"As far as I'm concerned, all we've ever been is a rock band... Maybe a slightly unconventional rock band, but isn't that always what it was about? It's very easy for journalists to create this idea that there's some kind of a reaction happening, like we were out to destory rock or something. I think we're way more grounded in our traditions than anyone has ever given us credit for." - John McEntire - guitar, drums, percussion, EML 101, marimba, drum programming, melodica, etc.

1994 - 7 inch   - Mosquito / Gooseneck (Torsion Records)
1994 - 7 inch   - Lonesome Sound / Reservoir / Sheets (Thrill Jockey)
1994 - lp/cd     - Tortoise (Thrill Jockey)
1995 - lp/cd     - Rhythms, Resolutions, & Clusters (Thrill Jockey)
1995 - 7 inch   - Why We Fight (Soul Static Sound)
1995 - 12 inch - Gamera / Gorirri / Restless Waters / Cliffdweller Society (Duophonic)
1995 - comp.   - A Means To An End (Virgin) (Covering Joy Division's As You Said
1996 - lp/cd      - Millions Now Living Will Never Die (Thrill Jockey)
1996 - comp.   - Macro Dub Infection Vol. 2 (Virgin U.K.)
1996 - lp/cd      - A Digest Compendium of Tortoise's World (Jade Records)
1996 - 12 inch - Djed (Thrill Jockey)
1996 - 12 inch - Music for Workgroups (Thrill Jockey)
1996 - 12 inch - Rivers (Thrill Jockey)
1996 - 12 inch - the Taut and Tame (Thrill Jockey)
1996 - 7 inch   - Stereolab split (Duophonic)
1996 - comp.   - the Lounge-Ax Defense & Relocation Compilation (Touch and Go Records)
1996 - comp.   - Headz 2 (Mo' Wax)
1996 - comp.   - Offbeat: A Red Hot Sound Trip Compilation (Wax Trax)
1998 - lp/cd     - TNT (Thrill Jockey) (Japanese edition includes a TNT remix by Nobukazu Takemura)
1998 - 7 inch   - Madison Ave. / Madison Area (Thrill Jockey)
1998 - 12 inch - Derrick Carter Remix (Thrill Jockey)
1998 - 12 inch - Autechre Remix (Thrill Jockey)
1998 - cd          - Remixed (Thrill Jockey)
1999 - lp/cd     - Reach the Rock Soundtrack (Hefty)
1999 - cd/ep    - In The Fishtank with The Ex (Konkurrent)
2001 - lp/cd     - Standards (Thrill Jockey)
2001 - cd/ep    - Gently Cupping the Chin of an Ape (Thrill Jockey) with multimedia content
2004 - lp/cd     - It's All Around You (Thrill Jockey)

Core & current members: (those who have remained unchanged over the years)

John McEntire
Douglas McCombs
Johnny "the Machine" Herndon - percussion
Dan Bitney - percussion and electronics
Jeff Parker
Past & Revolving Members:
David Pajo - guitar and bass
Bundy K. Brown
Rob Mazurek - cornet, trumpet, & electronics
In 1999, Tortoise spent time as Brazilian composer/singer Tom Zé's back-up band touring the United States and South America.

The experience of seeing and hearing Tortoise live, in concert is singular. Here you have a group of indviduals who are masters at their craft, manipulating the very structures that underly their compositions. For the Standards tour, they began almost every show with Seneca, which prior to seeing them I had associated with the Pledge of Allegiance. There, they stood, viligantly waiting, staring, pledging their allegiance to the music they were about to ignite. There is something so wholesome about watching intensely complicated counter-rhythms played on multiple drumsets, or the tender moving fingers of a versatile hand over the fretboard of a bass. Manipulating plugs and levers, McEntire makes destructive, unique sounds with the Putney he drags from show to show. And then switch instruments. Marimbas, melodicas, keyboards, back to the drums, loopty-loop. It's amazing.

If you do not have the means by which to see Tortoise in person, I suggest tracking down the following bootlegs:
10-23-1999 Tortoise with the Chicago Underground Duo - Frankfurt, Germany
05-25-1996 Tortoise - @ Bimbo's 365 Club - San Francisco, CA
06-06-2001 Tortoise - @ the Fillmore - San Francisco, CA

"The guitar work is ultimately challenging in that it deals with sound and space more than anything, and challenges my musicianship and my perceptions of musicianship, constantly. It's easy to move alone, and very difficult to move as a group, just as it's difficult to play quietly and with precision." - Jeff Parker - guitar, 1998-present

"TNT is the best Tortoise record, it's epic.... Tortoise has always been about making records that are important to Tortoise and meaningful to them -- to push their own creative envelope -- but when you reach a certain degree of popularity you have to start to live up to people's expectations. When you make a monumental recording like TNT, people's expectations are gonna be set pretty high. For better or for worse, whether Tortoise subscribes to this viewpoint or not, there is this popular school of thought that they are at the vanguard of some kind of movement. People expect them to carry the torch, so when they decide to follow their own direction instead of carrying it... I dunno..." - Bundy K. Brown - bass, producer 1994-1996

The eponymous album, Tortoise

"Slint were really important to us at that point... in a way they developed this thing that I heard in my head -- this thing that I imagined myself plaing... With the first album we knew we were really on the verge of developing our own personal thing -- that this bandw ould be a really good expression of who we are and where we're coming from." - Douglas McCombs - bass, 6 string bass, lap steel

  • Magnet Pulls Through
  • Night Air
  • Ry Cooder
  • Onions Wrapped in Rubber
  • Tin Cans & Twine
  • Spiderwebbed
  • His Second Story Island
  • On Noble
  • Flyrod
  • Cornpone Brunch
  • Tortoise at this time was just Bundy K. Brown, John McEntire, Douglas McCombs, Dan Bitney, and Johnny Herndon. This is an album I have nowhere near as much to say about as any of their other albums. It introduces the basic sound of the band: that of a gathering of drummers and bass players, working towards a vision.

    Magnet Pulls Through begins in the sound of a dropping distortion, a rustling of leaves--the effect of the listener feeling as the magnetic hairs on an old man's face, being pulled by forces unknown. Night Air's forlorn melodica crawls like the band's namesake, while a muffled voice talks about "a friend of mine." The snares are crisp and the mood is dry and humid. One can see why the band originally called themselves Mosquito in the time period they were composing these songs. Ry Cooder wanders through distortion and head wobbling bass opponentry, before shaking its butt off in a cool breeze. At moments, a television can be heard in the background. The song then snaps a groove so thick, one could spend a good many hours spitting it up from the depths of their chest. The marimba calmly lights a direction, and the listener is further pulled towards that destination.

    Onions Wrapped in Rubber is just weird. A constant shifting of high pitched drones, and faraway distances being destroyed by lazer beams, the howling of digital wolves, the thundering of drums, a means to reach an end--Tin Cans & Twine. Out of all the songs on this album, this one is the only that I've heard played at live shows to this day. Its infectious melody and crisp direction, its bassline's resemblence to hard core hero's the Pixies and the simple statement of beauty in the mundane make it the real classic of the album. The sound of coils working their way in and out of constriction and restriction can resonate for days within the cranial depths of a listener's, unraveling logic, mathematics, and innocence like... well, tin cans & twine. In concert, few of their songs are so shapeable, so much like the silly-putty of their canon as this--easily manipulatable and ready for modification. Spiderwebbed further demonstrates the dueling bass esthetic, allowing countering time signatures to loop in webs of intrigue without having to really go anywhere.

    There are other great songs on here, but they are just that. Great songs, good music. As a Tortoise primer though, this would not be my suggestion for a listener's first exposure. Without this album there would be no Dianogah, and as a historical artifact into Tortoise's past it offers many illuminations. In contrast to the incredible single that followed, Gamera Tortoise is a musical walk in the park.

    Inevitably, one cannot write about Tortoise without mentioning the plethora of musical projects that its members have participated in.
    5ive Style, Isotope 217, the Sea and Cake, Gastr del Sol, Jim O'Rourke, Directions in Music, Pullman, Chicago Underground Duo, Chicago Underground Trio, Chicago Underground Quartet, Rob Mazurek, Stereolab, brokeback, Papa M, Aerial M, Bablicon, Mushroom, Nobukazu Takemura, HIM, Sam Prekop, Bastro, Slint, Palace Brothers, Shrimp Boat, Tom Ze, the For Carnation, Eleventh Dream Day, Yo La Tengo, Royal Trux, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Will Oldham.

    Kindamuzik, interview with Jeff Parker: http://www.kindamuzik.net/q_and_a/article.shtml?id=438
    Official Tortoise site: http://www.brainwashed.com/tortoise/bio.html
    Thrilljockey Records: http://www.thrilljockey.com
    the Wire magazine #204, February 2001

    "You can't trample infidels when you're a tortoise. I mean, all you could do is give them a meaningful look." – Terry Pratchett

    We’re talking about tortoises here – those groovy little animals with the stumpy legs and wizened old faces… Yeah, you know the kind. Generally people tend to use the word tortoise and turtle interchangeably, or it varies depending on where you are in world – in Australia only sea turtles are called turtles, everything else is called a tortoise, while in America the word turtle is generally accepted to mean pretty much anything with a shell. Some languages only have one word for anything answering to that vague description.

    However, in basic zoological terms the fundamental difference between them lies in their habitat. A tortoise is a land dwelling animal, and its body is built as such, whereas a turtle spends most of it’s time in water and only comes on to land sometimes, for example when it wants to lay eggs. However, turtles and tortoises are very similar and thus much of what can be said about a tortoise also holds true for a turtle. You can find these great animals in temperate and tropical regions all over the world, although strangely enough, Australia has no true tortoise species.

    Tortoise specs:

    CLASS: Reptilia
    ORDER: Chelonia
    FAMILY: Testudinidae

    Chelonia is from the Greek word for "tortoise shell" jewellery, but it refers to all tortoises and turtles. The "ch" is a transliteration of the Greek letter c which is pronounced "key". The Greek ch is the letter "k" so Chelonia is pronounced "Kelonia." Testudo is Latin for "turtle". Making up species names for tortoises is pretty straightforward. For example, the giant Galapagos tortoise is Geochelone elephantopus - The earth (geo) turtle (chelone) with the elephantine (elephanto) feet (pus). Cool!

    So what do tortoises look like then?

    There are upwards of 40 tortoise species out there, in as many permutations as one could imagine, but they all share the same clever characteristics that have evolved over many millions of years to make them one of the toughest types of animal around.

    Most people would first think of a tortoise in terms of its shell. This makes sense as it is, in a both a literal and figurative sense, the backbone of the animal. The shell is made up of about 60 small bones and is covered by the many plates you see on the outside – these are called scutes. The shell is actually part of the tortoises’ skeleton, so it can’t crawl or fall out of it as so often happens in stories. However many tortoises have the ability to tuck their head and legs right inside the shell to protect them from predators as the shell is very hard.

    The upper shell is called the carapace and is made up of modified ribs and vertebra and coved with the bony plates. This is attached to the tortoises’ ribs and spine. The lower shell is called the plastron and evolved from the shoulder and collarbones. This is attached to the carapace by a very strong bony structure called the bridge.

    Although the shell is built up much like human finger-nails it is a far more alive and integral part of the tortoise and they can feel pressure and pain through it. The shell plates are usually a motley collection of colours such as yellow, brown, green and black and are well suited to camouflaging the tortoise in its natural habitat. The shells are usually patterned with radiating rings or lines – hence the term tortoiseshell. People sometimes try and use these rings to tell the age of the tortoise, like one can do with trees, however this isn’t very accurate as tortoises go through many irregular periods of growth and near hibernation depending on their environment.

    A tortoise has short, stumpy hind legs, much like the ones you’d find on an elephant – the bottom of the feet are covered in an incredibly tough layer of leathery skin that allows the tortoise to live in even the harshest environments. The front legs are slightly more flattened and are often used like scoops for digging or for handling pieces of food. There are also small claws on all the feet which help with digging and walking on tough terrain.

    Most species of tortoise also have a very short tail. This, as well as the legs, head and neck are covered in small scales. These provide a lot of protection but are much more sensitive to touch than they look. Since tortoises are reptiles they are cold blooded and so can often be found basking in the sun and many go into hibernation during the winter as it is too cold for their bodies to operate normally.

    What about tortoises senses?

    They called him tortoise because he taught us – Alice in Wonderland

    Tortoises do not have true ears like people and many other animals. Instead they have two tiny openings on the side of their head that are very sensitive to vibration and pressure changes. Combined with an excellent sense of smell the tortoise is very adept at finding food and watching out for predators. Tortoises also have very good eye sight considering that the eyes are always small in relation to the head and body. Most tortoise species show very strong attractions to certain colours when looking for food – especially red. Tortoises’ eyes are very sensitive though, and looking at them can often be invaluable when trying to determine the tortoises’ state of health.

    Tortoises also seem to have a strong set of homing and navigation instincts, as many types of tortoise roam large areas, and even migrate along certain routes yet often return to the same site for breeding. Tortoises are also renowned for moving slowly, and this is most certainly an aspect where they live up to their reputation – the average speed of a tortoise is about 0.5 miles an hour, yet they make up for it with stamina and can cover huge distances.

    Many people imagine that tortoises do not vocalize at all, but that is not the case. Although they are perhaps amongst the quietest in the animal kingdom all males have some type of mating call and many make a noise when threatened. Usually it sounds like a very soft hissing or spitting noise. They can also be pretty noisy when they eat – even if it’s unintentionally.

    Tortoise sex?

    The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
    Which practically conceal its sex.
    I think it clever of the turtle
    In such a fix to be so fertile.
    - Ogden Nash

    Male tortoises have a concave plastron which allows them to mount a female tortoise from behind. Males are very territorial and will engage in battle with any male that enters their territory during mating season; similarly they will try and mate with any female that happens to roam in the vicinity. Once fertilization has taken place the female will dig a hole in the ground or clear a space in some vegetation, she will then lay the eggs into the clearing. Depending on the species it may be just 3 or 4 large oblong eggs, or upwards of 50 smaller round ones and the incubation period ranges from about 3 to 12 months.

    Once the eggs have been laid the parental role is over. All babies have an egg tooth which they use to break out of the shell when the hatching time comes. They are then completely on their own and they must dig their way out of the nest, find food and learn to avoid predators within a very short time frame. It is often the case that only about 10% of the hatchlings survive the first few days. Once that’s over, tortoises have incredibly long lifespans – even the shortest living ones only reach full maturity at about the age of 20 and many species age well into their 100’s.

    With many species the temperature of the nest determines the hatchlings sex – warmer nests produce more males and cooler ones more females. This factor has proved invaluable in tortoise breeding programs where a boost in breeding is needed to try and make sure that a species does not become extinct. Female tortoises also have the ability to store sperm and can produce fertile eggs from it over as many as three seasons.

    What would they serve at a tortoise restaurant?

    Some tortoise species are herbivores and live on a diet of grasses, shrub vegetation, leafy plants, flowers, fruit and cacti. There are also many kinds that are omnivores and, as well as eating their greens, will feast on worms, insects, snails, frogs and even small snakes. No tortoises have teeth, instead their mouths have a hard sharpened edge that forms a sort of beak, and combined with tremendous jaw strength a large tortoise could probably break your finger, so they have no problem with the soft diet they survive on.

    When tortoises are kept as pets a careful diet is the most important thing to strive for. Because tortoises roam so far in the wild they are always finding things to munch on and make sure that they get the nutrients they need and avoid plants that are poisonous to them. In captivity this may not be the case and so they are often fed with supplements, particularly those that contain calcium which helps keep their shell strong.

    Tortoises rarely drink from standing water as they get most of the moisture they need from the plants they eat and they can go for very long periods without drinking at all. Sometimes in times of drought or before hibernation they will drink very large amounts as their bodies are capable of storing it and releasing it slowly as it’s needed.

    Where did they come from and how long are they going to be around for?

    In the beginning
    there was a great tortoise
    who supported the world.
    Upon him
    all ultimately rests.
    He is all wise
    and can outrun the hare.
    in the night his eyes carry him
    to unknown places.
    - William Carlos Williams

    Tortoises are the oldest living group of reptiles and probably first appeared about 200 million years ago! Stupendemys geographicus was one such tortoise and was probably about 10 feet long and weighed 4,000 to 5,000 pounds. Unfortunately, in today’s world there are 49 species of tortoise and turtle that are on the endangered list. Along with the dodo, the Galapagos tortoises where hunted relentlessly by sailors and although there are some living that are at least 150 years old most of them are relatively young as the population has only recently begun to recover. Other species have been put in danger by humans encroaching on their natural habitat – the Desert Tortoise population has declined by 90 percent since the 1980s. Many countries now have laws that prevent the sale of tortoises as pets, the capturing of wild tortoises and the import or export of certain species.

    Many species of tortoise are also desirable for their flesh and eggs and despite efforts to limit this trade much poaching still takes place. Although not such a threat for tortoises, some of their turtle family members have also been hunted to near extinction due to the demand for ‘tortoiseshell’ that is used for making jewellery and fashion accessories. Their skin is also used as it makes highly prized leather.

    There are some really interesting tortoises out there:

    • The African Pancake tortoise has a shell that is incredibly flat and flexible. When it is in danger it will run into a crack or under a rock and then take a deep breath to inflate its body. Its shell expands and it becomes tightly wedged such that a predator cannot pull it out.
    • The Gopher tortoise can dig very fast and spends almost all of its time underground in dug-out burrows that can be meters long. It often shares this home with other small reptiles and snakes.
    • The average Giant Galapagos tortoise is about 1.5 meters long and weights about 250 kilograms.

    Unlike most other reptiles like snakes and crocodiles, tortoises have never been animals that humans fear. Indeed they are often seen as symbols to be praised for their steadfastness, longevity and gentle nature and in Ancient Rome where even seen as a symbol of fertility. In fact the tortoise can be found represented in all major mythologies from around the world, be it Indian, Buddhist, Greek or Chinese. They also feature heavily in Western fables and literature.

    Tortoises are always thought of as seeming wise beyond their years and privy to some secret of life that keeps them living long and happy lives. Of course we can never really know this about a tortoise, but there really is much to admire in such capable and diverse creatures and with such a calm and gentle nature they can make for surprisingly rewarding company when given the care they need. So go on – save the amazing creatures and you might just get a glimpse at their charming nature.


    1. The World Book Encyclopaedia - T
    2. Sandiego Zoo website - http://www.sandiegozoo.org
    3. Interesting Turtle Facts by Dr. Nancy Anderson - http://petplace.netscape.com/Articles/artShow.asp?artID=4385
    4. The turtle pages - http://theturtlepages.crosswinds.net

    Tor"toise (?), n. [OE. tortuce, fr. OF. tortis crooked, fr. L. tortus isted, crooked, contorted, p.p. of torquere, tortum, to wind; cf. F. tortue tortoise, LL. tortuca, tartuca, Pr. tortesa crookedness, tortis crooked. so called in allusion to its crooked feet. See Torture.]

    1. Zool.

    Any one of numerous species of reptiles of the order Testudinata.

    ⇒ The term is applied especially to the land and fresh-water species, while the marine species are generally called turtles, but the terms tortoise and turtle are used synonymously by many writers. see Testudinata, Terrapin, and Turtle.

    2. Rom. Antiq.

    Same as Testudo, 2.

    Box tortoise, Land tortoise, etc. See under Box, Land, etc. -- Painted tortoise. Zool. See Painted turtle, under Painted. -- Soft-shell tortoise. Zool. See Trionyx. -- Spotted tortoise. Zool. A small American fresh-water tortoise (Chelopus, ∨ Nanemys, quttatus) having a blackish carapace on which are scattered round yellow spots. -- Tortoise beetle Zool., any one of numerous species of small tortoise-shaped beetles. Many of them have a brilliant metallic luster. the larvae feed upon the leaves of various plants, and protect themselves beneath a mass of dried excrement held over the back by means of the caudal spines. The golden tortoise beetle (Cassida aurichalcea) is found on the morning-glory vine and allied plants. -- Tortoise plant. Bot. See Elephant's foot, under Elephant. -- Tortoise shell, the substance of the shell or horny plates of several species of sea turtles, especially of the hawkbill turtle. It is used in inlaying and in the manufacture of various ornamental articles. -- Tortoise-shell butterfly Zool., any one of several species of handsomely colored butterflies of the genus Aglais, as A. Milberti, and A. urticae, both of which, in the larva state, feed upon nettles. -- Tortoise-shell turtle Zool., the hawkbill turtle. See Hawkbill.

    <-- tortoise-shell, adj.

    having a color like that aof a toroise's shell, black with white and orange spots; -- used mostly to describe cats of that color.


    a tortoise-shell cat.



    © Webster 1913.

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