uncanny balance is, for the first time, a full ensemble featuring a rotating cast of musicians that includes members of Tiger Hatchery, an underground-jazz trio from Chicago. These players introduce a wealth of new sounds and instruments to Goldberg's aesthetic. In addition to splitting time between guitar and synthesizer, he adds processed clarinet, saxophone, drums, and double bass. The woodwinds, shifting gracefully from spacious and ecstatic to hushed and watery over the course of Having Had Forgot, really stand out on "Races" and the majestic "Dalmatian Coast."

"The songs on Having Had Forgot with [Tiger Hatchery] are kind of the next level for my solo work," says Goldberg. "The people I have played the record for have been so surprised by it. And for a long time I was stumped as to what it was going to sound like. I didn't know it would turn out as natural as it did."

Though Goldberg appears pleased with the final product, he insists Having Had Forgot is, when all is said and done, a "first step in a new direction," one that will be further explored in the months, possibly years, to come. Hopefully, his fans are ready for the journey.