Sunday, December 08, 2013
Johnny Chang/Angharad Davies/Jamie Drouin/Phil Durrant/Lee Patterson/John Tilbury - Variable Formations (Another Timbre)
A sextet improvisation realized at Cafe OTO in February of this year, following three prior sets (Tilbury, solo; Chang/Drouin, duo; Davies/Durrant/Patterson trio). A nice notion given that each musician had never before played with at least two of the others. In a way, it still breaks down, in my ears, to three units: Tilbury, Chang/Davies and Drouin/Durrant/Patterson, the strings often combined, in my head, into a duo, the three electronicists similarly in a trio. As in any risky improvisatory endeavor, there's no reason to expect that it will work; much of the interest is simply hearing how this given combination, on this evening, unfolded. Any moments of emergent beauty are almost icing on the cake and there are several scattered through this particular adventure.
Tilbury is, well, Tilbury and he's prominent enough in the mix so that one can, if so choosing, hear it as a mini-concerto of sorts. For the first ten or so minutes, I tend to do that, the pianist patiently doling out two-note figures, the rest scurrying/droning alongside. At that point, there's a break, the music shifting to a kind of simmering, out of which surface sad string cries and single, sharply struck piano notes. Indeed, after a few minutes, it seems that Tilbury is once again the contributor around which the sounds gather. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that he's inevitably, unavoidably himself, with such a developed personality--a single, well-struck note from him bears much weight. I hasten to say that this doesn't, for me, detract form the music at all, it just casts it in a slightly different light than what you might expect. About halfway through its 41 minutes, a fine low, vibrating buzz enters amidst what sounds like (but can't be) swirling, stroked cymbals and soft flutters--lovely. There's a bit a meandering about, less than you might normally encounter, though and eventually, the sextet really pulls it together over the final eight to ten minutes, generating a fine seethe, Tilbury either laying out or quietly working off the keyboard, until re-entering just before the close with some fantastic, slightly muffled and sour notes. That last section is worth the trip and the rest of the drive isn't bad either.
It's the type of the performance that will have some quibbling about the necessity of release but I've always been of the mind, and am once again in this case, that I love hearing documentation of attempts by musicians in whose work I'm interested, regardless of their success. There's enough "success" to warrant it anyway, as far as I'm concerned. Check it out for yourself.
Saturday, December 07, 2013
Ferran Fages - Radi d'Or (Another Timbre)
A piece that's more unusual and, I suspect, more involved than is apparent at first blush. A single, 36-minute work, it seems to be a composition though I guess one could be forgiven, if not paying close attention, for thinking of it as just another fairly quiet, steady-state improvisation but there's more going on. I wish I had the score to check on this; for that matter, I wish I could figure out a translation of the title. If French, it needs an "s" to become "gold radish". I tend to think of it as a corruption of "radii", transliterating it into "golden arms".
In any case, we have the Ferran Fages Ensemble, a quintet consisting of Olga Ábalos (flute, alto saxophone), Lali Barrière (sine waves), Tom Chant (tenor and soprano saxophones), Fages (acoustic guitar) and Pilar Subirà (percussion). It opens with crickets, then the ensemble creating low sounds that have an outdoors feel, including (I think) rubbed, deep drums. There's feedback, usually contained, occasionally yawping, long flute and saxophone lines, all kind of swirling gently together, beginning to congeal. For a while, the strands slowly circle one another--flute, scraped guitar, those rubbed moans, the sine waves acting as a tenuous cohering factor. Ultimately, matters coalesce and we have a kind of drone situation, though complicated and ever-shifting, with ringing tones and harsher buzzer emerging from the mix. The work resides here for its second half, a kind of shimmering, opalescent pool in which lengthy, plaintive, descending tones often appear. Towards the work's conclusion, there are small eddies of disruption, the individual elements regaining some separate character though they've moved, since the piece's inception, to a different territory. It has a very strong character of its own, subtly unique.
"Radi d'Or" is a release that grew on me upon multiple re-listenings as I became more convinced that there was some governing principle(s) at work which I still can't truly discern. Fages has revealed several facets of his musical personality in the past, from outright noise to virtual song-forms and more; this is yet another addition to that profile, and a welcome one. I really hope to hear more in this direction and from this ensemble generally--sounds like a really strong group.
Friday, December 06, 2013
Richard Glover - Logical Harmonies (Another Timbre)
In the interview on the Another Timbre site, references are made, with regard to Glover's music, to that of Tom Johnson, James Tenney and Alvin Lucier. These seem quite reasonable though, at least on the basis of this recording, my first experience with Glover (unless I'm forgetting something, always a strong possibility), his work stands apart in very beautiful ways. While process oriented, the pieces here are entirely acoustic which might tend to align him more with Johnson but there's also a clear concern with sonic beauty, in an almost classical sense, that's at odds with Johnson's list-making that adopts a more remote stance. I also detect subtle allusions to classic forms, again just a step or two to the side of the almost clinical presentation that can occur (not without its own attractions, certainly) in a piece by Johnson or Lucier.
That said, these are seven extraordinarily wonderful compositions.
The disc is constructed alternating four solo works with three for ensembles, bookended by "Logical Harmonies 2" and "Logical Harmonies 1", performed by Philip Thomas on piano. Without any external knowledge, and given the steady, stately tempo of the work, I heard it as a kind of processional, connecting it to compositions by Satie in his Rosicrucian period (the Ogives, for example) or even certain Skempton pieces. But for all its regularity in pacing, the shifting chords inject absolutely absorbing harmonies that almost flitted by, one after another, always changing subtly, sometimes sweet, sometimes sour. It wasn't until I located the score that I realized the structure of the work did indeed follow a rather strict and simple pattern, but one that (crucially, I think) allows the pianist leeway in choosing whether or how to invert the triads as prescribed, which Thomas does brilliantly. The effect, for me, again recalling the processional feeling, is of walking through a large church-like interior, the light through the stained glass windows changing ever so slightly as one proceeds, one's perspective always shifting, being very aware of the orthogonals and hues. An insert is included with the disc showing a color wheel, divided into eight shades, rotating an eighth of a cycle each turn against a background of the same colors, an apt enough visual analogue. "Logical Harmonies 1", which closes the disc, is essentially the same except that the roles of the hands have been exchanged, the left doing the wandering instead of the right. Thomas takes it at a somewhat slower tempo, every bit as lovely as the first. I can listen to either or both for hours.
"Beatings in a Linear Process", for clarinet (Mark Bradley), violin (Mira Benjamin) and cello (Andrea Stewart) is more in line with some of Lucier's experiments in gradual and slight pitch shifting. The score calls for the strings to hold one note, the clarinet entering at a given pitch and the strings to, slowly, adjust as closely as possible to it while maintaining those original notes. This is repeated five times, the clarinet lowering his pitch one step each iteration in microtonal increments. The harmonics thus generated are utterly immersive, as is the tension between the held and moving lines occupying such close proximity. I can't locate a score for "Cello with Clarinet and Piano" (Seth Woods, Jonathan Sage and Thomas, respectively) but it seems to work on similar principles, though here in blocks of about 25 seconds separated by silence. The piano strikes a firm note and holds it as the cello plays a steady line. Several seconds in, the clarinet enters at a slightly lower pitch and the cello seems to adjust to it. The isolation of the sections almost necessarily encourages listening as a series of images, each related but carrying different shades. It also coveys a vague emotional impact, especially in the final sequence, where the downward bent feels quite melancholy. [I later located a score for "Violin with Clarinet and Piano" which appears to be basically the same work] Both are fantastic compositions and, I should mention, recorded incredibly well, each layer of grain audible.
Having only my ears to guide me, I think "Contracting Triads in Temperaments form 12-24" is performed (here, by Bob Gilmore) inside the piano, delicately and with supreme precision, plucking at sets of three strings. The effect is harp-like, very pure. As with the solo piano music, the chords, similarly paced, waver giddily between traditionally comfortable and almost justly intoned--several times I felt associations with Partch's kithara-type instruments but also koto and kayagum music. Again, by (not so) simply cycling through a pattern, Glover manages to reveal something very special. While listening to this piece, I tended to think of a catalogue of crystals.
There's a score for Gradual Music on-line, though it renders vertically on-screen. The septet (musikFabrik: Marco Blaauw, trumpet; Christine Chapman, horn; Bruce Collings, trombone; Ulrich Löffler, piano; Axel Porath, viola; Hannah Weirich, violin; Dirk Wietheger, cello) manifest as a large, pulsating cell, glissandi drifting slowly into and across one another. It sounds like an enormous organ chord encompassing dozens of clearly held, fluctuating notes, almost electronic (ebows on the piano are called for in the score; I take it they're employed here, though not cited in the credits). I pick up something of Feldman's large ensemble works ("For Samuel Beckett", say) but as orchestrated by Eliane Radigue in a particularly robust mood.
I've saved my favorite for last (though I love each and every composition): "Imperfect Harmony" (score) for solo double bass, played insanely well by Dominic Lash. As with the piano pieces, Glover gives the performer ample ability to choose his/her pathway toward the intended goal and while I've only heard this rendition, I have to think it's a credit to Lash's sheer musicality that it feels so rich and natural. The "steps" are taken in a loosely regular sequence of arco passages that last about five seconds each with perhaps two seconds between them. Low strings, just so luscious, often quavering with an intensity that has you worrying about sympathetic vibrations with your speakers or other household objects, not to mention the body of Lash's bass. I can't tell you how often I've placed myself between those speakers and just luxuriated. I detect a bit of background sound as well which enhances the sound even more, cementing it in the real world, where it belongs. While the four dyads are evenly split between ones moving upward and downward, I also feel a general down trajectory here, imparting a kind of forlorn quality. A stunningly great work.
As is the entire release. Easily one of my favorite albums of the year, of many years.
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Common Objects: John Butcher/Rhodri Davies/Lee Patterson - Live in Morden Tower (Mikroton)
A live set from earlier this year, well-paced, with quite varied sound fields--all around, excellent. I'm not sure how long this trio has been extant but adding Patterson to the existing, occasional duo of Butcher and Davies is such a good fit. While each of the elder members has an extensive range of this own, Patterson adds spices that compliment each of them beautifully, maybe even draws them out. Davies, while often engaging in his gorgeous drones, is a bit more rambunctious here than I've often heard (in, of course, exposure limited to discs that find their way here), doing more actual plucking of the harp strings than I expect while Butcher, though often as vociferous as he can be, subsides into soft contemplation more often than in my recent experience with him, live and on disc. The structure of the album is three fairly short solo pieces followed by a half-hour plus of the trio. A fine Davies track containing the kind of soft but acid-tinged drone one might expect begins things, soon augmented by a lovely harp tinkle, just stunning. Butcher's up next, juxtaposing flutter-tonguing with feedback tones and much else, quite a tour de force. Patterson brings things down to a rich, edgy simmer, revisiting the drone Davies left off on, adding small, hard objects to the mix, eventually dissolving into some finely awkward clunks and thumps--a wonderful piece.
The trio set is more disparate, sometimes entering harsher territory than one might expect, especially near the end, Davies (I think) sawing violently at his harp--it's very exciting. Prior to that, about midway through, there's a great section of dronage, really rich. There's a lumpy, almost lurching quality to the music as a whole, something that initially put me off a bit but eventually, as I did a better job of discarding my expectations, I enjoyed quite a bit. The title given, after all, is "Breathless, Sodden Trash" and with Patterson's crackles leading the way, it winds down in the gutter, a mournful Butcher howling with feedback.
Good, head-clearing work.
Margareth Kammerer - Why Is the Sky So Blue (Mikroton)
I keep wanting to like the avant-song movement that, among others, involves Kammerer and Christof Kurzmann much more than I end up liking it. This is a 2006 session, Kammerer and Kurzmann accompanied by three other fine musicians, Axel Dörner, Burkhard Stangl (vibes in addition to guitar) and Werner Dafeldecker, who is really good here. Percussionists Big Daddy Mugglestone [sic] and Marcello Silvio Busato also appear. My problem is a combination of not entirely getting into the vocals combined with the feeling that the song structures uncomfortably straddle the area between more traditional composition and a kind of looseness they apparently strive for but, to my ears, miss both. Here, lyrics often taken from existing standards or poems are set to music by Kammerer, arranged by Kurzmann.
Kammerer's voice reminds me a bit of Astrud Gilberto in the sense of having a limited range but whereas the latter had a voice that I can happily lose myself in no matter its sameness, Kammerer's wears me out rather quickly. Elsewhere, I recall Julie Tippett but without the bite. That sameness pervades the compositions as well. They're languid, relaxed to the point of sliding to the floor. It's rare that I really have any desire to hear a hook but damned if I didn't feel that way several times during this disc. There's a zone that can exist intermediately, to be sure--Ashley mines it regularly to great effect--but for these ears, there's too much shapelessness, too much similarity in the vocal lines. Studio atmospherics, including echo, are overused. It is a very intimate recording and if one thinks of the music more as a casual, living room performance, it has its charms.
Michael Thieke Unununium - Nachtlieder (Mikroton)
A really enjoyable and, in some ways, surprising album. Entirely coincidentally, it also offers an approach to song form that the Kammerer recording might have benefitted from. Thieke (clarinet, zither, field recordings) assembled a septet with Luca Venitucci (accordio, amplified objects), Martin Siewert (guitar, lap steel, electronics), Derek Shirley and Christian Weber (basses) and Steve Heather and Eric Schaefer (drums, percussion). Nine tracks, five by Thieke, three group improvisations and a cover of Mayo Thompson's "Dear Betty Baby".
The disc opens with a brief recording of a street scene (a mall? the track is called, "Buy Berlin") with an accordionist lustily singing which segues easily into Venitucci's own squeezebox on "Nachtlied". Thieke seems to be picking up on some of the directions implied by his duo with Kai Fagaschinski, weaving melodic material into structures that refer implicitly to song-form, kind of an abstracted, more classical Radian (fitting enough, given Siewert's inclusion). "Nachtlied" is like a very slow, tired and beautiful lullaby, low arco basses carrying nervous accordion and percussion, obscuring a melodic line that nonetheless makes its presence felt. Long, keening lines from clarinet and guitar are joined by percussive pulses in "Silent Bob", referencing classic jazz rock (early Mahavishnu?) without descending anywhere near its bathos, subsiding into a gorgeous glow. When they veer into louder, closer to rockish free jazz (a softer edged Last Exit), as on "The Joy, Joy, Joy of Meeting Somebody New" (heh), they're efficient but, to my ears, play against their strengths. The cover of the Thompson piece, which I didn't know beforehand, is a great example of one way to accommodate a pop song-form without condescending or overly fawning. Beautifully arranged for layers of electronics and clarinets, a strong muffled pulse that sits just this side of a leaden backbeat, rich harmonies and and overall sense of simplicity and adherence to the theme, actually drawing more out of it than I heard while checking out the original on YouTube. It's quite pretty, a kind of prettiness that someone like Bill Frisell could only dream of. "And Smite" gets into a little Badalamenti territory while the two closing improvisations again evince something of a Radian aspect, especially the drumming. All these references may give the impression of a lack of originality--in some sense, I suppose that might be the case, but the performance and conception is handled so well here, that, to my ears, it doesn't matter.
A thoroughly enjoyable, surprisingly accessible effort.
Ilia Belorukov/Kurt Liedwart - Obwod (Copy For Your Records)
Ilia Belorukov/Kurt Liedwart - Vtoroi (Mikroton)
A pair of recordings from Belorukov (prepared alto saxophone) and LIedwart (ppooll, objects, field recordings), the former from spring of 2011, the latter from the fall of 2012.
The general approach on "Obwod", the subtle, soft melding of enhanced alto with electronics, brings to mind the Cathnor release from Graham Halliwell and Tomas Korber of a few years back, though this one contains perhaps a smidgen more rudeness. The four tracks don't diverge all that far from one another, tackling slightly different timbres, always long, shifting tones, usually very attractive on their own in a sour fashion, quiet throughout. In essence, it's not anything we haven't encountered along the way at times, but it's extremely well handled, carefully considered and well worth hearing.
While I enjoyed "Obwod" well enough, I was at the same time very please that "Vtoroi", a live recording, is substantially different. Not that you couldn't guess the same perpetrators are involved, but the palette has been widened a decent amount, allowing for sharper, more irregular elements to enter that steady tone-stream. It's still quiet (though there are a couple of moments of rambunctiousness) but sections have become a bit more fragmented, calving into shards that float alongside the longer, underlying lines as well as falling off into periods of near silence. Toward the end of the third track, "Ikkemesh", thanks shatter completely into a welter of fractured field recordings and electronics. While, when all is said and done, I may prefer their quieter side, I'm pleased to hear the willingness to venture elsewhere.
A good pairing, I think--curious to hear where they go from here.
Copy For Your Records
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Jamie Drouin/Olaf Hochherz - Every Ting Thing (Infrequency Editions)
Very, very, very quiet. In the notes to the release on the Infrequency site, Drouin (I assume) mentions borrowing a stethoscope from school at a young age with the intention of investigating the hidden worlds in trees, anthills, etc. (he got as far as his dog). That image, of holding up a sensitive recording device to a thick, opaque object--say, a tree--and just barely registering the sounds within, the termites chewing, the worms softly gnawing, the internal architecture of the tree itself slightly bending and creaking, is a pretty apt one for the experience one has during the hour or so of infinitesimal activity from Drouin and Hochherz. It's extremely easy to forget the sounds are there, to let them simply provide the merest addition to wherever you're listening. The scant chittering (tiny mandibles at work), the bumpy rolling about of an object on a barely resonant surface, the even fainter hums of some exterior world, the imagined gentle trudging of sextets of pincers/feet on sand--all can easily blend in to the point of disappearing. Plus, I'm listening to it as a download on my Macbook, so there's a limit to the volume I can achieve, though I'd say that overly pumping it up would defeat what I perceive to be the purpose. That said, it makes it a hard one to evaluate in the routine sense (not a bad thing!) insofar as concentrated listening goes. I go back to thinking of it as non-intentional natural phenomena, listening in on those trees, with no guarantee of constant "interesting" goings-on, requiring the state of mind to find any activity as inherently fascinating. You find yourself leaning in to the speakers, trying to decipher what you've heard or think you've heard, aware, uncomfortably or not, that you're missing events occurring deeper in. I like it a lot.
And, as always, a beautiful illustration and package design from Lance Austin Olsen.
Monday, December 02, 2013
Eva-Maria Houben - Piano Music (Irritable Hedgehog)
On first blush, "difficult" isn't a word you'd immediately apply to Houben's piano music. The notes and chords are not unusual, indeed they're resolutely tonal; no extended technique is employed. But where there's the merest surface similarity, in that respect, to Feldman, she offers fewer handholds in the form of connective tissue, instead dealing more forthrightly with silence. This places a considerable demand on the listener, forcing him to listen differently, to pry his ears away from the associations with Romantic or post-Romantic Western music those notes tend to otherwise connote. William Robin's excellent liner notes herein allow one to better understand the structure and ideas behind both pieces. "abgemalt" ("painted out") and "go and stop". Still, as with Feldman's longer works, grasping the overarching form is no easy task, particularly with "abgemalt" (almost 40 minuets long) and its extended silences.
I imagine a decision was made by R. Andrew Lee (who, as ever, performs these works with great sensitivity and depth) whether or not to record in a pristine studio environment or in one where external sounds were allowed in. He chose the former so it's up to the listener at home to integrate this music into the aural activity occurring in and around his/her abode. I find this a bit tough, I think because, again, what the notes imply, to me (the basic, if abstracted, Western Romantic nature) tugs against the idea of rendering them equal to the ambient sound world, insists of focussing my attention. But, of course, this is great, posing a fine challenge which, in the moments where I think i achieve the balance, is quite beautiful, more delicious for not having been handed to one on a platter. Different listeners will doubtless find this more or less difficult, or not at all so! The chords, slow but fairly bright, are offset by single low notes and, of course, silence. The deep tones have occasion to repeat every so often, and now and then some very high one are struck--the pattern holds for lengths of time, then shifts unexpectedly. It's a bit disquieting as you've been lulled into one state, maybe were just getting comfortable. About 15 minutes in, there's a lovely sequence that opens an entirely new door. The difficulty isn't so much in the music as such, it's accommodating the outside world into its shifting form. A challenging problem and a fascinating piece of music--after six or seven listens, I'm still enjoying tackling it anew each time.
"go and stop" seems more conducive to grasping, its pairs of slightly descending chords, the tones generally sustained for a hood while then abruptly terminated, the chords themselves, as the title implies, often ending at unexpected points. As before, the sheer, traditional beauty of the chords acts to build certain expectations of progress and resolution that are always thwarted. There's a sense of coming back and "trying again", only to find that the goal, such as it is, remains elusive. The clear answer being to rethink one's goals. (Parenthetically, just wanted to mention that the chord sequence reminds me of Gil Evans' marvelous "Zee Zee", clearly coincidental). Here, the sheer attractiveness of the music obviates the need to do anything but bathe in it, mindful of those sharp, terminating edges perhaps. Very beautiful.
David McIntire - Landscape of Descent (Irritable Hedgehog)
Christmas bells, eh? I likely wouldn't have guessed that sound source in particular but it seems reasonably clear that the sonic range encountered here might all derive from a single root, however digitally stretched, skewed and otherwise transmogrified it was. I'm less concerned with the specifics than the effect of the resultant music as a whole. For the first third or so, I found the layers of bells a bit flat with a same-y sense about them, regardless of how they'd been altered. Perhaps this owed a little to simply being aware of the source, something maybe I'd rather not have been. But then a shift takes place and the whole sound field takes on a different character, much deeper and mysterious; there are several points where I'm almost convinced I'm hearing tiny choirs (I admit to conjuring up the Mothra girls there momentarily...). It draws you in much more, hints at layers unheard. This is more or less the condition in the last 40+ minutes of the work, as it slowly ebbs and wanes, rather amorphous in structure (though I feel I might be missing something there), a large, finely layered mass that very, very slowly fades away, or descends into the nether world.
I don't think I've heard McIntire's work before and am curious where this fits into his canon. As is, I wanted to feel more of a structure that complimented the sound manipulation though the sensual output itself was very enjoyable on its own.
Sunday, December 01, 2013
Casey Anderson - mothlight (Khalija)
Two uncompromising, rather difficult cassette sides from Anderson (heard by myself on CDr). The severity of some of the usic raises interesting questions about perceived intentionality on the part of the listener, trying to determine (if it's worthwhile considering) how much, if any, is random, how much purposive. It begins with the kind of sound that, in my head, registers as "cracked electronics", the staticky sizzle that one heard on occasion with Voice Crack and more recently, just to site one example, Bonnie Jones. The sound masses move--I get the impression of two strands winding about each other, coming into uncomfortable contact, being repelled within a confined space, bouncing back. Given the title of the release, one almost automatically things of a mic'd moth buffeting against a hot bulb. Sometimes it sounds manipulated, sometimes "natural". It shouldn't matter, though it's curious how one (at least, me) tends to qualify the results depending which angle is used, somehow finding it more satisfying the less I think the actuator is actuating. Perhaps the nearest point of comparison is the Rowe/Sachiko M opus, "contact", though Anderson, however the sounds are being generated, is busier, less concerned with placement, more with linear, if hesitant, flow.
The second side opens in adjacent territory, with a fuller range, mid- and low tones surrounding the crackle, the odd oscillator loop springing out. There's a sense of a conduit having been opened, allowing several kinds of energy strands to course through. The acoustic space finally opens out in the last portion of this side, the sizzle, accompanied by lower, more mysterious bumpings and gurglings, now taking place in an aerobic environment, a welcome situation after the tight intensity of the prior music. It's a fantastic seven or eight minutes, something one could wallow in for quite a while, admittedly feeling like a kind of "reward" for having weathered the preceding 20 or so minutes.
A good, tough effort. Very curious to hear where Anderson goes from here.
Cédric Dambrain - Subjective Slave (Roughledge)
Ten tracks of computer-generated material designed to convey human being's "inclination to create [in] themselves the conditions of their own alienation" would seem to promise some dark, bleak soundscapes and, more or less, that's what Dambrain delivers here. After an initial all-out assault that will scour any latent cobwebs from your auditory tubules, the tracks vary in intensity, several quite quiet, but all carrying the shiver of the, well, alien. A chilly air circulates through the pieces, whether they softly twitter or hurtle past, heedless of reception. Arthur C. Clarke's "Rendezvous with Rama" comes to mind. The overall cast is so steely-gray and so few footholds are offered that I find it difficult to really get into, appreciating the craft but, perhaps, not finding the value in the alienation. If I really disassociate myself from it, not the easiest thing, i find that it "works" in the sense of creating its own pod of existence, even if it's opaque to me. More hardcore computer music fans, especially those with leanings toward noise, might find it right up their alley, though.
Friday, November 29, 2013
Jack Harris/Samuel Rodgers - Wasted Five Years (Organized Music from Thessaloniki)
There are certain sounds for which I'm just a complete sucker. One is urban hum as heard in a large, empty room which is, I think, pretty much what you hear at the outset of this fine set. Hell, there's even a passing plane. But just that thrum of individually indistinguishable traffic sounds, noise from the buildings power systems, elevators and what not is something I can bathe in for quite a while. Harris and Rodgers, in an abandoned office space, gradually make their presences known through quiet rattles and tappings that could almost be murine (look it up). It's well integrated but, to their credit, they don't just let things lie. Instead, swirling (still subtle) electronics emerge accompanied by a thin, metallic flicker (a poked fan?) and dripping water. This activity briefly wells up into the foreground with near Niblockian power, subsides into that wonderful hum. Throughout, there's a fine back and forth between soft and quite loud but the element Harris and Rodgers contribute manage to remain delicate and defined, a tension that goes a long way toward the success of this set. They grow increasingly active and dense (though "dense" seems the wrong word, given the dry, sandy nature of the sounds) toward the conclusion, when a surprise book interview appears (over the radio?), feeds into the ambience for a minute, disappears as those faraway hums regain their space.
Yparxei Provlima Amalia - Kona Kai (Organized Music from Thessaloniki)
And then there's this. I've little notion what's going on here aside from gleaning that the rascally Kostis Kilymis is involved, but it's oddly delightful. Ten tracks over a mere sixteen minutes, said cuts seemingly derived from a road trip, quasi-random snatches of sounds, interactions with encountered persons, bits of conversation, etc. Opening at an implied dawn with roosters and traffic, merging into a jingle-like ditty on vibes or electro-gamelan, or something. Seatbelt instructions in front of a really cool sounding, semi-funky piece (from the radio?)--I begin to feel all Lambkin-y. A pretty hilarious, echoey recounting of some guy's Detroit adventure seeing the Stones in 1975: "About the best frigging show I ever saw in my life". Same dude launching into a whiny C&W number. I'm imagining Kilymis as the performer, an image that will haunt me. Crickets, sirens. drills. It finally ends in the cavernous interior of a train station, where an itinerant band is playing "O Sole Mio" or is that the theme from The Godfather? Or both? A coda made up of a brief collage of voices, radio, guitar strums.
A release that embraces its slightness. And it's great fun.
both are cassettes, available from Organized Music from Thessaloniki
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Domenico Sciajno et. al. - Sonic Shuffle (Bowindo)
How to even begin? First off, I should express the caveat that I helped Domenico with the English presentation of the copy included in this release and on the website.
I therefore knew the general idea involved but resisted hearing any advance examples until I received the card. So yes, this is a card you insert into a USB port on your computer. The card contains a program that deals with 48 sound samples contained therein. These samples are contributed by (deep breath): Yasuhiro Morinaga, Carlos "Zingaro", David Brown, Francesco Giomi, Franz Hautzinger, Chris Brown, Lawrence English, Toshimaru Nakamura, Phill Niblock, Frank Bretschneider, Günter Müller, Oren Ambarchi, Lionel Marchetti, Kim Cascone, Asmus Tietchens, Ivan Zavada, Vladislav Delay, Alvin Curran, Daniel Schorno, Michael J. Schumacher, Elliott Sharp, Philippe Petit, Kazuyuki Kishino (KK Null), Lukas Ligeti, Thomas Ankersmit, Lucio Capece, DJ Olive/Gregor Asch, Cat Hope, Robin Fox, David Chiesa, John Duncan, Constantine Katsiris, Matthew Ostrowski, Yannis Kyriakides, Tim Hodgkinson, Marc Behrens, Gert-Jan Prins, Anne Le Berge, Anthea Caddy, Nikos Veliotis, Benoit Maubrey, Tom Recchion, Luciano Chessa, Thomas Lehn, Idrioema, Zimoun, Axel Dörner and the late Laurent Dailleau, to whom the release is dedicated.
When you click on the application, the program loads, giving you two screens: a mixing board and a randomized display of the 48 tracks. If you're lazy (like me) and do nothing else, eight of these tracks will load and begin playing simultaneously. They're each five minutes long. When they're through, if you've set a parameter to continue, they'll very nicely meld into the next set, and so on. This is Sonic Shuffle at its most basic and, I have to say, it's pretty fantastic to listen to just like this. But wait, there's more. I imagine the mixing area isn't too dissimilar to others available (I've no experience in this area)--you can adjust the volume of each track, use anywhere from one to eight tracks at a time, change the tracks available, etc. In other words, you can "conduct" this ensemble as you see fit, mixing and matching. You can also import any audio files you like, including your own, if you've always wondered how you might sound in a trio with Lehn and Nakamura. More technical details are available at Bowindo. I'm pretty sure I've only skimmed the surface here.
Given that there are, almost literally, an infinite number of possible results when using Sonic Shuffle, I can offer only general impressions of what I've heard over some five or six hours of listening thus far. What's most remarkable to me is how clearly the tracks layer into one another; there's never a sense of muddiness or overcrowding. I'm not sure if Sciajno culled particularly (somehow) appropriate passages from what he was given or if there are any buried algorithms that manage to sift among possibilities that more or less insure a well-rounded outcome (I doubt it) but, I have to say that, most of the time, had I heard this "blindfolded", I doubt the notion of a computer-generated ensemble would have occurred to me.
This gets to one of the more interesting issues a work like this raises: human pattern recognition. As far as I'm concerned, it's impossible not to, without trying, mentally reform these randomly layered sounds into a purposeful pattern. You find yourself saying, "OK, this sound has just lowered its volume to reveal that duo nesting over there. Now this layer is worming its way in, complementing that one. Ah, hear how nicely these textures grind against those", etc. Partly, as implied above, this may due to the transparency of the recordings. They're also quite varied, ranging from abstract noise to drones to the rare pulse track. Often, when one of these latter appears, it automatically functions as a kind of backbone for its companions. After a while, you begin to recognize some offerings (though that's rare enough); I heard Nikos Veliotis' high pitched cello two or three times, emerging like an old friend. At this moment, Marchetti and Caddy are having a bit of a drone/scrabble square-off--sounds great. Is it always great? Of course not. Is it ever less than intriguing--I haven't found that to be the case yet.
Naturally, this project is problematic on several levels. First, as far as even semi-related ideas go, I'm more partial to that undertaken by Rowe with his "sight" conception for MIMEO where, even though the music was created remotely, the musicians were instructed to perform their five or so minutes over an hour as if they were in a live performance with their partners, attempting to anticipate and imagine what the others would be doing, having come to know their proclivities well enough over the years. I find that element, of isolated attempts at empathetic communication, to be inherently more interesting. There's also the practical aspect of a release like this: how often is one going to listen? There's more than enough material contained herein to occupy one for years, even without making one's own contributions. Clearly, no one will do that. I do find that it's a more than reasonable substitute for playing itunes on shuffle, a frequent activity in those rare moments when I don't have to listen to something that requires writing about. Sonic Shuffle does that job very well; I've had it on for hours and enjoyed it greatly.
Will this sort of approach become more common? Hard to imagine, but who knows? In the meantime, I'd urge people to snatch one of the only 50 copies available of Sonic Shuffle. Not just for the current uniqueness but because it's really good.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Ralf Wehowsky/Anla Courtis - Aseleuch Tendrradero (Noise & Hate/Ultra-Mail Prod.)
I never really got around to listening to Reynols, just a snatch here and there, so Courtis is pretty much an unknown to me. And my knowledge of Wehowsky is limited to "Tulpas" (which I like a lot) and the odd collaboration (Drumm, Korber, etc). Perhaps bear that in mind when I extol this release--to me, it's extremely fresh and exciting, though I've no idea where it sits in their mutual canons. Using guitars, electronics, tapes, etc., they construct collages of a sort, often with abrupt and unexpected breaks, using a language derived from classic tape manipulation but with a significantly different palette, though I'd be hard-presed to describe just what that palette is. The tracks are largely between three and seven minutes long (in addition to two around 30 seconds), allowing for each to exist as a self-contained composition. I'm almost tempted to say "song", though there's nothing melodic or beat-drive here. Still, I can imagine a voice over much of this material; through the backwards tape, the modulations of (I think) wind howls and such, you can just about reconstruct vestiges of a buried and decaying song.
There's an enormous apparent depth to the layers and the elements within are widely varied in composition, color, dynamics and velocity, making for an entirely absorbing listening and repeat-listening experience. There's also no sense of posturing of showing off--everything seems purposive, several ideas per track, rich but not cloying. They avoid that difficult-to-describe tipping point between excessive activity and...intensive activity, the kind one would find in a handful of soil. Wonderful usage of silent gaps in a piece like "Bal Lileste Ajtdorbeg" where the last half doesn't so much as ebb away as fracture into sparse shards. (btw, I think the titles are in a made-up, almost Borgesian language, though sometimes they seem related to Spanish).
I'm not doing a great descriptive job here, I realize. All I can say is, if you loved "Tulpas", you'll likely love this, though I have little idea what fans of Reynols will think--though I'm guessing most of them will as well. It stands apart, at least a bit, from the general trend and it does so in a very exciting way.
Neither Love & Hate nor Ultra Mail Prod. seem to have a working website, but your can use this one to order:
You can also treat yourself to a taste here
Richard Garet - Blank Tape Positive (Contour Editions)
Garet's latest involves the manipulation of modified magnetic tape playback machines, digging into its internal mechanisms, causing the machines to operate irregularly and beyond their original capacities. The results, in two tracks of about 30 and 27 minutes, is somewhat reminiscent of Lescalleet's now classic tape recorder set-ups in that there are various pulses coursing through the pieces because of iterative properties of the device but these are buried and often masked by the noise elements atop which range from juicy thrums to raspy pops and much in between. That sense of propulsion provides cohesion but can also become a bit insistent over these longish pieces. There's substantial change in the colors involved, though the forward drive rarely wavers. Even when things grow a bit spacey, as in the ending minutes of the first track, there's still something of a push in force until it finally collapses, a lonely hum/hiss all that remains. Track 2 begins in a more diffuse, abstract manner, but settles into a chittering semi-repetition, a but more intense and harsh than the first, with some fine, obtrusive clacking elements and some excellent, wild intrusions latte in the track, high-pitched tape gone nuts. It's one of those dicey propositions that depends on how much fascination the listener finds in the kind of sounds employed, in that there's a similar sheen overall. I go back and forth, sometimes immersing myself pleasurably, sometimes wishing I was hearing this in situ, where I'd truly be surrounded by the activity. Garet's music has often accompanied video by himself or others and I could see 'Blank Tape Positive' serving that role very well.
Rodolphe Loubatière/Pierce Warnecke - Non-Lieu (Gaffer)
Snare and electronics ruckus, most of the time very active and in skittering mode, Loubatière whipping around the snare (presumably with various implements and attacking from different angles) while Warnecke has an unusually light touch on electronics, more or less approximating the snare's pitch and sound range. Moments of quietude, when they occur, are welcome and very well handled. But overall it's spiky, squeaky, non-stop improv. At it's best, as in much of "Espace Occulte" (my favorite track by far), they achieve a kind of combustible quality that's crunchy and fine. As with many a release, however, I found myself searching for moments of respite and consideration, pieces that might enhance their best, more energetic playing.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
To state the obvious, there's been a proliferation in music being put on-line for download or streaming as opposed to physical discs and I receive my share. It's virtually impossible to keep up with, much less write about--I simply haven't the time. But I *do* listen and figure I can at least point others to things that are freely available. A case in point is this bandcamp page from Arthur Lacerda, a Brazilian musician who has worked with Mattin among others. Do check it out if you can--some fine, gnarly, rough-edged sounds are contained therein.
Edu Comelles - A Country Falling Apart (Audiotalaia)
The country in question being Spain, where all the sounds here were recorded under a set of rules which required that no conventional instruments be used. So essentially these are field recordings though I believe some of the sounds have intentional human agency. The elements on each track are described clearly, from chairs being pushed around in a university to the activities of flies around a dead fox to abandoned trucks to railroad friction and much more; all "are related somehow with issues such as dereliction, abandonment or misuse". You almost get the sense the works are composed--the chair piece, for instance, doesn't sound all that far from a contemporary work for string orchestra; there's a sense of orchestral structure at play. The flies serve as a kind of pizzicato over moans from a watermill that carry an amazing feedback quality, again with a real sense of composition. This is the case throughout, making the designation "field recording" feel entirely off the mark. And these are strong, muscular structures as well, quite plastic and forceful. Crucially, Comelles always retains a fine sense of air and space, even if that air is ozone- and mildew-tinged. It allows the pieces to rotate smoothly, to consistently offer different aural vantage points. Really impressive and moving; my qualms about field recordings fall by the wayside when they're as strongly reconfigured as is the case here.
An enclosed code also gives you access to a few excellent downloadable files from the label site.
If you have the slightest interest in this area, don't let "A Country Falling Apart" pass you by.
Friday, November 22, 2013
Jason Kahn - Things Fall Apart (Herbal International)
Kahn certainly has enough releases under his belt but, to his credit, lately he's often been coming up with significant variations of themes he may have overused in the past. Earlier this year, he found himself in a large room in Zurich where he had hoped to make a recording only to find a cavalcade of external sound sources, from horse-drawn wagons with their bells to a burgeoning Tamil wedding party--things falling apart enough to quash any routine recording notion. But he liked the room, the acoustics therein, the atmosphere, so he determined to make various unplanned recordings, kind of sketchbook style, remaining in the space well into the night when things quieted back down.
So we have fourteen untreated "drawings", averaging about four minutes long, Kahn using parts of his percussive.electronic arsenal but also voice, chair, plastic bags, etc. While one gains a kind of looseness not usually present in his work, one necessarily loses a bit of cohesion, not a problem if considered as snapshots over the course of the day. Sometimes he's a good free jazz drummers ("Dreaming Of", "Wait", the latter with voice), sometimes a radio tuner ("Message For"). He sings--tunes ("We Fall"). Does it teeter on the edge of too casual? Yes, I could see that reaction. On the other hand, I can imagine being secreted in the rafters of the building, discreetly listening to the welter of activity below, remaining fascinated throughout, perhaps scared when he full-throatedly yells and groans into the eaves ("Calling"). By the time "Night" occurs and Kahn lets loose with a loud, almost cantorial wail, I imagine the listener is either very aggravated or a little bewitched. I might fall somewhere between, but I'm glad he took this opportunity and happy to have heard it.
Goh Lee Kwang - 逆耳 New Ear (Herbal International)
An obscure, hermetic release, this. Two discs, some 130 minutes with two version of something called "Vurnmmkied" (google returns only hits related to his recording) and a thirty-minute track called "3753", with the following commentary on the label site: "Then I got nothing to say about "Vice Versa", because whatever it is, it can be vice versa; And "New Ear" is for ears." Does "Vice Versa" = Vurnmmkied? No idea. There is an ear on the back cover.
The first disc is largely given over to a very rough static sound, more broken electronics than static as such, I think, though on occasion you can just make out what seems to be snatches of field recordings and light metallic jangling. Once in a while the sound completely drops from one or another speaker. Upping the volume increases the level of interest; my visual analogy became peering through a Brillo pad with a high-powered microscope. About 25 minutes in, it enters a looped phase, a dull, thin clang marking each iteration, fuzz gradually becoming more predominant. At times, you almost get an effect similar to early Riley or Reich tape experiments. It does on a long time though, a really long time. I'm not sure if there's actual change or if one's brain begins picking out different sounds and patterns--I think the change is there, you simply have to make the investment in concentration. Moving one's head (ears) also matters. I admit almost dying when, in the last 15 or so seconds, one speaker leaps to sudden, extremely loud, life. After all is said and done, I was glad to have heard the work--it's a tough go but worth it.
Despite the similarity of title, "Vurnmmkied II" is a different beast altogether, beginning with wavering, midrange sines and progressing to subtle, quiet vibrating patterns, almost sounding like slowed down insect life, but just as likely to be motors of some sort. The sines take off into the ether, leaving behind the faintest of taps, only to plummet back in more complex weaves, deeper and smoother, with a Radigue-ish aspect. This, in turn, fractures into ever more brief buzzes soon offset by bell-like tones, the buzzes looping into a static, simple pattern. As before, this is more or less maintained for a good while, in this case about ten minutes out of thirty. Perhaps more difficult to even possibly get into than Disc One but still strangely attractive, decidedly at variance with much you're likely to encounter elsewhere. Another drastic shift occurs in "3753", all woolly, amorphous electronics, like billows of soft e-bow feedback, finding a low branch and just languishing there. Easily the most approachable of the tracks, it may also be the least satisfying as, while pleasant, it doesn't quite provide the gristle of the first two, feeling more like a sweet proffered as a reward.
Still, a challenging effort; considered as a whole, possibly my favorite work et from Goh Lee Kwang.
Christoph Gallio/Olaf Rupp - Fasane Hula Punk (Rapid Moment)
I don't think any reasonable person could fault me for momentarily thinking that I might be in possession of a disguised Diego Chamy release....
But no, we have instead thirteen short improvisations from soprano saxophonist Gallio and guitarist Rupp. I don't think I'd ever heard Gallio before and have only encountered Rupp, to the best of my memory, on the Berlin Strings album on Absinth, which I pretty much enjoyed. Here, having vainly attempted to rid my mind of the cover image, I nonetheless didn't find the music here very much to my liking, dwelling in that efi zone that, no matter how competently played (and both seem quite capable, Gallio with a good, breathy tone and ample dexterity, Rupp proficient as well, somewhere between Kaiser and Sharrock), just fails to excite me. I've seen several reviews around that praise it to the skies and, obviously, this could be right up the alley of a listener yearning for the good old Parker/Bailey days (though nowhere near as rough and rewarding as that pair at their best), but I'm not one of them.
"Fasane" means "pheasant" in German, incidentally.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Éric La Casa/Cédric Peyronnet - Zones Portuaires (Herbal International)
Field recordings with a difference, a two-disc set, one given over to each musician. La Casa alternates two short tracks (less than two minutes) assembled from radio transmissions in the first case, with lengthier ones sculpted from urban/industrial parts of Le Havre and Liege. And "sculpted" is the word that comes to mind. Sometimes with a (welcome) axe. I talked with La Casa recently (he literally lives around the corner from me in Paris) and, among many other things, we spoke of the well-documented difficulties I have with trying to make qualitative judgments on field recordings (not to mention other stuff!), a matter he agrees with. In a recording like this one, part of the "solution" is the sheer plasticity of the sound, the very moldedness of it. But also, of course, the choices made and the resultant disjointed narrative aspect that obtains. It's determinedly man-made but with the kind of eerie resonances that are unexpected consequences of human activity, including a booming interior hollowness in otherwise varying spaces. The listener is very much carried along here, hurtling often, the drastic changes in dynamics causing one's "aural stomach" (!) to drop. The ferocity and quasi-mancing presence in the first long track is mitigated somewhat in the second, a greater concern shown for various textures sliding across one another, accompanied at moments by wonderful, ultra-low booms, muffled but powerful. I was absolutely absorbed by it. I may not be able to quantify it, but when it comes to field recording, this is what I'm talkin' about.
The Peyronnet disc is something rather different. While it may have been constructed from the same source material (it was recorded in the same two cities, in the same year), Peyronnet seems to process the sounds more overtly than La Casa. The first two tracks, each about ten minutes long, are ok though they sound more or less like slightly less effective versions of those found on Disc One. But on the last track, Peyronnet lurches at right angles to his material, creating a vast, sighing drone that reams our space for six or seven minutes before expiring, leaving behind a empty, nighttime landscape in which you can discern soft footsteps and gently lapping water. Quite lovely. Matters settle down into an interesting kind of nondescript area, general sounds in a large space, maybe outside, machine engines and associated clatter leading to what sounds for all the world like a drumroll (I take it that it's not) shattering into soft rubble. A strange, otherwordly and very enjoyable piece.
A fine set, then, definitely worth checking out.
(Various) - Hear & Now (Purepresence)
On a semi-related note comes this book with CD bearing, yes, an unfortunate title.
If I'm understanding the structure correctly, each of 26 artists (a French/Australian project) was asked what one question they would like to be asked. Those questions were then collected and all presented to each individual who answered as many or few as they chose, sometimes one, sometimes many (presented in both French and English). Of names likely familiar to readers here, you have Marc Baron, Loïc Blairon, Anthea Caddy, Éric La Casa, Jean-Luc Guionnet, Pali Merseault, Cédric Peyronnet, Philips Samartzis, Thembi Soddell and Tarab. Some provide fairly pat answers, some dig a bit deeper; some talk mostly about themselves, some about more general issues, the latter always more interesting. It's well worth the read if you're interested in the area involved (sound-art, for lack of a much better term), especially the contributions of Guionnet, Samartzis, Baron, Soddell, etc.
The disc is, naturally enough, similarly varied, fifteen tracks of about five minutes each. Many are quite enjoyable, even in truncated form: Thomas Tilly's 'Inverted Field'--just empty space but entirely immersive; the colliding spaces of insect/amphibious and human/mechanical activity of La Casa'a and Samartzis' 'Captured Space'; 'Locus', a fantastically rich meld of drones, crackle and natural sounds from Lizzie Pogson; a track by Peyronnet, 'Kdi dctb 257 [e]', also very processed as above and also eerie and excellent; a fine, diffusionist track, whistling and thrumming from Kristian Mark Roberts; and an oddly delightful baaing (lambs? goats?) with area noise and speech via Pali Merseault. But each work has at least something to offer, a solid compendium.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Tristan Louth-Robins - The Path Described (3LEAVES)
I remain at a loss how to quantify many a field recording, especially those (like this one) which form what are often called "sound maps" of a particular area. Though they're constructed in a similar manner, they strike me as fundamentally different from, for example, early Luc Ferrari, wherein various elements from around a given location were sewn together to, somehow, miraculously, form something akin to a musical composition. Louth-Robins' pieces here represent what I hear as something other. He puts together a kind of sonic walking tour of regions that resonate with him,, areas he experienced earlier in life. He records sounds along a "path described" (described down to six decimal-place latitude and longitude measurements, all in southern Australia) and melds them into an aural environment that one would experience, possibly, whilst traversing it. In the first, "Fleurieu W. (Across Two Bays)", water sounds are prominent, in very high relief, rushing and burbling in the foreground, roaring distantly. There's a narrative element, described in Louth-Robins' notes, all designed to place the listener in the spot, which of course he/she isn't, making for a sense of displacement that a little bit uncomfortable, though that's not necessarily a bad thing. You *know* the construct is artificial but it resolutely attempts to achieve a trompe l'oreille effect. I vacillate between being sucked in and being put off. Water also plays a large role in "Fleurieu E. (Across Two Islands)", though the space in which it resonates feels larger, more empty; perhaps I'm unduly influenced by the accompanying photograph. It migrates to avian and amphibious fauna, not so surprising, but something about this track moves me more than the prior one. I'm guessing it's the implied space, the air that's felt around the sounds. Finally, "Alexandrina Flux" is once again replete with water (Lake Alexandrina) though it serves more as a bed for a multitude of insect sounds and rhythms. The latter are fairly impressive and, while I've had some amount of problems with the isolating of insect sounds before, these by and large manage to transcend their origins and exist as unanchored sounds--I'm actually not sure whether that's a "good" or "bad" thing. Sometimes, as I said, I fall into it entirely, other times I feel there's been too much aestheticization (if that's a word) of the sound, preferring to appreciate it in a more naturally embedded way.
So, as is often the case, a recording like this presents me with certain problems, not a bad thing. It's recorded beautifully and I can only assume that listeners engaged in the art of field recordings will enjoy it quite a bit. I did as well, even if aspects of it (not of Louth-Robins' devising, necessarily, but of the genre as a whole) continue to nag at me.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
SEC_ - Moscaio (Bocian/Toxo)
SEC_ is Mimmo Napolitano, a member of several Italian electronic and improvising ensembles, here heard solo using recorders, no-input feedback, radio, etc. The music is rough and ornery, partially out of noise but more reminiscent to me of things like Rowe/Lehn/Schmickler, bearing a similarly brutal and awkward aspect. The sounds chosen give no quarter to the soothing or calm--all is agitated, acid, black & white. While "Swarms of Flies", the first track, sounds like nothing of the sort, "Becoming an Insect" sounds like just that, an intense, aggravating swarm of gnats with bangs that may be hand swats. The title track seems more out of classic tape music, filled with conflicting elements--echoey bangs and static, metallic whines and low rumbles. It shows more implicit structure than some of the other pieces and though it's not my favorite area, works pretty well by its own lights. Listeners poised between cracked electronics and pure noise will feel at home.
SEC_ - Outflow (dEN/Toxo/hcb)
In one respect, this recording isn't so very different from the above: solo SEC_ manipulating various electronic instruments. But the music is far denser and has, without anything approaching beats, more of a propulsive feel, a great sense of the surge. At its best, the sounds approach the power of composers like Dick Raaijmakers, SEC_ using a similarly rich palette. There are even moments, as in "Evacuation" where you hear the slightest hints of heavy metal. When it settles down to a simmer, as on the title track, it remains finely agitated, never really relaxing. It's interesting to me why this connects so much more strongly with me than the music in "Moscaio". It certainly has something to do with the intensity which seems far more focussed here, more channeled. Each track has depth and presence--the disc is strong all the way through. Highly recommended.
Olivier Di Placido/SEC_ - Rainbow Grotesque (Bocian)
A turntable-like sound seems more prominent in this collaboration (an LP release) though none is listed on the credits, welding some of the same kind of material dealt with in "Outflow" to a Tetreaultian soundscape. I get the impression of many rotating devices here, a circular feeling to a large percentage of the sounds. There's also a rapid-fire, sputtering noise assault that, again, has some of the disjointed aspect of "Moscaio", abetted here by some Roweian guitar noises from Di Placido. And, as in that release I find that the music has slid back into an area more concerned with effect than with a deep body of sound. There's a rapidity of action that outpaces consideration for texture, placement, etc., something I think SEC_ managed to handle very well in "Outflow", though the final track, "_que", hints at the wider spaces of Asian stringed instruments, a welcome respite. As before, listeners into this area, say those who enjoy the stylings of Erik M, will likely not have the same problems as me.
Jérôme Noetinger/SEC_ - Testacoda (Bocian)
I was all ready for "testacoda" to mean something vaguely horrific, like "last head" but no, according to Google Translate, it's simply "spin". Noetinger, of course, is a long-time master of this field and I have to guess that it's largely his presence that swings the music, once again, back into the realm of the thick and juicy. Perhaps not so much thick as ropey, all these strands connecting small nuggets of sonic material, stretched through space, sticky enough to cause small floating objects and dust to adhere. Side A (this is also an LP) works a bit better than the verso for me, the latter having a share of loopiness that I could do without. But here, the fractured, stuttering elements manage to somehow fuse into a Twombly-like surface, isolated items that on their own might not hold much interest acquire a kind of meaning when set down in sequence or overlapped. Tough to explain, but well worth a listen.
A kind of rocky path, then, traced by these four releases but "Outflow" and "Testacoda" are well worth anyone's listen.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
David Dove/Lucas Graham - Screwed Anthologies (El Cangrejito)
David Dove/Jawwaad Taylor - These Are Eyes, See? (El Cangrejito)
A caveat right off the bat: My knowledge about the Houston chopped and screwed culture and the music therefrom (DJ Screw and others) is minimal at best. I first heard of it via Jon Abbey at IHM and his enthusiasm had me going and checking out various tracks here and there which I by and large enjoyed, though not so much as to investigate the genre in any depth. So be forewarned...
Until I heard the recent Balance Point Acoustic recording with Damon Smith, I'd also been more or less unaware of Dove's work as a trombonist, knowing him more as a curator of events down Texas way and I'm happy to have at least partially remedied that gap. As the subtitle of the first disc states, this recording consists of "improvised music under the influence of DJ Screw", the first (two discs) recorded in 2009 and 2010 with guitarist Lucas Graham, each musician also using electronics.
One thing that's immediately apparent is how well suited the trombone, especially in its nether reaches, sub-woofer-enhanced, is to the purple drank fueled realm of chopped and screwed (were low horns ever used by the style's original practitioners?). The first disc of "Screwed Anthologies"is a fairly spacey affair, trombone alongside echoing guitar, only obliquely referring to its inspiration, but beginning with the second cut, extracts of DJ Screw performances are heard emerging through the live music, thickly bubbling up into the sluggish, miasmic soundscape. Both instrumentalists refer to blues modes in passages that are isolated from the flowing mix, suspend there for a few moments before the beats move on. The final cut on Disc One centers on a four-note bass figure that strongly recalls that of "Bitches Brew", Dove circling it with fine imagination and Graham, in fact, presenting some chords that also seem to refer to late 60s Sharrock or McLaughlin. Without making overt references to the genre in question, the duo seems to be searching for (one of) its roots and doing a fascinating job of it. Little by little, turntable static and a recording of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" which, as I discover, had been Screwed, filters through--wonderfully so--and the piece eddies onward, merging live improv with various recorded material. The overall effect is pretty mesmerizing. I keep coming back to Miles, but that might be my age showing. The opening cut on the second disc might be my favorite, beginning with multiple, fantastic, layered growls from Dove and merging guitar lines, clicks, Screw and, I get the impression, a good deal more, creating a great flow. It's not so different in structure than some of the earlier music but the elements just feel even more right, finely balanced, again with something of the feel of Milesian expansion and scale. The following track spreads sounds out even farther, thinning the textures, positioning elements more sparsely. By this time, we have the basic modus, but the individual difference in execution and choice still allow the music to sound freshly conceived. By the end of the set, though, I did find myself wondering if this particular gambit, as enjoyable as I found it to be had been played out.
Well, I'm not sure but "These Are Eyes, See?" retains certain trace elements from the above but veers off into a different, perhaps equally rewarding direction. Some skeletal vestige of chopped and screwed can be heard--in the slowness, the long drip, in the attenuated echoes of bass lines, but we've entered the backwaters here. Jawwaad Taylor contributes spoken word in an urban vernacular that acknowledges hip hop but stands apart, varying his dynamics and imparting tinges of musical lilt to his speech. He also offers a bit of fine, low trumpet playing on the first cut, muted work on the second. Dove sends his trombone into the darkest depths, well below sea level. As before, these long pieces (two are over a half hour, with a brief third to wrap things up) create their structure as they unfurl, never feeling forced (not hardly! they certainly move at their own leisurely pace). There may be a tad too much echo now and then for my taste and a vocal enhancement or two that I found unnecessary, but for the most part, I was quite happy to sink in and let myself float down to the muddy bottom. The short track that concludes the disc utilizes stronger rhythms, a more declarative trombone and (I'm guessing) extracts of DJ Screws voice, forming a tight coda to the disc. I should also mention the fine paintings by Ayanna Jolivet McCloud that grace the sleeve which compliment the music in an unusual and for me, thought-inducing manner.
I greatly enjoyed both releases. Both a nice change of pace for me personally and works that satisfy and provoke in equal measure.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Coppice - Big Wad Excisions (Quakebasket)
First confront rises from the ashes and now Tim Barnes' Quakebasket--so great to see!
I'd had mixed feelings about the two previous offerings from Coppice, on Consumer Waste and Pilgrim Talk, having the sense that things were still in progress, ideas not fully fleshed out. My first impression here, then, is the opposite, that the pair (Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer) have certainly found their groove, perhaps in more ways than one. Each of the four cuts on Big Wad Excisions (I keep telling myself: think of a thick roll of cash, think of a thick roll of cash...) features one or more prepared pump organs manufactured by Kinder or Estey, presumably of late 19th or early 20th century origins. There are also karaoke machines, boomboxes, tapes, etc. These organs, with their woody tones, seem to be the source of much of the material, including providing the pulses that were present in the earlier release but are much more prominent here.
"Smack Keel" has a grinding, fluttering set of drones weaving around each other, various other repeated sounds surfacing and descending along the way. Though electronics are in play, there's an acoustic feel to the track, as though the buzzes might be from vibrating paper or bellows or exceedingly loose lips on a brass mouthpiece, a welcome airiness suffusing the atmosphere. A delightful, short wheeze ends things. Harsher, cracked electronic sounds begin "Impulses for Elaborated Turbulence (Excised)" before a dead slow, lurching quasi-rhythm manifests, stumbling to a halt and evaporating after just a few moments; pretty funny. "Sop" is the longest track, many of its tones bringing to mind the dreamier portions of late 60s Terry Riley; it's by no means that bubbly but some of the sonorities are quite similar and much of the music has that downstream flow to it. It's a wonderful piece, with great breadth and exquisite patience, giving the listener ample time to appreciate the play of textures, sandy against fluid, wood scraping metal and has a natural episodic quality, related images melting from one to the other, remaining muted throughout but still conveying a fine sense of dynamics. They make great use of the organs as organs too, summoning almost ghost-like lines from them, as from an ancient wax cylinder recording. If those aren't exhalations from organ pipes late in the piece, they may as well be. A great piece, I could ply this all day. The disc ends with "Hoist Spell", the organs taking on something of a chromelodeon aspect, the static fairly furious (though never overbearing), the deep, dual drone supporting a host of scrapes and small explosions. It's the one track the carries a kind of acceleration, building up steam only to (excellently) falling over the ledge with a thud at the end. :-)
A fine, fine release, easily my favorite slice of Coppice experienced thus far.
Welcome back, Quakebasket.
Friday, November 08, 2013
IST - Berlin (Confront)
No small pleasure simply to see these silver metal containers once again, heralding Confront's welcome return to operation!
I'm not sure you can call the IST concert from January, 2001 at the Total Music Meeting in Berlin historic specifically, but it does, as Fell writes in his notes on the release, serve as a kind of general marker in the annals of so-called lower case improv. Obviously, there had been precedents for some time, from Malfatti (and prior) on; Fell's own participation in the first Erstwhile recording, "Extracts", released in 1999 would be one example. But playing at an event like the FMP-sponsored festival, to an audience far more accustomed to a Brötzmann tenor eruption than a Davies harp caress was, in a sense, confrontational and Fell's observation on the presence of many younger Berlin musicians in the crowd, some of whom would explore their own quiet paths in upcoming years (I'd be curious to have this assertion documented) allows this half-hour to represent a moment in time that seems noteworthy.
Ironically, compared to much that ensued, the music itself is fairly active! Fell mentions that IST's music evolved over the years, beginning with sounds that were more overtly derived from the more vigorous "efi" form which its members had sprung and here, it seems to be at an interesting balance-point between sparsely occupied and loosely filled space, resulting in a kind of forward lilt that's very captivating. The volume ranges from quiet to a medium range and the musicians, particularly Fell (bass) and Wastell (cello), do a fair amount of pizzicato and otherwise percussive playing that harkens back to the jazzish (if several times removed) work of players like Guy, Kowald et. al., though certainly pared back a good deal. To the extent one can distinguish, not always the easiest of tasks, Davies (harp) appears to be pressing onward, or downward, with the most persistence, into the reductionist sphere. The flow is knobby, those wonderful, wooden knars connected by the most diaphanous of tissues--often quite spellbinding and I'm impressed by the apparent quietude of the audience here, given the nature of the event--and the performance feels complete, the duration expertly judged.
Fine music, happy to have had it documented.
The Sealed Knot - Live at Cafe Oto (Confront)
Speaking of history, I'd no idea about the derivation of the Sealed Knot.
It's always a pleasure to hear the work of this fine trio, 2/3 of IST (Fell replaced by Burkhard Beins) but with Wastell having long since switched over to tam tam and all three employing electronics and the resultant sound is entirely apart. We're now into long sounds (though I'm somehow hesitant to refer to it as drones), individual strings sustaining for many seconds but extremely varied in pitch and timbre and, for lack of a better term, particulate nature, while always remaining soft. The use of finely chosen long tones combined throughout with an array of quiet, rapid, gently percussive sounds makes this set, again perfectly circumscribed at about 1/2 hour, work so well. Despite the delicacy, the effect on the whole becomes very rich and reverberant, reminding me a bit of Rowe's solo music circa 2004 but with distance between the elements; there's a strong feeling of three-ness here, fantastic levels of detail. after a (luscious) lull mid-piece, there's a sudden and surprising three-note electronic-fuzz figure as the churning music edges darker by a few degrees before fading into some hollow percolation and wheeze.
An excellent recording, one of my favorites of the year. Welcome back, Confront.
Until the upcoming Confront site appears, available from the usual culprits, including Erst Dist, Metamkine and Squidco
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
Paul Khimasia Morgan - Blue Poles (The Slightly Off Kilter Label)
Nine solo tracks by Morgan, relaxedly running the gamut from field recordings to guitars, zithers, bicycle lights and papers of varying dampness. The pieces are brief, from one to seven minutes spread over 33 minutes and seemingly very, very casual, although I certainly can't be sure of this. But they raise the point: how to distinguish the happenstance from the intentional and, of course, whether it's always worth doing at all. The field recording from Nairobi that occupies the disc's first 58 seconds sounds randomly chosen, though pleasant while the ensuing cut features a guitar whose sounds seem pitched halfway between arbitrary plucking and Ellington's "The Single Petal of a Rose". The title cut has soft taps, like someone idly thrumming their fingers on a tabletop with nimb-ic hums and the odd squall while "objectssbrasion"'s flints, papers, tuning forks and foam rubber scurry about noisily and with good humor, causing a general ruckus. So it goes...It's the kind of music that, for me, works better when less concentrated upon, in which case, depending on the volume level (I've done from very low to room-disturbing), it integrates with the surroundings quite well or disrupts things with equal efficiency. I think, given my druthers, I'd have preferred longer tracks but, as is, "Blue Poles" is oddly ingratiating and gradually worms its way under one's skin, irritating and tickling in like ratios.
(Various) - GoldDust (The Slightly Off Kilter Label)
Six pieces culled from The HOUSE Festival, in Twickenham, England, 2011. Each track is introduced by a voice as though preparing a radio audience for the sounds to follow, an odd thing to include on a CD release unless, I guess, it's being used for publicity/educational purposes. It's requested that one uses headphones but I lack those devices. In any case...
Paul Khimasia Morgan's "For Uma Devi" is quiet and subtle, very beautiful, kind of like a condensed, concentrated version of the softer pieces from the above recording, tumbling into what sounds like distant calliope music; lovely. Michalis Mavronas doesn't fare as well with an overly spacey synth work, "Bedroom #1"--too many echoes, bubbly bits and other cliches and too long by half. "Maestro", by Neil Luck, is kind of hilarious, beginning with a swatch of the most banal, infomercial pop you're likely to ever hear, before segueing into overlapped male and female voices enunciating words in English and Japanese, the same words at the same time, occasionally swapping languages (I think the woman is Japanese, the male, English). Once in a while the sappy music bubbles forth, sometimes a voice is heard in isolation. After a few minutes, the male begins mumbling rapidly, the music returns (sounding like extra-sugarladen Chick Corea), the male breathes audibly and coughs and a new voice cycle begins, the words more staggered. Variations go on for a while, that awful awful music insisting on popping its merry, saccharine head to the surface an unhealthy number of times--weird, funny and disturbing; I want to hear more from Luck.
Jon Aveyard's "Captive and Comfortable" appears to be about rustling paper (with perhaps styrofoam or plastic cups) and, I'm guessing from the photos in the enclosed booklet, has to do as much with visual performance as sound. Still, it works well enough as an aural experience, a consistently captivating breadth of textures. Recordings from earlier that day in the vicinity are the material from which Marcus Leadley creates his collage, "House", mixing "natural" ones (insects, water, air) with conversational snatches. It flows well enough, but ends up being a bit innocuous, at best like standing on the sill between a populated gallery and a rural backyard, a potentially enjoyable position but you can do that yourself. Joseph Young self-introduces his homage to Cage, "In a Kitchen", a blend of modest, household sounds with spoken text. It's ordinariness is off-set by a certain amiability and wackiness of text (sentences from various literary works, I believe, as well as a Viagra ad and describing various foods found on the shelves), causing this listener to simply accept and enjoy.
An interesting compilation, shedding some small light on five composers whose work I hadn't known.
The Slightly Off Kilter Label
Tuesday, November 05, 2013
Julien Ottavi (the Noiser) - The Black Symphony (monochrome vision)
A smile inevitably crosses one's face, before hearing the music, when confronted with a work from Ottavi bearing a title like this. More so when scanning the thirteen sections, each bearing a classically inspired appellation like, "mouvement secundo presto" or "suite variation menuet". This is The Noiser, after all, so when the initial, full-force static assault of "prelude" booms forth, one thinks, "Yes, of course." But then, after the "silcenzio" (not sure, wondering if these terms are Corsican), matters mitigate. Each of the movements is self-contained, concentrating on a given sonic territory for several minutes, often augmenting it during its course but not venturing too far. There's a slightly surprising lack of aural violence here, relatively speaking, Ottavi seemingly more concerned with the overall form of the work and the way the subtle grains rub against each other. It's not a dramatic arc by any means, more a matter of positioning, almost a list, the connective tendrils having to be sought. That said, I find myself enjoying the tracks more as individual nuggets, especially the sparer ones like the sparse clicks, whistles and occasional explosions of a cut like the aforementioned "suite variation menuet". They possess a great amount of depth, multiple plies, and one can only imagine the kind of buffeting one's ears would absorb in a live situation. I wouldn't mind hearing a more organic cohesiveness maintained over a long stretch such as this; perhaps that's to come. On the meantime, another strong effort from the Noiser of Nantes.
Roel Mellkop-Mecha/Orga - Rotterdam (monochrome vision)
A collaborative disc between Meelkop and Mecha/Orga (otherwise known as Yiorgis Sakellariou utlizing field recordings made in Rotterdam (Meelkop's home town) as well as other electronics, presented in three tracks, a duet and two solos. The duo quickly morphs from recognizable area recordings into flat electronic pulses, intentionally deadening, winding down to flat blips before resurfacing at another location altogether, wispy and wind-driven, with a strong feeling of abandonment. There's a lovely, extended period of quiet, distant sounds, the pair allowing "almost nothing" to take center stage for a good while. Harshly grating metal announces a return to immediate activity; all is stark and cold. A tough, largely unpleasant and strong track. Meerkop's solo is all hushed, muted noise,a natural steady-state sequence, essentially urban background hum 'n' throb, but entirely absorbing. Mecha/Orga's piece begins more volubly, but soon settles into quietude as well, though more rural in nature, with soft water and wooden tapping, before the machines return, pounding and stamping relentlessly to an abrupt end. A good job, gray and intense.
Yannick Franck - Hierophany Иерофания (monochrome vision)
"A physical manifestation of the holy or sacred, serving as a spiritual eidolon for emulation or worship." The sleeve design and track titles ("Mausoleum", "The Dive" and "Dying Down") could have been used in a mid-90s, Laswell, death/dub effort and, truth to tell, it's not so far afield from that. Thick drones with a tonal base (or several tonal bases), a certain amount of sharpness within, weaving shards of church bells, voices, choirs, etc. Often very reverberant and pulse-filled but, for me a little too palatable, posing no problems while being not quirte ecstas-producing enough to not worry about having problems posed. It may fulfill the title's definition, but...not my area of interest.
THU20 - Vroeg Werk (monochrome vision)
A Holland-based ensemble formed in 1985, THU20 has included Jac van Bussel, Roel Meelkop, Guido Doesberg, Peter Duimelinks, Jos Smolders and Frans de Waard at various times, all of whom appear on various tracks of this 2-disc set (one studio, one live), culled from recordings done mostly in the late 80s and early 90s, with a handful from the oughts. As a generalization, the music (assuming this to be a representative sampling) occupies a territory in the vicinity of Voice Crack and similar groups who often used noise-electronics over a pulse-based foundation. That rhythmic element, which is pretty consistent and always of a mechanical nature, grates on me a good deal. I understand it was something of its time, antecedent to or synchronous with various dystopic forms, ambient to industrial, that were prevalent then, only transferred to a more improvisatory framework, but it serves to drag matters down here. The sheathing, the splatters, bangs, sizzles and other effects are fine, tickling ones ears and agitating in a good way. You only wish they'd be allowed to course through the space unfettered by pulse. There's some death metal-type declamatory yelling a la Boredoms, etc. A little goes a long ways and at 150 minutes plus, I'd long since grown weary.