Over three decades, Devin Sarno has cultivated an esteemed position in the Los Angeles underground. Beginning with his dalliances in the fertile experimentation of mid-80’s SST Records bands (including providing lyrics for Saccharine Trust) and onto his ruminative ventures into high-frequency noise and low-end facing drone under the CRIB alias and his own name, Sarno’s prodigious itinerary of critically-lauded solo and collaborative ventures reveal an experimental ear with an unremitting dedication to his craft.
A native of Echo Park, CA Sarno co-founded unorthodox art-rock aesthetes Waldo The Dog Faced Boy in 1986. Over the course of three full-lengths and a few singles, including a split with 90’s college-radio cult favorites that dog., the band performed and recorded until 1994, releasing much of their work on Sarno and fellow bandmate Tom Grimley’s own WIN Records imprint. WIN continued on following Waldo’s dissolution, issuing an eclectic mix of subterranean talent from Los Angeles and beyond, such as Speculum Fight, Petra Haden, Solid Eye, and Sarno’s own solo concern CRIB. Begun in 1990, CRIB endured as Sarno’s primary musical venture through much of the decade, with Sarno retuning the language of his bass guitar to varying peaks of low and high-end abstraction. Collaborators such as G.E. Stinson, Petra Haden, and Joseph Hammer (LAFMS) became an occasional and often vital exponent to the project both live and on record, and by the early 2000’s, CRIB’s trajectory was documented in a self-titled cassette, a 7”, a collaborative tape with Speculum Fight, and three CD’s. The last of these, 2002’s Remnant, closed the chapter on CRIB, with Sarno going on to release music under his own name. Exclaim! praised this final CRIB release for its “lean towards the elemental for its inspiration. Booming wind storms, wisps of violin floating away breezily, field recordings of cars and airplanes whizzing past and overhead in the distance, clanging metal and crackling radio interference all figure prominently in this album's three suite-like pieces.”
Since retiring CRIB, Sarno has maintained a steady agenda of recording and performing, continuing often with a rotating cast of esteemed collaborators. He performed solo at Desert Daze in 2019 alongside Stereolab and The Flaming Lips, and his live partnerships have seen Sarno team up with underground dignitaries Thurston Moore, Carla Bozulich (Evangelista), Z’EV, Vincent Gallo, and Mike Watt. In particular, Sarno’s conference with esteemed guitarist Nels Cline (Wilco) has culminated in three full-length duo recordings in addition to their numerous live collaborations. Their 2004 CD for Ground Fault Recordings’ Series I-III, Buried on Bunker Hill, received praise from All About Jazz for “show[ing] themselves adept at generating momentum within seemingly static musical frameworks”.
Sarno’s endeavors have skillfully refused any oversimplified nomenclature. He’s collaborated frequently with the legendary California noise label Banned Production on such idiosyncratic formats as the business-card CD-R Variations and the 3” CD-R Full Dynamics-Frequency Spectrum, which features contributions from Cline, Gallo, and Hammer. His 2019 digital self-release Archive approximates a survey of around 20 years of work, with material spanning from the late CRIB era and his membership in groups such as A ∩ D, Nastassya Filippovna, and the Thurston Moore Sextet.
His latest solo release Evocation uniquely forgoes the use of his signature bass for a drone vista employing synth, guitar, field recordings, and voice. Like much art being produced over the last year, it gestated as a pronounced reaction to a period marked by uncertainty and upheaval.
“At the tail end of December 2020, as I was reflecting back upon the difficulty of the past year, how much in the world had been sacrificed and how much had been stripped from my own life, I found myself suddenly inspired to sit down and start to sculpt a bit of music,” Sarno says. “Over the course of probably a week, these seven pieces emerged, one after another, all born out of the reflection (and frankly, sadness) that was consuming me. If nothing else, they are an abstract expression of my emotions at that time.”
The precariousness of recent times has caused many creators to reexamine and reaffirm their practice and their commitment to it. For Sarno, a period of such reflection promises a renewed engagement with his sound and approach, his incisive ear advancing ambience through rejuvenated expanses.
(Bio credit: Paul Haney)
“A rich and genuinely beautiful music. If, on one hand, this sound is one of foreboding, its resonance, on the other, is deeply seductive.”
– Motion UK
“Focus for even a minute on his sounds and you’ll be sidetracked into an alternative state that most of us want, but few search for. A transcendent outpouring of angelic noise.”
– LA Weekly
“[This music] wells up with levels of understated melody somewhat beyond what occurred in any of Sarno’s previous recordings. There is a pleasurably prehistoric and alien sensation to all this & its dual physical/intellectual capacities reward repeated listening. It’s philosophy as much as music. Call ‘em bass drones, or call ‘em solemn distant orchestras or surf at low tide or ghost airplanes, the sounds of Devin Sarno create a uterine environment that houses the possibilities of birth — he presents the inward view of navel culture.”
– LA Weekly
“It’s contemporary classical music with an indie rock sensibility and will find fans in folks who grew up digging noise bands but are looking for something a bit more beautiful to trip out on in adulthood. Sarno makes his four-string sound like a chorus of vintage synths, whereby layers of Eno-esque tension are left to drone on unresolved. Ironically, for all its complexity, this is actually pretty accessible stuff.”
– Rolling Stone.com
“Somambulant and spacious…all improvised but with an unerringly exact ear for minute sonic detail.”
– The Wire (UK)
“Sarno has unleashed his most accomplished work to date…meticulously forming a subdued, yet menacing atmosphere.”
– CMJ Magazine
“Endless layers of intoxicating audio drives the listeners concentration ever further into the music to seek out the melodies that crawl beneath the droning.”
– XLR8R Magazine
“Positively timeless. Like field recordings of the Earth itself.”
”A nocturnal, ambient panorama.”
– A Closer Listen
”Brilliant and exhilarating, experimental music at its finest.”
– Pound For Pound
– Acts of Silence
“An impressive experience.”
– Alternative Press
– Bass Player Magazine
“Deep spacious drone.”
– Time Out NY