Archive Dive: Don Dietrich

As a part of the ongoing work of The Creative Audio Archive at ESS, we present Archive Dive - a regular newsletter featuring unheard recordings and ephemera related to the collections housed in the CAA. For more information on the recordings and/or collections included below, please contact or visit:


Legendary saxophonist and improvisor Don Dietrich kicks off ESS’s Option Series next month with a solo concert on March 4th. Dietrich is a founding member of Borbetomagus, formed in 1979 with Jim Sauter (also on saxophone) and Don Miller (electric guitar), “a ferociously loud, overdriven improvisational ensemble that sculpts its blown-out attack with a mix of brutality and refined detail”, according to Peter Margasak at the Chicago Reader. The group, known for its particularly intense style, continues to be an indelible influence on improvised / noise / fire / free music-makers around the globe. In recent years Dietrich has released a slew of “mind-melting” (Margasak) solo albums, as well as recordings with his daughter Camille on cello, and with Ben Hall and C. Spencer Yeh. His solo performance on March 4th, sponsored by Luhring Augustine, should not be missed by those who share ESS’ love for ecstatic noise-making.

We’re happy to be initiating this newsletter series with Don’s music -searching the Creative Audio Archive for rare, and often unheard, recordings that offer some historical context to the ongoing concert and residency programming for our audiences and community.  Dipping into the collections ahead of Don’s concert, we found two recordings of the saxophonist, both featuring Borbetomagus, in the Malachi Ritscher Collection.

The first, a live recording on cassette, resides among other early items in the collection, with very little in the way of details: an unlabelled cassette in a jewel case with j-card, on which is a yellow Post-It note reading “BORBETO MAGUS @ LOWER LINKS”. The slight space between the two halves of the name actually led to an incorrect artist labelling of Borbeto Magus in the database file.

We digitized the cassette on Monday (2/19/19), and with the approval Don Dietrich, are sharing this recording for the first time via a temporary private link to our email subscribers:


A web search revealed few returns re: “Borbetomagus” “Lower Links” - however, a potential date of August 9th, 1991 appears through an article in the Chicago Tribune, written by Greg Kot in a round-up of upcoming concert previews (including a gig by Fela Kuti at The Equator Club).

About Borbetomagus, Kot wrote:

'We`re here to send a message of love,' says one of the members of the New York trio Borbetomagus in introducing the song ''Honeymoon'' to a Toronto audience. A titter goes through the crowd, before it is pummeled by the shrieks and cries of what sound like impaled elephants.

These seven unrelenting minutes of audio violence are captured on ''New York Eye and Ear Control'' (Matador), a collection of some of New York`s most notorious and radical bands compiled by underground tastemaker Gerard Cosloy. Borbetomagus consists of saxophonists Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich and electric guitarist Donald Miller, whose experiments in dissonance and distortion take off where Albert Ayler and Stockhausen left off. They`ve been refining their brand of sonic terrorism for 10 years on more than a dozen albums, most on the New York-based Agaric label (Route 1, Box 26, Haring Avenue, Sparkill, N.Y. 10976).

An unequally uncompromising single, ''The Original Chirping Chicken''/''

Choking Olga,'' is just out on Chicagoan Peter Margasak`s Butt Rag label.

Borbetomagus headlines Friday at Club Lower Links, 954 W. Newport Ave. Earplugs optional.”

Of note is the reference to a 7” record released by longtime Chicago Reader music critic Peter Margasak, on his Butt Rag label. Margasak also published a zine by the same name for a number of years prior to joining the writing staff at the Reader. I found the raucous B-side uploaded to YouTube by User  “Claude Nobbbs”:

The second, equally loud, recording of Borbetomagus found in the collection comes (potentially) 13 years later, in 2004 from the group’s appearance at The Wire Magazine’s “Adventures in Modern Music Festival” which occurred annually, for a decade or more, at The Empty Bottle. A large chunk of the festival’s performances were captured by Malachi that year, and excerpts were posted by The Wire to their website. It’s a great collection of artists typical of the event - including Blevin Blechtom, Keith Fullerton-Whitman, and Sightings, among others - all of whom’s full sets are contained within the archive at ESS.

Borbetomagus’s full set can be heard here, also via temporary private link. The image at the top of this email, taken by Seth Tisue, is from this performance, which was captured by Malachi on September 24th, 2004 on DAT - which he later transferred to CD. Some of Malachi’s own photos of the festival - including a shot of Borbetomagus - can be seen on his website, which has remained online since his death in 2006.


Over email I asked Don if he could share any memories of these gigs:

I think the 2004 gig I had to use a different horn as mine fell out of its case in Bruce Lamont's apartment. That was a bit of a challenge. A photo from that gig [Seth Tisue’s photo posted above] was widely used as tour publicity for a Euro Borbeto tour in '09 (it also was used on a T-shirt "Changing Lives Since 1979").



We hope you enjoy these recordings in advance of Don’s performance at ESS on March 4th, the first of the 2019’s Option Series, occurring every Monday night throughout the Spring. Additional information on the Malachi Ritscher Collection is below. Please contact me with any questions, suggestions, thoughts, or archive requests. Recordings in the collection are available to the public by appointment.

-Matt Mehlan

Archives and Media Manager, ESS


About the Malachi Ritscher Collection:

The Malachi Ritscher Collection (1981-2006) contains over 4,000 sound recordings and 438 unique ephemeral pieces. The recordings of concerts, primarily in the idioms of creative jazz and improvised music dating from the early 1980s to 2006, mostly recorded in Chicago, document the work of Chicago musicians. This includes numerous recordings of Chicago musicians collaborating with important European improvisers, such as Peter Brötzmann, Derek Bailey, Ab Baars, Mats Gustafsson, and others, as well as many concerts by members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, such as Roscoe Mitchell, Hamid Drake, Fred Anderson, Harrison Bankhead, and others. There are also rare recordings of singular events, such as the 1981 Women’s Jazz Festival in Kansas City, and complete recordings of the Empty Bottle Jazz Festivals from 1999-2004. The collection also contains some of the recording and playback equipment Mr. Ritscher used to make his recordings as well as recording logs, set lists and fliers from performances he recorded and recordings of musical groups he played in.

About the Creative Audio Archive at ESS:

The Creative Audio Archive (CAA) at Experimental Sound Studio is a Chicago based center for the preservation and investigation of innovative and experimental sonic arts and music. With collections from Sun Ra / El Saturn, Links Hall, Malachi Ritscher, Studio Henry, and Experimental Sound Studio (its parent organization), among others - CAA was formed for the historical preservation of recordings, print, and visual ephemera related to avant-garde and exploratory sound and music.

The CAA's public programming works to fulfill its mission of stewardship, preservation, and accessibility through live events, artist commissions and residencies, and research fellowships.