Tuesday, May 02, 2023

 Dusting off this thing to post some thoughts on three performances that took place at KM28 in Berlin, April 27-29, 2023. 

The three-day festival was conceived and organized by Lucio Capece as a tribute to Keith Rowe and Lucio graciously invited me to be a participant in a discussion with Keith and Peter Margasak on Keith's work, my biography of him, etc. More importantly, there were ten musical performances spread over the three days, many of very high quality, as listed below.

I wanted to write at greater length about three that stood out with particular force to myself, one from each evening. 

On the first night, Lucio and Sean Meehan played together, Lucio on bass clarinet, electronics and speakers while Sean played two cowbells, one relatively small (perhaps a goat bell?), one larger. In 2022, Sacred Realism had released Magazine on which Sean first (I think) made public his latest instrument of choice. He mentioned finding one by happenstance in a thrift shop and feeling that it needed a home...The set began with Lucio playing a low, sustained tone on bass clarinet, pausing for a good while, playing it again. Sean sat motionless for perhaps seven or eight minutes, holding the cowbells in his lap, before slowly rising, imparting a kind of ceremonial atmosphere. Little by little, he allowed the bell's clapper to jostle against the body--he only used the clapper, no external stick or rod, a non-obvious choice that I think was crucial. One of the central, most beautiful things about his playing this evening was the utter naturalness of the sound. Afterwards, I told him that the listener can't but help think of goats and cows when hearing these tones and that he, instead of sounding like someone playing cowbell, sounded very much like a goat or a cow, a major achievement. Lucio, meanwhile, maintained low, long duration, tonal notes throughout, providing a bed that connoted, to me, a field, the soil for the bell-tones. He also, via pedals, did some electronic manipulation, including sending Sean's tones into one of his spherical (about 3" diameter) speakers which happened to be hanging directly in front of my seat, creating an echoey effect. Truth to tell, I could easily have done without any electronics here (the same for a couple of other enhanced sets in the festival) but he integrated them deftly. Sean used both the "soprano" and "tenor" bells, casually interchanging them, sometimes letting them strike each other gently. The whole set was one of both concentration and naturalness, extremely evocative of place and entirely humane. It might have been the most AMM-conducive set of the festival.

On the second night, Annette Krebs' set proved to be the most unusual, perhaps controversial. Keith had previously announced that he wouldn't be actively performing in any of the sets as his Parkinson's really didn't permit playing at anywhere near a level he thought adequate. However, Annette asked him if he would read a text to begin her performance, which she would then manipulate as a piece of the fabric making up her soundscape. Keith agreed and chose a text from the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tsu:

He who knows - does not speak;
He who speaks - does not know.

He who is truthful - is not showy;
He who is showy - is not truthful.

He who is virtuous - does not dispute;
He who disputes - is not virtuous;

He who is learned - is not wise;
He who is wise - is not learned.

Therefore the Sage does not display his own merits.

He spoke the words, Annette altering them in various ways as well as adding effects of her own, largely electronic but including percussive bangs on a sheet of metal and some other metallic items. I've no idea whether what followed was at all planned by her or was the result of anxiousness on her part, equipment malfunction or simply allowing the event to unspool naturally, but she began conversing with Keith, asking him questions while simultaneously generating sounds, pausing to fix apparent problems, etc. Keith was graceful in his responses though I daresay a little confused as to what was occurring, soon posing his own questions to Annette. This was more or less the way the entire set went, lurching back and forth between hesitant dialog, sounds and pauses. It was awkward, sometimes embarrassing, even cringeworthy but...somehow wonderful, very much more like life and, if one knew both Annette and Keith, very much in keeping with their respective characters. It was unusually honest and exposed, to a degree that one perhaps finds uncomfortable, though that shouldn't be the case. Even more unusually, about a half hour in, Lucio walked into the performance area and suggested that Annette play a piece she'd been working on apart from the idea for this set and had gotten into during soundcheck. I don't think I'd ever witnessed this sort of "interruption" before, but presumably Lucio sensed her anxiety and sought to come to her aid. In any case, she easily acceded to the request, saying that she would just play a short excerpt from the work...and then played for about 25 more minutes (a strong, complex piece). Before she began, she asked Keith if he would offer criticism upon its conclusion, a proposal I knew Keith would be distressed to carry out and, in fact, when the time came, he let it slide. The day before, Mattin had given me a copy of his recently published, 'Social Dissonance', which I'd read a bit of last year and had begun again the previous evening. I thought the Krebs/Rowe set fit perfectly into one of his non-hierarchical, social notions of performance; he agreed. As well, I heard many very positive audience reactions that night and the following day. It was quite memorable and pushed at boundaries in a way rarely seen or heard. 

[Annette responded on fb, correcting some of my misconceptions of the performance:

I invited Keith per Mail to join my Solo set with his voice, as I had a fixed microphone free, and could very well imagine to deconstruct a bit of his voice, 1st, because I love deconstructing humans and sounds into Konstruktion #4, and especially Keith Rowe at his celebration festival, and because I could imagine that this could be a appropriate way to make a bit music together , without guitar, which I of course would have loved. Even that he did not confirm I prepared the technique for that microphone. And I was really very pleased to hear before the concert that he would join me.
I was not at all nervous, but very excited.
And I did not know that he would speak a text, because I proposed him to say anything: perhaps something to the public, or something to me, or something else.... The idea was then to deconstruct his voice totally but to record his words secretly, what no one knows, and then we decided, that I should play my solo, and play his clear, understandable words after the solo in clear.
But as you remember, we did not do this all. We fully improvised, and this was surprising possibly for both Keith and me.
I found this great and adventurous.
But I really would like to defend my instrument.technique here:
Nothing went technically wrong, everything was under control at any point of my playing. Just at 1 point, we had a little shadow of a possible feedback ,but this is fine with no soundcheck together, I think.
It is perhaps difficult to understand ,but I exactly like this way to play sometimes, to amplify beside-noises of a voice, or something odd sounding... in fact I like it.
In my music I provoke often accidents, or fragile moments, but as I have 4 open condensater microphones (a.o.) near the loudspeakers, it is very important to have the control above the setup the whole time...which I had.
Again, I am happy to have created a non-control atmosphere, but this was not the instrument or technique, but our meeting, which got its own dynamics, it erased all my plans (Lucio tryed to save some! đŸ˜‰ ) in order to reach and show something else, new, different, surprising, adventurous. I am very happy, inspired and challenged to have been a part (half) of this surprising, beautiful moment in Duo with Keith.
I really loved it:
I just proposed him to deconstruct his voice, and we all together deconstructed additionally my Solo. Us. The concert situation. Expectations.]

When Lucio first put together the schedule, there was an odd-looking event: one Jessie Marino (entirely unfamiliar to me) was to do violin improvisations based on some text from my book. Well, this sounded strange if not entirely unpromising. However, in addition to that description being entirely inadequate, it turned out to be one of my very favorite events. Admittedly, part of this may well be the humbling gratitude at having my words used as part of a performance, but still. It was the first set of the evening. Jessie was seated at a small table, violin held vertically in front of her, resting in her lap (I found out later that her principal instrument is the cello). On the table, in addition to one or more electronic devices, were a large knife, a banana, a food container or two, more I think (I didn't have a clear view). She began by reading and manipulating the opening words from the biography's prologue, "There is the room"...etc., the words echoing and overlapping. I wish I could recall the exact sequence, but, amidst other sounds, including some very beautiful, almost mournful, deep arco violin, Jessie brought in various textual fragments. She later told me she wanted to concentrate on the quotidian; one of the bits was Keith's childhood story of having to procure milk from the cat's dish for a potential beau of his aunt. She didn't merely read but accentuated aspects of the text in unexpected and often humorous ways. Everything sounded of a piece, there was a real sense of composition, of solidity. Back in 2017, I'd sent the final draft of the book off to the publisher. Very soon thereafter, I received an email from Keith that I found extremely moving. I mailed Wes (my editor) and asked if it could be appended as a postscript; he kindly agreed to do so. Jessie, in a move that touched me deeply, chose to use text from this mail, earlier on Keith's description of a concert with John Tilbury at SokoƂowsko, and toward the end, more personal words. I was just floored. Thanks, Jessie.

It was a wonderful three days, a festival that will linger for a long, long time. Wish I could recount the other sets in some detail: fine work from Cat Lamb, Judith Hamann/James Rushford and Kaffe Matthews especially. Biggest of thanks to Lucio for his kindness and being such a mensch. Thanks to all the musicians and attendees. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Bob Burnett's and Al Jones' excellent short film on Keith Rowe is going to be making the rounds shortly. Required viewing. Here's a listing of upcoming events, some of them still tentative:

Aug. 7: Texas Theater in Dallas, TX (awaiting confirmation) (Al jones presenting)
Aug 12: flash online screening Foxy Digitalis
Aug. 13: Sanatorium of Sound Festival, SokoƂowsko, Poland
Late August: Julien Ottavi presenting in Nantes, potentially w/ Keith present
Aug or Sep: Mark Wastell. via Confront, screening in London
Sep 5: Austin screening w Bob B. and Rick Reed w Q&A
Oct: Brian O. and AI present in Seattle (in the works)
Nov: Earshot Festival, Seattle (in the works)
Nov: Ryoko Akama screen in Huddersfield (in the works)

Saturday, June 05, 2021

 Hear ye, hear ye.

About three years ago, I all but ceased posting reviews on Just Outside, whining that it was just occupying too much time, time I'd rather spend on more self-indulgent activities. Not unexpectedly, this didn't stop folks from continuing to send music, digitally and materially, which on the one hand, of course, I greatly appreciated and, by and large, enjoyed. My recourse was to post brief description and links on facebook (which might get more views than the blog anyway, who knows). A fault perhaps, but I always feel obligated to do something when people go out of their way to send me things.
But...that's become onerous as well. Just too much stuff piling up that I feel the strong obligation to listen to with some amount of seriousness and comment on. In many ways, a happy and enjoyable burden, but a burden nonetheless.
So, even though I'm sure there will be exceptions to the rule, I'm hereby proclaiming my abdication from the review process (apart from those I do for Squidco, which remain fun). If you insist on sending stuff my way, which I know many of you rascals will, please don't expect any comments, promotion etc. It probably won't happen.
Huge thanks to all those who have sent in work over the past years--I truly appreciate it and your music has provided me with much pleasure and stimulation. I will, of course, continue to listen. Just not open my mouth so much.

Monday, February 08, 2021

Esther Venrooy, a marvelous musician/thinker who doesn't release nearly enough work (!!) has written a book that charts her own development and discoveries, offering excellent and deep observations along the way. Beautifully written, closely and honestly reported, it's a really great document on a musician working in adjacent areas (improv, field recording, sound art) from the 90s until the present day. Highly recommended (as is Esther's music)

Sounding Things Out

Thursday, August 27, 2020


Pisaura - Asteraceae (Sedimental)

Pisaura is a trio consisting of Michael Pisaro-Liu and the members of the duo Zizia, Amber Wolfe and Jarrod Fowler. Their first recording is a set of 24 pieces, lasting 72 minutes, based on a quite complicated system designed, as I understand it, to generate patterns and associations based on the interaction of two very different mapping methodologies that may produce serendipitous results. One is a geographic map of the greater Los Angeles area. The other is a celestial map derived from the astrological charts of the three individuals involved. In fairness, I should pause to mention that I have exceedingly short patience with all matters astrological. I don't have any particular problem with it being used as a pattern/idea-generating process any more than I do with, say, Cage's famous use of the I Ching but, as with that activity, chance results are as far as I go, much akin to rolling dice. Pisaura overlays more meaning, and much complexity, as described in limited detail below. The reader can judge for themselves how much credence to ascribe to the system's responsibility for the results above and beyond the quotidian. 

The maps were overlaid with a couple of initial corresponding points: the Mt. Wilson Observatory with Saturn and the California Institute of the Arts with Chiron (the centaur). Other astrological symbols would thus match up, whether by chance or mystical design, with various geographical locations. Members of the trio would venture to these sites, at times also determined by planetary rhythms and alignment, to make field recordings, which were brought back and reworked into the pieces heard here. There's more to it than that, but this gives you a general idea.

I have no prior experience with Zizia as such and had only heard, to the best of my recollection, one release by Fowler ('Rhythmics', Heresy Records, 2012) but I know Pisaro-Liu's work to a pretty thorough degree. Despite what one might think of his having in recent years developed (in recordings, at least) a fuller, richer sonic palette, I was immediately struck by the density of sound on this release.  The initial track, for instance, has several layers ranging from a fluctuating warble to scratchy rustlings to an element that begins as a sine-y sliver (similar to those heard on Pisaro's classic 'Transparent City' series) and expands to a harmonium-like fulness--and more than that besides. The pieces are something like brief sonic videos with shifting filters and focuses; they're ambient but active, even hyperactive. There's sometimes a tinge of or, maybe, an oblique reference to the IRCAM school of electro-acoustic music but without, happily, that sheen of artificiality often encountered there. If I have a complaint, it might be that as whole, there's a similar intensity in play over the twenty-four pieces. They're different, of course (here a snatch of distant talk, there blurred and rumbling machinery, crickets, spiders--perhaps the asteraceae indicated in the album's title--rain or wind, much more) but possess something of the same feel. Using the photo-filter analogy again, it's a little like a series of wonderful pictures with a similar grain, saturation, etc. This makes for a slightly disquieting effect when listening through the album, a same-but-not-same sensation. Sometimes I don't mind this, other times I do. 

But there's something unique in play as well, a set that's subtly different from what you're likely to have experienced before, an intriguing lamina of uneasiness. I hope Pisaura continues as a working unit--eager to hear what comes next. 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Rhodri Davies - Transversal Time (Confront Core Series)

'Transversal Time' is a single, 38-minute work composed by Davies, performed by a nonet consisting of Ryoko Akama (electronics), Davies (pedal harp, electric harp), Sarah Hughes (zither), Sofia Jernberg (vocals), Pia Palme (contrabass recorder), Adam Parkinson (programming), Lucy Railton (cello), Pat Thomas (piano, electronics) and Dafne Vicente-Sandoval (bassoon). David Toop's absorbing and detailed liner notes go more into Davies' familial history and the nature of clock time than the specifics of the piece, but do indicate that the composer assigned various "time systems" to individual instrumentalists. Beyond that, one guesses the sounds are improvised within that structure, though it's difficult (for me) to say for certain.

The sounds created, for much of the first half of the piece, are of long duration and quiet to medium-quiet dynamics, with considerable fluttering from the recorder and a kind of creaky warbling from the voice (think Ami Yoshida). These are embedded in a sound world not too far from that often heard in Éliane Radigue's work, with whom Davies has worked intimately for many years now, though it's never so...creamy. Things shift subtly over the second half, the piano (inside and/or prepared) negotiating a path through cello and, perhaps, other bowed strings, very dark, very much on tiptoe and quite thrilling. Eventually, the eerie smoothness, now illuminated by flashes from the electronics, comes to dominate, a kind of uneasy peace. It's a fascinating, multi-layered work, one that becomes itchier and more unsettling the deeper one listens.

Tony Oxley - Beaming (Confront Core Series)

I'm not certain I've deciphered the ins and outs re: the construction of this recording, but on the surface we have a collaboration between Oxley (electronics and concept) and Stefan Hölker (acoustic percussion), the former also credited with "Material 1972, electronic frame". I'm not sure if the release, recorded on November 25, 2019, involves tapes of a 1972 performance incorporated into a live performance of percussion and electronic permutation or simply a live improvisation with the materials at hand.

The frame in question is presumably this one, or an adaptation of it, constructed in recent years by Oxley.

Six tracks, all very active and colorful, the latter aspect having much to do with the amount of metal, often resonant and light-sounding, deployed. I don't otherwise know Hölker's work but listeners familiar with Oxley will find themselves in recognizable territory. For my taste, there's more than enough constant activity to render matters somewhat overly busy with no time allotted for appreciating sounds in space or singular relationships of same. I sometimes had the (not unattractive) image of a large cauldron full of metallic objects being swiftly stirred by a heavy, wooden  implement. But, as said, the colors generated, including subtle electronics and seemingly pianistic ones, go some way toward mitigating any misgivings and fans more attuned to the long history of that area of the free improv tradition will find this a welcome example of ongoing creativity from a master now into his 80s.

Virtual Company - s/t (Confront Core Series)

The notion isn't without precedent. John Tilbury, for one, accomplished it in his unflinchingly titled, 'Playing with a Dead Person' (BîƂt, BR LP03, 2016). Coincidentally, the decedent in question was Derek Bailey, as is half the case here. If my memory is correct, Tilbury took the opportunity to "collaborate" in that manner as a remedy for his regret at not having been able to do so while Bailey was alive, things never quite having fallen into place. With 'Virtual Company', the living improvisers are Simon H. Fell (double bass) and Mark Wastell (violoncello, percussion), who each had extensive experience performing with Bailey and, to some extent, Will Gaines, the other deceased musician represented herein. 

Despite the allusion to Bailey's improvisatory Company project, there's a good deal of construction in play here and its nature is pretty fascinating. As described in his excellent liner notes, Fell determined a 45-minute duration for the work and decided that Bailey would "play" for 30 minutes and Gaines' taps and voice would be heard for about half the span. He then took snippets from the recordings of both, ranging from a few seconds to a couple of minutes, interspersed those with silences of somewhat lesser duration and digitized them. For a Virtual Company performance, these samples are played back in random order, resulting in an impossibly vast possibility of sequences, along with which the living musicians improvise.

How do the results sound? Well, this performance, recorded at Cafe OTO in 2018, intended as a "quintet" with Rhodri Davies who was unable to make the gig, pretty much sounds like an actual event with four present musicians. As Fell notes, Bailey had been in the habit, in the 1990s, of playing along with pirate radio stations and I've long had the impression that he, when on stage with musicians who were, shall we say, not quite in his league, would simply treat the sounds they made as ambient sound with/against which to improvise. In his recordings with Gaines, one has the impression of somewhat more direct interplay, at least on occasion, but their reincarnation here, spliced and randomized as it is, doesn't come off as drastically different (which is to say, intricate and absorbing). Only the sporadic silences from guitarist and tapper might clue in the unwary listener. I wonder if Fell and Wastell, eyes closed and allowing for the physical absence of direct guitar or shoe presence versus sounds emanating from speakers, weren't able to react to the music as though issuing "normally". Tremendous players both, they seem almost eerily at home in this context. Had I heard this recording "blindfolded", I have no reason to think that I could have detected anything unusual afoot. I'm reasonably sure I would have been pleasantly surprised at the emergence of a wonderful archival release from four fine musicians, fitting in quite well with my past experiences with all of them. That Fell was able to weave this magic together says a great deal for both his, and  Wastell's, skill and their love for the departed.


Monday, February 17, 2020

A few brief words on twelve new releases from Edition Wandelweiser, music that spans a very wide territory. No images this time because, well, they're Wandelweiser covers....(though the Möller/Ragab sleeve contains an actual photo...)

TomĂĄs Cabado - historia de la luz: cuaderno de guitarra

Eight pieces for two guitars, performed by the composer and Catriel Nievas. The guitars are either electric or amplified acoustic, I think, and the pieces tend toward long, clear tones alongside hazier ones, suspended amidst the space in the room. Sometimes, "simple" lines are unfurled, even ones that resemble scales. When overlapping, the two guitars will often create piquant harmonics. You hear the room in Buenos Aires, distant dogs. The sounds are forceful and rich, even occasionally piercing, but always serene and unhurried. Like a close-in hearing of water droplets on metal, the final drops massive in context. Lovely.

Bruno Duplant/Pierre Gerard - soleil clandestin

A collaborative set of five soundscapes from Duplant and Gerard, sharing duties on "abstract" voices,  guitar, electronics, field recordings and percussion. The pieces are mysterious, sometimes  verging on the ritual-sounding, with random soft clattering and bumping offset by the deep tones of struck metal, perhaps bells of some kind. A guitar pokes through with surprising spikiness and, later, voices. This creates an oddly bumpy kind of terrain, with sounds that have a kind of separateness, giving the aural space a thick weave, like heavy material with holes. The voices can be a little...disquieting. I don't think I've previously heard Gerard's music so can't say how this fits in with prior work but it stands apart somewhat from Duplant's oeuvre, at least that portion of which I'm aware.

JĂŒrg Frey - fields, traces, clouds

Three works recorded by ordinary affects (Luke Martin, electric guitar; Laura Cetilia, cello; P.A. Falzone, piano/vibraphone; Morgan Evans-Weiler, violin) with Frey on clarinet. The piece have the kind of calm, extremely thoughtful stance that I love so in Frey's music, something he gets at in the liner notes involving fallow land, the notion of walking in an environment and allowing inspiration to occur. The atmosphere is apparent from the opening track (the title composition) and comes to the fore in the final one, 'floating categories', where the streets of Cambridge are very much a sixth member of the ensemble. The melodies (and they are melodies, I think; toward the end of 'fields, traces, clouds', there's a passage that almost evokes a sunrise) are slow, even stately, the strings often grainy on their own--quite beautiful--but when they overlap with the other instruments, the effect is stunning. All the more so as these interactions seem almost serendipitous, though of course, they're not. Truly profound and deeply-lived music, wonderfully realized.

Mark Hannesson - undeclared

A work written in response to the October 20, 2006 drone attack on a school in Pakistan that killed 80 or more people, including 68-70 children. Hannesson asks how it's possible to respond to this aesthetically and offers his attempt. It's a very moving one, simple in conception, a kind of funereal tolling. The piece, titled 'undeclared', is presented three times, first played by Antoine Beuger on children's glockenspiel (an especially effective conveyor of grief), then by René Holtkamp on guitar and finally by the composer using whistling and electronics. Where Beuger's rendition is soft and sorrowful, a string of individual tones, all the same, spaced over about 20 minutes, Holtkamp attacks the same score more forcefully, the pain felt at the horrible event evincing itself. Hannesson's version is different, much gauzier, even ethereal, the tones still there but clouded, evanescing, perhaps disappearing like those poor victims. A moving set of music.

Mark Hannesson/Dante Boon/Anastassis Philippakopoulos - s/t

Three works for solo piano, played by Boon. One each by Hannesson and Boon and a set of four shorter pieces by Philippakopoulos. The transition between compositions is almost seamless and, indeed, it's possible to listen to the works as a single, continuous piece of music. Hannesson's 'signposts' is apparently sourced from the 2016 Wandelweiser catalog, the choice of which "fragments" to play left to the pianist. Largely individual notes, a tonal feel without a specific tonality, allowed to hang in space, expertly placed by Boon; in several ways an archetypal Wandelweiser piece and a very lovely one. 'duo (2h)', by Boon, while very much in line with the preceding work, expands things just a bit, inserting a few more subtle chords, suffusing the music with a warm light--gorgeous. The four 'piano pieces' by Philippakopoulos add just a tinge more melody, providing the hint of a line, softly undulating like a bit of seaweed in a tide pool. A beautiful conclusion to a very moving collection of sounds.

Bin Li - i am also here

As near as I can determine, despite having written and having had performed a number of works (see Li's site here), this is Li's first recording. The title track is performed twice, each with Stefan Thut (viol and voice on the first version, only voice on the second) and the composer (voice on the first, voice and qin--a kind of Chinese zither--on the second). In each instance, the surrounding environments, Manhattan and Gimmelwald, Switzerland, play a major role. The four-word text is spoken, often with many minutes between words, in English and/or Chinese, the instruments briefly played, perhaps mimicking the cadence, such as it is, of the phrase. In the wooly atmospherics of Gimmelwald, Thut begins the first rendition by saying, "I am here". His viol is briefly bowed a handful of times as the phrase, a word at a time, is spoken over 15+ minutes, I believe alternately by Thut and Li. The sound fades out completely once, then returns with the final word, "here", said immediately, a little startling, like being awakened in a park after an unbidden nap.  The ambience is  more intense on the second version, which lasts over 43 minutes, all birds and blurred traffic (though it fluctuates throughout the piece), Li (or maybe Thut?) speaking in Chinese with the odd pluck of the qin, loud in context. There are near-complete cessations of sound, the faintest of fuzz. Pileated woodpeckers and airplanes on the sound's return. Again, toward the end of the work, there's that abrupt awakening. The title of the final work is phonetically transliterated as "you" but means, "also", therefore carrying some of the meaning of the title track while also serving, to an English speaker, as a kind of mirror reflection to it. Li plays (again, sporadically) the hichiriki,  Japanese double-reed instrument heard in gagaku. He seems to be intoning the syllable, "you", with its Chinese inflection, playing the instrument breathily and, at the piece's conclusion and in contrast to the instruments on the rest of the disc, with a rush of soft tones over a relatively long period. An absolutely fascinating set of music--I'm eager to hear more.

AndrĂ© O. Möller with Christoph Nicolaus &  Rasha  Ragab - music for stone harps

Stone harps are crafted from blocks of black granite which are usually shaped into roughly conic forms, then sliced to create individual slabs or bars that, when stroked with wetted fingers, produce a range of rich, reverberant tones. On this two-disc set, Möller presents three compositions and two improvisations using solely these instruments. On the first piece, 'fĂŒr eckl (a tanz der hauttöne)', there's too much dependence on the harp tones themselves at the expense of the composition. Those  tones contain a certain amount of inherent fascination, not dissimilar to, say, a bowed marimba, but not enough (for this listener) to sustain a 34-minute piece on their own. 'stoned fridge' is more robust, bearing a range of growling sounds (I'm not sure all are from the harps, actually, but I suppose it's possible--the credits list "playback" so I imagine some iterative function is occurring), generating a dense drone with multiple layers of activity--it breathes, and breathes deeply. On the second disc, the two improvisations are innocuous in the same manner as the initial work while the hour-plus 'mĂ©nage Ă  trois (double)' once again uses playback as well as an influx of exterior sound. It's greater aural transparency serves as a good contrast to 'stoned fridge' and allows it to work just as wellas  the prior piece, the ringing tones of the harps layered between the car engines, bird calls and odd organ-like sounds. Overall, a slightly mixed bag for me, but worthwhile.

Kory Reeder - love songs, duets

I believe this is the first recording of Reeder's work (fwiw, I can't see any listing for the seven other musicians on Discogs either). If it's a debut, it's an  impressive one. Four pieces, all duets: 'folie Ă  deux i' (Erin Cameron and Luke Ellard, bass clarinets), 'somewhere, some place else' (Jonathan Kierspe, saxophone, Samuel Anderson, bass trombone), 'folie Ă  deux iii' (Alaina Clarice and Linda Jenkins, flutes)  and 'hiro yokose' (Mia Detwiler, violin, Reeder, piano). The compositions are of a piece, in a sense, though well differentiated. All slow, tonal, with no repeating melodies or rhythms, the lines from each pair of instruments gently entwining. There are wonderfully subtle contrasts in tone between the like instruments (bass clarinets and flutes), never going for mere effect, the tenderness coming first, elegiac but not sorrowful. Sometimes more somber, sometimes more wistful, but always with a sense of soft languidness. Reeder's piano is especially poignant on the closing composition, just barely verging on melody. Excellent work all around.

Dean Rosenthal - Stones/Water/Time/Breath

Rosenthal's piece extends the lineage of Christian Wolff's well-known 'Stones' into an  even more open area. Entirely text-based, he asks that interested person(s) locate a body of water, acquire some  stones and create some interactive sounds with them. (Including the word, "Breath" in the title is interesting--it doesn't appear in the score; nice) This recording documents five realizations with from one to seven performers. Canadian sound artists Gayle Young and Reinhard Reitzenstein slosh and drop stones for a couple of minutes while a septet of individuals behave similarly in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, here for over 20 minutes with a more enveloping ambient sound including birds, children and airplanes. Rosenthal's own solo realization is quite spare and calm, the sounds generated from the stones well embedded into the overall soundscape. As with recordings of Manfred Werder's works, there's a vast difference, one understands, between disc and actual presence. One can get a glimmer of this by watching and listening to one of several very fine, very beautiful videos available on the site Rosenthal has set up for this project. The great value of this release is simply introducing the listener to the score and, in addition to perusing the related site (which I highly recommend) going out and actualizing it oneself or with friends (or strangers).

Urs Peter Schneider - Klavierwerke 1971 - 2015

A two-CD set of four solo piano works by Schneider, recorded between 1980 and 2019, played by the composer. 'ClavierĂŒbung' (1971 - 79), for mildly prepared piano, bears a striking resemblance to some of Tom Johnson's pieces or, rather, given its compositional dates, one might say the reverse. There's an accretive kind of effect, as if the modules of the basic form are being slightly altered with each iteration (dynamics, stress, gradually augmented pitch, etc.) according to some hidden system. The theme itself has a wonderful, surreptitious, kind of creeping aspect, as of some slightly disreputable character skulking around the perimeter. Lasting over an hour, the permutations it goes through are many, if subtly deployed. The material is just a pair of nine note sequences but they're manipulated in a manner that makes it (for this listener) surprisingly difficult to count and seemingly possessing a greater variety of arrangements than I would have thought possible. Or maybe it just appears that way. 'So Beseelte' (2008 - 14), dedicated to Martin Luther, indeed has a kind of staggered processional feel, something of Satie's 'Ogives'. 'Ein Jahreslauf' is a more disparate work, difficult to describe. Sort of like a prelude that, over its 34 minutes, keeps building then gently fragmenting, spaces between "clumps" lengthening as the piece develops. It's oddly entrancing. The final selection, 'Aus der Tiefe' (2013 - 15) returns a little bit to the general structure used in the first, here sequences of light, almost playful, three and four chord segments, rearranged, re-accented, and otherwise shuffled, strung in a kind of bracelet.  Entirely engrossing music, start to finish.

Sivan Silver-Swartz - untitled 6

'untitled 6' is an hour long work for string quintet (Nigel Deane, violin; Patrick Behnke and Tanner Pfeiffer, violas; Tal Katz and Julius Tedaldi, cellos). The score entails two "charts"--one where things change and recur, the other where things change and don't recur; "the former has only one path while the latter has infinite". The general feeling is one of slow breathing or perhaps very low amplitude ripples on an otherwise calm surface of a pond. The lines, microtonal and well-integrated, sometimes evoking old reed organs, overlap at irregular intervals, soft and gentle, like grass fronds floating on  the pond, attenuating here, coalescing there. Endlessly absorbing, a seemingly simple surface enveloping activity with an almost biological sense of complexity. Gorgeous work.

Rishin Singh - out from the blinding white

Two lovely, subtle compositions for solo piano, played by Dante Boon. The first, 'thirty oars (for dante)', uses scale-like patterns, ascending and descending, as recurrent structural elements, around and between which are scattered small clusters of soft chords and brief single-note sequences, extremely thoughtful and warmly pensive, with the occasional welcome, just slightly sour twist. 'for eva-maria houben' is based on  a pair of three-note patterns that are ever so slightly modified throughout the work; I don't think any two sequences are identical but they're also not very far apart. That's all but that's more than enough: just a continuous blooming of akin sounds. Both pieces are difficult (for me) to describe with any kind of specificity but both are just wonderful--intelligent, tender and full of life. Great stuff.


Friday, January 24, 2020

Arild Andersen/Clive Bell/Mark Wastell - Tales of Hackney (Confront)

I had to chuckle when I first put on this disc. I knew and greatly enjoyed Andersen's work in Jan Garbarek's early groups and, even earlier, when that group was nestled into George Russell's large ensembles, but I'm pretty sure the last time I heard him was on Roswell Rudd's 'Flexible Flyer'  (1975). Nonetheless, when those initial bass notes rang out on the first track here, there was no one  else it could have been. When swiftly joined by Bell's khene (a Thai mouth organ) and Wastell's deft cymbals, it ushers in this delightful and unexpected release that, among other things, seems  determined bring a fresh take on the kind of music heard on those early ECM sides, before the label became awash in pastels. No easy task, but this trio manages to generate  a lush, more or less tuneful set of pieces that retain just enough edge to skirt any concerns. Andersen employs electronics as well, creating washes of dense tones, again not altogether too comfortable and melding well with Wastell's shruti box while Bell ably navigates from khene to shakuhachi to pi saw (a Thai flute) to shinobue (a Japanese transverse flute). Spacey sections that avoid gauziness, instead focussing on laminal textures, always with ample grain or tinges of harshness, near-melodies that are pastoral and even meditative while utterly avoiding the lassitude and shallowness all too commonly encountered in this general area. And Andersen is a joy to hear throughout, such a great sound. Not only a very enjoyable release but a surprising and refreshing approach to even consider these days (recorded in  2017)--a wonderful recording.

Chris Burn/Philip Thomas - as if as (Confront)

A set of arrangements for piano by Burn, played by Thomas, including six brief pieces transcribed from guitar improvisations by Derek Bailey.

The first compositions, the title track and 'only the snow', are spiky, dense and complex works, with intriguing senses of fragmentation and silences (especially the latter), tending toward the higher registers and evoking, to these ears, something of a more spatially concerned Nancarrow. Initially  forbidding, they grew on me with each subsequent listen. I should point out that there's some confusion with regard  to track listings involving a mistaken pressing and  a corrected one; I'm going by my ears and the listing on my copy, though I'm not convinced I'm correct.... What are listed as the Bailey transcriptions (from his 1991 release on Incus, 'Guitar Solos Volume 2') are a different  matter. As odd as it may seem, they're immediately in more "comfortable" territory, almost gentle, quite introspective sounding and lovely; this is  an aspect that leads me to think that some of the four 'pressings and screenings' pieces  are mixed in  here, but whatever, it's excellent music. The pieces range from that kind of Webern-ish spatial pointillism to only slightly softer, more (relatively) lush environs, always with a firm sense of structure and not nearly as claustrophobic as I might have expected. As ever, Philip Thomas exercises both precision and touch, injecting vast amounts of vigor into the proceedings. My knowledge of Burn's oeuvre is fairly limited but this is easily my favorite recording of his work yet. Highly recommended.

Max Eastley/Fergus Kelly/Mark Wastell - The Map Is Not the Territory (Confront)

A flowing set of eight improvisations where the trio (Eastley, arc [an electro-acoustic monochord]; Kelly, invented instruments, found metals, electronics; and Wastell, tam tam, metal percussion, piano frame) concentrate almost exclusively on long tones including, one suspects, much derived from bowing. Unlike many an arco-cymbalist, however, the sounds achieved here aren't overly harsh or strident, though also maintaining a safe distance from the blandly mellifluous. There's an expansiveness in play here, perhaps less liquid than sandy, smooth but not without granularity. A kind of serenity that allows for mild discomfort and itchiness, even venturing into otherworldly-seeming territory, as in 'Seizure of Light'. The tracks are of a piece but differentiated, like leaves from the same tree. This all sounds vague, I realize, but it's difficult (for me) to capture kind of flow heard here without getting too sappy about it. Nothing sappy about the music--it's lovely on a sensual level and engrossing to contemplate. Fine work.

Mike Cooper/Mark Wastell - Sound Mirrors (Confront)

Cooper's always been a tough musician for me to get any kind of stylistic fix on, likely my shortcoming versus his complex slipperiness. There's the free improviser, of course, but also the fellow who nods to Hawaiian slide guitar, acoustic blues among other necks of the woods. Here, on lapsteel guitar and electronics in six pieces with Wastell (tam tam, percussion, shruti box), one hears tinges of all of these and others. The mix of guitar and tam tam is especially appealing here, metal strings and brushed or stroked metal--very nice. There's a fine billowy feeling  throughout much of the work though on occasion, as in 'Warden Point', the electronics gets more in-one's-face and a tad loopy. Parts of 'Joss Gap' nod to dance rhythms of a sort, creating an interesting an unusual kind of tension, in the context. Using one's imagination, you can almost summon up images of the sound mirrors referenced in the album's title (we've all seen these, yes?). An intriguing piece, gnarly in ways one doesn't often hear; Cooper's guitar toward the end is an unexpected easter egg. It doesn't always work--there's a bit of oil and water here--but when it does, which is often enough, 'Sound Mirrors'  offers some delectable flavors.


Sunday, January 05, 2020

Grisha Shakhnes - being there  (unfathomless)

A dense collage of sound "recorded live at home" and, I take it, processed [not so, I've learned--it's live: description here]. In any case, one gets layers of sound that fall somewhere between natural and mechanical--hard to determine which, often enough--with hollow moans and disembodied, unintelligible voices, masterfully mixed, dramatically (slowly) paced--claustrophobic, powerful and fascinating.

Bruno Duplant/David VĂ©lez - our seasons reverse (unfathomless)

A long range collaboration with both extensive field recordings and other instrumentation (theramins, organ, strings), somewhat airier than the prior release though still thick with small , chattering sounds, like a horde of robotic insects, muted sirens, struck metal, exposed wiring and more.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Jon Dale - theatre (triste tropiques)

Sukora -  Ice Cream Day! Nice Day! (triste tropiques)

Two excellent approaches to the notion of non-activity or near silence and the depths available therein.

Perhaps more went into it than meets the ear, but Jon Dale's 'theatre' seems to be one 55-minute recording of an interior space in which not so much happens. But so much happens. My visual analogue as I was listening was a piece of gray felt or carpeting,  the kind of material that at a glance appears a drab gray but on  close examination reveals tiny threads of various, surprisingly bright colors, impossibly complex. Dale's room, if it is such (no information is presented with the disc--perhaps it's simply a theatre interior per the title), appears to contain a heating system, perhaps, something softly, airily mechanical that operates on a consistent level throughout, generating a warm kind of burr, in and of itself subtly fluctuating and dully shimmering as, one imagines, pressure levels shift ever so slightly. The sound is dry on the one hand, super-saturated on the other resulting in  a  depth of field that's both shallow and infinitely detailed; fascinating. As well, the space, or adjacent ones, is being utilized by humans. We hear the  occasional door being opened and shut, squeaking on its hinges, various random bangs and thuds and swatches of vague, blurred and distant conversation. These appear with delightful (that is to say, real) randomness, scattered  piecemeal through the recording but often absent for any number of minutes. That's it, but that's more than enough. One easily imagines sitting in the space, doing nothing but listening and contemplating.

The oddly titled and illustrated 'Ice Cream Day! Nice Day!' by Sukora (Takayoshi Kitajima) contains even less to immediately apprehend but again, there's so much there. The sounds on the two tracks are pitched such that it might be recommended to listen on headphones. Otherwise, depending on your volume settings, you might lose them entirely. 'The second hand turning', as in the Dale, has at the start a consistent tone augmented by ancillary noises. The tone, though very quiet, is more aggressive, a vaguely threatening throb. As it falls out, one hears, indeed, a soft click that seems to recur at one second intervals, some haze between you and it and a barely discernible, high whine. The pulse returns now and then, imparting the sensation that the listener has moved, has walked to different areas that expose or amplify a given sound. If the Dale piece was a piece of fuzzy material, 'A moving organ' might be heard as the individual fibers from that material loosely strewn across a stone floor. An ultra-soft ambient rustle upon which one hears the slightest of clicks, irregular but frequent, as if someone's tapping the floor with a leaf. Somewhere in that rustle, next to impossible to discern, there's a regular sound, like the quietest of inner grooves brushed by a microscopic stylus. Intent, so thoughtful, engrossing.

Two superb, questioning releases.

Dale's blog appears to be down, but the discs above may be ordered from:

Careful Catalog

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Nick Storring - Qualms  (Never Anything Records)

A wildly entertaining if difficult to pin down solo venture from Storring. 'Qualms' is a single piece, spanning both sides of the cassette, on which Storring wields cello (electric and acoustic), other strings including guitar, keyboards, a vast array of percussion and more. The music has one foot in a kind of post-In C minimalism--there are moments that almost sound like they might have been lifted from a variant In C performance, in fact--and several others  (it's at least insectile, if not centipedal) in adjacent areas including one that owes something to Southeast Asian traditions. The generally shimmering percussion, all light bells and transparent wooden tappings, rolls over liquid, string-generated drones, nodding in passing to Balinese and Javanese music, even evoking Laotian mouth organ music at one point, but joyfully moving to its own rhythms and harmonies. On the one hand, it's kind of steady-state but within 'Qualms' are any number of sections and shifts, fades and re-emergences, dreamlike. There's generally a pulse (the piece was written to accompany choreography for Yvonne Ng), at least implied when slowed to a breathing pace, but often enough up front, always airy and fluttering, never remotely leaden; this is particularly the case on Side B, during the episode that's most reminiscent of the Riley opus.

Overall, 'Qualms' is an intoxicating pleasure, offering both a surface beauty and a wealth of fascinating details to investigate. Well worth hearing.

Never Anything Records

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Fergus Kelly - Gleaming Seams (Room Temperature)

I've been listening to Fergus Kelly's music for about a decade now and have found it consistently rewarding, his dark percussion/tape studies always very immersive, rich and unique to his sensibility. 'Gleaming Seams' might be my favorite yet. Centered around percussion (drums, metals, plastics, gongs and more), the ten pieces are embedded--sometimes thoroughly,  sometimes more gently and subtly--into webs of field recordings taking various forms, exterior (trams, skateboard park, random conversations) and interior (ATM machines, computer drives, etc.). As well, there are samples from other musics, including brass and orchestras, that glimmer through the dim, roiling haze.

The softly clanging metals that open 'Numb Burn' draw you in immediately. Just as you're settling in, things shift to a more irregular, quasi-rhythm, the drums attempting to stay afloat amidst backward tape and brass flourishes, buzzing electronics and more, a shifting mirror-like construction that leaves the listener at once disoriented and oddly satisfied. Kelly applies variations to this approach throughout, allowing the percussion to form a kind of core, the ancillary sounds swirling around at some points, adhering and forming their own new structures at others. Now and then, the electronics drift into quiet pulses, creating an almost unnoticed thread, loosely tying together the disparate sound worlds, occasionally bearing the slightest Balinese tinge. The balance between the acoustic and electronic, including the field recordings, is perfect; Kelly achieves a unity that's pretty rare. Each of the ten tracks works extremely well on its own and the whole leaves one sated and even a little moved, the darkness of the evoked soundscapes paradoxically offering some degree of nostalgia. A complicated, brilliantly conceived sound-world. Highly recommended.

Room Temperature @ bandcamp

Monday, September 16, 2019

Antoine Beuger -  traces of eternity: of what is yet to be (A New Wave of Jazz)

Antoine Beuger - Now is the moment to learn hope (A New Wave of Jazz)

There have been quite a few releases of Beuger's music over the past several years and it's an odd,  and very pleasurable thing to consider them en masse. On the one hand, his music is so diaphanous, so air-suffused that you'd think it might be difficult (not to mention unnecessary) to differentiate  them mentally. On the other, they're always very different. There's that old AMM aphorism: "as alike or unalike as trees" that conveys something of my feelings about Beuger's work.

In his liner notes, Guy Peters writes that "traces of eternity...",  inspired by David Patterson's 'Hebrew Language and Jewish Thought', takes the form of a 288-page score with minimal notation on each page, the performer able to dip in and out as desired, to interpret as seen fit. Pianist Dante Boon, one of the very finest proponents of Beuger's music (as well as that of many other composers associated with the Wandelweiser collective) chose to begin where he'd previously left off on his own journey through the score. Single notes are struck, pure and lambent, strings gently caressed, suspended in silence, or near-silence as the rooms is heard, faintly, as are adjustments by Boon, including pedaling. As is often the case with Beuger's music, there's a combination of spareness and, if not always apparent, sensual beauty, a resilient softness and warmth. The connective tissue is gossamer but  surprisingly strong. Now and then, the piano sounds more forcefully, deeply; once in a while a fragment of a melody emerges, but just as a glimmer, something seen out of the corner of one's eye (or ear), then vanishing as the music flows past, around the corner. The same and different. Boon's  degree of sensitivity is profound, pacing the work perfectly, varying his approach subtly, maintaining the piece's vibrating sense of life throughout, reading his text. One only hopes that, someday, the work might be heard in its entirety.

'Now is the moment to learn hope' is performed by the Extradition Ensemble (Loren Chasse, bell; Brandon Conway, classical guitar; Sage Fisher, harp; Matt Hannafin, bowed crotales; Branic Howard, bowed guitar; Evan Spracht, alto trombone). The listener is immediately immersed into the general environment fulling of falling water and clouds of ambient sound. The music is more forthright, kind of oozing through the space, a thicker liquid bleeding through a thinner one. Brief but forceful guitar and harp chords are offset by longer, more languid tones from the trombone, bowed guitar and crotales. The music, already rich at the start, seems to slowly intensify, though more likely it's the listener's aural acuity growing more and more perceptive as the piece unfurls. Car horns sound, engines; the bowed portions attain greater depth, denser sonority, though as on the earlier work, the music maintains a steady character, flowing and changing/remaining the same, traffic closing out the set. A moving, enveloping experience.

Two wonderful recordings.

A New Wave of Jazz

A New Wave of Jazz (bandcamp)

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Jason Lescalleet - This Is What I Do, vol. 21 (Glistening Examples)

I first saw Lescalleet in the early oughts, on hands and knees, threading crumpled, loose audiotape between five or six ancient tape players. The resultant sound aside, there was something simply physically impressive about the sight. He's a big guy, a counterweight to the more typical weedy geek crouched behind an Apple. Something almost athletic was happening, something coiled and pent-up, ready to violently unfurl. The sound, of course, was great. Those dark, irregular rumbles, layers upon layers of them, repeating in very slow loops. I was never sure how much of the sound was from recordings inscribed on the tape, how much was due to their battered condition, the slack way they pulled through the tape heads--probably some of each.

Lescalleet moved on and I'd followed his work with reasonable closeness, enjoying the great majority of it, being confused now and again, charmed more often. I still think his 'The Pilgrim' is one of the most moving, important works of the first decade of this century. In 2011, he embarked on a project titled "This Is What I Do" which began by cataloguing earlier work and quickly became a kind of "workbook" to quickly document his current activities. I heard the first two of these, then lost track. A few months back, having reached Lescalleet during my anal playthrough of my music collection, I thought I'd make up for that shortcoming and went to his bandcamp page only to discover that he'd removed most of the twenty-one recordings in that series, figuring they'd served his purpose. By happy chance, I was up in the Portland, Maine area last month, met Jason for coffee and was given a copy of Vol. 21.

First of all, what a great cover. No  source or  photographer is provided but...excellent. Second, something I just noticed while writing: the graphics on the disc itself. Aside from the track listings (leaving out the first), there's what seems to be an entirely bogus set of...well, a list of countries in the form of a track list, though not all are countries (Africa Tabernacle Evangelism, Network, Chaplaincy Ministries) as well as credits containing a number of humorous misprints like "dublication" and  "Holy Bible: New International Venison".  Few of these yield much to googling. Lescalleet has a long-standing habit of encrypting obscure references into his work, either via titles or the music itself but he warned me not to go searching for such in this case, so I won't. Except. When I went to enter the release into my database at Discogs, I noticed the following track timings: 0:11, 11:11, 11:11, 11:11, 5:55, 11:11. I'm sure this is mere coincidence.

The 11-second track consists of some buzz and crackles followed by Lescalleet saying, "Nah, I don't like that." Gotta love it. "I Can Receive Music Alright" is marvelous, a kind of descendant of the Fenn O'Berg theme. After what sounds like some short-wave conversation, a lush, Holstian symphonic track enters, expansive and billowing. I feel like I know the piece but can't put my finger on it. There's something of a soundtrack quality to it and is the first reason I began to think of the disc as an audio film. Lescalleet has often used filmic references in the past and incorporated scenes from movies  in his live performances. This has an overture-like aspect, cloudy and surging, very attractive. He lets it go more or less on its own for several minutes before introducing low, nearly sub-sonic rumblings and explosions, the kind of element he handles as well as anyone around. These sounds, evoking large objects jostling around in vast,  echoing spaces like the hull of a tanker are extremely immersive and gripping. "Kiss Me" picks up in that same world of hollow banging and rattling, the sounds occurring more rapidly and with agitation. Suddenly, a deep male voice says, "Mademoiselle Julianne, embrassez moi". After more thick, dark noise, the same voice intones, "Il est mort, mademoiselle." and some more, a noirish tinge that picks up the cinematic theme, if there is one. That sense of thickness, by the way, is something I always associate with Lescalleet's work, a  density, a feeling of multiple, claylike layers.

Oh yes, there's also extremism. At the end of that cut, there's a sequence of some of most eardrum shredding sound I've encountered in recent years, though it feels oddly soft, like having your auricular canal reamed with dental floss. Beware.

'Thirty Percent Flat' is a whirlwind of electronics and natural sounds (crickets, tree frogs, who knows what else), its volume and density rising over its course like a lava flow, eventually boring another clean, heat-blasted hole wherein sounds can scour your skull. The "short" track, 'Korea 2002' also begins with a surge, then lapses into simple piano (or koto? the recording is blurry enough that it's hard to tell) and percussion (sticks), with a voice speaking briefly in, I think, Japanese, despite the piece's title. It's somewhere along here, or perhaps in the prior piece, that my movie notion kind of breaks down, quite possibly because it had no basis in reality to begin with. 'Korea 2002' is a fine, mysterious piece, though, its principal sounds slowly getting absorbed into vague electronics and/or room ambiance.

"Hello,  this is the Minneapolis Police. The party is over." So begins the final track, followed by a snarled "One, two, three, four!" and a dense segue into a dance track and extreme feedback, soon splaying out into a ringing, desolate landscape, industrial and nocturnal, Lynchian high tension wires. This goes on for quite a while before, for the piece's last 90 or so seconds, giving way to some utterly gorgeous piano music. Again, I'm at a loss as to the source but feel I should know it (and want to). As lovely and fitting as the Chopin played by George Dzundza in 'The Deer Hunter'.

A fine end to this movie and a great release. This one is still available at the Glistening Examples bandcamp site--do check it out.

Glistening Examples

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Olivier Messiaen - Quatuor our la fin de temps/Linda Catlin Smith - Among the Tarnished Stars - Apartment House (Another Timbre)

I came to Messiaen fairly late in my listening career. For a long time, his was a name, not much more. Somewhere in the early 80s, I picked up the Philips recording of the Quartet, probably due to the presence of Vera Beths on violin, whose name I knew from her involvement with a number of Willem Breuker projects (I was way into Breuker then; the DorĂ© engraving on the cover didn't hurt, I'm sure). The name of the pianist on the date, Reinbert de Leeuw, meant nothing to me at the time! It had a strong effect on me, both the historical facts of its creation and, especially, the two louanges. Still, I filed it away and managed to, more or less, forget about it. Some years later, when Zorn included a cover of the 'Louange Ă  l'EternitĂ© de JĂ©sus', I recall it took me a few moments to place the work; odd. In any case since then, I've listened to many a reading of it and more Messiaen besides, though I'm still far from any kind of thorough investigation.  I listened to a few more in recent weeks and bought an old copy of the Erato vinyl, an early 60s recording with Huguette Fernandez, Guy Deplus, Jacques Neilz and Marie-Madeleine Petit, but apart from some obvious differences in approach it's beyond my ears and my available time to sit and do a proper comparison, not that it's necessary. I discussed the work a bit with Keith Rowe and he pointed me to this very interesting critical exchange on BBC Sounds, which readers might enjoy.

But first things first. There are two works presented on this fine disc, each performed by members of Apartment House (Mira Benjamin, violin; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello; Heather Roche, clarinet; Philip Thomas, piano). Though it's not mentioned anywhere I could  find, including the text on the Another Timbre site, I take it for granted that, not only by virtue if the relatively unusual instrumentation but amore importantly considering its overall sound, that Linda Catlin Smith had the Messiaen at least partially in mind when she composed the extremely beautiful piece, 'Among the Tarnished Stars' (1998).  The initial section's poignancy seems to be an indirect allusion to the louanges, though perhaps a bit more grounded, less trusting in the likelihood of spiritual salvation. It shifts subtly throughout its 28 minutes, maintaining a somber quality. The piano hits chords evoking the striking of dull metal  as the clarinet intones a sorrowful hymn. Gentle glimmers appear via occasional upward lines, the strings and clarinet adopting a kind of breathing, sighing pattern in the still air. Another deep, evocative piece from Smith; I'm very happy this label has done yeoman's work in getting her music out into circulation.

As said above, comparisons with other recordings are beyond my pay grade, though this quartet approaches the work with a certain kind of rigor and lack of any tinge of sentimentality, partly expressed by the relative lack of vibrato. The line in the 'Vocalise' is taken a bit more slowly than I'm used to, less stridently. Lukoszevieze mentions thinking of the cello part in the first louange as a kind of blues and that comes through to these ears. Thomas does something on the last movement, a slight dampening of the second of the doubled chords played (via pedal manipulation, I take it) as a kind of "ghost chord", a faint echo, or maybe I'm  simply imputing that due to the extremely fine level of touch employed by Thomas. Whatever the case, I find this effect to be very moving and beautiful. At the end of things, I can only say that, for me, this reading of the Quartet fits in quite comfortably with past favorites, holds its own very well and, in fact, is better recorded than many, giving it a bit of an edge on that front. It's entirely worth hearing of you're a fan of the piece--mandatory, even.

Another Timbre

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Driving over to Woodstock for a performance of Morton Feldman's 'For Philip Guston', played by the Bent Duo plus Emlyn Johnson, it occurred to me that not only had I never seen a live concert of a long-form piece by Feldman but surprisingly, considering my love for his work. my pretty substantial collection of his recordings, etc., I'd seen scarce few  shows of Feldman's music at all over the years. Not  sure why this is so. I'd seen the Sabat/Clarke duo at Miller Theater, Columbia University, playing 'Violin and Piano' but that was more than 15 years ago and I think the same duo, some years prior, at Cooper Union. Did  the ONCEIM Orchestra do 'For Samuel Beckett'? I have a avgue memory (!!). But certainly never the lengthier pieces. Never the classic solo piano works for  that matter. Odd.

In any case, this show was organized to coincide with an exhibition of Philip Guston drawings, drawings done in an attempt to eliminate all prior preconceptions, to get as far back to basics as possible, They're a set of "simple" images done in black ink, just line segments, roughly laid in at (I think) a single stroke:

Strong  work. As is pretty well known, Feldman and Guston, once close friends, became somewhat hostile  to one another after the former's vehement disagreement with Guston's return to figurative painting,  a rupture that remained unhealed s of the latter's death in 1980  (in Woodstock, where he resided). Feldman wrote the 4-hour plus piece played today as a kind of apology.

The concert took place in the rear room of the WAAM gallery in Woodstock, adjacent to the exhibition. For this performance, Bent Duo (Bill Solomon, vibraphone, glockenspiel, chimes, marimba; David Friend, piano, celesta) were joined by Emlyn Johnson (flutes,  piccolo). It was an extraordinary event.

I have four recordings of the piece and while there's no way I could possibly do a side-by-side comparison from memory, I'll just say that today's performance more than fits in comfortably with those by Williams/Blum/Vigeland, Stone/Jarvinen/Cheng-Cochran, Kotik/Kubera/Nappi or Engler/Schrammel/Breuer. Not only was the playing as sensitive and masterful as any of those, the spatial experience of hearing it live added an enormous dimension to the music. Though the performers were in a fairly tight triangle, five to six feet between them, the depth of sound and the transparent dancing of the intertwining, incredibly complex lines was breathtaking. Not that the sequences are complex--far from it. But the pacing and the relationships were like poetry made up of everyday words arrayed in a manner you thought impossible. From the initial four-note melodic line B-F#-G-D, if I'm not mistaken, which I easily may be, knowing little) which resurfaces throughout, sometimes whole, sometime just the first two or three notes, sometimes hidden within another sequence, to the section near the end where a six-note descending figure on glockenspiel, the pacing varied exquisitely, intermingling with a different six-note line played by flute and piano, not in unison, but out of phase, creating complexities of balance and beauty that were just stunning. In  between many "landmarks". I didn't realize from the recording how quickly Feldman goes from instrument to instrument. The marimba is  used sparingly and always tapping out steady patterns, on two occasions lines of rapid, identical notes; the first time, I didn't count but I think upwards of 80, the second time 54. These appear out of the blue, like chapter divisions. At one point, nearer the end, the music turns harsh and even strident, agitated  and intense, a welcome tonic. More often, amidst the general pastoral spareness, there are small  eruptions of extreme lushness and elegance, bouquets that bloom ravishingly, linger for a few moments, then subside.

It was along haul, sure, and at around the 2 1/2 hour mark, I felt myself  beginning to flag but managed a second wind and had no trouble sailing to the finish. It was a relaxed situation, with visitors encouraged to come and go, to roam around the gallery. The audience fluctuated from 2 to 10 or  so for the most part,  though at the piece's conclusion, there may have  been 20 at hand. Myself and one other stalwart fellow were the only ones, apart from the superb performers, to last the duration. More than worth it, a beautiful experience. Here's hoping more such events take place up in this neck of the woods.

I see bent Duo is doing a Sarah Hennies piece at Dimenna in NYC next weekend. Do yourselves a favor and check them out.

Bent Duo