Reviewer biography

Current Reviews

Review Articles

Book Reviews Archive





by Puppetina
Pasha Nina Teen Recordings, Los Angeles, USA, 2006
Audio CD, catalog # PNTR 1, $17.98
Distributor’s website: http://www.rerusa.com

Reviewed by Kathryn Adams


Appropriately, this CD came to me on a stormy Halloween afternoon. I say appropriately because ‘Piewacket’ was named after Kim Novak’s cat in the bewitching film Bell, Book and Candle, a movie about a modern day witch who, along with her enchanting Siamese cat, conspires to charm an unwitting James Stewart. Piewacket was also the name of a familiar spirit of a witch who was arrested in Essex in 1644. With these witchy connotations in mind my first listening was accompanied by the sound of hail crashing down on my iron roof–a fitting introduction to and perfect setting for this atmospheric and whimsical auditory experience.

Puppetina is Anna Homler and Stephanie Payne who have joined forces with Ethan Holtzman on accordion. To produce their strange concoction of haunting melodies and sounds, they have not added eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog, as I expected, but have fused conventional and unconventional instruments with the sounds of commonplace items such as kitchen timers, toys, potato slicers and walkie talkie static, to accompany Homler’s rich and ethereal vocals.

Homler, an internationally acclaimed performance artist/singer, sings in her own invented language in a style that is reminiscent of folk traditions. She draws inspiration for her work from world and eclectic music as well as "from the world of myths and dreams." Resonance describes her as:

"[A] singer who can take the audience by the hand and lead them along the weird path between atmospherics and surreal humour . . . . A witch with a few home-brewed spells and a ray gun."

The instruments played by Stephanie Payne are the perfect accompaniment to Homler’s vocals. Keyboards, samples and loops are used as well as the ancient acoustic instrument, the mbira. The repetitive nature of this enchanting instrument gives the music a meditative, minimalist feel that, along with the hypnotizing loops Payne has created, makes this a CD you definitely can’t listen to if you’re in a hurry.

The duo haven’t focused on any one particular direction for the album but have incorporated a variety of musical genres–ambient, country, and jazz among them with the common thread being the vocals and the unusual array of sounds produced. They have used effected vocals, counter melodies, and Eastern tonalities to give the pieces a primordial and ritualistic flavour. Each track is quite a different experience from the next. The pieces are so suggestive that you will find yourself being transported from one imaginary setting to the next, conjuring up images of chanting Slavic women, Turkish belly dancers, dolphins, gypsy caravans, sad clowns, French carousels, or whispering witches.

In the movie Ishtar, Dustin Hoffman sang "if you admit you play the accordion, you won’t get work in a rock and roll band." Fortunately he didn’t mention eclectic, experimental bands because here Holtzman has been able to add contrast with his accordion. Some may find the accordion jarring (and the constant V-I cadences used during one piece particularly tedious), but overall it evokes further imagery from the macabre to the frivolous.

Preschool children will be drawn to this music and despite the fact the language is made up, they will more than likely be able to tell you what it all means! The repetitive, chiming sounds will captivate them and their imaginations and tap into their innate ability to interpret an unfolding story with theatrics, turning them into hobgoblins before their very eyes.

Both Homler and Payne have a common background in art, and seeing them perform this live would be mesmerising. This music would not only lend itself to theatrical interpretation but also it would be at its most compelling there.

For those who are willing to indulge their inner child or to simply take a flight of fancy these strange, quirky pieces are sure to cast their spell over them. A bewitching trick and treat for all.



Updated 1st December 2006

Contact LDR: ldr@leonardo.org

Contact Leonardo: isast@sfsu.edu

copyright © 2006 ISAST