Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Stefan Thut  - about (elsewhere)

A piece realized and recorded live in Huddersfield by a sextet consisting of Ryoko Akama (electronics), Stephen Chase (guitar), Eleanor Cully (piano), Patrick Farmer (metal percussion), lo wie (tingsha--small Tibetan cymbals) and Thut (cello).

In his notes printed on the inner sleeve, Thut writes, "while being together they enjoyed leaving time and space for each other". I haven't seen the score, but I'm guessing there may have been text instructions to that effect, or at least including that kind of consideration as a means of operating. The sounds throughout the work, which lasts almost an hour, tend toward the soft and percussive, beginning with a clear, crystalline bell strike (the tingsha, perhaps) and continuing with single plucks of the cello and guitar, strikings of piano keys (fairly high in the register) and discreet electronics. More often than not, they don't overlap each other, leaving plenty of space, although the silences, while common, don't last much more than 10-15 seconds. One of the intriguing things about the music is how relatively evenly spread the sounds are--thin but always within range, as though small items had wafted down from some height but managed to arrange themselves with only the barest of overlaying, something landing in all areas but leaving much ground uncovered. Some delicate clatter emerges, now and then a woman's quiet voice, here and there, a man's.  The basic character is maintained throughout, "steady-state" in a sense, very much like observing a natural phenomenon--leaves falling comes to mind. Oddly meditative.

There's not too much more to say. 'about' is entrancing, lovingly performed. I've listened to it a number of times and will be drawn back again--a perceptive, human work.


Monday, November 12, 2018

Clara de Asís - Without (elsewhere)

Prior to this release, I'd known de Asís as a guitarist but here she's in the role of composer. Violinist Erik Carlson and percussionist Greg Stuart offer a reading of her 'Without', a piece that strikes me as more complex and, to me, more difficult than I would have guessed at first blush.

'Without' is made up of a number of sections which, I think one could say, generally move from grainier and more abrasive to less so, though not in an obvious path and by no means always. It leaps right in with the violin offering high, needle-like harmonics with what sounds like numerous objects being roughly rubbed and tossed on a bass drum. Four minutes in, this abruptly shifts to a low vibraphone pulse; there's some other, obscure activity, probably ancillary sounds made by Stuart. Carlson enters, again pitched high but somewhat cleaner, a kind of Tony Conrad line weaving through the vibraphone cloud. This is followed by solo violin, a single note, held for about eight seconds, repeated by itself until joined by a clear, high bell, the pair heard in an irregular series with a decent amount of silence. I have the impression of an object with two main aspects being viewed from various angles, in differing light conditions. There's relatedness but a certain amount of apartness. This, for me, creates something of a challenge in hearing the piece as a whole, but it's a very enjoyable challenge, surely more an issue for these ears than anything amiss on the part of de Asís. Some 32 minutes in, there's an especially lovely sequence with vibes and lower, though still sandpapery, violin that serves as a kind of oasis after a demanding journey. This merges into isolated, low plucks on the violin, soon accompanied by clear wood block strikes, a pattern similar to that of the violin/bell sequence heard earlier. The blocks accompany a sustained violin tone very similar to that which began the work, closing it out.

Rigorous, spare, only occasionally luxuriant, 'Without' is a fine, demanding recording.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Jürg Frey - 120 Pieces of Sound (elsewhere)

One of those recordings, an exceedingly thoughtful and beautiful one, where describing the elements isn't difficult but getting across the effect on the listener seems next to impossible.

There are two works presented here, structural cousins of each other, perhaps. The first, '60 Pieces of Sound' (2009), is performed by the ensemble Ordinary Affects (Laura Cetilla, cello; Morgan Evans-Weiler, violin; J.P.A. Falzone, keyboard; Luke Martin, electric guitar) joined by the composer on clarinet. I was fortunate enough to hear this group play this very piece in Boston about a year ago; I believe this recording was done just a few days afterward. There are indeed sixty sound elements: thirty tones played by the ensemble, each lasting about twenty seconds and thirty stretches of silence, each lasting about ten seconds, played alternately. That's it. But there's so much more. I gather, from having watched the fine, short documentary you can see about Frey (Part 1, Part 2) that the harmonies chosen were arrived at intuitively, in other words, what would sound appropriate after the one just played (and the silence). But the choices seem so right, so necessary. They inhabit a relatively narrow spectrum, but Frey discovers such a bounty of tones, relationships, subtle dynamic shifts, etc., that I simply sit in wonder. The unisons are tight but not overly so, like the ragged edge of good watercolor paper; the silences are full, often ending with indrawn breaths. I find myself constructing brief little shards of narrative between any two sound segments: a darker turn here, some hope there, a complication arising, etc. but any such turn very, very subtle. A truly living music.
For 'L'âme est sans retinu II' (1997-2000), Frey once again uses periods of sound and silence, though their durations (over the course of forty minutes) vary. The sounds are field recordings made by Frey (as well as, per the credits, some bass clarinet, though I admit to having difficulty picking it up for certain; there are points where I think I hear it, if it's pitched fairly high), the silences are complete. There's an overall fine woolliness to the sounds. Sometimes, it seems as though the source is exterior, sometimes inside, here with a super-deep, rumbling bass spine, there with wispier elements, now and then with ghostly vestiges of what might be human voices. As with the previous work, the sounds occupt a territory that's roughly consistent--one gets the sense they could be excerpts from a single evening's work (they do connote nighttime to this listener), the recordist quietly ambling from location to location. Again, the shifts are discreet: a mild lessening or increase of dynamics, a slightly different timbre, slight in envelope but infinitely large in detail. Perhaps it's from the title ('The soul is without restraint') but there is, in fact, a sense of exposure, of opening oneself up to the world, pausing to consider what's been heard/seen (the silence), opening up again. So human.

A wonderful recording, yet another in the seemingly (happily!) unending stream of such from Frey.


Friday, November 09, 2018

Sarah Hennies/Greg Stuart - Rundle (Notice Recordings)

This is a very nice surprise. Most of the music I've heard from Hennies in recent years (doubtless missing much) has been comprised of stripped down, careful explorations of very subtle sonic phenomena and rhythms, sometimes akin to some of Alvin Lucier's work. And apart from Stuart's collaboration with Joe Panzner (Dystonia Duos, ErstAEU, 2013), I'm almost entirely familiar with him via his work on the pieces of Michael Pisaro and other related composers. On this cassette, I think everything is improvised (though perhaps with some "signposts"?), the results much rougher and freer than I would have expected. On Side 1, 'Tunnel', they do a fine job alternating between free portions, with quiet rustling on various small percussion, and quasi-structured portions with piano and vibraphone, lovely swathes of slow pulse augmented with rapid flurries. These approaches are also as in a lovely section about 13 minutes in with sustained, ethereal piano and delicate scrabbling that almost sounds like dry leaves or twigs rubbed on a hard surface. 'Basin' is rougher still, with less in the way of footholds, irregular clangs of metal (perhaps thrown or dropped) amidst skitters, pops, rubbings and more. Like 'Tunnel', the track is expertly paced, with the slightest inclusion of brief, regular taps on wood blocks providing the most gossamer of structures within the fine clatter for most of its duration. A cloudy vibes figure ushers in the final section, providing a bed for abstract, lightly metallic and wooden activity, intricate and abstract. Excellent work.

Matt Hannafin/John Cage - Four Realizations for Solo Percussion (Notice Recordings)

Matt Hannafin has put together an extremely engaging and, dare I say, accessible collection of actualizations of Cage pieces. While I've heard each of the works in a number of different contexts/instrumentations, I don't know them well enough (much less the scores) to offer any comparisons, so will only treat them as...found objects. 'c¢omposed Improvisation for One-Sided Drums With or Without Jangles' finds Hannafin beginning by making loose, airy but percussive sounds (he seems to have included the jangly bits), moving on to deeper tones but everything relaxed and allowed to breathe in the room, tumbling gently, with a very natural, irregular cadence. 'Variations III' is approached with tuned wood blocks and toms (I think), Hannafin again developing very unforced quasi-rhythms--reminds me of a calmer Xenakis sometimes--, the strikes rolling and falling with the unassumedness of raindrops. Oddly, there are certain pulses and sonorities that recall parts of the great 'Dialogue of the Drums' by Andrew Cyrille and Milford Graves. The aural space is once again finely navigated in 'Variations II', with much ringing metal, breaths, jangles, heavy drum smites and more, all with a wonderful sense of air between the sounds. 'One4', a late number piece by Cage, closes things out, with resonant bowed metal spiraling out into the silence-- succinct, no more than necessary, just perfect. Really one of the finer recordings of Cage percussion works I've heard in quite a while.

Notice Recordings

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Morton Feldman - For John Cage (all that dust)

Matthew Shlomowitz - Avant Muzak  (all that dust)

Séverine Ballon - Inconnaissance (all that dust)

all that dust is a new label, run by Newton Armstrong, Juliet Fraser and Mark Knoop, dedicated to contemporary music. Its initial run consists of the above-listed CDs plus two releases available as FLAC downloads: Milton Babbitt's 'Philomel' and Luigi Nono's 'La Fabbrica Illuminata'.

The Feldman is the only work I was previously familiar with, having heard the Ter Haar/Snijders version on hat ART and the Zukofsky/Schroeder recording on CP². Additionally, I've both heard the  Sabat/Clarke duo recording and seen them perform it live. Suffice it to say, it's a big favorite of mine. I haven't done any direct comparison--I don't know how one would begin to do that with a 75-minute piece like this, anyway--but my general impression is that this recoding fits in just fine, is as accomplished as any I've heard. Orazbayeva (violin)  and Knoop (piano) are considerate and sensitive, investing their playing with just the right tinge of (necessary, in my view) emotional content, beautifully evoking the plaintive, even melancholy aspect I get from late Feldman. There are moments, for example around the 43-minute mark, where they take things at a brisker clip than I think I recall from other performances but, surprisingly, given my general preference for languidness, I find this works perfectly with no sense of fussiness or forced propulsion. It's an excellent reading, a fine recording and highly recommended.

I'd never heard Matthew Shlomowitz' work before but I admit that the title, 'Avant Muzak' put me off a bit. It sounded like the kind approach popular in NYC in the 80s, a certain snarkiness that seemed cool for a while but, in retrospect, is somewhat embarrassing. The three pieces, each with four or five parts, are performed by the Norwegian ensemble, asamisimasa (Ellen Ugelvik, keyboard; Kristine Tjøgersen, clarinet; Tanja Orning, cello; Håkon Stene, percussion; Anders Førisdal, guitar), who did fine work on Lawrence Crane's 'Sound of Horse' (Hubro, 2016). The first track, 'International Transport Chimes Reggae' is something of a mash-up of the two referenced sources, with additional Japanese recorded text, accompanied by a whimsical clarinet/guitar-led theme, with the kind of quirkiness one might have heard from Fred Frith circa 1985; ok, but slight. 'Jazz in the Park' intersperses found dialog with a nightclub-jazzy slow crawl. Here, as elsewhere, there's a sense of some kind of synthetic envelope around the sound, nods to the drum machine, sampler-obsessed music of 30-35 years ago, as well as an uncomfortable evocation of Scott Johnson; perhaps its time has come around again, but this listener isn't quite ready for the reappearance of those stiff rhythms and globular tones. There's often some nice intricacy in the writing, as in 'Muzak in the Shopping Mall', here summoning the spirit of Daniel Lentz, but--do we care? On it goes, almost always leading your hapless reviewer to recall other music--Fenn O'Berg's reworking of movie themes, Zorn circa 'The Big Gundown', etc. Well handled, yes; sonically colorful, very much so. But it feels empty. Shlomowitz' intentionality is clear enough, I just don't find it a very worthwhile target. 

'Inconnaissance' presents eight solo cello works by Séverine Ballon. They range from around six to twelve minutes and seem to straddle composition and improvisation. To these ears, it sounds like a general idea was in place for each, within which Ballon freely elaborates, though I could be wrong. In any event, the results are striking, evincing a deep concern with dark, bowed textures, rich overtones and layer upon layer of grain. Ballon demonstrates harshness, an extremely strong and riveting attack and a balanced, complex sense of form, allowing herself ventures both into frenzied storms and soft, if agitated, pools of quiet. Pulse is often implied, on rare occasions overtly stated, generally, as in 'cloches fendues 2', well mixed with interests in pitch and scales. 'Tunnel' contains fantastic, sandy growls, moans rising from beneath, slowly swirling into the depths; very impressive. Each piece has its own character, each maintains interest (at the very least) throughout, each explores the cello in a serious and fascinating manner. What more could you want?

I admit to not being the biggest fan of Milton Babbitt, but label co-owner Juliet Fraser does a very fine job with his 'Philomel' (1964) for voice and tape, her soprano liquid and bright, trickling in very lively fashion through the delicate web of iridescent, burbling electronics which also includes vocal permutations. I have no real point of comparison, but I can only imagine that Fraser's reading more than holds its own with others. Luigi Nono's 'La Fabbrica Illuminata' was written in the same year as the Babbitt and is also for voice and tape, but that's where the similarity ends. The voice (here, Loré Lixenberg) wafts in and out of a bleak, warlike series of sounds, harsh and grating--winds howling through bombed-out cities, angry mobs, downed wires sizzling. She appears, is subsumed by the tumult, resurfaces minutes later, worse for wear but persevering. Gripping, harrowing, stirringly performed, a fine piece.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Various - Sound and Stone (composer-built)

Sound stones are sonic sculptures created by the father-son team of Klaus and Hannes Fessmann (you can learn more about them via this You Tube video.  This recording, I believe the first on the composer-built imprint, collects interactions between the stones and nine musicians. The stones themselves, wetted and played by rubbing with one's fingers and hands (possibly bowed and/or struck as well?), produce a range of ringing tones, sometimes with a pleasing roughness to them, other times more pure--depending on the instrument used, the tones, their pitch range, etc. varies. But generally speaking, we're in drone territory, sometimes augmented by electronics. Depending on how they're handled, they can lend themselves to music that's a bit too close to Eno-esque New Age for my taste (Farwarmth) or wonderfully dark and ominous (Machinefabriek, aka Rutger Zuydervelt). I'd also single out Monty Adkins' contribution for special praise. Most of the the others fall somwehere between these poles, always enjoyable and compact (playing times in the five minute range) with greater or lesser graininess, not too distant from what listeners may have experienced via labels like Unfathomless. You can hear for yourself at the bandcamp link below.

composer-built @ bandcamp

Carlo Costa - Oblio (Neither/Nor)

A solo percussion effort from Costa, two long pieces and expertly handled. 'I' is expansive, flowing and very well-paced, keeping on the quiet side of things while patiently exploring a vast array of instruments large and small. Costa constructs a convincing landscape, entirely without pyrotechnics, maintaining interest with both delicacy and urgency. 'II' employs wood blocks, high-pitched bells and some swirling, metallic based attacks, more structured (though loosely enough), recalling to some extent the late Jerome Cooper's brilliants solo concerts. It "decomposes" into a section of harsher rubbing, somehow melancholy, drifting into plaintive moans. Very good work, well worth a listen when it releases on November 6.

Neither/Nor Records

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Tyshawn  Sorey - Pillars (Firehouse 12)

I need to write a brief aside about my listening experience over the past few decades. Many regular readers know it, more or less, but as I anticipate that to the extent this review is shared among those not familiar with my history and shifts in taste over the years, it might be a good idea to clarify.

Essentially, since 17, I grew up with an abiding love of jazz, particularly what one might refer to as post-Coltrane jazz; my first jazz album purchase was Ornette's 'Science Fiction' in the spring of 1972. While entirely immersed in this for some 15 years, by the late 80s, I was beginning to sense a lack of new, innovative work. I loved the music of the previous 60-70 years as intensely as ever but, even among musicians who I greatly admired (for example, Roscoe Mitchell, Cecil Taylor, etc.) I increasingly got the feeling that they had done their great work and were now just elaborating on themes they'd developed as relatively young men. This was all well and good--few people have even one great idea in their lives and these folk had a number of them. If they settled into comfortable middle age, I've no reason to complain. But I found myself devoting more of my listening time to music in the post-AMM improvising tradition, the post-Cage "classical" tradition, various music from around the world and more, at the expense of keeping up with developments in jazz (definitional issues with the term aside). I'd dip in now and then, go to the occasional gig. Sometimes, I'd be pleasantly surprised. I recall duo performances at the Vision Festival--Fred Anderson/Harrison Bankhead, Bill Dixon/George Lewis, Barre Phillips/Joe Morris--that were spectacular and hugely moving, but more often, much more often, I'd have the sense of musicians more or less going through the motions. They were good--usually very good instrumentalists, had a huge command of their chops, but the new ideas were few and far between, at least to the extent I could discern. Needless to say, I doubtless missed many a counterexample but one only has so much time and I chose to dwell in areas where my "success" rate was much higher.

All the above to explain my background with regard to Tyshawn Sorey's extraordinary release, 'Pillars', a single composition spread over three CDs, clocking in at ten minutes shy of four hours. I  only knew Sorey as a name, associating him with Mitchell and Anthony Braxton, but had never heard any of his music; my loss, no doubt. I was, in fact, surprised to find this release in my mailbox but I'm very happy it turned up.

Sometimes there are manifestations of ideas that occur, burn brightly but evanesce without incurring any follow-up investigations. Michael Mantler's 'Communications' from 1968 always struck me as a prime example. Barry Guy, with his London Jazz Composers Orchestra, attempted to pick up the banner and move it forward, with some arguable success but, in my mind, it remains fertile, untilled territory. Another area was explored by Bill Dixon, particularly in his 'Vade Mecum' sets. My first overriding impression from 'Pillars' was, "Ah, at last! someone's extending Dixon's idea." I think that's part of what in play here and it's no small thing.

Sorey's conception is immense, not simply in terms of length but in spreading a general idea across that span, music that has its composed or preset portions but moves seamlessly enough between those and the (I suspect) longer improvisatory sections that the listener quickly loses much in the way of "episodes" and goes along with the flow in a manner similar to an AMM performance (although the music sounds much different). The notable exception are the three "signposts" that conclude  each disc, ultra-low, long tones played by Sorey on the dungchen, a long, Tibetan ceremonial horn. The ensemble deployed, arrived at after several years of work on the piece, has a great deal to do with the overall sound of 'Pillars', deep, dark and rumbling: an octet consisting of Stephen Haynes (trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet, alto horn, small percussion), Ben Gerstein (trombone, electronics), Todd Neufeld (electric and acoustic guitars),  Joe Morris (electric guitar, double bass), Carl Testa (double bass, electronics), Mark Helias (double bass), Zach Rowden (double bass), Sorey (conductor, drum set, dungchen, percussion, trombone). The consistency of the group sound, its elasticity and molding of form, is one of the true marvels of this release.

Describing it in detail is a fool's errand. It's so much "of a piece" that any detailed description necessarily misses the point. A few moments: It begins with a pure snare drumroll that lasts several minutes, an opening incantation perhaps and an element that doesn't reappear. We then plunge into an amorphous zone, a cloudy, darkly rambling area with Sorey's deep percussion undergirding an intriguingly clangy guitar. As is, it's attractive if not too unusual--some of Dixon's atmosphere, the guitar maybe recalling the way it's been used in Threadgill's music. But that episode is broken off much more quickly than I'd have expected and the music shifts, smoothly, without awkwardness, to an adjacent territory, darker still. I'll pause to note the wonderful timbral differences in the percussion--the range is enormous but never seems forced or extravagant, always enhancing the general sound. There are dynamic surges and they too seem natural--none of the automatic vaulting into high energy so common among many groups, everything paced and well considered while retaining elements of roughness and surprise. And this is all before the massed appearance of the basses and trombones. From here--and we're only some 18 minuted into Disc One--we begin to approach the real meat of the matter. Throughout, the basses, arco and pizzicato, are used brilliantly, from huge swarms of buzzing to elaborately intricate plucked interweaving, often played off the deep brass (even Hayne's trumpets, etc. tend to be pitched low). Sorey writes in the accompanying notes, "Low frequencies seem under-explored in improvised music. But I wanted to go there, trying to achieve a physical depth of tone and hypnotic drone". That "drone" isn't what many listeners have come to think of; this isn't Radigue. It fluctuates far too much for that, but retains an underlying sense of flow. Not explicit pulse, but underground river flow, disappearing from overt view on occasion but leaving traces that it's still there, below the surface.

Other referents are tough to come by. There are times when I'm reminded of early Art Ensemble explorations, maybe something like 'How Strange/Ole Jed'; Haynes evokes Bowie more than once and, as mentioned, the spirit of Bill Dixon certainly hovers over the proceedings. There are also points, few and far between, when something of the typical over-busyness of many a free jazz improviser surfaces, but those episodes flicker briefly and are soon quelled. Electronics, sometimes dense and active, more often subtle, are integrated very well, growing out of the acoustic ensemble, never feeling added on or used for superficial effect. Again, trying to think of comparisons, perhaps a pointless endeavor, I come up with...Simon Fell? Maybe? But Sorey's work really stands apart.

His ability to maintain not just interest, but fascination over such long duration is amazing. Even if I had the odd quibble about a given patch of music, my interest never came close to flagging. I've listened through three times now, have found new details and relationships on each listen and expect to for a good while. I imagine 'Pillars' will provide rough sledding for listeners more attuned to music in stricter lineage with contemporary experimental jazz--there are few easy footholds. But I'm more interested in getting those listeners in the post-AMM, even Wandelweiser tradition to give this one a try. The music isn't like those, but offers possibilities, beautifully realized here, for parallel investigations that may prove every bit as rewarding.

Highly recommended.

Firehouse 12

Monday, October 22, 2018

Thrainn Hjalmarsson - Influence  of Buildings on Musical Tone (Carrier)

A very exciting release from a composer new to me, Thrainn Hjalmarsson, from Iceland. Five  pieces for varying  ensembles (and solo), all rather complex and  tough to describe. The title piece, performed by the Caput Ensemble (violin, viola, cello, bass, two percussion) skitters and dances in a light but gritty manner, pausing some fairly intense activity for soft, grainy, whistling observations by the strings, punctuated by breathy exhalations--eerie and precisely limned. 'Grisaille' finds the Icelandic Flute Ensemble (a dozen of them) navigating through a slowly swirling, misty world, the flutes creating gorgeous, otherworldly harmonies, breathed in and out in (very) rough unison, gradually splitting into higher and lower sections, gently seesawing. True to its title (a painting in gray tones), it remains in a single area and explores it wonderfully, a compelling work. Violist Krista Thora Haraldsdóttir is the solo performer on 'Persona', all ultra-high whispers, indeed often sounding  flutelike. Careful and delicate, but sinewy. Ensemble Adpater, a quartet with flute, clarinet, harp and percussion, lopes and hops through 'Mise en Scène', valves softly popping, pausing for a quiet, long flute tone, percolating along again, encountering blurry clusters of backward-sounding phrases.  Again, mysterious and very enticing, evoking image after image. Finally, my personal favorite, 'Lucid/Opaque', played by Nordic Affect, a violin/viola/cello trio. In and out breath is once more the structure, a three pulse phrase, very simple (but massive complex within the chords), low-high-low, iterated over and over with small shifts in individual duration, tone and attack throughout and occasionally punctuated by brief puffs. A sleeping dragon? Hjalmarsson again stays within a narrow territory but augments it and works it to a marvelous degree, every addition or new angle perfectly apt. It's an immensely moving piece. 

I'm very happy to have heard this, recommend it highly and can't wait to hear more (curious about the Carrier label as a whole, as well)

Jérôme Noetinger/Robert Piotrowicz/Anna Zaradny - CRACKFINDER (Musica Genera)

An LP issue by this powerful trio. As one might expect, rich, harsh electronics are the order of the day but very finely focussed, like some otherworldly, arcane machine. More swirling than harsh, betted by the unexpected wielding of an alto saxophone by Zaradny amidst the dense electronics. A good deal of structure underlying the chaos, with a fine break several minutes from the end of Side One ('The One Who Searches for Cracks') that leads to a thrilling conclusion. The other side, 'Universal Atlas of Evidence' uses a bending, elastic substrate to support more alto excursions and dozens of other bits and pieces besides. It's a bit more "spacey", perhaps a little less visceral than the previous track, but rewarding. It, too, has a pause some four minutes from its conclusion, whereupon it veers into darker, more anxious and warped territory. Good work from all involved.

Musica Genera

Espen Lund - Blow.Amplifier (no label)

Three excursions (available for download purchase) from Norwegian trumpeter Lund. When the title track begins, we're in reasonably familiar territory, Lund ably playing in the manner of any number of post-Bowie trumpeters. But soon there's a heavy flurry of electronics, aggressive and semi-droney, Lund seemingly triggering some sounds, playing through others, those waves changing character to clanging reverberations. It splinters out from there, becoming denser and more propulsive, the "normal" trumpet seeking to be heard through the walls of noise. Well done. 'White Mass' is a small, involuted knot of gurgling noise, a strong balance of cohesion and random strands, growing quite harsh toward the end. 'The Great Equalizer' begins with jagged echoes before lurching into what an innocent listener might guess is a fuzz-laden, slow guitar intro to a death metal dirge ("noise" on this track is supplied by Bjørn Ognøy). The overt rockish references I could likely do without but Lund handles them quite well, spreading the sound like dark paste over almost 15 minutes, grinding to a fairly spectacular conclusion. Good, exploratory work.

Lund's bandcamp site

Kaori Suzuki  - Conduit (Second Editions)

The single 26 1/2 minute piece begins with high-pitched, iterative electronics, kind of related to the sort of sounds you might hear, or imagine hearing, when two communications systems are interacting, except multiply layered. Alien and a bit disorienting. There's a pulse but the patterns seem ever so slightly staggered, gradually overlapping and muddying the rhythm. Sometimes the music reminded me of Terry Riley's 'In C', for a severely limited range of instruments (Reich's glockenspiels come to mind as well). A very low, very quiet and subtly quavering hum emerges as the primary tones continue to, very slowly, blur and mingle, but then recedes. The elements coalesce into a smooth but fluctuating hum, then cease. A fine, concise, no-nonsense piece of work.

Second Editions

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Tonus - Intermediate Obscurities I +  IV (A New Wave in Jazz)

Tonus - Texture Point (A New Wave in Jazz)

Tonus - Cagean Morphology (A New Wave in Jazz)

Ok, the label name is unfortunate. The three items above are the first I've heard from this imprint and, as it happens, the music has little to do with jazz, though I take it from looking through the label's catalog that prior releases do.

Tonus seems to be a project of guitarist Dirk Serries, the personnel varying from album to album, in these cases from duo to trio to two sets of sextets. 'Intermediate Obscurities I + IV' is a two-disc release, performed by those sextets. On 'I', listed as being "based on a leitmotif by Martina Verhoeven', the ensemble has a superficial jazz-like aspect: Jan Daelman, flute; George Hadow, drums; Serries, acoustic guitar; Verhoeven, piano; Nils Vermeulen, double bass; Colin Webster, alto saxophone. If I were searching for any quasi jazz-related music to compare with this 58-minute work, recorded live, maybe I'd go with some of the sparer Roscoe Mitchell. Carefully composed, softly played longish lines overlap in ever-changing patterns, the tones ranging from clear to harmonics-laden (especially the arco bass, sometimes the alto). The flute and alto tend toward the higher registers, never harsh, the percussion arhythmic and sparsely colorful, the piano and guitar injecting slightly acidic chords as needed. The basic character and approach is maintained throughout but the interior details are constantly shifting. It only moves internally, but that movement and the choices made are engrossing.

'IV', a graphic score by Serries, utilizes an ensemble with Cath Roberts, baritone saxophone; Serries, Acoustic guitar; Benedict Taylor, viola; Tom Ward, bass clarinet; Webster, alto saxophone; and Otto Willberg, double bass. There are certain similarities with the previous work: a single piece, here about 45-minutes long, remaining in more or less the same territory for its duration, the instruments playing longish, overlapping tones. But, perhaps via the instrumentation, it's pitched lower, darker and, to no small degree, more sumptuously. When the baritone, alto (played low) and bass clarinet combine in complex harmonies, the effect is quite luxurious. There are also occasions where the intensity level surges, though not for long. Some listeners might consider the two pieces overly akin. I don't have that problem at all and hear them as related, but entirely distinct and very absorbing entities.

'Texture Point' presents four tracks, performed by Serries (acoustic guitar), Verhoeven  (piano) and Taylor (viola). There's no indication of compositional credit given here, so I'm guessing the pieces are improvised (Guy Peters, in his liner notes--he also wrote them for the other two releases--is a little defensive here, as though writing for listeners unused to this atmosphere), though the three "textural" pieces are indeed that while the single pointillistic one lives up to its title. 'Texture I' offsets deep notes from the piano, lending the music a darkly romantic, even gothic aura, with mid-range, rich plucks from the guitar, both sliding alongside rougher scratching, bowing and rubbing from the viola. 'Textures  II' is more vibrant, the piano crystalline, though the viola is more somber, with low, wailing laments. The pointedness of "Point A" resides in the piano and, especially, the guitar--the viola casting skittering harmonics that swirl around the two more stationary sound emitters, the music growing harsher as it progresses. Finally, 'Texture III', returns to the rich bleakness, both the guitar and piano plucking dry tones against sustained, darkly questioning, isolated piano tones. A very impressive recording.

The third release, 'Cagean  Morphology', is a duo with Serries and Verhoeven, a single 34-minute piece. Again improvised, this is easily the sparest of the three offerings, the single, ringing tones of the instruments allowed to hang and decay, leaving much silence. One picks up the likely influence of the Wandelweiser school here. As with the previous works, the music remains consistently within one "space" throughout and, again, manages to offer patterns, exceedingly slow as they are, that subtly vary, more than maintaining the listener's interest. Toward the end, the piano hits several high, brilliant notes while the guitar answers with more hesitant, wavering ones--very lovely. 

All three recordings carry a fine quality of perseverance, of sustaining an idea over a long time, closely investigating aspects encountered, a favorite approach of mine. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Yiorgis Sakellariou - in Aulis (Unfathomless)

Mathieu Ruhlmann/Joda Clément - Sound Diary of Quiet Pedestrians (Unfathomless)

Jeph Jerman - Imbrication (Unfathomless)

Since 2009, Daniel Crokaert's Unfathomless label has been releasing music that, by and large, revolves around the nexus of field recordings and electronics. In one sense, you're pretty sure of the general area to be explored when first slipping a new disc into the player. In another, he and the musicians tend to do an excellent job of exploring the vast amount of potential variation within such apparently restricted environs.

Yiorgis Sakellariou brought Aeolian harps to the site of the Greek temple of Artemis in Aulis, Greece, recording (and, I assume post-producing) their interaction with the wind, in the process picking up other ancillary sounds. That contrast, between the wooly, whistling, windborne atmospherics and the rougher (though always blurred) booms and bangs, forms the basic structure of the 43-minute piece. But there's much more, many shifts in focus and mood, from quiet contemplation replete with crickets to dully roaring, grinding, somewhat threatening cycles ending with a sharp crash of glass. Subsidence, resurgence in different guise; there's a wavelike effect throughout, relatively clear or detritus-filled, a fine combination of the natural and manmade. A very well thought-out effort, overall.

Canadians Ruhlmann and Clément constructed the four pieces that comprise their "diary" in Vancouver. A photo in the accompanying sleeve shows the pair on a beach, but there's something vaguely industrial about the sound-world created here, a hint of ozone in the air. At the beginning of 'Crook of Land', deep thrums are offset by a distant buoy (?), steamy hisses and bell after-tones. 'Gore and Hastings', the longest track, is very expansive, unfurling in a multilayered array of burred, marbled sounds before migrating to harsher tones that recall bowed cymbals, then sputtering, returning to a harborlike area with softly booming foghorns and urban hums. The anxiety level ratchets up a bit on 'Point-No-Point', with higher pitched, keening whines set against (again, faraway) machinery clanks and groans; a very strong track. The  disturbingly titled, 'Middle Arm' extends this mood, a kind of inky, billowing darkness emerging, swallowing the bay. Excellent work, fine soundcraft.

I think I've only heard one thing from Jerman in the last few years ('Matterings', his collaboration with Tim Barnes on Erstwhile) and prior to that, nothing since around 2010, though I have plenty from the oughts. Even so, 'Imbrications' (yes, I had to look it up: the overlapping of edges, as in tiles or scales) fits in very well with my previous Jerman-ic listening. Recorded at various sites that seem to cluster around the American West, it begins with a long section of dry objects rubbed, rustled and otherwise gently assaulted. As ever, Jerman possesses an uncanny sensitivity and sensibility in his choice of objects, touch and sound placement, something very "natural" but also quick and unhesitant. An interlude of booming noises, sounding as though he's smacking the edge of his fist against an empty oil drum briefly shifts the focus, before the raspy shaking and rattling resumes. There seem to be machines or rotating devices in play, recalling the shaking tables used in his fantastic 'Lithiary' (Fargone, 2005) and the work closes with echoes of that, what sounds like marbles being rolled around the top of a rough, circular surface. Jerman is wonderful at extracting a nearly infinite amount of sounds and layers from the most basic of substances. He does so once again, here.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Lucio Capece/Marc Baron - My Trust In You (Erstwhile)

This is the first appearance of either musician on the Erstwhile label, and, at least as far as this listener is concerned, the results are a little surprising (and excellent). I'd admit that in Baron's case, "surprise" shouldn't really be an option as the relatively small number of prior releases under his name certainly gave one little reason to expect this or that general approach--they varied quite widely. Capece's sets, in recent years at least, on record and in concert (I've been fortunate to witness events of his in both Paris and Sokołowsko, Poland) have often (not always) been very quiet affairs, both in acoustic contexts (on bass clarinet and other reeds) and with regard to his floating speaker installations. So there were at least a couple of aspects of 'My Trust In You' that were a little surprising: one is the relatively aggressive nature of many of the constructions and, secondly, how often (if subtly) drones or pulses were present.

Seven tracks, Baron credited with tapes, field recordings and various analog devices while Capece wields a vast array: bass clarinet, slide saxophone, analog synth and filter, drum machines, double looper, equalizers in feedback, regular and telephone field recordings, mini speakers in movement, the latter I take to be his airborne mini-speakers. It begins abruptly with stark vividness ('Believe in Brutus'; the recording is replete with odd track titles), recalling 60s-70s tape collage music, but with massive depth and shifts of focus, from distorted radio transmissions to mumbled (looped) verbiage to colorful swatches of synthetic tone. It's dizzying, very in-your-face like a slap, bracing. With 'Black soils - museum without statues', we seem to enter a Lambkinesque world, murky, with iterated, cyclic sounds (noise), slurred words. Midway through, beneath thin cymbals, a grimy drone emerges briefly, is swallowed by electronic flutters,  dissipating into a raft of clicks and clatters--then chaos ensues with much louder cymbals, backward tape, loud yet distortedly muted chimes and more. Very complex, extremely immersive. But things shift to a rather more approachable form in the following cut, 'Self-centered interpretation of', where we enter a relatively calm but still simmering soundscape that sounds like something Fennesz might have come up with had he stayed on track--sandy drones, multiply-layered horns--while the ensuing piece rotates around an intense, mechanical rhythm (or two superimposed), before splintering into a public space with footsteps and hazy voices. Different rhythms appear, rapid and flickering, with high-pitched squeals. Given the presence of elements such as the pulses and extended tones, the works are reasonably approachable; probably one of the better recent Erstwhiles to proffer to someone interested in dipping his/her toe into the general vicinity. The remaining tracks branch out further, though really always maintaining more than enough fabric to pull the listener along, to sustain a thick undergirding of sound--no silences to be found here, just surge (nonstop in 'Snowblind', until an odd, loopy gunshot-laden conclusion).

A wild ride, not what I expected but eminently worthwhile, a very fine addition to the catalogs of both Capece and Baron. Hop in.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Matthew Revert/Vanessa Rossetto  - everyone needs a plan (Erstwhile)

Even without the Wynken, Blynken and Nod imagery that graces the cover and the other five panels of the CD package, any listener would be struck by the dreamlike nature of this release, though not so much in structural sense. The single track, running some 75 minutes, is a kind of steady-state construction in that its overall aspect is roughly the same throughout even as the interior details bristle and mutate. It's like a large, think slab of material, the outline defined, the stuff of it chaotic, oneiric.

There are several constants: the voices of Revert and Rossetto primarily. They're never conversing as such (natural enough given their half-world spatial separation in real life, although the illustration on the disc itself implies ears connected by wires), more like words and phrases passing each other in the ether. Sometimes, it sounds like they're reading, other times perhaps one side of a phone conversation, first separated, eventually overlaid into an all but incomprehensible density, isolated words emerging from the crowded eddy of sound. If there's any slight reference one might have to previous sound-work, it could be Robert Ashley's great 'Automatic Writing', but pretty much only in the sense of (sometimes) indistinct language embedded in a larger flux. There's also, often, a kind of electric guitar tone, fairly consonant, that weaves in and out, providing a fluid kind of spine. As dense as it becomes, the sound-world is never particularly harsh, never thin or attenuated, always thick and rich, a sweet stew. Crucially, it's never overcrowded; there's a great deal going on but the sense of depth imparted allows the events to be heard as receding from one's immediate plane, occupying  space at some distance from the listener.

How else to describe this? The music very slowly intensifies as it flows along, the words and phrases are both personal and serious; Rossetto, for instance, talking about recent writing, laughing self-consciously, saying, "I try to tell  you everything", "I've had things happen to me", etc. But these are all just elements of an overall stream. It's like trying to describe a swirl of cream in a cup of coffee. At the end, multiple voices entwine around themselves, unaccompanied, finally thanking each other.

An exceptional, deep, unusual and wonderful recording.


Friday, September 21, 2018

Some capsule reviews of items that have arrive via download in recent weeks. Apologies for the brevity, but I just don't have time to get to them all in detail. Sorry!

Michael Lightborne - Sounds of the Projection Box (Gruenrekorder)

A sonic documentation of the history of the film projector (movie house version), from spool to digital. The recordings seem to be presented as is, with little or no obvious enhancement. The sounds, unsurprisingly, are cyclic near the beginning, less so as time moves on but also include the actions (and noises) made by the projectionist moving about, manipulating parts of the machine, etc., which sounds are perhaps even more intriguing than the mechanical ones. Sometimes you hear what's being shown in the theater, also fun. The last two tracks (this is a vinyl release, btw) form a small drama: 'Tower (death rattle)' (like the title implies) and 'Digital Light', spinning off into the hums and drones of the new age. Enjoyable work, especially for those interested in localized field recordings.

Gregory Büttner - Voll.Halb.Langsam.Halt (Gruenrekorder)

Contact mic recordings sourced from a 1930s steamboat that had been used as an ice-breaker, on which Büttner voyaged in 2010. Much of the ship was metal and contained a vast array of sound possibilities and excellent resonance. Büttner has assembled a load of recordings, not altering them in any manner apart from cutting and reconfiguring, presenting a 35-minute sequence of sounds that, while often iterative in an engine/machine sense, strike me as generally remote from water, an interesting isolation and encapsulation of internal noises and environments. Those repetitive sounds, which layer and agglomerate in the work's end phase, can be quite hypnotic and rhythmically fascinating. As one who has spent time on ferries, ear pressed to engine housings, I enjoyed this quite a bit.

Eisuke Yanagisawa - Path of the Wind (Gruenrekorder)

Yanagisawa crafted a homemade Aeolian harp, then took it to various locations where it interacted with the environment, natural and manmade. The harp created the eerie, quavering tones that these instruments tend to do and both blends in and offsets the surrounding sound-world very effectively, whether that world is made up of low horns of passing ferries, waves and seagull cries, drilling from a local mine or much subtler contributions. The minute fluctuations in the character of the harp are quite intriguing as are the various environs and the interpenetration of the two. Yanagisawa evinces great sensitivity in his choices. While perhaps more over than, say, Toshiya Tsunoda's recordings, fans of his work will find much to enjoy here,


Jason Kahn - Circle (Editions)

Kahn previously released an album with the same title (Celadon, 2009). Not only is this quite different from that one, it's (as near a I can determine), very different from anything else he's put out. I should qualify that as Kahn has issued a large amount of material and, though I've heard a great deal of it over the years, I'm not a completist but we'll just say that, on the surface, we're a long way from the rotating metals, etc. from the past. Here it's just guitar and voice and, on first blush, a slightly more subdued Keiji Haino comes to mind. The guitar work is a kind of abstracted blues form (it was Kahn's first instrument), played in very much his own style though perhaps guitarists from Fahey to Tetuzi Akiyama might drift into the listener's mind, while the voice ranges from strangulated cries, to soft moans to evocations of Robbie Basho.  Whether the works, reasonably similar, quite justify the hour of the disc is open to question, but I largely enjoyed it and appreciate Kahn's willingness to venture out on this particular limb. Curious to see how long-time listeners deal with it.


Ilia Belorukov/Miguel A. Garcia/Alfredo Costa Monteiro - Etwas (Tanuki)

A cassette release from Belorukov (Electronics & fluteophone), Garcia and Costa Monteiro (both electronics). Hard say why but for me, the music never rises out of the ordinary (and I say that having greatly enjoyed work from all three musicians involved over many years). Long quiet tones, ghostly and industrial, like sounds one might hear at a power plant late at night. Sometimes they morph into distant, ghostly sirens. All well and good, ok enough to listen to but, more or less, nothing that hasn't been heard before and, really,  quite a while before. It's almost retro after a fashion, perhaps a revisiting of similar constructs from the early oughts. An upward surge in volume and texture flowing atop the previous whines appears about halfway through the second side, contributing a welcome change of atmosphere.  Took a while to get there, but it arrived.

You can judge for yourself at Tanuki

Crackfinder  - Crackfinder (Musica Genera)

Crackfinder (not sure if it's just the LP release name  or also that of the trio) is Jérôme Noetinger (electronics, tape), Anna Zaradny (electronics saxophone) and Robert Piotrowicz (electronics, synthesizer). My experience with Noetinger's music in recent years, as well as to a lesser extent that of Zaradny and Piotrowicz, led me to expect something  along the lines of an extension of the "classic" electronic work pioneered by musicians who worked with INA GRM, not necessarily a genre of which I was overly fond. Indeed, 'Crackfinder' begins vaguely in that neck of the woods, though denser, extremely so, with Zaradny's saxophone (clicks and moans) prominent amidst thick, ropey swirls of electronics. This was bracing enough, but then Side 1, 'The One Who Searches for Cracks', launches into even further reaches towards its conclusion, touching on kind of a hyper Glass-circa-Einstein explosion (but better)--pretty great stuff. Side 2, 'Universe Atlas of Evidence', gathers up the debris and proceeds, wending a more slippery path, oozing its way, acquiring detritus as it goes--less spectacular than the flip side, but as impressive. Really strong work, highly recommended.

Musica Genera

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Linda Catlin Smith  - Wanderer (Another Timbre)

This is the third release of Linda Catlin Smith's music on Another Timbre, preceded by two wonderful recordings, 'Dirt Road' (2016) and 'Drifter' (2017). On 'Wanderer', yet another very fine entry into both her and the label's catalogue, we're presented with eight compositions, written from 1990 to 2010, and performed by Apartment House in various configurations ranging from solo to septet plus conductor.

While serenity and a sense of the rural (not necessarily pastoral) pervades Smith's work, the pieces here might not be as immediately ingratiating as those from the prior two albums which, as much as I enjoy those, might be a good thing, evincing an even greater range than I knew (my failing, no doubt). 'Morning Glory' begins with lovely, soft piano arpeggios (Philip Thomas), soon echoed by vibraphone (Simon Limbrick) but when the strings and reeds emerge (Mira Benjamin, violin; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello; Heather Roche, clarinet; Nancy Ruffer, flute; all conducted by Jack Sheen), a certain level of astringency is introduced, a chill breeze. As the piece progresses, it remains unsettling, balancing soothing lines with darker bumps and squiggles, ending in a somber, lushly umbral sequence. Thomas is heard solo on 'Music for John Cage', the earliest-written and shortest track, which begins as a kind of slowed-down processional, steady and light-filled, but ends with unanswered questions. A septet plus conductor (Chloe Abbott, trumpet; Benjamin; George Barton, percussion; Limbrick; James Opstad, double bass; Roche, Thomas and Sheen) tackle 'Stare at the River', the waterway hazy with fog. Long lines from bass and trumpet are offset with delicate cymbals, briefly tinging the piece with a jazz-like aura, perhaps enhanced by the clarinet. This segues into an almost hymn-like sequence atop which the piano plays spare but sparkling chords before eerily fading back into the haze. 'Knotted Silk', played by the same septet, is spikier, with sharp percussive strokes over strings and muted trumpet, burrs in a meadow.

'Sarabande' is a sextet with Benjamin, Limbrick, Lukoszevieze, Roche, Ruffer and Thomas (here on  harpsichord). A wafting, dreamy layer of reeds and strings is pricked by the keyboard, like a meandering yet stately dance that now and then slips into unison. Thomas is joined by pianist Philip Knoop for 'Velvet', another dark, probing work, initially recalling Satie from his Rosicrucian period, then floating skyward with a series of ethereal arpeggios, eventually settling gracefully and comfortably to ground--a wonderful piece. The title work, for a quintet of violin, percussion, cello, clarinet and piano also navigates an uncertain terrain, the piano stepping carefully through a skein of quavering lines, tiny bursts of cymbals and deep, soft drums. Finally, there's 'Light and Water', an enchanting vibraphone/cello duet, not negating the preceding uncertainties entirely, but offering some amount of solace, the lowed, bowed cello tones laying to bed the clear, steady vibes before raising their own questions.

A captivating set of very thoughtful compositions, rigorously and empathetically performed by members of Apartment House.

Another Timbre

Monday, September 17, 2018

Lance Austin Olsen - Dark Heart (Another Timbre)

Olsen was originally a visual artist and has continued to produce a vast amount of paintings and drawings, some of which have adorned the covers of other Another Timbre releases (it's well worth reading the excellent interview with him at the Another Timbre site for a career overview). So it's not surprising that three of the four works presented here derive from graphic scores, one by Olsen (heard in two realizations) and one by Venezuelan musician Gil Sansón.

'Theseus' Breath' is the piece heard twice, both times by a quartet, each almost ten minutes in duration. The first, interpreted by four members of Apartment House (Mira Benjamin, violin; John Lely, electronics; Simon Limbrick, percussion; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello), is a rough and stormy affair, the strings grating and grumbling, the percussion wooden and clattery, the electronics burbling with a menacing air. One envisions a minotaur lurking on the other side of the maze wall. The range of colors  and tones evoked by the quartet are a fine analogue for those seen in Olsen's visual art, for instance that seen on the cover (although an interior image shares the title--perhaps it's the score?). The second version, quite different, is realized by Ryoko Ajama (turntable, melodica), Patrick Farmer (paper, card), Isaiah Ceccarelli (reed organ, percussion) and Katelyn Clark (organetto). While still creating an unsettling aura, there are more held tones via the organs and melodica. This yields an open, if foggy, environment populated by odd chirps, whistles and skittering sounds, that slowly evaporates; very lovely and mysterious, especially the last several minutes.

The source material for the title track derived from recordings sent to Olsen by Norwegian guitarist Terje Paulsen, consisting of both guitar shards and field recordings. Olsen began working with the material in 2013, let it be for a few years, then picked it up again in 2016 to rework it, by that time no longer able to always distinguish between Paulsen's original contributions and his own. The quality of the guitar sounds--liquid, bulbous, globular--makes for a unique element in Olsen's sound world. There's an interesting break after about five minutes at which point one may have been satisfied. When the sounds return, however, we hear piece of old radio theater: Dragnet, if I'm not mistaken. These disembodied voices weave their way through a morass of whines, echoing clangs, deep guitar scratchings, etc. For all the variety of landscape, it strikes me as somewhat steady state, a dark vision of an endless alley. I'm not sure it quite holds together for its length (32 minutes), but it's an gripping enough ride.

A Meditation on the History of Painting' is another story. Along with another work from this Canadian Composers series, Cassandra Miller's 'Duet for Cello and Orchestra', it's one of the single most impressive and absorbing pieces of music I've heard in years. Gil Sansón's graphic score begins with some very loose directions, for instance, "Some sounds can be related to painting, or not" and "Gestures can be smears or can be calligraphic". The images on the 12-page score are a complex sequence of clipped texts (including numerous cash register receipts, laid horizontally, puzzle pieces and, most prominently, smears of paint, from streaked and, frankly, fecal looking to saturated swathes of color):

Olsen, wielding field recordings, amplified copper plate and engraving tools, amplified iron park bench, found recording (wax cylinder), guitar and voice, traces his way through, beginning with exterior sounds, cars and trucks on a wet road, maybe, some chimes, wooden clatter as from a balafon, the noises welling into a large wave, fading after some six minutes and shifting into another world. Here, velvety ringing tones circulate dreamily, their wafting overlaid by what sounds like a sharp instrument tearing through cardboard--it's an intensely sensual juxtaposition, just fantastic. A men's choir emerges (the wax cylinder, I take it), subaqueous and quavering. The scene shifts again, guitar plucking amidst hums and harsher buzzes, sparks and clacks, a slow-motion seesaw. Male voices, vaguely distorted in one way or another, appear in snipped fragments. The volume heightens, the elements acquiring more tension, a disturbing rattle skims back and forth across the stereo spectrum. Finally, a last, quick scratch, like a struck match. Difficult to describe, wondrous to experience.

Yet another very fine entrant in this series, highly recommended.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Alex Jang - momentary encounters (Another Timbre)

I believe this is the first physical release from Jang, a Victoria, Canada-based composer (the recording is part  of Another Timbre's Canadian Composer Series). It presents four subtle, delicate works, three performed by members of Apartment House and one by the Chilean guitarist, Cristián Alvear.

'momentary encounters (5)' is a lovely piece, played in an exterior environment (Tooting Bec Common, South London) by clarinetist Heather Roche. It's an idea that's been in play for a while but this performance is exceptionally strong. I gather that the instrumentalist doesn't make a "scene" of herself, simply sits and plays in a public space, any intervening noises--truck engines, barking dogs, yelling kids, birds, etc.--occurring more or less without knowledge of her presence. The music is soft and serene--long, hollow tones that easily weave in amongst the environs, tinging them gently. The whole piece evokes a calm, observant state of mind, natural and unforced. Interested listeners may like to hear another version, recorded recently outside of Cafe Oto, London prior to a performance of Jang's music inside. Here, a loud conversation "interrupts" the playing, though whether or not the speakers were aware of Roche's presence is open to question. Either way, it casts the piece in a different and, for me, intriguing light.

The remaining three works are studio recordings. The instrumentation in 'any three players' (here, John Lely, melodica; Simon Limbrick, vibraphone; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello) might remind one of Christian Wolff and the music does as well, at least a bit, with quiet, near-melodic lines slowly dancing about each other, paths interweaving but rarely colliding. It meanders, but I have the sense that's the purpose--slowly wandering, seeing what happens; very satisfying. Alvear performs, solo, 'a gray, bent interior horizon', a sparser work. Slightly muffled notes are plucked at a slow pace, sometimes in regular sequence, sometimes with varied density. It's a fragile piece and I'm not sure there's quite enough there to hold up for its ten minutes, but thoughtful nonetheless; I'd be curious to hear it out in the world, as in the first work. The final track. 'distributed tourism', is played by a quintet (Mira Benjamin, violin; Limbrick, vibraphone; Roche, clarinet; Nancy Ruffer, flute; Lukoszevieze, cello). It's more a clearly composed work than the trio, with overlapping lines, harmonies and somewhat less vague melodic material. And it's gorgeous. Again, an amble is what I think of but here, instead of three walkers on their own (in a common space), there's some teamwork, some mutually agreed upon points of interest and convergence. As with all the music on this disc, the atmosphere is quiet, unassuming but alive with intelligence and perspicacity. Its a 25-minute stroll, well-paced, deftly colored and subtly structured: a joy.

'momentary encounters' is a fine introduction to Jang's music. I'm eager to hear more.

Another Timbre

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Cassandra Miller  'Just So' - (Another Timbre)

Cassandra Miller 'O Zomer!' (Another Timbre)

The second installment of the Simon Reynall-curated Canadian Composers Series has arrived and it's a rich batch of work. Two of the releases contain the amazing music of the currently London-based composer Cassandra Miller, the first two recordings devoted to her work, as near as I can determine. Long overdue, I'd have to say.

Miller's music is absorbing for any number of reasons. She makes use of aspects of various branches of modernism including minimalism and, in some pieces, a kind of structural stasis but almost always also references traditional forms and techniques, from Bach to folk songs to Ives and more. 'Just So' collects four pieces for string quartet, performed in typically beautiful and rigorous fashion by the Bozzini Quartet, two shorter works bracketing two longer ones. The title composition is a lilting affair, recalling some kind of village gig or reel, the strings pitched high, dancing, the rhythms just this side of irregular, the cello coming in for some wonderful underpinning in the final few moments. A bracing, joyous number to open the set. 'Warblework', as the title implies, concerns itself with birds: three thrushes and a veery. To my ears, not birdsong as much as tracing the paths birds make in flight and very movingly so. The strings swirl and skitter in brief bursts for the Swainson's thrush, alight for a moment, then take off once again while the hermit thrush swoops a bit more, stays lower to the ground and the wood thrush grunts and pushes its way through the underbrush before standing still to survey its surroundings, which are filled with lovely, dry harmonies. The veery, another kind of thrush, does seem to make a doleful call amidst grainy streaks, the calls multiplying, a little anxious as though espied. Here, as in other pieces, Miller makes subtle use of approximately iterated cells of music, a near repetition of clusters that nods to minimalism without ever falling into rote usage--this is an especially fine work.

'About Bach' is the longest work presented here and kind of a centerpiece, illustrating the sort of structural tack that Miller seems to enjoy and that, in a way, she elaborates in her marvelous composition, 'Duet for Cello and Orchestra', commented on below. Here, if I'm not mistaken, one violin (maybe sometimes both?) plays a very highly pitched, seven-note ascending "scale" throughout the piece. Readers with more musical knowledge than I might identify it, but I was reminded, oddly enough, of the scale sung by the lead tenor at the conclusion of Glass' 1979 opera, 'Satyagraha'. It's very poignant in and of itself, gathering strength and weight and, indeed, poignancy as it's repeated again and again. The lower strings, in an almost conversational manner, reflect with phrases that seem obliquely derived from Bach, though with an entirely modern hesitancy and questioning aspect. Toward the end, it attains a clear dimension of solemnity. There's a type of stasis in effect, pinioned by the violin(s) but also enhanced by the general self-similarity of the interposed phrases, though they in fact vary at all times. The sense of overhearing snatches of discussions in a large room pervades, dreamlike. Just a deep, marvelous and affecting work, brilliantly performed. The disc concludes with 'Leaving', another work that appears to have folk song roots, maybe a sea shanty, lolls in place like an old docked boat gently buffeted by small waves. Each of the strings seems to carry a related tune, melding together at times, drifting apart at other moments. It's an immensely satisfying, soft kind of almost-lullaby, a fine ending to a superb recording.

'O Zomer!' also contains four compositions, but for instrumentation ranging from the ensemble Apartment House (on this occasion consisting of Chloe Abbott, trumpet; George Barton, vibraphone; Simon Limbrick, marimba and crotales; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello; James Opstad, double bass; Christopher Redgate, oboe; Heather Roche, bass clarinet; Philip Thomas, piano; and Jack Sheen, conductor) to a piano/whistling duo  (Thomas and Clemens Merkel) to solo violin (Mira Benjamin) to full orchestra (the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ilan Volkov). It's yet another astonishing and spectacular set of music.

I get the idea that Miller likes the notion of partitioning her works into parts, often halves, leading the listener down one path of expectations only to offer a surprising (but entirely appropriate) shift. The beginning of the title piece (I discovered that "zomer" is Dutch for summer, but don't know if that's the allusion in play here) displays that idea in a nutshell: eight quick, steady taps of the same note on a marimba (underlaid by a bowed chord by, I think, cello) followed by a held tone of roughly equivalent length, maybe a tad shorter, by...hard to say--a muted trumpet? The marimba gradually slows down, though remaining steady. It's very pure, even pristine, eventually accompanied by single notes from the piano. Suddenly, four minutes in (halfway), the music erupts in a bright, clattering, bleating explosion of sound, extremely colorful, wonderfully arranged, that surges and pulsates for the remainder of the work. Two worlds, the serene and the gorgeously chaotic. 'Philip the Wanderer' opens with low, brooding piano rumbles, the left hand way down there, grumbling, the right stabbing at mid-range notes, almost forcing them out, the entirety bearing an anguished, troubled mien. Again, about halfway through its 14 1/2 minutes, the atmosphere breaks for several seconds. Then, very surprisingly, we here the piano tracing a lovely single-note, halting melody offset by thick, chorale-like chords, very regal though still retaining some of that tortured feeling. More surprising still, and marvelously moving, is the emergence of a whistler (Clemens Merkel, normally the lead violinist of  the Bozzini Quartet), limning a sad, wistful tune, low in pitch. He only stays for a minute or so but has imparted an important layer, or several, to the music. After his disappearance, the piano takes on a more joyful guise, cascading raindrops in a higher register, before coalescing around a simple, rising eight note pattern that repeats for a minute or two. 'For Mira' uses kernels of repeated lines, gnarly, stretched and involute with elaborations shooting off like tendrils from a vine. The language is almost Romantic; one can imagine it being formed from shards of cadenzas severed from a late 19th century concerto. The line is fairly long and involved, long enough that one might not realize it's repeating, albeit with short breaks and augmentations. On the whole, it's a keening, wrenching, grinding piece, fraught with longing and desire, extremely heartfelt.

And then we come to 'Duet for Cello and Orchestra'. I'll say at the outset that this is one of my single favorite pieces of music heard over the past several years. We hear Charles Curtis bowing two dark tones, seesawing slowly, growling them out, infused with grain. I was immediately taken back to an event I witnessed several years ago in Paris when Curtis, along with Carol Robinson and Bruno Martinez, performed Éliane Radigue's 'Naldjorlak I, II & III', the first third of which, lasting about 45 minutes, was Curtis playing a single "wolf tone". We were sitting about six feet in front of him and the effect was overwhelmingly powerful. After four iterations of this "simple" pattern, there's a flowering of trumpets, a small, fluttering fanfare that appears, bounces about and ends with a little, humorous curlicue. This form is essentially repeated throughout the first half of the 32-minute work, with both the complexity of the lines and their instrumentation expanding to the full orchestra, the cello maintaining its grim, slow-stepped progression. The orchestral pattern matures into the form of that flutter of arabesques followed by an extended, steady chord, again sometimes ending with that wry flourish. I had the impression of the flocking of three or four different birds, their patterns varying and intersecting, rising from trees, settling. I also sensed a faint allusion to the orchestral parts of Ives' 'The Unanswered Question'. The pure sound color aspect of Miller's writing (and, I suspect, of Volkov's conducting) is an absolute joy, as is tracing the complex but individuated lines; I really can't say enough about how glorious it is. The cello, while maintaining the basic pattern, seems to stretch it out a bit now and then, acquiring a greater sense of dolor, of inevitability. Around that halfway point, the orchestra subsumes the cello entirely (it may be continuing underneath, difficult to tell for sure) but the ensemble has been bent to the solo instrument's will, adopting its back and forth motion, though writ large (glimmers of John Barry's score to 'Moonraker' as reconfigured by Fenn  O'Berg spring briefly to mind). The whole conglomeration sways and rocks like an old ark making its slow, steady journey through heavy water. Just when you think that this is the way it's going to end, in an indefinitely cyclic eddy, the music quiets down and we once again hear the cello, buried for the past 10-12 minutes, emerge with a new demeanor, playing an oddly lilting line, high notes, sad but sing-songy, like a lost bird making its way home. The work ends with an ironic iteration of that winking flourish we heard earlier.

Just a phenomenal recording, huge congratulations to all involved. I can't wait to hear more from Miller.

Another Timbre