Tuesday, September 29, 2015

It's very quiet around here.

Our house, which can be glimpsed a bit northwest of center in the above image, sits about 100 feet off a road which averages a vehicle every four or five minutes (more during what passes for rush hour, substantially less mid- and late-day) and, on the other side, about 200 feet away from a single train track, part of the Boston-Albany freight line. Perhaps twelve to fifteen trains a day go either way on that track (at some point on either side of Chatham, I take it, it splits into two), not terribly loud but certainly noticeable. They blow their whistles in town, some one and a half miles away, in what I've learned is a standard long-long-short-long sequence, each time they cross an intersection, three time in total. From this distance, it's far more evocative than aggravating; I somehow think of Partch. --.- is Morse for "Q"; there are various arguments as to how that became the warning whistle for trains.

State Highway 203 runs more or less parallel to our road, about 1,000 feet to the west. It gets regular, though not excessive traffic which I can hear faintly through the intervening firs when I sit outside in the gravel "backyard" on one of the red Adirondack chairs that the house owners left behind. I spend a lot of time there, reading, drawing and painting, solving arcane word puzzles. It might be the first time I've spent extensive time in such a rural environment, not on vacation or with any need to do things, just spending time there. In recent days, between 4 and 5 in the afternoon, I'll often just sit and listen. And it's pretty amazing. It's almost funny, in a way, given the plethora of field recordings of one sort or another that I've listened to over the past 20 years--I can't quite shake the feeling that I'm in the midst of one when out there. The complexity, though, is astounding, far more layered and (necessarily) three-dimensional than what one experiences via stereo speakers. The sense of distances/immersion is very strong, very liquid in an odd way, a feeling of some sounds being contained while others are attenuated, their boundaries difficult to ascertain. Birds, only a few of their calls identifiable by me, sometimes in pitched battles with squirrels (who have their own vast range of aural attacks) or chipmunks, but more, especially beginning around those late afternoon times, the insects. Wave upon wave of (I assume) cricket-ish sounds, innumerable pitches, timbres and durations, far more than I can perceive at a given moment. The density of the trees enables the tracing of breezes from one spot to another as well.

I begin to get more a sense of what has enraptured field-recordists all these years (I knew, of course, but hadn't experienced in such depth) while at the same time strengthened some of the reservations I've had about the value of issuing recordings of these events as opposed to experiencing them. I also realize that were I more perceptive, doubtless a similar range of sonic activity exists everywhere, including our apartment in Paris or my home in Jersey City and, to be sure, something of the sort was picked up in those places and others. But there's a difference here, a more unavoidable presence of sound, perhaps largely due to the relative quiet that allows the sounds to stand out in greater relief. It's pretty great.

I haven't had a stereo since arriving (I received word that our shipment from Paris has arrived in New York and, I hope, will be delivered up here within a week or so, after which time I'll likely write about some of the small pile of releases I've amassed here in the interim) but I haven't missed it so much as there's more than enough in the immediate environment to keep my earholes very, very happy.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Just a note, from here in lovely Chatham, for those who don't realize the blog is enjoying a hiatus--it is. I'll likely return at some point (after my stereo arrives, for one thing) and write about things as I choose but will no longer be accepting items for review. I post this as, via downloads, I'm continuing to receive such requests. So, one of these days, expect to see some words on various Erstwhiles and Wandelweisers but otherwise....

thanks for checking in.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Christopher DeLaurenti - To the Cooling Tower, Satsop (GD Stereo)

There are any number of ways to approach field recordings, of course, but one thing that will pretty much instantly predispose me toward a favorable stance is when the recordist documents an event, start to finish, without notable post-sculpting, simply presents the experience. This is what DeLaurenti does on this fine, immersive work. The cooling tower in Satsop, Washington was one of two, part of a nuclear power station begun in 1982 but never completed, left abandoned for 25 years. DeLaurenti wanders through the water supply tubes from, I think, one side of the structure to the other. The ultra-thick concrete and smooth, regular nature of the tubes are one source of sound-enhancement but the various irregularities encountered, from small rooms to old trash and boxes to the clear evidence of water on the floor, serve to provide endless layers of detail and elaboration. As does the general background hum, a hum that often seems like a subdued roar. DeLaurenti mentions that the exterior site is a very small town but you have the impression, doubtless amplified by the structure, of vast, swirling highways or streams of energy coursing through the parabolic surfaces. Echoing bangs and whangs are possibly the result of the recordist tossing hard items into the dark, ghostly punctuation. He walks until he's finished, his soggy footsteps trailing out to the open air, the listeners' lives having been subtly enriched by his passage.

Very strong work.

GD Stereo

Monday, June 22, 2015

Susan Alcorn - Soledad (Relative Pitch)

A recording of improvisations for pedal steel guitar (Alcorn) (and bass, Michael Formanek, on one track) on the music of Astor Piazzolla, again save for that one piece, composed by Alcorn.

My experience with Piazzolla's music derives largely from the recordings that began surfacing on the American Clave label in the mid 80s, as well as seeing the concert in Central Park that also saw release. I loved it very much and still do, though I have no real working knowledge of tango as such and have never deeply investigated the genre. Which is all to say that, even if I've previously heard the four compositions presented here--and I do recognize a good bit--I don't "know" them and am approaching this recording on a much more naive level. For that matter, I've only heard Alcorn on a handful of occasions at which times the music has nestled in a decidedly more free jazz/improv area than the sounds heard here.

That said, this is a largely gorgeous recording. With her own playing, as heard on "Suite for AHL", I hear her coming out of a kind of Hans Reichel/Fred Frith area, producing tones I tend to think of as "globular", free but with no aversion to implied rhythms or hazy tonalities. This approach is a fine match for tango, at least Piazzolla's idea of same, which combines both an incredible sense of languor with ferocious sharpness and acerbity, the perfumed rose lying in the cigarette-strewn gutter. The title track sets the tone with gentle but crisply struck chords, luminous but containing shadows, the melody beautifully stated, clear but immediately leaving room for expansion. She keeps to the basic tango melodic structure yet always allows for a certain haze, a tonal ambiguity that I find to be an excellent complement to Piazzolla's conception, never pushing it arbitrarily into atonal free playing. It's likely my favorite track here not only for those reasons but also for its relative concision; elsewhere, on occasion, things linger on a slight bit long. "Invierno Porteño" allows for a bit more diffuse spread into scattered attacks but, again, Alcorn only avails herself of it from time to time, just an added flavor and an acknowledgement of the possibility, remaining in slow to medium-slow tempi, keeping things suitably dark, even interpolating a bit of Bach (?)--can't recall if that was in the original. Piazzolla's "Adiós Nonino", written on the death of his father, is treated similarly though making greater use of rich hums, creating wonderful pools of sound out of which will sometimes emerge delicate cadences or a surprisingly straightforward expression of a theme. Alcorn's suite keeps with the sensibility of the rest of the disc, Formanek contributing with strength and imagination, Alcorn taking the opportunity to offer a few freer forays while also writing themes only tangentially related to tango and quite attractive on their own terms. The concluding piece, "Tristezas de in Doble A" is the one that, at moments, drags a little bit for me, the languidness threatening to overwhelm, Alcorn on occasion venturing perilously close to Frisell territory. But it's a minor quibble.

I've no idea how fans of Alcorn will react to this offering but think that Piazzolla aficionados will receive a huge amount of enjoyment. Recommended.

Nate Wooley - Battle Pieces (Relative Pitch)

A quartet with Wooley (trumpet), Ingrid Laubrock (saxophones, flute), Matt Moran (vibes) and Sylvie Courvosier (piano).

I was expecting to hear more of a Braxton vibe here (he's thanked and the recoding was done at the Tri-Centric Foundation Festival at Roulette) and you can pick up tinges not and then but, to Wooley's credit, there's little of direct import although the Braxtonian conception, I'm sure, had a part to play in this music's development. If anything, I found myself thinking more often of Leo Smith as well as detecting subtle nods to minimalist traditions but overall, it's very Wooley.

The seven tracks alternate "Battle Pieces" (I-IV) and "Deconstruction" (I-III), the latter worked up from tapes of Battle Pieces material. There are sections for solo and duo improvisation scattered throughout and one has the vague sense of some sort of scaffolding holding things together, the solos curling out like tendrils from the latticework. I'd be curious to see the score. Where I find the structure, obscure though it is (to me) intriguing, apart from Wooley himself, I find the language employed by the musicians involved to be somewhat less so. I'm guessing a bit, but I think the moments I find more enjoyable are those penned by Wooley. Where it seems clear we're dealing with improvisation, Laubrock (with traces of Mingus-era Dolphy occasionally emerging), Moran and Courvosier are more than competent but settle in to the sort of phrasing and construction that, for me, has been all too commonly heard over, say, the past 20 years. Again, by no means bad, just unexciting and really non-dangerous. Moran does often use enough distortion to render unto his vibes an old Fender-Rhodes kind of feel, which is welcome. Listeners more attuned to the current avant-jazz scene, particularly that around the compositional axis, will entirely disregard my concerns. Myself, I get the most reward when listening as a kind of chamber music, stepping back enough to appreciate the structure while trying to block out aspects of the individual contributions. In that case, there's much beauty to be found as well as several surprising resolutions that cause one to re-examine what occurred before. Im wondering if this is performed with varying ensembles--could be very interesting.

Still, as is, well worth hearing and a notable addition to Wooley's ever-growing canon.

Relative Pitch

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Alfredo Costa Monteiro - Um Em Um (Monotype)

A searing set from Costa Monteiro, credited with accordion and objects but generating sounds it's hard to imagine not incorporating bows, electronic, etc., but that's how he does on his axe of choice. It starts with keening overtones arriving in harshly shimmering waves, gradually drops into "standard" accordion range/pitch (though augmented with a sputtering gargle and other noises), maintaining the drone consistency but fluctuating mightily. Not so dissimilar in basic form to the his just previously reviewed collaboration with Lali Barrière but the acoustic nature of the sound production necessarily allows for more air, particulate matter and other irregularities that help to sustain extreme interest. The long winding-down process, beginning with a fantastic bellows-like section, is expertly handled, a gradual loss of respiratory functions, settling into a thin whistle. Very strong work, one of my favorite releases from Costa Monteiro.

Mirt - Mud, Dirt & Hiss (Catsun/Monotype)

I'm not quite sure about the provenance here. This was originally issued as a cassette by Catsun, a sub-label of Monotype, whose site lists it as sold out. But this seems to be a joint Catsun/Monotype release, complete with new sleeve, though I couldn't locate it on the Monotype site. In any case, we have a set of propulsive, often burbling electronics, synth-y streams (as is likely too often the case, I'm reminded of old Roger Powell tracks, e.g. "Cosmic Furnace") offset by crystalline percussive clatter and breathy sounds. Thrums proliferate, coastal birds appear, soon joined by more rhythms, a kind of Jon Hassell/Fourth World bit of action--very attractive, actually. The album continues in this vein, those kind of rhythms, vaguely tropical (Hector Zazou also springs to mind) but also decidedly Western, some loopy synth, the occasional pastoral interlude with flutes, bells and birds. I hate to say it but I challenge anyone to listen to "Swamp 2" and not think of "Evening Star". A quirky release but engaging enough if the sort of synth-rhythms described above appeal to you.

Astrïd - The West Lighthouse Is Not So Far (Monotype)

Astrïd is: Vanina Andréani (violin, juno, rhodes, crumar, harmonium, metallophone[Junos and Crumars are electric keyboards, I believe]), Yvan Ros (drums, rhodes, harmonium, metallophone), Cyril Secq (guitars, bowed guitars, juno, piano, charango, harmonium) and Guillaume Wickel (clarinets, rhodes, harmonium, saxophone). All those harmoniums! They're been around, at least as a duo of Ros and Secq, since 1997 but this is my first encounter with their work. Well, I'm not sure if it's a good thing that one's initial impression is of someone else's music but it's often tough to avoid. Here, Loren Connors rings out loud and clear, the clear, mournful, bluesy guitar over an organ-like bed of tones and free percussion. There's also, led by the mordant violin, a kind of Godspeed vibe, though a shade or two lighter and more polished, the latter not necessarily a good thing. Indeed, the arrangements are well-crafted enough and there are the requisite daubs of world music accents that this cold have appeared on Nonesuch in the 90s and received a good bit of airplay on NPR. Nice, somber colors throughout but too precious by half for my taste; it will certainly appeal to the darker fringes of the Frisell contingent.

Rydberg - s/t (Monotype)

Rydberg, I discovered, was a Swedish physicist who has both a highly regarded constant and a moon crater named for him. Here, it's the duo of Nicholas Bussmann (sampler, electronics) and Werner Dafeldecker (function generator, electronics). The first of three tracks, "Elevator", starts ingratiatingly enough, gentle faux-cello strums in an ambient soundscape, soon infiltrated by slow beats, which make for a kind of duet with that "cello", rather plaintive and attractive, slowly bleeding out into a hazier space, the beats still there but dissolving a bit. It's a lovely, complex location with much "minor" activity occurring--think a less fussy Radian. "Gardening" is a little jauntier, again, as in some of the music from Mirt, striking me as relating to investigations begun long ago by Jon Hassell. There's an interesting kind of discretion in play, the pair laying back, issuing new lines unaggressively (another sampled cello, if I'm not mistaken), allowing the steady but unplodding beat to absorb the various elements in stride, though it overstays its welcome a tad. In the final track, "And the Science", everything is given over to the beat and, to my ears, a pretty dull one, oppressively regular with tiresome synthed sock cymbals; the ornamentation with squelches and static can only do so much. It's very well produced, sounds great and has its charms but, obviously, will appeal to those who have more tolerance for regular beats than I do.

Dokuro - Avalon (Monotype)

Another duo, here with Agnes Szelag (electric cello, voice, electronics) and The Norman Conquest (synthesizers, sound manipulation). Szelag was part of a fine release with Jason Hoopes a couple of years back though I hadn't been too taken by what I'd previously heard from, um, Mr. Conquest. Fifteen tracks, not quite all of a piece but certainly sharing a general mode of attack: clouds of synth--hazy, ringing, growling--, darkly melodic cello lines, ethereal vocals hovering. Dark, intricate gauze, but gauze all the same. At its harshest (cuts like "23"), the pair approximates a pretty tame Galas. Rhythms surface intermittently, but never with any interest. Not my cuppa by any means.

Dave Phillips/Hiroshi Hasegawa - Insect Apocalypse (Monotype)

Six tracks from Phillips (field recordings from various jungles) and Hasegawa (filters, effects). I haven't been all that crazy about what (little) I've heard from Phillips in the past and I'm not sure if this isn't my first exposure to Hasegawa. Perhaps it's in relation to the previous releases in this review (with the exception of the excellent Costa Monteiro), but the music herein struck these ears as positively refreshing in context. The tapes are wielded imaginatively and with some degree of abandon, the interactions occurring in unexpected sequences, the noises themselves of reasonable interest. The insectile and other sources can be discerned lurking though they're all but buried in the dusty swirl. Pulses emerge now and then but don't overwhelm, approaches vary from engagingly assaultive to eerily subdued. A nice job finessing the field recording/soundscape divide, with less harshness than I might have expected but a lot of finely sifted grit. Worth hearing.


Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Meridian - Tuyeres (Caduc)

This one is presented me with some problems early on. Meridian is a percussion trio with Tim Feeney, N. Hennies and Greg Stuart, all of whom have provided me with great amounts of aural pleasure in the past. There are three tracks, lasting about 20, 15 and 7 minutes and, although I assume they possess at least a minimum of pre-conceived structure, no compositional credits are given. Also, the second work feeds directly into the third, despite the track differentiation. Even though there are often spaces of (near) silence between sections, on first listen I had the odd impression that a lot of it was improvised; the structure didn't leap out at me. After multiple listens, my guess is that the trio was going for a chaos vs. order dynamic, erecting a framework then (often) filling it in with masses of irregular, thorny and amorphous sounds. I could be wrong. I could also ask but I generally prefer not to. (This subject came up last week speaking with Jürg Frey and we agreed on the preference of simply reacting to what one hears without necessarily--at least for the moment--learning any unprovided details).

If the pieces are, in fact, something on the order of time-bracket works, I suppose the question resolves around the choices made (depending on latitude given) by the musicians. I'll further stick my neck out and guess that there was some degree of intent to go, for lack of a better term, beyond typical Wandelweiser tendencies, that is, to generally eschew the pared-down in deference to the tumultuous and difficult-to-isolate. So, for example, early on in the first track there's a complex rattle (perhaps sticks and other detritus on drum head? but also some watery sounds) alongside a dry, high whistling tone, all presented at substantial volume, linear in a sense but chaotic within that linearity. A severe thwack appears on its own, a drumroll commences. Often a regular component will serve to offset one or more woolier ones. There's an incredible sequence right near the end of the first track, an amazingly complex, off-kilter clatter. These "steps", so to speak, or movements sometimes strike me as borderline random; Curious to discover if any sort of system was involved. At the conclusion of the first piece, I'm left both invigorated by much of the content, a little dissatisfied with the overall form, though I suspect that's due to more to my inability to grasp than anything else. The next piece has a different character, at first playing three very separate rhythmic or quasi-rhythmic figures off one another: a steady tom-tom roll, an insistent dry tap and some slightly askew rim hits (I think). Again, it's unsettling in a way; you expect things to cohere but they refuse to do so, instead lighting out on their own trajectories, until one final *smack* ends that chapter. Broadly speaking, this approach continues in the following section, the individual elements varying, but then it splays out into an all rubbed/bowed area, sounding like a nest of Prévosts, eventually erupting in a squall of shrieks, bangs, harsh, loud rasps and grinding, resistant clicks. It might be great; I have a feeling I'll figure it out in time. Right now, I'm weirdly both baffled and awed. Some of these sounds, plus a bizarrely out of context snare roll, merge into the final track, the music soon melting into a lovely, rubbery thrum (no idea how achieved), the trio coursing through this territory, sounding like rapids, before shuddering to a halt.

I'm pretty much won over, though I'm sure there's more for me to ferret out an appreciate here. Not at all what I would have expected, always a refreshing thing. Do give a listen.

Blaast - from one coordinate to uncoordination (Caduc)

Another bit of unexpectedness as we find old favorites Lali Barrière and Alfredo Costa Monteiro wielding synthesizers instead of trumpets, accordions, turntables, paper, etc.

The work is a continuous drone of sorts, complex but essentially tonal. Its path is unbroken. The amplitude fluctuates somewhat but more importantly, the texture and timbre varies a good deal, perhaps charting a course from the more purely synth-sounding to an area more in the organ neck of the woods, again out into the electronic ether, back and forth over its 73 minutes. By the nature of the sounds employed, there's a lot of microtonal activity--portions are reminiscent of Partch's Chromolodeon. I guess Eliane Radigue's electronic works would also be a reference point. Beyond that, it's hard to say too much. It's significant insofar as it is, at least to the extent I know the prior work of Barrière and Costa Monteiro (much less of the former than the latter) such a departure from earlier work. The music is perfectly enjoyable, much fun to up the volume and wallow within. I can imagine experiencing it live and getting reasonably lost. I can't say that, essentially, it stands out from similar work, although one respects the perseverance involved and, I'm guessing, the depth of layering that I may be able to only partially distinguish. It didn't knock me out but it sits reasonably well on its own and, as said, forms an intriguing addition to the canon of each musician. Curious if there's a follow up or expansion. [Checking, I see this soundcloud file, under Barrière's name, titled "Blaast 1", which is in the same ballpark; I assume there's more I've missed.]


Monday, June 08, 2015

Yannick Dauby - chang, factory (Kalerne Editions)

A dystopic essay, "repeated gestures in a decaying factory, empty ritual for a globalized reverie", using field recordings taped in Xinzhuang, Taiwan. Dauby does an excellent job, conjuring up a bleak but endlessly detailed, claustrophobic world, where events materialize subtly, gaining power before you're aware of it it. Nothing is too spectacular, the sounds brewing for a good while, assuming prominence, burning or rotting away. Theres an overtone-rich hum on occasion that sounds like a ghost-choir of Tuvan singers. Gradually, sounds one might normally associate with factories intrude, though murky and ill-defined, as though smothered in wool: repetitive, banging, mutedly clinking. It passes through a more watery phase, equally desolate and beautiful before concluding with a sequence soft ringing tones, bell signals heard through an acidic haze, Exceedingly well-crafted and through out, an excellent, subtly frightening soundscape.

Yannick Dauby - Vescagne, Salèse (Kalerne Editions)

Dauby treads far different territory on this release--two tracks, the first recorded in a lignite mine in Vescagne (inactive), the second on an Alpine mountain, Caïre Archas. "Lignite" is mysterious while also being rather luminous and transparent, bearing a number of surprisingly "musical" sounds, zither-like strums and resonant, warm booms. Clearly composed and, I imagine, processing the field recordings a good bit (I could be wrong), it works very well, calm but with a subtly disturbing undercurrent, as though Dauby is disturbing an area that would rather be left on its own. The second cut is full of air, ice and snow, very much outdoors, with crows cawing, snow crunching, wind flowing...as well as distant engines. The presumably electronically-produced drones add quite a bit of drama to the central section of the work. When they dissipate, leaving behind its echo and a wash of liquids, the effect is somehow very magical. It ends with several minutes of...I'm not sure, except it sounds like someone slogging through heavy, packed snow, deep in a crevice. Both pieces are very strong, really well designed and realized of this type.

Kalerne Editions

Jonas Kocher/Ilan Manouach - Skeleton Drafts (Bruit)

Accordion/saxophone (all soprano, I think) duets existing in that increasingly common tract of improvisation wherein essentially efi attacks--quick flurries of notes, saxophonics that can trace their lineage back to Evan Parker, etc.--manifest in space that allows for substantial silence, the periods of non-playing clearly contributing to the structure of the overall piece. It's an area I often find a bit uncomfortable, somewhat oil and water in that the played sounds don't always strike me as respectful enough, so to speak, of the silence, perhaps overly insistent on their primacy. Kocher, unlike many times I've heard him, plays in a more or less traditional manner (that is, using the keys and buttons of his ax as is normally done) and Manouach (who I don't believe I've heard before) does similarly, venturing into standard extended techniques but nothing too radical. Over three medium length tracks, the playing is concise and able but utilizes a language that doesn't engage me very much, too many vestiges of a kind of free improvisation heard many times before with nothing special added. Not bad, to be sure, no worse than many others but I've heard Kocher in far more interesting and challenging contexts. The blurb on the Bruit site posits a questioning of these approaches; perhaps I'm missing it, but I don't hear so many answers presented. ]]


Sunday, June 07, 2015

Steve Flato - Exhaust System (Kendra Steiner Editions)

I always find it especially exciting when a musician understands that some previous worked had opened up numerous potential pathways and acts creatively upon this discovery, which is what has occurred here. Using Alvin Lucier's classic, "I Am Sitting in a Room" as a starting point, Flato expands out from some of its basic ideas (not merely imitating certain particulars) and has formed a marvelous, immersive and entirely engaging piece of music.

It's scored for three clarinets, oboe, bassoon, cello, bass and sine waves (all in just intonation), No playing credits seem to be available; if Flato has begun to play all these instruments, it's news to me. Flato's words explain the process well:

In Exhaust System, each instrument is on its own timeline. The process, instead of linearly like Lucier, works backwards, from the middle, going 2x speed, half speed, etc and through different permutations. This creates a counterpoint between the instruments texturally and harmonically. Additionally, all the “swelling” notes played by the instruments was done so through a Reaktor script that randomized when these swelling events would happen. The effect is a shimmering, pulsating wave of sonorities that moves and changes so slowly that you can’t quite perceive any differentiation.

The tonality is deep and rich, those "swells" emerging and receding in a constant, slow flux, the specific interactions and overlappings always shifting. Flato also cites Terry Riley's "Persian Surgery Dervishes" and yes, that feeling is in the air as well. The thickness of the sonic plies varies throughout--dense here, thinner there, and the contrast between acoustic and electronic elements is always in evidence, the latter often providing a wonderful, icy, even alien shimmer to offset the ultra-warm and cozy reeds and strings. It's decidedly a process piece, simply allowed to unfurl, though the randomizing effect keeps one guessing a bit more than, say, the Lucier work, where the listener has a general idea of the direction of the gradual decay. The journey is a joy, endlessly blooming variations on a theme. Quite a surprise from Flato, at least insofar as my knowledge of his earlier work led me to believe, but a very welcome one.

Highly recommended, excellent work.

Kendra Steiner Editions

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Ingrid Schmoliner - карлицы сюита (Corvo)

An impressive suite of six pieces for prepared piano, inspired by the legend of Percht, a pagan goddess of the Alpine regions. Four of the six tracks involve propulsive rhythmic work while two are more serene. The preparations she uses seem to be not uncommon--a couple of the pieces remind me of Cages "Dances for Piano", but with more driving force, less gamelan (though that tonality is heard on "grul") and one track, "Бaбa-Яra", is remarkably reminiscent of the main spine from Rzewski's "Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues"--but Schmoliner has a fine sense of restricted color. I often found myself thinking of strong charcoal drawings with just hints of umber or ocher, something in the Kiefer range. She tends to set a pace, sometimes verging on the relentless (but not overly crowded) then seeds it with these delicate offshoots, dabs of sound that are gone before you know it like enticing images glimpsed from a hurtling train. On "Balaena mysticetus", presumably an homage to whale song, she bows the strings with great sensitivity, summoning wonderful waving moans while on "Teadin", she makes effective use of e-bow. Otherwise, it's full steam ahead, no looking back.

A solid, imaginative and finely performed recording--I'm eager to hear more from Schmoliner.

Isabelle Duthoit/Franz Hautzinger/Matija Schellander/Petr Vrba - Esox Lucius (Corvo)

A quartet (Duthoit, clarinet, voice; Hautzinger, quartertone trumpet; Schellander, modular synth; Vrba, trumpet, vibrating speakers) operating on that border between eai and free improv with more of a tendency toward the latter insofar as a relative lack of concern with aspects of silence or the inherent quality of a given sound and more concerned with maintaining a kind of conversational approach. They skirt a more abstract area on sections of pieces like "Check Radio" with its layers of soft static-like sheets and low burbles, clanks and wheezes form the horns but by and large, they adopt a more active, bristling attack, everyone almost always contributing. Even with the synth, one gets the impression of a horn quartet of sorts, which is a rather interesting way to listen. The dynamics remain fairly quiet throughout and the surface is resolutely active and prickly, the synth echoing the sort of goose-bumpy sounds that Hautzinger likes to generate. What they do, they do very well although it's not something that intrigues me so much, more interesting sound creation, less any overall conception of note that I can discern. Mileage, of course, varies.


Martin Tétreault - Sofa So Good (Tanuki)

A one-sided cassette release (Side B left open for the listener's own use), reviewed via CDr.

Though I've heard Tétreault's work for a long time, at least since his releases on Ambiance Magnétiques in the mid-90s, I've never followed it very closely, so doubtless have an incomplete notion with regard to the span of his sound. I've tended to think of it as very active, rapid-fire turntabling but I'm guessing that's a mistaken or at least incomplete conception. That said, I've no idea if the sounds heard here are even partially representative of his work, being both long-form and fairly smooth. Vinyl is definitely used though perhaps other electnoics as well, although it's only on occasion that one picks up the telltale clicks and scratches. You're immediately immersed in faded tones that recall fun house or skating rink organs, all warped and hazy, all buried in a morass of subaqueous hum and reverberation. There are some interesting, clipped percussive elements (backwards sounds, I think) that add some grit, some flotsam, but overall it's an attractive kind of murk, if carrying a sarcastic, even silly tone due to the quavering, sonic quality of the organs. Maybe a soupçon of Sun Ra. The music expands and contracts, lurches into a slowly rotating, grinding kind of area about midway through, full of deep washes and thuds, probably my favorite moments. It remains pretty much in pone place, far less frenetic and jittery than most of my previous experience with Tétreault. I don't find it terribly exciting but interesting in that it opened up a new facet of his work for me.


Monday, June 01, 2015

So, it's with substantial sadness but, admittedly, no small sense of relief that I'm announcing my virtual retirement from the music reviewing life.

As many of you know, Betsy and I are moving back to the US in a couple of months and I'd like to devote much more time to painting and drawing, something that's been difficult given the volume of new music that regularly appears in my mailbox (stuff you actually have to spend time listening to...). It's still really a huge amount of fun (mostly) but there are simply things I'd rather be doing for the time being. I'm sure I'll still write about new releases when the music moves me enough to do so, but I'm putting the kibosh on the routine of reviewing almost everything that comes my way. I'll still be here for a while as I promise to write up the pile of releases currently sitting on my table (20-30 of 'em) as well as any that are already in the mail and happen to trickle in over the next week or so but after that, all bets are off. I'll also look through the d/l items still sitting in my in-box, but make no promises on those. And I'll still keep my oars slightly in the water by doing a few reviews for Squid's Ear.

In any case: Please stop sending me music! There will be no one here to receive them in a couple of months anyway (no forwarding Paris to US is going to happen) but I'd appreciate it if the mail ceases quickly.

I can't say enough how thankful and touched I am that so many musicians, labels and listeners have steered things my way over the years. Thank you, thank you. It's been wonderful experiencing music I'd never otherwise have had the opportunity to hear and the greater part of my regret in closing up shop is the nagging feeling I know will surface regularly that I'm missing something vital, but so it goes. And I'm always especially moved by the notes I get from readers thanking me for the service I've provided in at least shedding some light on this music--it's the least I could do. Plus there are other excellent, younger writers out there (Ed Howard, Lucas Schleicher and more) who are more than able to pick up some of the slack and probably have sharper ears to boot.

Back to the lingering reviews later this week; should last me through the month, at least.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

The vinyl keeps on a-comin'

Robert Piotrowicz/Lukáš Jiřička - Samoobrona (Bôłt)

"Samoobrona" is a play written by Helmut Kajzar in the mid-70s which had been recorded for radio and elsewhere. Piotrowicz and Jiřička have taken the text (which I think was already conceived in fragmented form) and created a piece of radio theatre, further fragmenting, treating and redeploying the words while embedding them in a thick, vibrant mass of electronic sound. As much of a general problem I have with acousmatic music, I keep on finding examples of it (more or less) that contradict those issues and here's another one. The sounds are dense, swirling, occasionally rhythmic, the texts (in, I take it, Polish, though an English translation is provided in the inner sleeve) sliced and diced, the atmosphere infested with magnetic clangs, sizzling buzzes, whistling caroms and much more--yet it works for me. Some gorgeous moments here, as on Side B when a chorus of tones, like a pack of alien howler monkeys, erupts, surrounding the voices, threatening yet beautiful. The piece is very well paced, exciting to listen through despite not understanding the text. I'm not familiar with Jiřička's work and can't parse out his particular contributions, but I can say that, in terms of quality, this fits in very well with Piotrowicz's previous music and, indeed, is one of my favorite productions from him thus far.


R. Schwarz - The Scale of Things (Gruenrekorder)

An extremely impressive set of orchestrated electronics and field recordings from Schwarz, orchestrated in the sense of deeply constructed (at least, that's the feeling I get) from sounds captured in Europe, Africa and China, enhanced and integrated with synthesizers. I wouldn't go so far as to say "symphonic" but more like a tone poem, the elements densely layered with an implied sense of drama, even loose narrative, streams of dark buzzes and hums coursing through thickets of thistles and clangs. Per notes on the site, "based on the exploration of nature recordings for unheard details and hidden layers, focused on patterns of stochastic order and unique chaos created without musical intention." Though the sounds differ substantially, each of the seven tracks bristles with a similar energy and strong feeling of plasticity, sending the listener plunging through a cascade of noise, almost a sensory overload but so clearly limned as to to eliminate any possible cloying. Musique concrète without the overbearing and assaultive aspect that so often inhibits enjoyment for me. Really, really fine work.

Roger Döring/Konrad Korabiewski - Komplex (Gruenrekorder/Skálar)

Döring plays clarinets, tenor and baritone saxophones and Korabiewski supplies electronics, the pieces also ceding space to the environments in which they were recorded. The reed playing is generally somber and smooth, stating simple melodies with a dirge or folk character (reminded me of the slower portions of that old Skidmore/Osbourne/Surman recording on Ogun), only once delving into distortion when he runs the sound through a dictaphone. The electronics are very subtle, sometimes hardly there, although there's also either overdubbing of the reeds or real-time sampling. The music is moodily bleak, melancholic with a tendency toward sentiment. But at times, a certain balance is reached and the music floats wonderfully. "flucht", where Döring is on baritone, is my favorite track, one that recalls Roscoe Mitchell/AEC with deep, mournful flutters mixed with gradually strengthening scratchy interference-excellent. Most of the rest, while entirely pleasant, dwells in one area a bit overmuch; I'd like to have heard more chances taken.


Alessandra Eramo - Roars Bangs Booms (Corvo)

A 7" with eight brief pieces for voice and electronics using onomatopoeic words derived from Russolo's 1913 text, "The Art of Noises". As much as I often have my own difficulties with "free" vocal work, this set, perhaps due to its brevity and concentratedness, poses few such problems. Eramo inhabits these references to urbanization with gusto, not overdoing it, not allowing the electronics to dominate, but giving a forceful, pared down performance, guttural in parts, sibilant in others, even humorous on occasion as with (if I have my track demarcation right--there are no times or visual cues on the disc) "borbottii" low growls. Concise and well-handled.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wander - Wander (Nothing Out There)

Wander is the acoustic guitar duo of Vincenzo De Luce and Matteo Tranchesi, here presenting six tranquil, hazy songs grouped in a single track. I get the sense that the pieces have been at least roughed out, not entirely improvised but I could be wrong. There's such an air of languidness about them, a very attractive one, imparting the sensation of lazy, hot afternoons. As in De Luce's prior work that I've heard, you can pick up the influence of Fahey, sure, but here I get more of a Robbie Basho vibe, minus the Indian references. The attack sharpens now and then (portions of "dust and weins", for instance) and occasional regular pulses enter but there's an overall similarity of approach that, depending on one's tastes might be too much gentle lolling or, considering how lovingly it's played here, not enough. I found it an eminently enjoyable listen if not such a demanding one, though I doubt that was their purpose.

Nothing Out There

Hafdís Bjarnadóttir - Sounds of Iceland Íslandshljóð (Gruenrekorder)

More a documentary project than an "art" affair, I suppose, and an extremely handsomely produced one, both visually and sonically. Each of the seven tracks, save one (which is less than two minutes long) is comprised of three or four sections recorded at different locations; we move smoothly from one to another. This could occasion a slide-show quality but the choices made by Bjarnadóttir impart a subtle sense of connectivity, so that the side by side aspect feels "right" somehow. We travel from the delicate bubbling of hot springs to soft cave drippings, from waterfalls to bird-intensive cliff sides, from windswept plateaus to geysers. Impossible to say much more about it than that. If you're into lovingly assembled recordings from exotic (to most) places in the natural world , tis one is right up your alley. Really fine job.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Cathnor, as part of its most recent batch of releases (including that fly thing from my previous post), has issued four CDr albums.

Jack Harris - and neither had either of us seen anything more moving than the layers of a children's birthday cake, baked upon the heath

Apart from sporting the most unwieldy album title of the decade, there's not much information to be gleaned about the sounds herein. They're compiled from field recordings, to be sure (Harris' with contributions from Matthew Webb and Samuel Rodgers) and I take it there's a good deal of interweaving and construction in play. Whatever the case, it's a fantastic amalgamation, one of my favorite releases from recent months. There are several "episodes", separated by an uneasy quiet. On the surfaces, many of the initial soundscapes are banal enough: distant traffic, a bloke attempting to curb his dog, children, etc. but there's always something lurking beneath the crust, a thrum of one kind or another, often barely audible, as though the recordings have taking place above some subterranean power plant. As ever, I'm somewhat baffled by what it is exactly that renders some examples of this field so extraordinarily attractive to these ears, others not. But there's some kind of subtlety in play, a tenuous infiltration of rhythms and, of course, simply the poeticism of the choices made. That thrum bides its sweet time, oozing along beneath unsuspecting vehicles until exploding to the surface around the 45 minute mark, obliterating everything in its surge, the landscape reduced to random pulsations where once there were dogs, birds and children, leaving behind only the odd bump, scrape and ghost voice.

Excellent work.

Martin Küchen/Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga - Bauchredner

Amusing when doing an image search for the cover, to come across all these shots of ventriloquists...

An intriguing pairing, Küchen's guttural, intense saxophonics combined with Lazaridou-Chatzigoga's rough, extreme zither. Apparently a more literal translation of Bauchredner, per Clive Bell's liner notes, is "one who talks from the belly" which seems apropos. Küchen plays in a more abstract mode than he has on several recent solo releases, fitting more into Lazaridou-Chatzigoga's approach, his output spittle-filled, granular, breathily harsh (though never, thankfully, attempting to hide the fact that it's a saxophone) alongside the zither's varied grindings and hums, often achieved, I think, with motorized devices. The sound combination is excellent throughout and something quite unique to boot, a flavor rarely encountered. The playing is incisive, uncompromising and entirely non-sentimental, filled with long tones that writhe and bristle unpredictably. Good, tough music.

Jason Kahn - untitled for four

Two versions of a graphic score by Kahn (analog synth, mixing board, radio) with Patrick Farmer (cd players, prepared loudspeakers), Sarah Hughes (zither, piano) and Dominic Lash (double bass). Though no score is included in the release, Kahn sent one on.It's an hour long, divided into five minute segments which themselves have a top and bottom half. Within each player's line, graphic designs appear (if you're familiar with Kahn's cover art over the last coupe of decades, you're in the ballpark), more or less limited by the time segments, lasting from rive to fifteen minutes. Their height varies, something I imagine is normally taken as volume level, although I suppose it could be anything. There are 18 such portions, each bearing a unique pattern. Each player has three or four five-minute sections which are silent, resulting in a series of duos, trios (only one of these, in fact) and quartets. So much for the layout, now to the sounds. They tend to be long, relatively quiet though extending up to medium-loud and on the harsh, dry and abstract side, making the occasional emergence of something like a lone piano not from Hughes all the more striking. The two hours is a great deal to try and take in, the sounds walking a line between contemplation and agitation, the larger forms suggested by the score lending just enough structure to grasp. There are a number of individually wonderful moments and, when one can mentally imbed these within the frame Kahn has devised, one can catch glimmers of a pretty engrossing, challenging work. Recommended and a solid addition to Kahn's sizable oeuvre.

Pascal Battus - désincantation indécantation

Per the sleeve, Battus uses only "rotating objects" for this set of eight tracks which, at least as far as the number of occasions I've seen him perform in the past two years, represents a fairly small portion of his potential activity. A good thing, in my opinion, as he has a tendency sometimes to range widely through whatever he brings to a concert and I've often found myself wishing he'd concentrate on a particular aspect for longer periods. You can pick up the rotational attributes of the sounds here without much difficulty and, given the abstract nature of the sounds, they provide a certain kind of structural grammar to the pieces, again very welcome. That said, it remains a tough one to crack, Battus' sound coming across as rather thin and brittle (often the case and, no doubt, intentional) offering few handholds much less solace to the ear, sometimes generating whines that carry a mosquito-like irritation factor. I found myself most attracted to the lower key, more fluttery and airier tracks, still tough little kernels but with that buffer zone enveloping the sharp, sizzling electric flashes. A prickly, difficult set to embrace but rewarding more often than not.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Various Artists - one man and a fly (Cathnor)

On June 28th, 2012, a fly (name withheld on request) gave a performance in an Oxfordshire church. The dipteran sound artist made great use of space and the ambient atmosphere, all of which is richly captured in this recording. He intrudes into the sound field only when necessary, otherwise allowing the listener to dwell in the noises of the moment: the interior hum of the church, external traffic including a particularly loud lawn mower, airplanes, birds, a seasoned gentleman making low moans, breath sounds and metallic taps and sift scrapes on a trombone, etc. all of which, via the choices made by the fly with regard to dynamics and spatial proximity, are woven into a fantastic, breathing, air-ful event, tinged with subtle and fluctuating colors, more easily experienced than described. There's something of Taku Sugimoto in his approach, perhaps even sparer, though perhaps his choices were occasioned by the inherent richness in that space, an acquiescence to the beauty that was already resident there, for example the way in which the lawn mower (if indeed, that was the source) and the low brass instrument merge perfectly--why add anything? This reticence, still so rare and so exquisitely executed here, results in a singular, wonderful work, one that should be heard by all.


Monday, May 04, 2015

Grisha Shakhnes - All this trouble for nothing (Glistening Examples)

With this release, his second for Glistening Examples, Shakhnes continues to carve out a unique and vigorous shape for his music in these six varied tracks largely composed from, I take it, processed tape sources. "utopia" surges right in with densely layered, chugging sounds, sometimes recalling the massed steps of troops but more a churning mix, as from blades in water. But nothing remains in stasis long here as some buried guitar notes (I think?) are heard followed by an extended alarm bell, a rising tone like an impossibly long vocal intonation, balafon (and an mbira?), deepening churns, thin piano chords, wave after wave, very impressive and deeply immersive. You're somehow not surprised when, toward the end of this 8-minute journey, tablas appear, the scene shifting eastward from Israel (Shakhnes' home base). Nicely programmed, this is followed by more of a steady-state piece, "counterpoint", all traffic rumble and I imagine much more packed in, a great mass of woolliness with interesting forward momentum. "mar. 18, 2015" starts in adjacent territory, with a low, bubbling environment, maybe even molten, but also you can just pick out, at first, some hazy piano, back behind the steam, wonderfully dreamy and uncertain. Muffled ticking (clocks?) emerges, the bubbling beginning to sound more like manhandled, crumpled tapes, the keyboard becoming more apparent but remaining indistinct--a fine, ultra-evocative and troubling track. Shakhnes switches gears abruptly with "hectic light (allemagne-palestine)", the latter presumably referring to he of the cognac and teddy bears as the listener is enveloped in swirls of repeated keyboard figures and drones, rather spacey (though concluding with an intriguing bit of seemingly unrelated and hard-nosed clicks) and unlike anything I've heard before from Shakhnes. I'm not sure I'm entirely convinced but am glad to hear him exploring alternate pathways. "every other summer" plunges back into the inferno, offering a resonant cavern of fire intersected by clear, ringing tones and subtler mid-range ones boring into more distant surfaces. But Shakhnes has yet more up his sleeve as we hear the title cut to close out the album. Bowed strings, perhaps a cello, flutter like large moths in a dusty space, dozens of them. Some scraping relatively high, others trouble low, loose cords, grinding to a slow motion finish. Part of me wants to think it's an actual score for string ensemble, but I doubt it. Insistent, uncomfortable and utterly fantastic.

Shakhnes' oeuvre, including works under the name Mites, has maintained a level of excellence for a number of years now. This one ups the ante even further. Do check it out.

Glistening Examples

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Burkhard Stangl/Steve Bates - Hopefullessness (The Dim Coast)

An improvised guitar/electronics duo (Stangl doubling on CD player). The first track begins with quite the rockish fanfare; I'm assuming that's largely due to Bates, whose work I otherwise don't know, a guess confirmed by the eventual soft strumming heard beneath, a sound area much more in keeping with Stangl. It makes for a nice dichotomy, kind of a sacred and profane deal. That piece only lasts some four minutes and leads to the pair of longer improvisations. "One" is slow and thoughtful, very much in Schnee-like territory (without pop covers), a series of resonant chords that perhaps recall Loren Connors, plus some good, harsh static so things don't cloy. Indeed, they threaten to crumble and collapse, the narrative hanging by a thread, before they regroup and head off in a different direction, one of sustained chords and an electric, dripping figure and outward into stormy, molten free form scapes though retaining an essentially rock-like feel. "Three" comes across as the fullest expression here.zAgain, it's fairly mellow and slow-paced but richer and, interestingly, less comfortable, not in an overt way but subtly so--the same rocking motion that lulls you can imprison you. A sparer, less over the top Godspeed might be a referent.

Enjoyable, not essential, but always good to hear Stangl.

The Dim Coast

BRGS - Endless Walls (Zvočni Prepihi)

BRGS - Overture for a New Beginning (Zvočni Prepihi)

BRGS - Slices of Old Cntinent/Ethiopia (Zvočni Prepihi)

BRGS - Slices of Old Continent/Liberia (Zvočni Prepihi)

BRGS is Slovenian musician Jaka Berger working largely with percussion and electronics. "Endless Walls" involves subtle and patient manipulation of what seem to be processed percussion samples, including backward tapes. On "Wall 1", they seep in and out of the sound field, giving somewhat the impression of vehicles emerging on a night road, passing by and disappearing--concise and well-realized. The other piece, "Wall 2", uses much the same elements, I think, but is far more active and chaotic. The activity flits by instead of slowly driving through and is, necessarily, more concentrated and varied. On the surface, the music is not so dissimilar from any number of past efforts by others, though BRGS has a nice underlying tonal thing going on, kind of bridging abstraction and melodicism, especially in parts of "Wall 2", in a way that's both appealing and reserved.

"Overture for a New Beginning" is a more ambient affair with BRGS apparently using samples from various Western classical sources over wave sounds and such, melding them into an undulating, shifting loop that acquires a organ/synth-like texture. There's a quasi-pulse lurking beneath that rush the pace more than you think at first, imparting a welcome, partially hidden dynamism. It gradually unspools into a denser, more kaleidoscopic field, the sounds centering around a tuning "A" but also becoming, oddly enough, more interesting as they do so. It gets to a kind of blurred Terry Riley stage, nice and lush, then slowly becomes thinner, more brittle, with new lines appearing within the wall of sound, including something that resembles a clarion call. A single, 36-minute piece that maintains interest throughout, entirely enjoyable.

The pair of recordings sourcing the sounds of Ethiopia and Liberia are both short (16-18 minutes) and essentially process music from the areas via various electronic manipulations, in the former case filtering through backward mutation akin to that done on "Endless Walls"). While it sounds fine, part of me wanted to hear the original pieces, especially the sung ones, without alteration. The Liberian disc uses a bunch of percussion samples (balafons, perhaps), overlaid, with infiltrating voices, very attractive, summoning up a dreamy, Reich-like world.

Zvočni Prepihi

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Off on holiday to England, back in a week or so.

Costis Drygianakis - Άδηλα και κρύφια (no label)

A mix of field recordings, sounds from You Tube footage (largely dealing with war, death and other atrocities) and musical contributions from, among many others, Elena Kakaliagou (french horn), Kostis Kilymis (recordings, electronics), Nicolas Malevitsis (noises) and Nikos Vekliotis (cello)

Sonically, it's a pretty rich stew, taped sounds from multiple sources overlaid, interspersed with abstract electronics, voices, the occasional sound of a traditional instrument. There's always the danger, of course, using sources with programmatic baggage such as war footage, that matters will become heavy-handed and forced. For my money, Drygianakis largely avoids this although he skirts close every so often (toward the end of the third track, for instance, where you're plunged into the midst of a pitched battle). There are well-realized, lengthy stretches of hollow, more desolate areas wherein the dramatics of a firefight might stand out, whether too obviously or not is a judgment call. For me, the evident anguish tends to carry the day over any kind of manipulation, the sounds of conflict being read as such, not as mere effects. There is, for example, a fine passage where you hear a bird call, isolated, with the very distant sound of explosions, soon accompanied by what seems to be a ghostly, shakuhachi-like flute and forlorn string plucks. If there's a musical reference that tends to crop up while listening, it's Simon Fisher Turner's work for Derek Jarman, although no pop or ambient elements surface here. There's a lot going on here and I pick up more each time I listen; an interesting, unusual work, well wroth checking out.

Drygianakis' bandcamp site

Daunik Lazro/Guillame Belhomme - Vieux Carré/Sales Rectangles (Lenka Lente)

Another text/music publication by the intriguing Lenka Lente house. Here, Lazro, who has worked with Joe McPhee in the past (I recall the "Elan.Impulse" duo disc from the late 80s) takes on the beautiful McPhee composition, "Vieux Carré", first heard on the Hat hut release "Graphics" from 1977, a personal favorite of mine. It's a 10-minute solo baritone performance (this is a 3" disc), recorded live in 2011 in Rouen, in a space where you can hear a good deal of ambient sound that works very well with the music. Lazro interpolates some Monk but largely sticks to relatively traditional variations on McPhee's lovely, melancholic melody. Short but entirely sweet, such a strong tune. Belhomme's text consists of fragments--paragraphs or single lines--mostly in French, that refer to Lazro and McPhee (and jazz in general) but also include semi-random extracts from conversation and fleeting reflections on various activities in the world, each portion separated by a barcode, which lends a cynical air.

A good, handsome package, well put together. Lazro's performance is fine and I imagine would be a welcome addition to the collections of McPhee enthusiasts.

Lenka Lente

Sunday, April 19, 2015

VA AA LR - polis (Intonema)

Wherein our favorite initials-only trio (Vasco Alves, Adam Asnan, Louie Rice) take sounds from earlier installations, including the conversations of passersby and/or gallery goers, and place unexpected emphasis on rhythmic elements, albeit slow, even drippy ones.

We hear three pieces, each carrying a rhythm that persists more or less throughout. The first begins with sets of gloppy, electronic thuds of a sort, with a sharp attack and dull finish, irregular actually but giving a sense of pulse, soon interspersed with a repeated sounds like static being poured onto a table--interesting that last, imparting an oozing, liquid sense to a dry, prickly sound. The activity from the streets of Porto filters in; the voices are usually indistinct, though you can make out that it's Portuguese being spoken, parents with children, bohos, etc. But those initial elements drive the piece, some perhaps sourced from jacks being pulled, speaker frames vibrating, all arrayed in a loose rhythmic field, the static spill providing steadiness. Spare and juicy at the same time, very nice. On the second track, the rhythm is more blatant, a 2-2-1 sequence, super fuzz-laden, sounding as though unearthed from a death metal crypt, that worms its way through hammered beams and crowds, the odd buzz and bang incorporated along the way; again, good, unclean fun. The last track's rhythm is complicated, am intermingling of electronic pulses similar in character to those found on the opening piece, woven between quasi-rhythmic, burred tones that sound like a gigantic, rough-toothed saw being drawn through unforgiving wood. As before, you hear the public, in this case innocent children cavorting, blissfully unaware of the behemoth lurking around the corner. The beast unleashes a triumphant roar, bellowing like an apartment-sized double bass being assaulted by a 20 foot bow, the underlying forward chug still present and moves on, the population oblivious.

Good stuff, very different from standard fare, rather unique.


The Pitch - Frozen Orchestra (Amsterdam) (Sofa)

The Pitch is Boris Baltschun (electric pump organ), Koen Nutters (bass), Morten J Olsen (vibraphone) and Michael Thieke (clarinet), on this occasion (a live recording from 2012, issued on LP) joined by Lucio Capece (bass clarinet), Johnny Chang (violin), Robin Hayward (tuba), Chris Heenan (contrabass clarinet), Okkyung Lee (cello) and Valerio Tricoli (revox). The piece is a drone, I gather an improvised one to some degree, perhaps observing certain agreed upon parameters. I'm not sure why (and it's interesting--for me--to attempt to figure out) but I don't find myself particularly drawn in to this particular performance. I've little doubt that, in the live situation, it could be a substantially different story, with the strands flying around the space, being corporeally immersed. On disc, though, I'm never as riveted. The music, especially as powered by the organ I think, is fairly accessible and (multi)tonal with clear layers, entries and exits by the various instruments etc. as well as the odd percussive accident (intentional or an artifact of the space, I'm not sure). Maybe, despite all the churn, there's too much of a "one thing" aspect for me, some conflict between just sitting there and really just sitting there, a kind of insistence that seems at odds with the notion of droning. Who knows, perhaps that's the goal? As is, for this listener, it's ok, nothing too thought-provokng though, and not providing so much of lasting sustenance.

Sofa Music

CH/DH - Egregore Source (Art Kill Art)

This is a program, comes in a nice little USB drive with good, helpful documentation. Essentially, you set parameters--many of them are available, all with sliders--and an interacting sound/visual file is generated. More often than not, you can easily see the relationship between what emerges from your speakers and what appears on the screen. It's pretty damned fascinating. I can imagine spending hours fiddling with this and have to wean myself off. It brought back memories of that mid-90s "Chaos" program, marketed under James Gleick's name. The video below (https://vimeo.com/122113072) if it doesn't work on the blog, gives you a better idea than I can about it.

CHDH (video)

CHDH site

Saturday, April 18, 2015

common objects - whitewashed with lines (Another Timbre)

A 2-cd set from John Butcher (acoustic and amplified saxophones), Angharad Davies (acoustic and amplified violin), Rhodri Davies (electric and pedal harp) and Lee Patterson (amplified devices and processes). The first disc is a performance of a graphic score by Rhodri Davies, "cup and ring", while the second is a live improvisation.

As indicated by its title, Davies' score centers around his fascination with the cup and ring phenomenon, a kind of stone carving found worldwide but with concentrations in northern England. Per Wiki: "They consist of a concave depression, no more than a few centimetres across, pecked into a rock surface and often surrounded by concentric circles also etched into the stone. Sometimes a linear channel called a gutter leads out from the middle." Their purpose is the subject of some debate. I wish a copy of the score had been included either in the disc sleeve or on the Another Timbre site, but no such luck. I'm assuming the score in some ways bears a visual resemblance to typical cup and ring patterns, but who knows? In any case, one simply listens and that's more than rewarding enough. It's a complicated, often densely layered work, lasting over 57 minutes, making it (for me) very hard to grasp as a whole but the journey, from field to field, is almost always rich and exciting. One quickly gets over parsing out who does what and settles in for the ride which turns out to be finely varied and exceptionally strong over the first half, from dark rough and tumble to sizzling electronics and biting strings. Sounds are usually sustained with either long tones or iterated strokes (handheld fans on harp strings?), everything shot through with crackles here, plucks there, saxophonic flutters and kisses (plus a great deal of, I think, Butcher-generated, controlled feedback) and tons more. Section after wonderful section, including an especially juicy portion with layers of ringing tones gliding along dark, resonant scrapes and shuddering, subaqueous-sounding saxophone some 20 minutes in. The quartet moves into a drone-laden area once past the half-hour mark which I find a little less absorbing than what preceded, though perhaps it's called for (or interpreted as such) in the score. But they quickly regroup and enter a lovely section of quiet raindrop-like sounds, very beautiful. The music fragments (effectively), emerges in a sequence of high chirps, settles into yet another sustained, dronish area but, to these ears, a much more complex and evocative one than before. A strong work, a fine listen.

Davies, in his notes, states that he wanted to evince the "different modes of working" experienced with this ensemble, hence juxtaposing the graphic score reading with the improvisation, the latter recorded a bit less than a year ago. If there's a clear difference--and, given only these two samples, I think there is--for me, it's much more to do with underlying structure than anything else. Not surprisingly, there's a kind of consistency, not necessarily better or worse, present in "cup and ring" that's less so in the improvisation (titled, with what I take to be sly reference, "repose and vertigo"). The quartet moves more quickly from point to point where, perhaps, the score led them to linger, overall resulting in a rockier affair. As well, Butcher's saxophone is more prominent as such (no amplification or feedback) which does flavor the proceedings differently. The result is a fine and sensitive performance, fairly close to what I'd expect given the participants. In this instance, though, I'm more drawn to the scored recording which imparts more of the unexpected.

But you can't go far wrong with either. Very good music, leaving me anxious to hear more of Davies' ideas and, for that matter, similar input from the three other musicians in terms of scores or other notions for this quartet.

Another Timbre

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Magnus Granberg/Skuggorna och Ijuset - Would Fall from the Sky, Would Wither and Die (Another Timbre)

Granberg has crafted an odd and beguiling work. Scored for quintet (Granberg, clarinet; Anna Lindal, violin; Leo Svensson Sander, cello; Kristine Scholz, prepared piano; Erik Carlsson, percussion), it's 45 minutes of a certain kind of self-similar composition that I relate to pieces like Feldman's "For Samuel Beckett". Not that it sounds anything like Feldman--it doesn't, really, though one might call it a distant cousin--but that it operates in a fairly well circumscribed area, discovering a great deal of variety there but content to remain, with only the barest amount of push. There is a subtle, almost masked kind of cadence in effect, however. Very often I found myself thinking of a slow, gentle tumble down a hillside, juggling a few possessions, each step or fall similar in a general sense, different in particulars, never encountering a serious obstacle, just negotiating the slant and the minor bumps and branches along the way.

Describing it further is difficult. At first, the parts appear in brief, quiet sequences, almost pointillist but with enough contiguity between the sounds to form a kind of fabric, however tissuey. The clarinet tends to play the longest tones, maybe three seconds, the rest more or less fragmented, though the strings will also shift to slightly longer bowed notes. There are no real pauses or disjunctures; the space retains a consistent "average density", though constantly changing within that. My impression is that the scoring is intuitive but if I learned there was some kind of system in place, it wouldn't entirely surprise me. The clarinet seems vaguely mournful and given that the piece is in memory of Granberg's father, that's appropriate. The piano and percussion seem to propel the music a small bit, to the extent it's nudged along. But it's general between a thoughtful, even distracted amble and that slow-motion tumbling feeling mentioned above. Not dreamy, really, but thoughtful, concerned with balance and very patient, which makes a big difference.

Can't think of much more to say that would shed any light. It's really good, subtly bracing work.

Another Timbre

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Fraufraulein - Extinguishment (Another Timbre)

My first thought on experiencing this release, not having heard anything from Fraufraulein (Billy Gomberg, bass guitar electronics, recordings; Anne Guthrie, french horn, electronics, recordings) since 2009's "Donna Hayward's Secret Diary" is how different it sounds from the work each has issued individually since then, at least to the extent I've heard. Though you can pick up aspects of both, it seems less like a halfway meeting point than a triangulation that results in something rather different, though perhaps weighted a bit toward Guthrie. I get the sense they're really pushing to get out of their comfort zones and, by extension, to place themselves in a kind of "danger" where the outcome is less something fully formed than an exciting way-station. Whatever--and I could obviously be entirely wrong--it's a an excellent recording, one that I found a little opaque at first but which really opened up on each successive listen.

There's something about the structure of the three pieces--they feel very organic and unfolding, no clear framing but there's some underlying sensation of tensile strength; I can't figure it out, but I like it. Guthrie's horn, played straight, with overtones or sung into, is more overtly prominent than Gomberg's bass, though it's possible that any number of sounds are attributable to it, I suppose. But I hear more the horn wandering through various aural environments, often with the feeling of being outside, of looking around corners or hillsides. "convention of moss" begins with a very low bass hum, quickly engaging several strata of crackle, high feedback tones twining and numerous sounds evocative of a large space; really tons going on but always arranged in a non-cloying way, always flowing. Distant crowds, muted horn, clanging metal, that crowd congealing into an instructor and respondents, the latter singing a hymn in the sonic haze with final comments by a quietly growling Guthrie. "whalebone in a treeless landscape" starts, appropriately enough, in a far ore spare area, constricted horn floating above a desert of echoey bass notes and single, metallic clicks. The feeling is different from the first track, looser in a way, more springy and stretched out, bearing a palette full of submerged motorized sounds (dulled outboards?) amidst bell tones, far off children's cries, barely heard, a lot more, something like a denser scene from Ferrari. Guthrie's horn soon sounds long, low, forlorn calls through a more vacant landscape; hard not to imagine some large, pining creature, an elephant/Malfatti hybrid. But the core of the piece is still subtly moving, rotating, taking in other vistas; a really fascinating construction, a fantastic piece.

Robbie Lee contributes to the final piece, "my left hand, your right hand", though I'm uncertain in what capacity, maybe the voice (though I'd guess that's Guthrie) which sings a kind of simple lullaby/chant in high register in the middle distance, over a searing sine-like tone and occasional soft bass pluck; eerie and lovely. Actually, the voice seems to morph into the horn and then something that sounds bass clarinetish is heard; it's disorienting a little, though it sounded so innocent at first, like a benign dream slipping into malignancy, colors swirling and blending, darkening. In a way, I think it's the most daring track here if not the most "successful", but that's fine, a good thing really. The footing is unsure but the push is there.

Exciting work, great to hear.

Another Timbre

[I'd, unforgivably, forgotten about the text that accompanies all Another Timbre releases, only reading after finishing the above. Do check it out: Interview with Gomberg and Guthrie]

Monday, April 13, 2015

Joshua Adam Acosta - Moment's Notice (no label)

Abstract electronic scapes by NYC-based Acosta, incorporating found sounds and the odd sample. In addition to locating some very tasty sounds, Acosta shows a welcome willingness to sit with them for a while before moving things forward. Things do move and the pieces progress at their own pace until they arrive, but he leaves plenty of time to linger and appreciate elements on their own, as near the beginning of "Without Warning", where simple, open sound exists, not overtly tampered with, for quite a while--some 22 minutes, in fact, until some sines enter toward the end--and I don't begrudge it a second. When you think you detect hidden voices buried within, murmuring, whispering, you're not sure at first--a wonderful sequence, with nods to both Werder and Pisaro. The title track picks up with those sines for several minutes before they're disrupted, fracture, replaced with a rushing water sound (though electronically produced, I think) that's soon underlaid with a deep hum, all of this very immersive and oddly narrative. It's a long piece, though, 26 minutes, and the episodic aspect, to my ears, becomes a bit too forced, the sections like the motorized sequence starting around the 11-minute mark, not so inherently interesting and feeling a bit tacked on, though perhaps that's the point--always hard to say. "Where Does It Go?" closes the release with a rather different take, sines and samples existing in an airier space, the samples including snatches of radio song, PA announcements, etc., emerging and being masked by the fairly pure electronics. The latter get a tad goofy at times, but maybe that's their "answer" to the samples, not sure. As before, there's a lot mixed in, many shifts, but things cohere very well and something genuinely new emerges. Curious to see if this direction is pursued.

Hear for yourselves at Acosta's bandcamp site

Acosta is also involved with a burgeoning label that prmises to be intriguing:

Speculations Editions

Yiorgis Sakellariou - Cueb (Mechaorga)

A jam-packed 3", using sounds recorded at Canary Wharf in London and others to generate a shirt story of sorts, filled with incident and stressing looped sequences. We hear first a mechanical action, repeated, a metallic click-clack, the "click" sharper and more in the foreground than the "clack", gulls and ambient traffic hum surrounding. It pauses, then begins again with renewed vigor, the impacts harder (a pile-driver?); hard to tell if this is a loop or not. A darkly sizzling undercurrent appears and the banging acquires an echo as the atmosphere grows more oppressive. Six minutes in, the hammering ceases and we hear only the distant rush of traffic with the odd nearby rustle or squeak, a welcome lull, beautifully enhanced by subtle, low flutters, possibly from the propellors of a boat, which slowly increase in volume only to be sliced off and replaced by the ghostly sound of soft rattles in a large, dark space. The whole enterprise has taken on a noirish character. Again, the intensity surges and another repetitive, mechanical sound appears, two loud ones as though someone's manipulating a massive stapler, followed by three softer ones, almost like heavy footsteps. Clouds of noise form around this core, steamy and uncomfortable. There's something of a Fritz Lang/Metropolis feeling here. It all ends with extreme abruptness. Strong work, well-molded and definitely worth hearing.


Benjamin Finger - Pleasurably Lost (Eilean)

A set of songs, abstracted somewhat but still decidedly songs, in a kind of post-Fennesz tradition, I guess, although there are probably more accurate referents around. In an environment that mixes electronics (including glitch-prov-y sounds), classical instrumentation, fractured and all but indecipherably dreamy vocals, melodies drift in and out, none staying too long, no danger of any hooks being established. Maybe a hint of Badalamenti now and then, especially when there's a gauzy female voice. It all weaves together enough that distinguishing among the ten tracks becomes a little tough, much less picking out favorite moments, but the echoey, (aptly) distorted piano of "Edge of Distortion" stood out as especially evocative, offset by necessary static and electric buzz; I was reminded a good bit of Asher. Overall, it's a bit fuzzy for my taste, though not unenjoyable in a languid, outré pop sense.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pedra Contida - Xisto (JACC)

Pedra Contina ("contained stone", I believe) is a quintet made up of Marcelo dos Reis (acoustic guitar, voice, singing bowls), Angélica V. Salvi (harp), Nuno Torres (alto saxophone), Miguel Carvalhais (computer) and João Pais Filipe (drums and percussion). The disc, a 2014 release, is grouped into three sections: a four-part suite by dos Reis, three pieces under the heading "Solo and Duos" and a group improvisation.

Dos Reis' set of works begins with a long, soft tone from Torres, repeated, gradually acquiring a burr. Quiet, malleted tom-toms, low soft harp and other percussion enter, the heat level slowly turning up but still on simmer--very absorbing. Then things erupt into a Braxtonian bit of fragmented activity with vague boppish roots (this is the second section, titled, "Cuts"). I wasn't too keen on this direction, not appreciating that the initial few minuted had been relegated to "prologue" status, but it doesn't last very long, soon subsiding into a lovely harp/guitar section, thoughtful and calm. "Central Motif" revisits a kind of Braxton/Mitchell (specifically an imagine Mitchell/Barefield collaboration) area again, but more subdued, though filled with scurries and squeaks, very well sustained and not overly cloying. "Five Spaces", recorded live, creates a fine pool, each instrument separate, their effects rippling past one another, the harp pastoral, the computer gently agitating, Torres (I think) using water; good work.

Carvalhais' computer solo leading off the second area balances a generally reticent approach with quick flurries of wooly activity, dry and wet sounds coursing through a hollow space, low volume but intense, very impressive. This is followed by a truly pensive and pretty harp/percussion duet, Salvi playing "traditionally", with strong lyricism and subtly propulsive rhythms, Filipe providing extremely sympathetic accompaniment, especially on what sounds like a balafon-like instrument; again, excellent work. The duo between dos Reis and Torres picks things up seamlessly, the pair engaging in sustained and quiet conversation, dos Reis' voice adding a wonderful layer of warmth, a songlike lullaby or lament, seeming to refer to times past.

"Cracks, Shale and Bells" closes thing out, remaining in the same fertile territory, Salvi kind of the Tilbury of the quintet, maintaining tonality amidst the eddying sprawl. The track is very unprepossessing which works massively in its favor, Nothing feels hurried, nothing feels as though striving for importance. The music approaches silence but never quite gets there and manages to cover significant ground over its course while imparting a sense of overall structure, however vague over its 15 or so minutes. It's nothing that others haven't attempted many times in the post-AMM era, but this quintet pulls it off exceptionally well.

A strong recording, worth seeking out.

Fail Better! - Zero Sum (JACC)

Yes, an unfortunate band name. especially with the exclamation mark, this is a quintet consisting of doe Reis (here on electric guitar) and Filipe from Pedra Contina along with Luís Vicente (trumpet), João Miguel Pereira (double bass) and João Guimarães (alto saxophone), heard here in a 2013 live, improvised recording.

It starts in a soft zone, dos Reis' guitar providing gentle, strummed chords. When Vicente enters with some quite vocal, though still delicate trumpet, it almost sounds like an introduction to "Love for Sale". When he adopts the mute and begins quasi-vocalizing, and as Guimarães enters the mix (again, subtly and probingly) the music begins to resemble early Art Ensemble, those tonal/spacey areas they'd create as in some of "People in Sorrow". It's not imitative, merely occupying adjacent ground and doing so very well. Dos Reis, when he's up front, takes things into somewhat different climes, his guitar carrying traces of Middle Eastern references. It's interesting that when he finishes a segment some eight minutes in, the music switches mood entirely, actually again back to a quiet, early Mitchell kind of atmosphere. If there was no editing involved, it implies an intriguing conception of group improv on the part of this ensemble [checking my readout, I see there are indeed several tracks involved, something not indicated on the sleeve, so we're hearing extracts, not a continuous performance]. The whole has a far more jazzish feel than the previously reviewed release, well-handled and convincing when in that kind of AEC mode, a bit less so when matters shift to more frenetic, efi scrabbling which, to be fair they never enter all that whole-heartedly or for long durations. Still, it feels like something of a fall-back option when they do so, a safety valve in lieu of pushing things further along the lines that Pedra Contida attempted. While Pedra Contina crosses over into wider territory, this recording, a pretty decent one, will appeal more to the adventurous jazz fan. I'm sure they'd give it an especially warm welcome.