Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Ryoko Akama/Bruno Duplant/Dominic Lash - next to nothing (Another Timbre)

The latest in an ongoing series of long-distance collaborations involving Duplant. I still find myself going back and forth on the idea but, at the very least, Duplant (percussion, tone generator) chooses some fine musicians with whom to interact over horizon, here Ryoko Akama (VCS3 and Dom Lash (double bass, clarinet, laptop, percussion. I say, "Duplant" as I get the sense that the instigation of the project was his but the disc contains four pieces, one each by he and Lash and two (or two variations of one) by Akama.

Duplant's "a field, next to nothing", while presumably knowingly playing on the English translation of the Ferrari work, has nothing to do with field recordings (though there is a bit of knocking about in the middle distance on occasion) but rather is a text score that, from the result, seems to strongly urge held tones of given durations as the tones generated by the performers roughly (not precisely) overlap with 8-10 second pauses in between. It was written with the trio of Antoine Beuger, Jürg Frey and Radu Malfatti in mind, so its Wandelweiser-esque nature is no surprise but the tones chosen are extremely warm and inviting, sliding around each other gently, caressing, the pitch shifts often subtle but sometimes, as at about the 20 minute mark and again just before the piece's conclusion, distinct enough as to acquire some drama. A lovely piece, well realized, no complaints on non-physical presence from me.

Akama offers "grade two" and "grade two extended". Three disparate sounds quickly emerge: a pure electronic tone, a struck bell or other metal, quickly damped and a plucked bass. This relatively granular (large grains, though) approach contrasts well with the preceding work in one manner but also carries forward a similar overall feel, one of sustained, serene contemplation. There's an odd conversational, even questioning aspect to it, almost like people speaking three different languages but amiably, relaxedly, attempting to communicate. Despite the titular similarity, Akama's second piece sounds nothing like the first, the elements consisting of static, a fluctuating tone and deep, bowed bass and being more contiguous to each other, wavering but never ceasing. The cross section of textures is appealing, but I somehow wanted to hear more shape in the work's structure.

Lash confronts the reality of the situation by titling his contribution, "three players, not together". Though it begins in an area similar to Akama's "grade two" it quickly shifts direction and ends up standing somewhat apart form the other music; it's also my favorite track. A rough set of clicks intrudes, slows down, stops. Underlying billows of troubling electronics weave through high, almost brittle scrims, halt, pick up. A chime sounds in the darkness, an organ-y chord emerges. It's almost cinematic, with an edge of the surreal and random, very dark and oily. It's strong and uncomfortable. The other pieces are fine but this was needed as a tonic, a different take on long-distance cooperation, perhaps and an impressive job.

Another Timbre



Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Jamie Drouin/Lance Austin Olsen - sometimes we all disappear (Another Timbre)

From the interview with Olsen on the Another Timbre site, we learn that this release is a kind of memory drawer, crafted from bits and pieces the pair had recorded over the years, such meetings now a difficult arrangement after Drouin (credited here with suitcase modular and portable radio) moved to Berlin from Vancouver. One can imagine the musicians "shuffling through" these recordings, saying, "Ah yes, remember that?" much the way any of us would comb old family photographs. Olsen (amplified objects and audio cassettes) relates, "At each fresh listen the album brings back moments of deeply hidden memories, including times spent sitting in cafes and on buses allowing fragments of conversations to drift in and out of my consciousness" and one does derive a very personal, quiet and introspective feeling from the recording, something that raises the question of whether an artwork can be too personal, something I found myself thinking while listening.

There's a great deal of silence on the disc. Again, I almost get the impression of someone considering an item from a few years back, putting it aside, thinking about it quietly, then moving to the next. This makes for more a series of discrete episodes that can only be "connected", in the listener's mind, by stepping back or perhaps in retrospect. On some listens I found this easier to do than on others, maybe depending on my degree of concentration. Certain portions posses their own independent power, for example the final one, with everyday static abutting some deep and disturbing rumbles, really nice and also providing a slight release from the general spareness of the album. Some linger a little while, others seem more transitory, flitting by before you have a good chance to contemplate them, like the person next to you turning over the page in a photo album before you've had a chance to really examine an intriguing shot.

It's a good recording, posing several interesting questions and maybe even answering one or two.

Another Timbre


Monday, December 15, 2014


A. F. Jones - rearward through forgottenness (Laminal Recordings)

Jones had posted a few tracks of his own work over the years at Bagatellen and elsewhere but this is his first proper release, containing seven pieces developed from 2009-2013 and it's a very strong one. I've known Al for a good number of years (in fact, he and I, along with Derek Taylor, Jason Bivins and Nat Catchpole, were the original creators of the Bagatellen site) and am aware of his career work in submarines, often for months at a time, during which periods he was involved, iirc, in underwater sonics and radar. Given that knowledge, it's impossible not to hear vestiges of what he undoubtedly experienced in those nether environs in these works, replete with layers of varied hums and mysterious clicks and knocks. The music falls largely, though not exclusively, into the electronic drone category, albeit that branch where the elements are harsh verging on the industrial, the repetitions having the aspect of turbines vibrating through metal walls. The opening track, "X Malfeasant, Appropriating Y" is somewhat unique (and perhaps my favorite) in that, after eleven or so minutes of great churning and grinding, it unexpectedly (but natural seeming in retrospect) introduces heavy drumming, only for about a minute, a gambit that works quite well, opening a brief window into an adjacent world. "Parachronists" is calmer, one of those that connotes the loneliness and eeriness of (in my imagination) sitting in a metal tube, thousands of feet below sea level, listening while "endocardiums IV" departs partially from the drone, with some iterative clanging that seems almost seems an allusion to Tibetan bells, though that's probably more me than Jones. "radiator piping" rings true to its sources and is quite bleak and evocative, like most of the pieces possessing precisely the right duration, as is the case with the minute-long "Sorrento Statis". The title track (which phrase I was curious about and googled, discovering its origin in a poem by James McMichael) begins with chiming, vaguely rock-like "chords", but then descends into a furious and agitated flutter (hard not to envision undersea propellors) that disappears with alarming quickness. The last cut, "Wrought Signals", is the most disorienting and lies closer to the broken electronics/noise end of the spectrum, thick hummage interspersed with blocky interruptions of same; it's the one track I don't thinks works so well--too much surface, not enough resonance for me--but is intriguing in terms of the range it offers in opposition to the other works.

Overall, though, a fine debut, looking forward to much more.

Laminal

Also available via Erst Dist and Squidco



Sunday, December 14, 2014


Morton Feldman - Two Pianos and other pieces, 1953-1969 (Another Timbre)

It's a little strange and uncomfortable to be writing about a new release of Feldman's music (and it's a spectacular one) shortly after having read accounts of recent public revelations by Bunita Marcus, dedicatee of one of his major later works, as to the physical and emotional abuse she suffered under him for some twelve years up to his death in 1987. Some discrepancies between artist and work are enjoyable, such as the seeming dichotomy between Feldman's garrulousness, mode of speech etc. and the incredible delicacy and grace of his music. But some aren't. Of course, it's no great news that awful people can produce great art so we simply have to file Feldman into that unfortunate category and move on, though I can understand people having difficulty doing so. I've always been interested in retrospective evaluation of creative work in light of new information but that generally involves one's apprehension of attributes not previously known, not personal failings on the part of the work's creator. For myself, knowing about some horribleness in the individual's life does cast something of a tinge on any subsequent experience, but not a debilitating one. I still have a sense of the work's standing apart though, again, I'm by no means entirely confident of this stance.

That said, this is one extraordinary release. Two CDs, really well structured: thirteen pieces, nine of them for some combination of between two and four pianos, four embedded amongst these for small ensembles of between four and eight players. The principal pianists are John Tilbury and Philip Thomas, with Mark Knoop and Catherine Laws on several compositions while the other musicians include Anton Lukoszevieze and Seth Woods (cello), Mira Benjamin and Linda Jankowska (violin), Rodrigo Constanzo and Taneli Clarke(chimes), Naomi Atherton (horn) and Barrie Webb (trombone). Excellent notes on the music by Thomas can be found at the Another Timbre page for the release and Thomas' own blog.

The set is bracketed by two readings of "Two Pianos" (1957). It's hard to know what to say except to express the contention that were I forced to listen to nothing but these performances for the next year or so, I can imagine worse fates. I don't happen to own any other recordings of this work (though many exist) but I listened to one online by Kristine Scholz/Mats Persson which, while entirely lovely (hell, it's a great composition) lacks the subtle sharpness of the Tilbury/Thomas, the moving lag between the two, the sheer space created. Absolutely spellbinding, the marriage of conception on Feldman's part and crystalline, hyper-sympathetic interpretation by the two pianists. And really, I could say the same about almost every track here but that would be pointless. A sublime balance of the poised and the incisive, restraint plus the willingness to (gently) attack. It's futile to pick favorites but "Piece for Four Pianos" is also profoundly moving and deep and I think I even slightly prefer it to the 1958 recording with Feldman and Tudor. I can't even begin to choose among the ensemble pieces; each one is marvelous, shimmering, thoughtful--choose your adjective.

Everything about the release, conception to execution, is just perfect; one of the finest things I've heard in a long time and an absolute must for any lover of Feldman, warts and all. Apart from the classic Tilbury recording, "All Piano", this might be my favorite Feldman release ever.

Another Timbre

Friday, December 12, 2014



Nick Storring - Gardens (Scissor Tail Records)

Nick Storring - Endless Conjecture (Orange Milk Records)

Two solo recordings by Storring though "solo" is stretching the term a bit as he employs dozens of instruments on each ranging from strings to percussion to winds to keyboards to electronics. One of the amazing things is that nothing sounds overproduced or cloying. Plus, there's the charming, often beautiful music.

"Gardens" is dedicated to producer/songwriter Charles Stepney who worked with Eddie Harris and Minnie Riperton among others but whose name and work, unfortunately, don't ring a bell with me, so I'm unable to discern any direct (or indirect) influence on Storring's music except that it's easy enough to hear, whether via Stepney or not, a certain amount of pop song tinge to some of the pieces, most noticeably in the final one. The first track, "Open Your Eyes and Forget", runs some 15 minutes and contains a really nice, very plaintive melody mainly expressed on strings and glockenspiel that enters six minutes in, kind of a sigh with perhaps something of a Chinese cast, and weaves through the remainder of the composition, with variations and re-orchestrations. If anything, it reminds me a little of Jim O'Rourke's work from the early oughts, with a similar sense of simple, unashamed beauty--but this is better. A lovely piece I daresay different from anything you've heard recently. Three shorter songs follow: a jaunty number with banjo (? I think) and jew's harp featured, that morph's into an odd, Henry Cow-ish near-march; a dreamy, flute-driven number, the slow, wafting melody bathed in electric piano and other effluvia; a dance for thumb pianos and other plucked rod instruments that carries a bit of a medieval flavor and eventually hints at the melody form the first piece. The final cut begins with a hazy, rich section, various tonalities overlaid with mostly strings (including autoharp, I think, and voices) and electric keyboards. After several minutes, the strings introduce a winsome melodic line, again with a vaguely Asian inflection, soon settling into kind of a lounge situation, replete with delicate cymbal taps and distant, soft wah-wah, the music having traveled somewhere into the vicinity of Bryars' "1-2, 1, 2, 3, 4", disorienting but disarming at the same time.

A fine work, extremely pretty, and I use that term in the best possible sense.

"Endless Conjecture", a cassette release, sports pretty much the same instrumental form (dozens of them, all played by Storring) but much of the resultant music is rather different. A brief opener has gently wailed vocals, stray plucks and, gradually, a welter of other sounds, all amorphous and a bit murky, but with an intriguing feeling of something being swaddled, some core remaining invisible. "Terminal Burrowing" occupies the remainder of Side A and begins with far more abstract fare than the music heard on "Gardens", kind of a laminal approach. But about five minutes in, it suddenly becomes almost orchestral for just a few moments, recalling Xenakis. It becomes somewhat episodic after that, several of the intervals very attractive (including a wonderful and surprising tumble of metal exploding beside a delicate harp) but having only the most tenuous of connections; I felt the need for more of a spine. "Dewclaws" is an amusing march of sorts, led by percussion with a slightly Partchian tinge, a great deal of fun. But my favorite track is the last one, "They Carry Light", where Storring once again gives his melodic tendencies fuller rein, seeming to give a nod to Ellington ("Fleurette Africaine") with a gorgeous, wafting piano line embedded in sympathetic though by no means entirely subservient strings. As with the longer track on Side A, several divergent episodes are encountered along the way but to me, they somehow seem to be more of a piece, to have a relatedness to the central theme, though I couldn't pinpoint that if asked. When the theme proper reemerges a few minutes from the end, the effect is spellbinding, just lush, warm and full. An excellent piece.

I might prefer "Garden" by a smidgen overall but both recordings are well worth investigating. Looking forward to more from Storring.

Scissor Tail Records

Orange Milk Records

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Rhodri Davies/John Butcher/Chris Watson - Routing Lynn (Ftarri)

Watson seems to me to deserve almost equal billing due to the nature of this release. Davies and Butcher performed in January 2014, at Routing Lynn, site of some ancient Northumberland rock carvings, where they were recorded by Watson. A couple of months later, they made this recording, performing while the older tape was playing quadraphonically in the space.

The quartet aspect is occasionally audible, more with the saxophones than harp. Davies, using harps of the pedal, electric and wind varieties, tends toward producing dronelike sounds, sometimes with flutters of the sort that may have been produced via a mechanical device, like a small fan, hitting the strings. I always have a hankering to hear him work with more traditional harp styles, all the more so in a situation like this where Butcher, via his usage of feedback and, generally, his production of long, smooth tones, would seem to provide the perfect foil for some more percussive harp work. This occurs little bit and the pair do slide into more burred tones but the first half or more of this 35-minute set is a bit hazier and amorphous than I'd like to hear. A little past midway, however, several layers of added grit and roughness appear and the performance crystallizes wonderfully, climbing into a fascinating, disparate and even enjoyably awkward area, Butcher's feedback sax sounding not merely haunting but pained. Even more refreshingly, through this grimy scrim, a kind of folk melody, a very slow dirge, emerges--very beautiful and moving. The music soon subsides, the ambient sounds gaining prominence, the whole coalescing back into the haze.

For myself, considered as a whole, the attainment of those several minutes settling around the song form makes the entirety well worthwhile, allowing it to be read in an almost narrative fashion, with each element leading toward and away form those very special moments.

Ftarri


Fergus Kelly - Unnatural Actuality (Room Temperature)

I can't resist quoting Kelly's listing of sound sources used for this release (along with field recordings from various sites): "The electromagnetic recordings were made from various sources such as computer drives, TV monitors, xbox, wii, ATMs, ticket vending machines, LED displays, smartphone, security barriers, automated advertising hoardings and tramlines. The metal percussion deployed car suspension springs which were struck and bowed, mounted on an aluminium water heater, which acted as resonator." Never a bad thing to put remnants of modern consumerism to good use.

The sounds comport well with the cover image, very dark and round. Things thrum and throb, hurling off sizzle and clang, layered and deeply resonant. supremely thick. Sometimes, as in "Spinal Landscape", it's like a thick mass of dozens of huge moths blindly flying in a room of large bells. Rhythms may appear briefly before sinking back into the inky, oily dark; spaces are scoured out, hollowed, left as a dully reverberant shell. The music might be said to vacillate between that dread hollow and an almost claustrophobic, equally alien clutter, something that begins to get oppressive over the disc's nine tracks but given the nature of the sources, I'm not sure that oppression wasn't one of the outcomes Kelly had in mind. More to the point, it's a unique and strong sensibility, one that stands well apart from most quasi-similar efforts int he territory. A strong, bitter work.

Room Temperature



Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Lance Austin Olsen - Fragments of Incidents Barely Remembered (Infrequency Editions)

It's always tough to quantify, in this area of music, what it is that causes an immediate reaction in the listener, either drawing him in or putting him off. From the opening sounds of Olsen's solo effort, the former applied; I believed what I was hearing, essentially. Hard to say further except that the sense of honesty and tautness seemed apparent up front, an impression not hurt by words from Olsen we hear early on: "I didn't press the fucking thing. I'm a complete idiot. Let's try again." There's probably also the fact that one senses a relatedness about the sounds employed over the work's 34 minutes. Even as the scene shifts several times, there's something of a sonic carryover that, however faintly, ties things together. From the opening machine-like noise (with birds), you hear dry metal sounds, sliding over one another, drifting into ticking that sounds mechanical here, cicada-like there, often with "secondary" sounds you might not notice on first blush but which provide great, and transparent, depth. Most of the action is quiet but fairly busy, a skittering, rustling set of noises, often against some soft, iterated sound (almost like a lawn sprinkler at times), subtly moving, offering a discernible, if undefinable, sense of particular locations, perhaps the "barely remembered" incidents of the title. This section leads to one mini-climax, followed by silence, then a recurrence of the sprinkler sounds and a gentle knocking about within a room, muttered curses, all highly evocative. The thin, prickly metallic elements exist alongside and within vaguely bubbling ones, a lovely grouping. Matters well up twice more, again clarity cohabiting with congestion, beautifully achieved, a mass of silvery sounds that ultimately explode from their confines and abruptly halt.

A greatly enjoyable, extremely well crafted and luminous recording, highly recommended.

Infrequency Editions


Robert Curgenven - They tore the earth and, like a scar, it swallowed them (Recorded Fields Editions)

A work (a single piece, occupying both sides of an LP) assessing Australia's colonization and subsequent devastation via field recordings amassed over the past twelve years from interior locations augmented by electronics and various instruments including, quite strongly, a pipe organ. The sounds are often quite sparse, befitting the place, swooping flies darting through the dry wind, distant thunder, brief, sharp rain. There's substantial tension in the air, the wavering organ agitating quietly from below, snaking its tendrils through the landscape, very well contrasted with the crisper crackles and knocks heard "closer to the ear". There are subsidences and renewal, almost feeling like a night/day rhythm, slightly different sounds or relationships arising--birds and wind rustling through reeds on the one hand, say, and a more robust organ on the other. The noises become more aggressive as Side B opens, with foggy mechanical sounds and a harsh buzz up front, those near noises almost attaining fire status, the organ still flowing at some remove but remaining subtly disturbing. There's a substantial silence, very desolate. Curgenven doesn't accede to obvious drama when the sounds return, rather just raising the heat slightly, enhancing the discomfort, the music just beginning to crest, perhaps, the devastation drawing near.

Impressive construction, showing nice restraint as well as anger.

Recorded Fields Editions

Sunday, December 07, 2014


Teletopa - Tokyo 1972 (splitrec)

In the first few years after their inception, members of AMM would occasionally ponder, "Why aren't other musicians doing what we are?" A reasonable, if slightly naive question. For all of the lumping together they've suffered with Musica Elettronica Viva or the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, those bands, for all their virtues, arose out of a crucially different set of formations than did AMM and, to anyone giving a more than cursory listen, sounded vastly different. Group Ongaku, which preceded the founding of AMM and was unknown to AMM's members (perhaps with the exception of Cardew), was closer in spirit to AMM's goals. But it was a long while before the ideas explicitly developed by AMM caught much of a footing in the improvised music world.

Except for Teletopa. I think I probably shared in common with most fans of this area of music (at least outside of Australia) an utter and complete lack of knowledge about this ensemble, organized around 1970 by David Ahern (who had been a student of Cardew's and had participated in some Scratch Orchestra events), Peter Evans and Roger Frampton (joined in 1972 by Geoffrey Collins), modeled after AMM to some degree. As Geoffrey Barnard puts it in his detailed liner notes, "AMM was the clear prototype for Teletopa, not only in regard to the type of improvisation Teletopa promulgated, but to the general ethos of the group as well." Interestingly, its brief existence (they disbanded shortly after this 1972 session) coincided with the period of AMM's first fracturing; by the time of this recording, Prevost and Gare were reinvestigating free jazz while Rowe and Cardew were expounding on Mao and Albania.


Right from the beginning of the recording, one affinity is apparent: the concern with space and extended periods of minimal activity. That said, the music would never be mistaken for AMM (not that it would aspire to be, of course). The musicians are all credited with electronics (unspecified) and percussion in addition to flute (Collins), violin (Ahern) and saxophone (Frampton); the above photo may give some idea as to their layout and devices. We at first hear a large space, empty save for dull gongs and high-register saxophone shrieks piercing the darkness. The sound world established maintains this character throughout much of the two-disc set, with little if any drone or continuo element underlying matters. As such, I found myself reminded more of the Tudor of 'Variations II' than AMM or any such ensemble, the salient difference being Tudor's ability to balance on the knife's edge of virtuosity and necessity, something that strikes this listener as supremely difficult and a level which Teletopa only occasionally reaches, not really a criticism, more a matter of a goal set very high, however implicitly. Here, there's a clear search going on, a very good thing, but it takes a while before the music really gels. A squall develops, the playing grows frenetic, particularly the saxophone (at least I think it's a saxophone; it's pitched so high and has a chalky enough sound that it's a bit hard to tell sometimes), though to their credit, there's really never a sense of any free jazz inflection. Every so often, much as in early AMM, you detect a faint tinge of mid-60s Sun Ra, but it's rare. About 20 minutes into the first disc, an enjoyable synthesis is achieved, a tight constellation of plucked, tapped and harshly rubbed sounds that suddenly emerges as a palpable presence, very strong, lasting several minutes then dissipating and morphing into the searching mode again, encountering a serious quasi-avian storm along the way, again rather Tudoresque à la Rainforest. Some deeper, more sustained tones appear toward the end of the first disc, from both electronics (sounds like an electric piano of some sort) and low percussion, presaging their greater presence later on. Before that, on Disc Two, we get some fairly disconnected...well, "noodling" would be too harsh a term but again I'm reminded of the disparity between Tudor's work with electronics, which this section superficially resembles, and attempts that fall short of his incisiveness. It's not that it's "bad", just that there's an unusually big drop off between first and second tier in this area, to my ears. My favorite moments of the entire session occur some 20 minutes into the second disc, lasting about ten minutes, and have their germination point in a series, once more, of high, shrill squeaks underlaid by low metal but this time it leads to a marvelously rich and deep interaction, the music attaining a plasticity that it had previously only touched upon. Here, there's something AMMish going on, a resonance that abstracts the music out into the world, very beautiful.

For myself, there's ultimately a bit more historical value (quite a bit) in this release than musical revelation but there's certainly enough strong work to recommend it on that account alone. For those seeking a fuller picture of post-AMM improv from this period, it's a very valuable document.

splitrec

Saturday, December 06, 2014


Lucio Capece - Factors of space inconstancy (Drone Sweet Drone)

I was fortunate enough to catch Capece at Les Instants Chavirés earlier this year and to witness a piece much akin to the title track here. As with much of his recent work, notably those involving balloon-suspended speakers, there are obviously aspects of live, spatial experience that can't hope to be captured on recording. Still, there remains much of value to be heard. As well, with works like these, Capece is edging into that area which I associate with Lucier among others, where music and science merge, either comfortably or with some friction.

Two wireless speakers swinging from a bar rack is one of the elements in "Factors of space inconstancy" and a fascinating one to watch as well as listen to as the pair of globular speakers, each about three or so inches in diameter, are set in motion and go through periods of synchrony and asynchrony in unexpected patterns, the feedback they thus produce varying accordingly. Capece feeds the cassette feedback into the room, controlling it with a volume pedal at the same time as the soprano's sound fills the space directly. It's all quite complicated and, experiencing it live, I eventually gave up trying to follow specifics and just settled in to enjoy the sound waves, the same as one is forced to do here. Those overlaid waves, feedback on the one hand, fairly pure soprano tones on the other, meld closely and absorbingly, buffeted a little bit by what seems to be a small ambient rumble, apparently the hiss from the cassette (very welcome, providing air). He's trying to sonically define the dimensions of the room, something that's very interesting to ponder when one is there with him. Naturally enough, particularly stunning patches are reached when the various tones come close to coinciding, producing marvelous harmonics. Lacking the live experience and the ability to at least move your head and possibly your body, one might quibble at the length here (27 minutes), but that's a small carp.

"Eyes don't see simultaneously" lasts some 40 minutes and fills the time fantastically. For "analog synthesizers and equalizers in feedback", the piece deals with fore-and background, "a come-and-go between ears and body listening". We hear a high, two-note back and forth, very mechanical, though the tone is impure, containing a substantial burr that grows over time. Beneath this is a sporadic, deep welling thrum, the sort of sound that one can imagine, in a live situation, might disrupt one's innards. The two areas of sound wax and wane, interfering with and overlapping one another in unexpected patterns, acquiring different envelopes and pulse designs, the low tone sinking way low. Here, although one surely regrets not experiencing this over large speakers in a bigger room, the effect is reasonably approximated, enough that you get a clear, if vicarious, notion of being embedded in this sound world. There is a science experiment aspect to it, sure enough, but there's also more than enough emergent beauty to compensate. A very strong, solid, immersive work. Here's hoping Capece continues to plumb these depths.

Drone Sweet Drone


Thursday, December 04, 2014



Nick Hoffman/Tim Olive - No Flag (Copy For Your Records)

Nick Hoffman - 'Barbarous Tongues' - (Gravity Swarm)

I think the first time I heard Hoffman's music it was something exceedingly harsh and grainy and that sonic image insists on remaining lodged in my audio-cranial cavity despite being gainsaid by much of what I've heard since. [Of course, no sooner do I post this, than I listen to yet another recent Hoffman item, "Necropolis" on Organized Music from Thessaloniki", and I have to toss all my assumptions out the window. otoh, the disc's title slightly justifies an adjective used below...]I might say roughly the same about Olive; at least the work of his I've heard recently has been much more subdued than what I remember from the past decade or so.

"No Flag" is kind of a case in point from both angles. No credits are given as to instrumentation or composition but the first track opens with a simple, melodic electric piano line that sounds as though it's from Paul Bley circa 1973 (I'm guessing it's Hoffman) accompanied by the crunchiest of noise, though the latter is sparely deployed. The rest of the music isn't this overtly mellow but it does play very nicely with the tension between surface sheen and underlying anxiety. Most of the time, one of the pair is producing softer-edged sounds (though not melodic)--rumbles, cloudy thrums, etc. while the other is worrying this weave with needlelike shards or irregular jags of static. even the fourth track, all aflutter with rapidly fluctuating flapping sounds and screeches, sounds as though it's being restrained, held in check by the overarching hollow throb that achieves dominance at the piece's conclusion. The thoroughgoing sounds that are almost always in place give one a sense of stability, but the tones and textures of the other elements pick at any feeling of comfort, painting a bleak, ultimately corrosive soundscape. Really impressive work. Hoping Hoffman and Olive continue this collaboration.

After unwrapping the elaborate paper packaging adorned with obelisks, voodoo dolls and other occultish ephemera, one arrives at Hoffman's solo disc, which, again on the surface, exhibits affinities to the soundscape work of the post-Fennesz school but, again (and thankfully), there's an undercurrent of discontent and discomfort. There's a hushedness about much of the music but almost an involuntary quietude, as though the sounds are being suppressed and insist on leaking out the sides. Some of the tracks seem to have a percussive basis (though treated) ("Lapis"), others a kind of staticky cloud formation that ebbs and flows in strong surges (the beginning of "Stone Fountain", a cut I'm tempted to call "Lovecraftian"; the distorted voice that surfaces is very spooky). Things get a might too gauzy for my taste on the last couple of tracks but by and large it's a good, unsettling ride, well worth taking.

Copy For Your Records

Gravity Swarm

Wednesday, December 03, 2014


D'Incise - O esplendor natural das coisas e inferno (Moving Furniture)

An intricate, delicately sprawling electro-acoustic piece from D'Incise where the elements seem perfectly graspable but it's (intentionally, I think) very hard to fit them into the process as a whole. to "stand back" and ascertain the work's form. In his notes, the composer states his intention to "break with habits by setting rules of composition abstracted to any musical intention at first" and it's very interesting to hear the result of that attempt. There's something about the sounds involved--hums of various pitch, many layers of crackling sounds, vague allusions to plucked strings--that implies a more clearly structured framework, but D'Incise refuses to provide it, leaving the listener on consistently unsteady footing. Once in a while those hums grow a bit more tonal, begin to seesaw, and you're alert to a possible...statement of some sort. It does well up a good bit, almost achieving a kind of cohesion but then...silence for a few seconds and we're abruptly elsewhere. Those silences obviously disrupt whatever flow has been generated, again destabilizing in a good way. toward the end, the hums become richer still and assume a prominence in the narrative such as it is (there are, per D'Incise, three "story lines" in play). Good, thoughtful work.

Moving Furniture


Inside/Outside - Territory

I wrote about their earlier release, "Rooms" but despite, that Don Campau (electronics, various) and Russell Leach (percussion, various) are back again with another quite enjoyable, loose conglomeration of abstract songs. The pieces, all instrumental, always have one or more melodic lines, though in a very relaxed, don't-make-a-big-deal-out-of-it manner and have a similar approach to rhythm--almost always present but not in your face. The references are all over the map from gentle prog to kabuki to southeast Asian to free improv noise to cool jazz and much more. Do things turn a bit slick now and then, even have a little kitsch tossed into the mix? Sure, but it, like its predecessor, remains good, inventive fun all the way through. See for yourself.

bandcampsite


Ur 1st Luv - Dunlop/Slazenger, 9-15 Bowden St, Alexandria, New South Wales, Australia, 2015 (Access through carpark at 17-21 Bowden St, Alexandria, New South Wales, Australia, 2015) (Avant Whatever)

I'm at a bit of a loss here. The above is the title of this cassette release (heard by me via download), a product of Ur 1st Luv which, as near as I can discern, is a conceptually oriented duo out of Australia. In fact, the place in question exists and is, one presumes, the source of the field recordings herd here. It's an abandoned sportswear and sports equipment factory, and can be read about briefly at this yelp site. A brief note supplied by the label credits four text readers as follows:

First text read by “volvo” (Graffiti Writer)
Second text read by John Davies (Tyre Technician: KMART Tyre and Auto, Parramatta)
Third text read by Marion Pilborough (Land and Property Information NSW: The Department of Finance and Services)
Fourth text read by John Alexander (Former Australian Tennis Champion and Federal Member for Bennelong)

There are nine tracks, the first and longest of which seems to establish the sense of place: you do have the feeling of being at a large, abandoned site, with echoing bangs arising every so often but also with a consistent high tone and a metallic, semi-rhythmic clanging, each of which strike me as intentional, though I could obviously be wrong. Whatever the case, it's quite evocative, casting a Stalker-like feeling over the proceedings. We next hear the first text, read by a non-emotive male voice in sequences of single words, a list of sorts with no narrative content (perhaps words found graffitied on walls in the factory?), separated by a couple of seconds each. The remainder of the recording alternates between shorter ambient samples similar to the first track (the third features distorted PA announcements that are subtly chilling) and readings by the remaining people listed above. Davies reads from what appears to be a tyre manual, Pilborough various mortgage or land use documents, Alexander a short bit on tennis shoes. The texts are dry and boring; in context, they're quite interesting! The site recordings are superficially sparse but actually rather fleshed out, if thinly, as of departed spirits. Their oppressiveness, with indications of large, impersonal mechanical activity, just beyond the wall, combines with the texts to produce a grimly fascinating document of decay and corporate ghosts. Intriguing release, well realized.

Avant Whatever




Monday, December 01, 2014


Jean-Luc Guionnet/Éric La Casa - Home: Handover (Potlatch)

How do we listen to music at home? Not us, mind you, but other people, normal people. How aware are we of the environment in which we listen, what references do we make, how does nostalgia fit in, how would our thoughts about these matters differ from others? How would they understand these personal preferences and thoughts? What does it really sound like in our apartments, homes, etc. when we think we're listening? Some of the questions approached by Guionnet and La Casa on this rather massive, very unusual and fascinating venture, "Home: Handover".

A few words of explanation as to the release's structure: Four CDs, each an hour long. Each CD consists of four sections, approximately 15 minutes per section and each follows the same pattern, initiated by a different representative from Glasgow on each disc (Lisa Peebles, Tim Nunn, Zoe Strachan and Silvia Sellitto, non-musicians all; the first and third, incidentally, sporting Scottish accents, the second, English and the last, Italian). In the first section, we encounter the subject in his or her apartment where they discuss their music listening habits, play an example of their favorite music (during which La Casa wanders through the apartment, the strains of music growing louder or more distant depending on his location), respond to questions regarding the activity they're engaging in at this moment and, finally, wander about their abode holding the microphone themselves, having roughly the experience La Casa did just before and answering questions about their perceptions. Next, this entire episode is interpreted in a live, concert setting by a quintet consisting of Aileen Campbell & Gael Leveugle (voice), Lucio Capece (saxophone), Neil Davidson (guitar) and Seijiro Murayama (percussion) with each musician listening to the earlier recoding on headphones (not heard by the audience) and responding in a specified manner. One vocalist imitates, as closely as possible, the voices he or she hears, as closely as possible while the other provides a commentary on what he or she is hearing, taking care not to speak while the first is talking. The musicians perform one of three activities: 1) imitate estimated frequency, notes and melodies from what he's hearing and reproduce them, 2) generate sounds from rhythms, breaks or other more "structural" events and 3) Estimate the signal to noise ratio of the tape, creating "a noisy sound" on his instrument that fluctuates accordingly.

In the third section, a musician, Keith Beattie, listens to the apartment recordings (after we hear a few minutes of the ambient sounds in this new interior venue), roams through his home improvising or playing a song, answering questions and free associating, gradually making his way outside where the exterior environment "becomes the recording's only source. Finally, Guionnet and La Casa take all three recordings, overlay them (they have the same temporal structure) and present them with minimal editing, though allowing themselves the option of removing elements as they choose. I get the sense that all of these "rules" are allowed to be bent a bit.

Again, this procedure is carried out four times, once per disc. Two questions immediately arise: 1) Are four iterations necessary to present as a recording? and 2) Given four discs, might it have been more interesting (at least, more suspenseful), to have all the apartment recordings on Disc One, the concert session on Disc Two, etc. instead of four similar "chapters"? I go back and forth on these.

Let me give a brief description of one disc, arbitrarily choosing the first.

"There has to be someone who knows the best way to light a barbecue", the first words, from a television I presume, one hears" (after La Casa's cueing, "Top!", that is), before Ms. Peebles begins to describe her home, the enjoyable light therein, the various comforts. She's very accommodating and warm, not appearing too embarrassed. Her voices shifts from speaker to speaker as she moves about; American English speakers will delight in her burr. Suddenly, synth drums intrude as she begins to play her favorite song. I have no idea what it is (and find it pretty awful!--googling the lyric, it's apparently Orgy's "Blue Monday") [I'm informed the song is actually by New Order and apparently very well known, thus displaying the depths of my 80s-90s rock knowledge] but she describes the dance scene, I guess in Glasgow, around 1990 from whence it sprung. The music fades in and out as La Casa wanders through the apartment, door hinges squeaking, closing, muffling the sound, other sounds and even music (from a TV?) leaching in. A welter of sounds--laughter, new songs, chatter, a toilet flushing--you get a great sense of sonic confusion listening remotely like this, much more so that you'd experience in situ. The music abruptly ceases about 11 minutes in, replaced by a chuckle from Ms. Peebles and her thoughts on how others might view the activity in which she's currently engaged, an interesting bit of self-perception, after which she's heard holding the mic and walking about, commenting on what she's hearing from a different perspective than she's used to. One gets the sense that this kind of listening, on a more purely aural level, is something she's never done before and she also seems to take in other sensory input more consciously than normal, integrating the sonic aspects with what she sees out a window.

This episode cuts out cleanly and we shift to the performance, an entirely different feeling ensuing even as the source material is what we've just been hearing. The male voice is replicating Ms. Peebles' speech with a necessary awkwardness of phrasing as he struggles to speak while listening, Murayama tapping out irregular patterns on a drum, Capece offering the occasional soft tone on soprano. Soon, the female voice begins opining on what Peebles' apartment is like-- "I think the room is probably beige"--though this is rare as Peeble's voice was fairly constant at this point, allowing the new vocalist few points of entry. (Peebles' voice itself enters for a little while, repeating several sentences we heard earlier; I'm not sure why this occurs). As the musicians begin hearing the music, Capece more or less imitates the basic melody while Murayama pounds out the rhythm; I haven't picked up Davidson at all by this point, but perhaps I'm missing some subtlety, maybe he's playing the guitar as percussion. It's really a fascinating performance, very unusual. You might relate it to aspects of Ashley's operas, that's as close as I can think of, but not very, maybe an faint echo of Gavin Bryars' "1, 2, 1-2-3-4". It's kind of funny hearing Campbell's assumptions, generally visual, of what the Peebles apartment is like as she lets herself go in what strikes me as almost poetic license, a more enjoyable tack than more mundane approaches. "I think there's a carpet and quilts. And the quilts are pink, probably." "I think the house might smell of new carpets." Other shifts and edits seem to be occurring as well, not sure if the performance has been adjusted or edited post facto by La Casa and Guionnet. I love this track (and the like ones on the other discs); very fresh, very fascinating.

The Beattie section, as stated, begins simply with the quiet ambient sounds of his apartment for three minutes. We then, for the third time, hear Peebles remarks on thunderstorms and trees before suddenly shifting to gentle piano playing amidst the rush of traffic outside--very lovely and I like the fact that it's allowed to linger for a good while and that it remains fuzzy and lo-fi. It's not until 11 minutes in that Beattie's voice enters, describing what he's just played (he plays guitar on the other three discs) and continuing on to talk about his home, family and how he records music there. There are "marker" beeps between scenes here so the transition are quite sharp. One occurs after his brief patter as we walk outside the house, listen to the traffic. The track is relatively simple compared to the first two and works really well.

The final section, with Guionnet and La Casa working with the above material, is necessarily a kind of collage piece and I find myself hearing it in two different ways. On the one hand, there's a distance, maybe even a fussiness about it that contrasts with the relative straightforwardness of what's preceded it and I shrink a little bit from its artificiality. Considered on its own, however, it works just fine, shards of dialogue, ambient sound, music etc. intersecting with one another in unexpected ways. Kind of a stew made of known ingredients, lumpy here, smooth there. Their approach varies considerably from disc to disc, the track on Disc 3, for example, being notably quiet and restrained. "What do you think the actual audience will think about what you thought they would think?" the bland female voice inquires at the end.

The three other discs are alike in many ways though made up of entirely different material. The individuals vary a good bit, Nunn seeming to be a bit more aesthetically aware, more self-conscious and alert to the process, choosing a kind of pop tango (the band, Tango Crash) as his song; Strachan listens to light classical on BBC3 while Sellitto's selection might well test the patience of many readers of this page as Joan Baez' rendition of "The Boxer" rings through her apartment, followed by (oh no!) "Evita". But of course that's part of the charm and, indeed, an essential element of the project: people who listen to and love kinds of music that I don't and one retains a strong sense of humanity after listening to this quartet of music lovers, however different they are from you and I.

It's really an amazing and beautifully realized document. I still go back and forth on the two qualms I raised initially but I'm very glad this unique and thoughtful document exists. Everyone interested in the intersection of music and the act of listening should hear it.

Potlatch

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Seth Cluett - Forms of Forgetting (Line)

Cluett writes that "Forms of Forgetting is a studio construction investigating memory/forgetting and attention/inattention as catalysts for formal development in long-duration sound work". While I'm not at all sure as to how well or poorly my memory functioned over the course of the 55 minutes or so the work lasts, my attention was thoroughly held throughout by the subtly stunning music. All electronic, more of what I would call a strong, complex hum than a drone, the work slowly shifts and wavers, reaching small knolls of activity, subsiding. It begins with a fairly warm hum, probably four or five plies thick although the above cited inattention could cause one to miss this, accompanied by a gentle fluttering sound that lasts several minutes and is never heard from again. Some of the tones pulse noticeably, others seem more constant. Other textures are gradually extruded, including some of a grainier, more metallic nature, though all are folded into the stream smoothly enough. About halfway through, the sound field both deepens and rarifies--the effect is quite dramatic in context, as though a gulf has opened beneath you before you've realized it, an exceptionally beautiful several minutes. It takes a wonderfully long time to settle down, still picking up new elements as it does so (including soft beeps and slightly sour warpings of tuning), just hovering, the pulses growing fainter and fainter.

A very lovely, deep work even if my memory's playing tricks on me.

Line



Ferran Fages/Ernesto Rodrigues - Cru (Creative Sources)

Though Fages is credited with "electronics" on the sleeve, most of the non-viola sounds on this recording (those provided by Rodrigues) seem to be of the field recording variety, often of vehicles on a highway, though all enveloped in a dusty semi-hum. Through this, it's possible to perceive thin electronic strands, I think, but I'm never quite sure if they're there or even if they might not also stem from some particularly high viola strokes. Rodrigues is sometimes oddly playful here, plucking at the strings as if suggesting a gambol down the road, an itinerant musician strolling the highway's shoulder, wryly commenting on the passing traffic. There's not much more to it than that, a single 37-minute track that ambles leisurely, but the sound is full and interesting, drawing one in well enough if, at the end of the day, leaving one with only a hazy impression of what has just occurred. Sometimes that's all that's needed and it was often the case with me, but the music is amorphous enough that many more casual listeners may find little to grasp hold of.

Creative Sources

Friday, November 28, 2014

Three slabs o' vinyl


Nate Wooley/Chris Forsyth - Third (Rekem)

A live performance in Philadelphia from March, 2013 with Wooley on trumpet and Forsyth on guitar, one non-stop set spanning both sides of the LP, titled "Evening Rage". Given the title, it's tempting to think of the opening, unfurling section as an alap and that fits to an extent, Forsyth tending toward some quiet, delicate chords (among other things), though Wooley ventures to the extremes of high pressure breath tones, whistles and more unearthly sounds, generally rather agitated. Things proceed in a stead-state manner, long grains rubbing up against each other, for the better part of Side A, things settling down at the end and, on the flip side, entering a different territory, Wooley engaging in a wonderful repetitive vale closure and breath expulsion (it sounds like to me), conjuring up a bellows-driven engine of sorts, Forsyth creating echoey washes alongside, kind of a steampunk situation. That only lasts a few minutes before the music drifts into an eerie, claustrophobic space, full of high, ringing strands, very icy and bleak. Eventually, Forsyth, then Wooley, begin to break out, offering shards and sustained, hard tones to pierce the gloom, the trumpet soon reverting to a kind of globular push/pull, as if that engine is winding down uncomfortably, leaving the guitar to pluck out dry, forlorn, koto-like notes (all notion of a raga gone by the boards), Wooley creating an adjacent, similarly sorrowful, very vocalized cry. A good, strong set, beautifully recorded by Kinan Faham and mastered by Bhob Rainey, producing a fine, sculptural sound.

Rekem Records


Back Magic - Chorus Line to Hell (Milvia Son)

Well outside my normal frames of reference but good fun nonetheless. Back Magic is a pronouncedly lo-fi duo hailing from Chicago who go by Hair Exp (guitar, voice) and Terror Trans (drums). My first impression was something of a United States of America vibe with a strong Beefheart tinge or, rather, Beefheart-influenced bands (Pere Ubu, for one). As Side A progressed, I narrowed that down to early, pre-Trout Mask Beefheart, that kind of grungy psychedelia with melodies at once lilting and stumbling. Little by little, though, all sorts of different strains percolated through and I gave up searching for influences (though they were there for the picking) and just enjoyed the childlike sense of play in the songs, the apparent willingness to try most anything. Do they overdo things sometime? Sure ("General Moaning", for one), but one is generally willing to ride those (intentionally?) leaden drums and chiming guitar for the duration, exploring odd, neglected areas, loping here, lurching there and having reasonable fun doing so, right up through the closing punk of "Do They Owe Us a Living". Of course they fucking do.

Milvia Son


Dinah Bird - A Box of 78s (Gruenrekorder)

This is a very unusual record. On the one hand it's a field recording/nostalgia construction. Bird inherited the titular box of some 50+ ancient records amassed by her grandmother who lived in the Gulf Islands, British Columbia and decided to take them from her home in England back to their original "home", play them in their old environment, record the surrounding ambiance and talk with people there (including her great uncle) about what she was doing. Side A, called "Trackside", documents this experience and is strangely captivating, the strains of the recordings (generally classical and opera) warble in the background, scratchy and cloudy, among the area sounds, with the voices of the inhabitants of the town of Salt Springs, who quiz Bird about her project, elaborate on their own daily activities, etc. It's very easy to put oneself into Bird's mind, to relive her own sense of family history and her rediscovery of the environs of her ancestors. All well and good.

Side B is called "Loopside" and consists of 12 tracks, titled ∞1 through ∞12, with the word "Always" appended at the end of the track listing. The first dozen or so times I attempted to play it, my needle simply skittered across the surface of the vinyl, never finding any purchase. (Since the sides aren't marked A & B, I actually played this side first and was mildly concerned that something had happened to my cartridge or tone arm!). Perhaps it's my utter ignorance of loopage on vinyl, but it took me a while to realize that the audio component of the twelve tracks could be located on what looks like the track separation groove. Therein, placing the needle down with delicacy, we hear twelve loops of material, each lasting the duration of a single disc revolution and comprised of, I think, sounds from the Salt Springs environment (maritime, largely, including that wonderful wooden knocking you get on piers) as well, on the final three, samples from the 78s. After these, there's a brief "normal" track of someone, presumably Bird, commenting on one interviewee's habit of adding an extra "s" on the word "always", thus enunciating, "alwayses" which, once stated by Bird, also loops, ending (or not ending) the side.

Also enclosed is a Listening Log for the listener, radio station, etc. to fill out (time, weather conditions, number of plays, etc.), which information will be used in an upcoming exhibition.

Something very affecting about this recording, very personal and vaguely sad. The loopside is a physical annoyance (unless you enjoy standing over your turntable) but the concept moves me.

Gruenrekorder





Thursday, November 27, 2014


Christian Wolff - Pianist: Pieces (Sub Rosa)

It's been a very Wolffian month around these here parts, initiated by the receipt of this very fine three-disc set. I received it while Keith Rowe was staying over for his performance at the bizarre event at the new Louis Vuitton Foundation and we listened to several tracks together, comparing a couple to Tilbury's renditions. Knowing I was going to be going to Nantes on the 17th of November for two evenings devoted largely to Wolff's music, I began to immerse myself in his work, going so far as to construct an Excel spreadsheet of his complete works, noting both what I have on disc (and observing vacancies) as well as searching out and listing what I could locate online, thereby exposing myself to much music of which I'd previously been unaware. Additionally, I went and ordered several CDs on Mode and Wergo (plus the 10-disc box set of Music for Merce, which includes several Wolff pieces) which were waiting for me upon my return from Nantes, where I'd spent three amazing, humbling days hanging out with Wolff, Tilbury and Rowe. All of this has been a somewhat overwhelming experience.

I came to Wolff's music fairly late, probably not seriously listening until the mid 90s and even then, it almost always gave me an odd kind of "trouble". It seems so transparent and clear and yet I constantly found it very difficult to grasp. The term "slippery" would often come to mind. I talked about this with Wolff last week and he agreed, even enjoyed the reaction, saying it wasn't uncommon and lay along the lines of what he desired. I felt it was my issue, not the music's and persevered, only in recent years feeling I was generally able to wrap my head around most pieces, much to my great and consistently expanding enjoyment.

This recording is laid out quite clearly and, in a sense, transparently. The first disc is comprised of seven works from 1951-1959, when Wolff's compositional gifts were flowering (always worth remembering, this means from the age of 17 to 24!), the last disc, pieces from 2001-2010. In between, Disc Two is devoted to a 2004 work, "Long Piano (Peace March 11)".

The word "transparency" surfaces several times in Thomas' excellent and informative liner notes at the same time as it's linked to "complexity" with regard to Wolff's notations in his scores, which often include tablature playing (specifying the fingers to use but not the notes), lack of tempi, dynamics, octave choice and more, including instructions which will give various outcomes depending on how "well" the performer has carried out some prior directive. This last is the case in "For Pianist" (1959), which is heard at the beginning and end of Disc One. The two versions make sense in that the performer is allowed to play the score in any page order, skip pages, repeat them, etc. I have versions of this piece by Tudor, Rzewski, Tilbury, Schleiermacher and now Thomas and was hoping to do some comparison listening and write about it; I did the former but damned if I can say anything one way or another about the interpretations as varied as they are. It's more to the point, I think, to appreciate how wonderful and rich the piece itself is. I won't (can't, really) say too much about the 50s pieces except that their clarity, musicality and sheer honesty shines through. There's something I've found increasingly magical about Wolff's pieces or, perhaps given their nature, the readings by pianists like Thomas and Tilbury, who have lived through 50+ more years of musical and cultural changes, not to mention improvisational histories in Tilbury's case, which I can't help but assume brings more richness to such music. Suffice it to say that I get the feeling I could listen to these works for years and still find myself unlocking attributes previously unheard.

"Long Piano (Peace march 11)" is on the one hand monumental but of an oddly porous nature, made up of 96 fragments which range from silence to elaborate forms that refer to the classical lineage, toccatas, chorales, oblique melodic references to Schumann and Ives and a concluding "setting of of the medieval French song, "L'homme armé" (all derived more from Thomas' notes than my own ears). I'd been listening to what recordings of Wolff's Peace Marches I could find in recent days and, as one would guess from the titles, there are often hazy allusions to folk or protest songs embedded therein, something Wolff has made a frequent practice since the mid-70s; it's in another county from Rzewski's 70s work but not so distant that you can't make out traces of resemblance. One gets a feeling of extreme expansiveness here, a vast landscape of possibilities. Again, the composition affords the pianist many choices; this is the first I've heard the piece and am very curious to hear others (there's one by Thomas Schulz on New World). As is, this rendition is spellbinding.

The post-2000 selections reflect what I think could be fairly called the more classical or lyrical strain in Wolff's recent music, often containing longer lines and a clearer indebtedness to the tradition established by Bach and his musical descendants though, of course, filtered through Wolff's unique lens. That slipperiness I mentioned is in full effect here in that the form often leads you to think one thing is occurring where, in reality, a dozen other things happen instead, all of which seem to make sense but require a huge expansion of listening prowess to understand and accept them. Subtly astonishing music. Several of the Nocturnes were played by Wolff and Tilbury last week and it was a pleasure to hear them again here, recalling Wolff's explanation (here, in Thomas' words) that "the performer is permitted to read any note in any clef and any octave and with any doubling of these" so that a single note could be read as a multiple note chord; Tilbury took delight in this. Also present are "Pianist Pieces", "A Piano Piece", "Small Preludes" (especially marvelous) and "Touch".

There's so much here, both on this last disc and the entire set, almost too much to stand back and take in. Just a tremendous effort and result, an absolute must for the Wolff aficionado, a fantastic job by Thomas.

Sub Rosa


Sunday, November 16, 2014


Jaap Blonk/Damon Smith - Hugo Ball: Sechs Laut- und Klanggedichte 1916 (Six Sound Poems, 1916) (Balance Point Acoustics)

This is a difficult one for me to properly consider or write about for various reasons. First, I've never really warmed to most Dadaist poetry. Not that it's by any means been an object of serious study (largely due to my not being drawn to it in the first place), but when I've encountered examples over the years, including Ball, as read by others, it simply fails to connect (ok, the Marie Osmond rendition is pretty great). My failing, I'm sure. Second, in my admittedly limited exposure to Blonk's work, both live and on disc, I've similarly been unable to make much of a connection. This is a "condition" I share with many, to be sure: a difficulty with free improvising vocalists generally, not just Blonk. It's long been a subject of discussion why this issue is so (relatively) prevalent among a decent percentage of free music fans, perhaps having to do with certain expectations that come into play when we recognize the human voice, some need for narrative, some reluctance to let it be heard as abstractly as we do a trumpet or saxophone sound. For myself (and I think this is also something commonly shared), I feel more comfortable when the vocalist goes to an extreme in that abstraction, for example Ami Yoshida or Christian Kesten; then I'm able to countenance it better. Again, my failing, no doubt, but not an uncommon one as far as I can tell. (And I absolutely love it when a free vocalist reins him or herself in, using what they've learned, as for instance when Phil Minton sings "The Cutty Wren").

I was thinking that Blonk and Ball seemed to be a natural enough pairing and see that he previously recorded some Ball pieces in 1989 with alto saxophonist Bart van der Putten and bassist Pieter Meurs, similarly titled "Six Sound Poems of Hugo Ball" (Kontrans), and presumably has performed them elsewhere, as he has with Schwitters and others. I'm curious how/if the renditions differed over the year with various collaborators. In this case, I have to say that the results more or less approximate what I expected going in, with Blonk giving excited, often manic readings, generally conveying a kind of mental imbalance or, at least, a different balance from that maintained in the everyday world, entirely appropriate to the Dada spirit, of course. Given that there are texts, it's not free improvised per se but,, obviously, he has great fun with stretching, rumbling and disemboweling the words, made up though they be. Smith, whose playing I always find very fine, including in contexts of which I'm not always too enamored, is excellent here, tending to match Blonk in freneticism, often skittering in high registers. When he lowers the pitch and digs deep into the bass, almost Hadenesque, as on "Karavane" (the piece given such a heartfelt rendering by Osmond), things work very well for this listener, Blonk's ravings given a good, strong counterweight. His arco work on "Gadji Beri Bimba" is also outstanding, again pairing well with Blonk's more full-throated warblings and trills on this piece; similarly with his harsh, dark plucking vs. Blonk's guttural growls on "Totenklage". Given these examples of compatible playing/singing, part of me would have liked to have heard the opposite, say Smith playing richly and melodically alongside Blonk's/Ball's frenzied sound poetry. But so it goes.

If, at the end, I remain not entirely convinced, I wound up appreciating the effort and certain portions of the performance far more than I would have expected. But please take my predilections with a grain of salt. Ball and Dada enthusiasts will very likely derive a great deal of pleasure from this one.

Balance Point Acoustics



Saturday, November 15, 2014

Three new cassette releases from Notice Recordings (heard via download)


Ben Owen - Birds and Water 4 (Notice Recordings)

Owen's "Birds & Water" also appeared on Notice a few years back. Apparently I've missed one intervening number but "4" (presented with the connecting word, not the ampersand) has migrated a good distance from at least one of its forbears, though as the titles of the two pieces indicate ("20100509-04" and "20100509-08"), these were recorded in 2010 at The Experimental Television Center in Owego, NY. Both are drone works, both setting a pattern in motion and sticking with it for 20 minutes. The first, "20100509-04)", contains at least two lines, thick and ropy, one slightly out of phase with the other, creating a varies series of internal pulses. As an effect, of course it's something that we've all heard, probably many times. But as an example, a kind of laying out of the process, quite open and transparent, it has the beauty of an elegant mathematical drawing, say of a parabola, though one with non-standard fluctuations. I discovered that if I yawned while listening (not out of boredom!), the perceived pitch lowered slightly; interesting. I've used the Partch line before but am forced to resuscitate it here; it does exactly one thing but that one thing it does superbly. The second cut, though also a drone, is immediately different--a much more porous texture. Very quickly you realize you don't have to yawn to shift pitch, Owen is doing it for you, microtonally sliding up and down, perceptibly but subtly, throughout the work. Again, this attack is maintained for the duration, very lovely, sometimes recalling La Monte Young's high tension wires, the minute variations always focussing one's attention. Excellent work.


Haptic - Excess of Vision: Unreleased Recordings, 2005-2014 (Notice Recordings)

As I think I've also said before, I like me some Haptic. As near as I can determine despite the time span indicated in the title, there are two pieces, presumably one from 2005 and one from 2014; I may well be wrong; perhaps various recordings over the period were mixed into these two tracks? In any case, Side A, "So for the Remainder" includes the core Haptic trio of Adam Sonderberg, Joseph Clayton Mills and Steven Hess, augmented by Tony Buck while "And Otherwise" has the trio plus Salvatore Dellaria. Both pieces are, by my definition, more steady state than drone, underlaid by ongoing strata of tones through which various strands permeate and grow, calm but riding that comfort/disquiet line, something they've always managed very ably. New stria constantly enter the hum, many from exterior recording, her with mechanical janglings and a particularly plaintive kind of soft moan which may derive from something as pedestrian as a squeaky door hinge but evokes a forlorn animal. Side A is good, Side B is better. The basic structure isn't dissimilar but, for me, the elements used are a little more mysterious, provide a bit more tension. A rattling sound, like maracas filled with sand, pervades the track and the tones used are icier, more ominous. You get a glacial feel, not just of cold but of slow movement, with internal, churning vortices, filling in all gaps as it proceeds. Great ending as well, sounding like someone abruptly opens a push handle door and walks outside, encountering a different hum. Strong work, a fine addition to the canon. (I assume it's coincidental, but was wondering if the title isn't a tip o' the hat to the fine Golden Palominos album, "Visions of Excess").


Jack Harris/Samuel Rodgers - Primary/Unit 11 (Notice Recordings)

"Primary"--sounds in a room, window open, some noises being made by the pair; often it's clear that Harris and Rodgers are the culprits, occasionally one is uncertain. The musician-generated sounds are a bit more up front but not extremely so. More to the point, their emergence seems, as a rule, to be approximately as exigent as the passing sirens, that is to say, unforced, unnecessary but not so intrusive. Less the AMM-ish dictum of making a sound when it *is* necessary, more subsuming oneself or trying to--tough goal) into the environment. For about 35 minutes, this was one of the most satisfying blocks of sound I've heard this year. Around then, some particularly violent amplified object noises leap to the foreground, disrupting matters in a way I found off-putting and intrusive, though I can imagine that being intentional on the part of Harris and Rodgers, perhaps aware that things had become too comfortable. One of those cases where thinking about the procedure in one way yields a different aesthetic reaction than another, always an interesting aspect to ponder. "Unit 11" apparently uses the same approach, in a different environment, here encountering a thunderstorm near the beginning and containing distant, muffled voices, as though from a school or hospital. For a good portion it's just as successful as the preceding track, a bit calmer perhaps, with a similar "intrusive" moment around the 23 minute mark, this time a loud hum, soon followed by high-pitched, rapid squeaks embedded in static. Once more, the question arises whether this is more than necessary or whether "necessary" has anything to do with it. A kind of synthesis occurs over the final several minutes, I believe more performers than environs, where hums and rumbles merge into a very stirring aural wall.

Really fine, thoughtful music, my favorite of what I've heard from these fellows thus far.

Notice Recordings



Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Gil Sansón/Bruno Duplant - blank (Mystery Sea)

Labels tend to develop their own aesthetics, naturally enough, so it's interesting when one like Mystery Sea (with its sister label, Unfathomless), moves a bit outside of its comfort zone as is the case on at least one track here. There are three works presented here, the first and third from scored by Sansón, the title track from a score by Duplant. I'm guessing the scores in question are graphic/text and am reasonably certain the recordings are constructed from remote performances (as Sansón resides in Venezuela and Duplant in northern France), which has been a standard mode of operation for Duplant in recent years.

"foliage, brackets, skidmarks", by Sansón, begins with field recordings of what sounds like a small urban area before it's joined by Duplant's arco bass, a sound I hadn't heard from him in quite a while and which was very welcome, dark, low and vibrant; "just" open strings, I think, but it works very well. A soft jingling, almost an alarm clock, enters, followed by high pitched, bowed metal (?), the bass still interjecting comments, though softer, over the basic ambient recording, eventually reestablishing itself as the primary voice. An attractive work though, at 21+ minutes, possibly lingering on a bit longer than necessary. Duplant's "blank" also commences with the sounds of the street, here perhaps a little more urban, a car alarm crying in the distance. The external sounds here are subtler; it's often hard to distinguish which are from the street, which are created by the musicians, though one low hum, electronic, is certainly studio-formed. The piece itself is rather amorphous, held in place by the field and, to an extent, by that low hum, but spread out and centerless, not a bad thing here. It's the same length, ore or less, as the preceding track and, again, I could have seen it pared down by five or six minutes. The final track, "detachment", by Sansón, is the one that breaks the mold, consisting largely of silences interrupted quite brutally, by what sounds like jacks being pulled from amps or other disruptive electronic malfunctions. The silence gives way to a hollow, steely sound, occasionally automotive, reverberant for a brief moment, then the threatening pops recur, echoing and feedbacking in the darkness. This back and forth continues for most of the duration, sometimes discreet, sometimes overlapping; I get the impression one musician was responsible for each sound-set, their occurrences left at least a little bit to chance, perhaps within time brackets. After 18 minutes, a new sound occurs for a minute or two, liquid on hard surface, like rain water washing down a street gutter, after which those pops surface with a vengeance, now apparently causing windows to rattle. A tiny flurry of birds, then silence; quite different from the usual Mystery Sea fare and, at 23 or so minutes, of perfect length.


Loren Chasse - Characters at the Water Margin (Unfathomless)

Recorded in the Olympic Rainforest of Washington state, at the confluence of the Hoh River and the Pacific Ocean, Chasse's work is a fine example of exquisite on-site recording though one of those that inevitably, for me, raises the question of its value in disc format as opposed to the (admittedly unlikely) experience I might have for myself at the same location. Chasses chooses quite well--it seems to be an especially rich, varied and fascinating soundscape, with massive tree boles and limbs having piled themselves on what he describes as "a dense litter of granite pebbles and driftwood" (as can be seen in the fine accompanying photographs), the layering and spaces between creating wonderful sonic caverns within which water, stone and air act together to generate an amazing aural environment. And he records all this decidedly well. I really can't complain except--I'm not sure to what end. Most intriguing, for me, are the moments, as on the third track, "ovoids for a tumbling pattern", where what I take to be the percolation of water through rocks sounds for all the world like West African drumming. These micro-environments--something heard off and on throughout--strike me as the most interesting portions, perhaps because I get the feeling they represent events I might have missed were I there. Hard to say. These are quibbles, to be sure and more, quite like things I've written before about efforts in many such similar circumstances. As beautifully realized field recordings derived from a striking place, "Characters at the Water Margin" is excellent and well worth hearing by aficionados of the genre. I'd simply preferred to have been there myself, making my own discoveries.


Darius Ciuta - l2di-(3) (Unfathomless)

Ciuta approaches the site recording game, on this recording, with a conception that, for me, raises the level of interest by providing a framework which incorporates time, light and space into the equation in a (idiomatic, to be sure) pre-conceived set of parameters regarding recording intervals, time of day, level of activity, sky conditions and light intensity among others. The recordings, thus made, were also assembled by a set of rules created intuitively by Ciuta. Few if any of these are overtly manifest for the listener at home, but there's something (again, for me) intellectually comforting in knowing that Ciuta took such care and precaution and had a working idea that was meaningful to him, which in turn causes me to attempt to come to grips with it, to hear the results through his ears. The recordings were made on the Curonian Spit, a kind of thin barrier reef near the border of Lithuania and Poland, enclosing a lagoon. The results sound more composed than, say, the Chasse album above, but also somehow more mysterious, cloudier, though with the strong sense of something solid lurking in the mist. The sounds are less spectacular but more evocative. They're very transparent, with a great range of crisp to vague textures and a huge range of color, even if there's a muted, brownish-grey tinge to the tracks. The clocks of pebbles, some oddly trumpet-like trills, muffled booms--they're all positioned on the edge of assimilation, of being understood in context, but never quite get there, happily. I'll complain slightly and opine that the disc might have been more powerful if it cut off after about 40 minutes instead of running its full 70+, but I guess you make your conceptual bed and then lie in it. As is, "l2di-(3)" (no explanation of the title is given) is an unusual and very rewarding example of what can be accomplished when site recordings are laid atop an idea. Well done.

Mystery Sea

Unfathomless

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


SPAM - Musical Sculptures and Other Devices (Die Schachtel)

SPAM is an acronym for San Pietro a Majella, the institution where several of the musicians represented here (Salvatore Carannante, electro-acoustic devices, recycled mechanisms; Chiara Mallozi, cello, prepared cello; Dario Sanfilippo, computer; Stefano Silvestri, analog synth; Mario Gabola, feedback saxophone; Agostino Di Scipio, feedback systems) met and played. The disc is comprised of a performance of Cage's "Sculptures Musicales" (which itself was inspired by the Duchamp piece of the same title), performed by the first four of those listed followed by pieces from Carannante, Di Scipio/Gabola, Silvestri and Sanfilippo. Di Scipio provides excellent, informative liner notes for the venture.

The Cage work was performed with "unstable and precarious" instruments, the musicians distant from one another in the far corners of a cave in the St. Elmo Castle, Naples. It's a fine piece, incorporating silences that seem all the more effective given the spatial distances, the sounds thin here, flute-like there, now and then expanding into rougher passages, like an industrial groan, easy to imagine wafting through the dark space. A fine realization. Carannante's "...in the temple of Mercury..." combines field recordings (sylvan sounding) with electronics that again recall the flute, more toward shakuhachi. It's pleasant and moodily thoughtful, though perhaps a bit insubstantial overall (I get the impression that what's presented here is an excerpt; if so, maybe the entirety would be more fully formed). Di Scipio and Gabola's piece sounded improvised to me and, indeed, is composed of three improvisations spliced together, electronics with alternately plaintive and sputtering tenor saxophone. Again, well constructed and considered, though not so different from any number of such performances over the past couple of decades. "Esperimento delle interazioni caotiche (part 1), by Silvestri is a finely realized work for analog synth and "non-linear oscillators", harkening back to Xenakis (to my ears) but still sounding fresh, vigorous and also, crucially, much less "polite" than the preceding tracks, raning from sparsely abstract to rumbling and rudely noisy; good stuff. The disc concludes with Sanfilippo's "LIES (distances-incidences) 1.3 (estratto)" for computer and electronic systems, a strong, icy composition, a bleak, landscape buffeted with abrupt gusts and cold splinters, building to a very brief but surprising explosion, then desolation.

A somewhat mixed bag, then but with enough vibrant work to warrant investigating.

Die Schachtel



Spoils & Relics - Embed and then Forget (Porta)

Spoils & Relics is a UK-based trio with Gary Myles, Kieron Piercy, and Johnny Scarr that deal in improvised electronics. That's about all I know. The set, a bit over a half-hour in length, is a kind of standard broken electronics/sparse noise performance, active and sandpapery, exploring a wide range of more or less harsh sounds but lacking the kind of incisiveness one hears in, for example, quasi-similar music from Bonnie Jones or Richard Kamerman. Here, there's a bit more of a soundscape approach, with shards of radio and crowd noise filtering in, some looped flute, etc., all inevitably swallowed into some rough, thumping vortex, spit out the other end, mixed with wind, scrapings, buzzes, kind of a homemade IRCAM-y feel. The looseness of this attack guarantees moments when things congeal nicely and perhaps that's enough, but I'd like to hear more of a conception, more "reason for being" than I'm picking up here. Not bad but not essential.

Porta


Michel Doneda - Everybody Digs Michel Doneda (Relative Pitch)

OK, first things first. The title is awkward enough but the cover, with laudatory quotes from seven saxophonists is just cringeworthy.

That said, the music, all solo soprano saxophone, is pretty good, even surprisingly so to these ears, having caught Doneda twice in recent months here in Paris (with his trio and in duo with Lê Quan Ninh) and having been unimpressed both times, as well as not having been knocked out by most things I've encountered over the years since first hearing Doneda around 1999 on his fine duo with Ninh, "Montaigne Noire". Recorded in La Chapelle de las Planques, a Romanesque chapel in south-central France, the tracks seem to make good use of the space and can essentially be heard as a single piece bearing a fine concentration of focus. I recall my initial impression of Doneda's sound was of the viscerality of a metal tube with holes, the reed almost an afterthought and, much more so than my recent experiences with him, this is happily the case here. Virtually the entire disc consists of that hollow, air-filled, harsh tone he's so adept at achieving, not exactly quiet by any means, but gaseous and torn. There's not any silence to speak of but the exploration is delicate, as though Doneda is taking care to explore the space, the multiphonics beautifully controlled. There's a moment now and then when matters verge on the frenetic but these are thankfully rare. If it's not, ultimately, all that different than what he was doing 15-20 years ago, that's still a pretty high level of rigor, intensity and corporeality, for which we can be grateful. Easily recommended for fans of Doneda but also for newer listeners who may have leapt to players like Bhob Rainey or John Butcher (two of the quotees) and never got around to one of their inspirations and confreres.

Relative Pitch