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


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 " 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.


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

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Michael Pisaro/Joe Panzner/Greg Stuart - White Metal (Dromos/Makam)

It's going to be fascinating hearing different versions of Pisaro scores as they surface, as some are beginning to do already. Earlier this year, Miguel Prado released his reading of "White Metal" on a Senufo Editions LP (my review here) and we now have one from longtime Pisaro collaborator Greg Stuart and Joe Panzner. I've been listening to the new release both independently and side by side with the Prado, a luxury not often afforded. Pisaro has said that both reflect his score accurately and to the extent I can understand said score (minimal) that seems to be the case; similar basic gross structures are apparent in each and, to an extent, the raw materials overlap a bit, both Prado and Stuart/Panzner taking the title to incorporate or at least make reference to both white noise and (to my ears, to a far lesser extent) the metal genre.

On its own, this new version is a thrilling ride. One gets the impression, despite the occasional respite, of hurtling forward with extreme rapidity through notably metallic funnels and corridors, multiple layers of electronics melding into an all but impenetrable web from which the odd discreet sound emerges; I swear I heard a dial-up modem at one point. I'm still a bit unsure as to whether or not there are aural elements in common with each rendition (i.e., that are always part of any version). For instance, a regular, ticking sound appears near the beginning of both the Prado and Panzner/Stuart recordings; maybe the latter sampled the former, who knows? The intense nature of the present recording causes the silences to stand out in starker relief, imparting a very different sensation to the listener, here a kind of break from the intensity, more disquieting than is the case on the Prado; it's only gradually that the listener realizes that the silence isn't utter but, I think, contains the sound of the room. Not so surprisingly, the more I listened the more I picked out, the more deeply I understood, or began to understand, the interplay of the elements. This might be something that has to do more with my own reaction to various aspects of "noise" music (which Panzner has certainly delved into in past works) and the relative difficulty I often encounter in wending my way through. Listeners more generally in tune with this approach may have few such hindrances. I tend to hear Pisaro "first", then filter it through the performers' attack, so it sometimes takes me a while and, even so, I'm usually left with the distinct impression that I've only, if not merely scratched, at most gouged the surface. Sitting here now, listening to "White Metal" for about the eighth time, I'm hearing new things.

If, at the moment were I forced to "choose", I'd prefer the Prado, it might only be because his approach maps more directly onto what I imagine mine would be, not the most meaningful criterion. This one is strong, vital and, to the extent I can determine, a fine interpretation of Pisaro's piece, one that I'll return to many times. I also look forward to the realizations of this work, and others, by many more musicians in the future.

Required listening.


Also available from Erst Dist

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Ist - London Conway Hall (Confront)

The third in a recent series of historical release of the Ist trio issued by member/cellist Mark Wastell (the groups including Rhodri Davies on harp and Simon Fell on bass), the previous pair from 1997 and 2001, this one from May, 2003, a live performance from the Freedom of the City Festival in London. The first of these, and to some extent the second, showed steps along a path from a more efi-centered approach towards a "lower case improv" idea, though each of the musicians had already done work in both areas and many between (or beyond). By 2003, though, the idiom had been firmly established for a while, so the divergencies from that sort of attack on this recording have to be deemed intentional or, more likely, created without regard to any such parameters, simply the way these three musicians operated. Still, of the three, it has always been Fell whose heart seemed more firmly embedded in a more active, visceral type of music of the sort heard on recordings under his own name on Bruce's Fingers since at least the mid 80s. Though he's be a part of ensembles like VHF (the first Erstwhile release), I had the sense from both recordings and seeing him live, that he chose not to circumscribe his playing so much and enjoyed more dynamic environments given his druthers. All of which makes for an intriguing contrast here, to the extent this may have been a typical Ist show of the period (and to the extent Im not misidentifying Wastell's cello with Fell's bass and vice versa, always a possibility.

It opens pensively, possibly a bowed harp with pizzicato from the strings, the bass more forcibly, but everything calm and considered. There's an air of mystery, the bass staying more or less in tonal areas, but also an uneasiness occasioned by the odd forte pluck. Fell worries this territory consistently for a while, substituting fine, deep bowings for the pizzicato, the others remaining sparse and attentive. Davies does a fantastic job of extending the space via some fairly harsh but beautifully placed whacks at his harp, Wastell's (?) dry rubbings establishing a palpable aural distance, really excellent. About two thirds of the way through (the set clocks in at only 23 minutes) the music takes something of a turn, becoming more agitated and active, reminding me a bit of Derek Bailey's mode of attack, still paying attention to space but filling it with more jagged shards, including harsh harp strokes. It all works, the mini-explosions hovering convincingly, creating fine tension.

A very good set and, I think, my favorite thus far among these archival releases.


Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Striggles et. al. - Schiizo-Box (Rock Is Hell)

"This is a magic record!" proclaims the publicity sheet inside the cardboard box that looks as though it might hold a mini-pizza. But no, instead we find five 7" singles (pink, gold, purple, red and yellow. plus a poster of sorts by Edda Strobl and Helmut Kaplan). Each single bears a composition by a different composer/band on one side (in color sequence: Peter Ablinger, Opcion, Kreisky, Bernhard Lang and Bulbul) and a piece by The Striggles (Kajkut, drums; Krienzer, guitar; Lepenik, guitar; Plass, voice and guitar--surnames only) which may or may not have any relation to its obverse. The "magic" involved is that most, perhaps all, of the sides are double-grooved (at least, maybe triple?), providing two different possible playbacks, though often the differences are subtle enough to be just barely noticeable, something I find far more interesting than completely different tracks. I'm not so sure this has been magic since the 1901 Pre-Dog Victor A-821 Fortune Telling Record and certainly 1973 Monty Python, but anyway. Here, especially if one was approaching the records innocently, you might become somewhat perplexed as, say, the closing word in a song wasn't the same as you remembered it form the last time. The tracks are very brief, lasting only a couple of minutes.

A brief rundown:

Pink: 1) Ablinger's "Black & White". One groove is silent, save for surface noise and, possibly, some recorded sounds indistinguishable from surface noise (there are some faint clicks near the end). Another contains an ultra-low, pulsating tone. Both are quite enjoyable! A) Striggles, "At the End of the Day". A slowed down, warped piece, with dreamy, staggered rhythms and wafting, hazy vocals; reminds me of Shadow Ring, rather nice. If there's a second track embedded on this side, the differences are subtle enough that I can't detect it.

Gold: 1) Opcion (Nikolaos Zachariadis), "|..|..". One track of slowly thudding sounds with some echo and ambience, another with more or less the same sounds, perhaps pitched lower, but greater echoing and accompanied by shuddering washes of electronics. Again, rather effective. A) Striggles - "Kårl". Clanky, buzzy percussion leads to two variations of the song, one with vocals, one with massed noise (including crowd sounds an , possibly, strangulated vocals) each sounding (to me) like a certain kind of 80s German synth pop (Pyrolator?), but don't go by me. Kinda catchy, I admit.

Purple: 1) Kreisky, "Ballett". Kreisky is a quartet with Franz Adrian Wenzl, keyboards, Martin Max Offenhuber, guitar, Gregor Tischberger, bass and Klaus Mitter, drums. The song is a good, straight ahead rocker with nods to punk and surf music, maybe even early Pink Floyd. Both tracks begin with identical drum patterns but the vocals stray in different directions, one proclamatory, one dreamy, reaching a weird, kind of Zorn/Morricone space. A) Striggles, "Das Ist Doch Kein Echter Krieg" ("That's Not a Real War"). A fun piece, squelchy, synth, faux-funk with healthy doses of static, the lyrics rendered in a deep, wry voice in one version, sweetly sung (reminds me of Klaus Nomi) in the other, the rhythm also faltering quite nicely.

Red: 1) Bernhard Lang, "He Wouldn't Notice". As near as I can determine, there's only a single track, about a minute long, consisting of a female voice repeatedly saying, "If you approach him, he won't notice" over a very attractive, percolating, percussive layer, ending with a disquieting gasp of sorts. Interesting piece, a little reminiscent of Ashley. A) Striggles - "Lines". I may be reaching, but the percussive/bass line hear does seem to relate to Lang's, if obliquely. The two versions vary this thyrhm and the pitches therein a little bit, one ending with a male voice saying, "Lines are straight", the other, "Lines are curved".

Yellow: Bulbul, "331/345". An Austrian trio, I think, Bulbul offers a rockish number, quite short, with a Winged Eel Fingerlingesque guitar solo over "Wade in the Water" chords on one track and then an oddly, slowed down version of the same, or similar, piece overlaid with a munchkin-like chorus. Chunky and not unpalatable. A) Striggles - "Meine Kleine Schwester" ("My Little Sister"). veery much with the same humorous sensibility of the track on the purple record, a wacky marching band image. Two versions, not so different, one with flutey sounds atop, the other featuring Headhunter-era electronics bubbling away. As before, fun, if not terribly nutritious.

Which is pretty much my take on the project: good fun, generally enjoyable to hear (worth it, for me, to experience new pieces by Ablinger and Lang) and/but light. I gather that fits in with the Striggles' intentions.

Rock Is Hell

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Lawrence English/Werner Dafeldecker - Shadow of the Monolith (Holotype Editions)

A construction built from field recordings compiled in Antarctica using "transformations of atmospheric, hydrophonic and ionospheric materials", issued on LP. As we've come to expect from anything involving English, it's expertly recorded, the icy pops and snaps (I think!) of the opening "Fathom Flutter", for instance, or the entirety of "Moro_Mute", standing out in fantastic relief, each ping and knock like a sharply etched piece or scrimshaw. The sense of cold and beneath-the-ice water looms large; on windy days--and today is one such--our apartment can produce aeolian moans via various hallways and door jambs--they work quite will accompanying this release. The tracks are varied and, individually, enjoyable and often mysterious. If I have a quibble, it's with the "slideshow" nature of such a release, with nothing tying things together apart from geographical proximity. Admittedly, I've been listening to this after Pisaro's "Continuum Unbound", but I've always preferred those rare collections of field recordings which somehow transcend location and source. To be sure, I presume English and Dafeldecker intended no such thing and, as is, "Shadow of the Monolith" is a fine collection of beautifully realized recordings from a far off place.

Danae Stefanou - [herewith] (Holotype Editions)

Stefanou leaps into this exploration of the piano's interior with furious abandon and indeed, "furious" might be the operative term here though it's a controlled fury; one perceives that Stefanou identifies her objective and then pursues it relentlessly in an almost Tudorian fashion. She gives special emphasis both to the ridged physicality of the piano strings and the deep resonance of its body, virtually all of the eight tracks sounding massive, voluminous. Each piece sets parameters then investigates them, not taking too long (eight tracks on an LP totaling about 30 minutes) but with extreme incisiveness, involving tonal resonance, more percussive aspects, drones and more, all improvised. The playing is very full, even busy at times, but never clogged; as much as I tend to enjoy work with more overt spatial considerations, when an artist really plunges in, no looking back, that can work just as well, as it does here. The final track is simply a monster, hugely impressive, Stefanou weaving a groaning behemoth of sound, like one of the best Phill Niblock pieces you've ever heard with a fistful of sand thrown into the gears. Yes, that good. This is Stefano's first solo recording and I can't wait to hear more. Don't let this slip under your radar--excellent work.

Holotype Editions

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Michael Pisaro - Continuum Unbound (Gravity Wave)

Maybe the first thing to say is that, to me, one has to listen and think about all three discs as parts of a single piece. As interesting (to say the least) and formidable as they are individually, I read them as necessary parts of a whole, though that whole is large and dense enough to easily deter quick graspability. Pisaro has fashioned a triptych that takes pure, unadulterated Nature as a starting point and then attempts to dissect it, recognize and appreciate patterns (all the while clearly understanding that any kind of pattern recognition is a human function, not necessarily existent in the "real world") and, ultimately, to investigate the possibility of constructing a path through this (explicitly referenced) fog and begin to make a kind of sense of one's experiences.

The first disc, "Kingsnake Grey" is "simply" a 72-minute recording of a sunset on New Year's Eve, 2012 in Congaree National Park, South Carolina, begun about twelve minutes before official sundown time. It's only the sounds of the forest, no enhancements or intrusions on the part of Pisaro or Stuart, no sympathetic sine tones or bowed percussion. One can easily imagine many a composer constructing, say, an hour-long piece and doing something like this for five or so minutes as a kind of preamble. But for Pisaro this is central, the primary seed for what follows, a sound world entirely capable of existing on its own and being contemplated in depth for an extended period, an outgrowth of the post-Cage aesthetic of the Wandelweiser group. I've little idea of how recordings like this are accomplished but here there's an enormous transparency and perspective achieved; in addition to immediate area sound recorders, I have the impression of directional mics that can pierce some distance into the sound field, ignoring the nearby, though I also have no idea whether or not such things exist. One gets an extremely full sense of the world here, but full of both sound and space. Pisaro understood the likely main arc of the interval, one in which bird song gradually quiets and insects take over. This occurred but with infinite variations. In his notes (which are invaluable), he mentions a squirrel making a desperate leap just when the birdsongs were winding down, causing a renewed flurry of avian activity but then a hastened quieting and realized that this kind of event was occurring throughout the woods, both serving to build that arc but also to invest it with endless complexity, the kind of realization, I imagine, that spurs his own compositional thoughts that surface subsequently. I've listened to this disc some eight times now and am continually hearing new sounds and patterns among the creatures, the background hum (is there a highway audible here?), passing jets, various apparently manmade sounds (metallic tapping and general bustling about now and again) and sounds whose origins I can't quite determine, all intersecting in various directions in space; really an astonishing document in and of itself but, as said, just part of the picture here.

A small good thing about the second disc, "Congaree Nomads", is that Pisaro, again unlike what one might reasonably expect from any number of composers engaged in roughly the same area, doesn't take the "Kingsnake Grey" tapes and somehow rework them. Rather, he uses other recordings made in the same park, 24 of them in three-minute segments, arranged "geographically", from north to south, as the spine of the new work. For me, this adds to the sense of largeness, inferring the enormous range of possibilities in play. They fade in and out, allowing them to exist simultaneously as discreet points of reference but also bearing a relationship, slight or strong, with their antecedents and successors. Overlaid on these recordings is the realization of a Pisaro score by Greg Stuart (who, I should say, shoulders almost as much responsibility for the success of this venture as does Pisaro) on various bowed percussion instruments (marimba, vibraphone, glockenspiel, crotales). Each of the 24 portions of the score contains from one to twelve tones and each initially matches up to the three minute length of the field recording extracts though gradually, the instrumental parts increase in length and begin to overlap. Also, the number of tracks on each instrumental section grows from one to 48 with the result that what began as clear ringing tones coalesces, toward the end of the piece, into a super-rich, organ-like cluster, evocative of the idea of "fog" which Pisaro cites as a thoroughgoing inspiration here, literally and ontologically. That's the nutshell and I may well be omitting important aspects or getting some wrong, but the effect is strikingly achieved, moving from the quiet opening moments, with soft birdsongs, a burbling stream, odd, wooden knocks and more, all beautifully present, laid alongside initially low, resonant bowings, the latter almost functioning like the sine tones in "Transparent City", here giving (me) the sense of the soil underlying the flora and fauna in addition to the gathering fog, maybe the condensation forming on the leaves sublimating to mist. It's a lot to grasp and I often lost my way here but, in fact, keeping the idea of a hike in mind helps a great deal, staying aware of the gradual landscape changes and those increasingly massed chords/fog banks ahead. The "organ" feel emerges strongly about midway through, inevitably imparting a "forest as cathedral" aura, something that requires a bit of grappling for this listener, an experience from which I usually escape unscathed. Those chords, I assume by virtue of multilayering and using close pitches, achieve a fantastic pulsing quality late in the work, transcending the church organ, entering the real world. An amazing piece, one that I think I've really only begun to get a handle on.

And then we come to "Anabasis", the most complex and, for this listener, most fulfilling part of this trilogy. The score, which is included in the booklet, provides a welcome roadmap for the piece which is set for five sound areas/players: Sand-Greg Stuart, "gravity percussion with sand"; Winds-Patrick Farmer, field recordings, hydrophone; Tones-Pisaro, electric guitar, piano, sine tones, studio and field recordings; Waves-Joe Panzner, electronics; and Interludes-Toshiya Tsunoda, sand, copper foil, polyethylene sheet, fan, sine tones, hydrophone. The sounds of the first four each predominate in their respective 15-minute sections, augmented by contributions from the others (save Tsunoda) in predetermined one or three minute segments; the structure of these segments remains constant, their occupancy varies. After each 15-minute portion, there's a three minute interval by Tsunoda (augmented by two of the four other musicians). It struck me as interesting that there's no obvious reference to the Congaree National Park itself (though it's possible, probable even, that some of the field recordings used by Pisaro derive from there) which seems to lead to an idea of transcendence, to a universalizing of that particular area; not sure. Pisaro references Badiou, particularly a passage with regard to a group of mercenaries lost in a desert having to "invent its path without knowing whether it really is the path of return", which could apply to bushwhacking as well as the musicians here negotiating there way. The sounds were created remotely by the musicians involved, with no knowledge as to the contributions of others, enforcing the sense of different solutions/pathways through the problem. As is always the case with Pisaro's music, there's much more going on than that and, again, his notes offer an excellent, clear look into his whys and wherefores. We hear music that grows from trickling sands to storms of same, similarly with wind; there's a constant ebb and flow in play. The moment Pisaro's featured portion occurs, at the 36-minute mark, there's a harkening back to "July Mountain" as, entirely unexpectedly, a piano appears, playing simply, tonally, though fragmented, as though glimpsed through a prism; it's an arresting, beautiful instant. It feeds in and out throughout the segment, ghostlike, a couple of notes here and there, a vestige of Romanticism amidst the hums, waves and silences, very moving. I should note here that Tusnoda's interludes work wonderfully, staying within the general aura of the work but also standing apart, a fine transition/contrast, especially the closing passage which opens enticingly onto new ground. When the final quarter begins, we hear what sounds for all the world like an organ. I assumed the trompe d'oreille lied in Panzner's hands rather than Stuart's (it's "his" section) though, peering more closely at the score, these figures seem to emerge during Pisaro's three minute sequences. If so, interesting, and fantastic as far as I'm concerned, that he seems willing to introduce this order of material, so traditionally attractive and strong. The whole composition breathes with conviction and many, many layers of depth, again more than is possible to go into here, more than I'm sure I've heard.

Extraordinary conception, amazing music.

Gravity Wave

Also available via Erstdist

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Gil Sansón - Ese maldito yo/El ocaso del pensamiento (Lengua de Lava)

I should say right off that one of the central referents in these two works (each a side of the cassette) is going to be pretty much lost on me: doom or black metal. The pieces were constructed by Sansón knowing that this music had been a driving influence in the musical lives of label owners Gerardo Alejos and Enrique Rejón, presumably for the composer as well. As one who does all that he can to stifle a chortle every time he hears the de rigueur, pro wrestling vocalizations of the genre, the frissons of extra pleasure some will undoubtably derive herein are, regrettably, absent for this listener. That said, there's much to enjoy. "Ese maldito yo" is a kind of drone, but one composed of what seems to be several field recordings of rain and thunderstorms over (again, I'm assuming) samples of metal chords, presented as cavernous, echoing roars, though buried firmly within the mix, behind the weather. I sometimes get the mental image of a forlorn metalhead, standing in the rain outside the performance arena, hearing the music reverberating through its exterior walls. Beginning several minutes in and then weaving its way throughout the remainder of the track, is an odd squiggle of keyboard that reminds me, even more disjunctively, of Don Preston's ring modulator work on Escalator Over the Hill though, given my impression above, I tend to hear it as, say, a moth batting around a streetlight on that rainswept corner. The situation being thus formed, it kinds of sits there and stews for its second half, immersive but/and stagnant. "El ocaso del pensamiento" is more dreamlike, grittily so, and for me more successful. It starts with a grimy hum including dull, heavy chimes (guitar?), smoke-filled and somber. The sounds splay out a bit, almost as if exiting a foggy, dark interior and entering an equally foggy and dark outside. Almost halfway through, a violent intrusion of heavy drumming arrives (metal-derived, I take it, several samples overlaid, I think), barreling through the mist, reaching a kind of fractured, Branca-esque intensity. Things settle into a nighttime soundscape, flies and crickets, with some surprisingly plaintive guitar, Rypdalian, before it all just melts away. An evocative piece, quite moving in a way. And an interesting, subtly strong release overall, easily recommendable even if I'm likely missing and/or not appreciating any number of reference points.

Lengua de Lava

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Takahiro Kawaguchi/Tim Olive/Makoto Oshiro - Airs (845 Audio)

It's something I wish would happen more often in this neck of the woods: the consideration, however much abstracted, of song form. As a general notion, it seems to me that a kind of pendulum swing tends to produce unusual and often beautiful results in these kind of situations when musicians spend time investigating more rarified regions (noise, post-AMM, etc.) and then bring back what they learn there to view a more "traditional" form through this newly enhanced lens. An example that has always stood out for me (among many) was a John Butcher solo performance from around 2002 where, at the end of a given piece, there lingered a sense of "song" in the air, regardless of how non-linear, abstract, etc. the playing seemed to be on the surface; quite magical.

The trio at hand more or less states this intention up front via the disc's title and further, in the accompanying notes, mentions the compositional aspect of the four pieces, if only in the sense of "general guidelines related to form, time, sound sources and density". All three musicians (Kawaguchi, and Oshiro on "self-made instruments", Olive on magnetic pickups) Have done very fine, very exploratory work in the past, Kawaguchi notably with Taku Unami on "Teatro Assente" (Erstwhile), Oshiro earlier this year on "Phenomenal World" (Hitorri), to name only two that I particularly enjoy and Olive on numerous past releases, collaborative and solo, so there's an extra level of appreciation for this set of quiet, relatively friendly tracks that make great use of silence, quasi-rhythmic elements and occasionally gentle, near tonal sounds, all combined to produce that feeling of ineffable structure that might be thought of as "song".

How this happens, I've no idea. True, the sounds themselves are less harsh that you might expect though there's plenty of edge and rawness in, say, the opening metallic scrapes on the first track or some soft groans on the third, but they're deployed in such a patient manner and spaced so well that they're somehow capable of being interpreted as sung verses (if you're so inclined; I think I would have felt this way without the album title as a clue, but who knows?). As well, there tends to be either some spare sustained tones weaving through the mix or thin percussive ones, presumably including some aspect of Kawaguchi's wind-up devices (one in use on the second track, perhaps not even his, sounds like one of those figurines of a monkey clapping miniature cymbals). These, or some approximation thereof, provide sequences of ticks or clicks that help form a (temporary) framework of sorts, rickety here, more solid there. The basic calmness in effect throughout, gently accented by these merest nods to wisps of tempi and melody are more than enough to impart that songlike feeling. That and the unhurried but flowing deliberateness.

I'm afraid I'm doing a poor job at communicating how this music actually sounds but maybe that's the nature of the beast. Just try it--it's unique, wonderful and oddly adventurous in its (very) partial reversion to form. Oh, and fantastic cover image by Kawaguchi!

845 Audio

Also available from Erst Dist

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Eventless Plot - Structures (Creative Sources)

Eventless Plot are a Greek trio: Vasilis Liolios (piano, synth, psaltery, singing bowls, objects), Yiannis Tsirikoglou (guitar, electronics, objects) and Aris Giatas (piano, bells, psaltery), here joined on one track by bass clarinetist Chris Cundy and on another by percussionist Louis Portal. They perform three pieces, I believe all improvised, one one which ("points of attraction" has appeared online as part of Simon Reynell's "Anonymous Zone" offerings.

"interior/interaction", like most of the music here, offsets plucked tones (the psaltery and guitar) against long held ones (electronics and, on this track, bass clarinet), using quasi-tonal pitches and keeping the sound field fairly full and active, kind of halfway between a standard eai and dreamy efi approach, the latter possibly occasioned by Cundy whose phrasing has a decidedly jazzish tinge. "points of attraction" makes great use of the singing bowls, nicely augmented by synth and prepared piano, a fine combination of timbres, the singing, high pitches girded by deep ka-bongs and mysterious banging and scrapes. A strong, vibrant piece, thoroughly investigating and scouring a discreet aural territory, very impressive. With Portal on hand, percussion is at the for near the beginning of the final track, "co_exist", but things surprisingly give way to a dense, electronics phase with organ-like held tones surging through prickly static. Something of a mid-60s Riley vibe here, though thick and viscous--again, focussed and driven. While the first cut I found a bit hit and miss, the other two are quite strong, causing curiosity about the trio's subsequent direction. Recommended.

Creative Sources

Malfinia Ensemblo - Varsovia (Kvitnu)

First, let me say how much I love the cover (by Zavoloka), not just visually but olfactorily--something in the inks used just smells great.

The music? Hmmm....Malvinia Ensemblo is Andi Stecher (drums, percussion) and (it pains me to type) The Norman Conquest (analog synths, electric bass, electric cello, charango); that's in the running for most cringeworthy nom de musique I've ever encountered. Agnes Szelag, whom I fondly recall from last year's wonderful collaboration with Jason Hoopes, contributes voice and electronics on two of the six tracks. The music is described as "dark, abstract and beat-driven" and while I've heard far darker and much more abstract, heavy rhythm is certainly one of the driving forces, beats of the industrial/tribal end of things, offset with the odd flourish but always settling into a repeated pattern of no great interest. The synth-y melodies that ride atop range from passably Godspeed-esque to kitschy enough to cause one to wonder if ELP has returned from the grave ("Mensa Lavango") where the tympanic percussion can sound especially ponderous. The first five pieces pretty much inhabit this area for better or worse; sometimes the piece comes close to shedding the lead and taking off ("Fulmo") or serviceable music for the closing credits of a Hollywood thriller. The kicker here is the lengthy final cut, "La Universo Estas Atorno", where all the goofiness somehow manages to cohere into something that, while still goofy, attains...I don't know...good, juicy fun? A long (reasonably) abstract percussion lead-in to the resolutely wacky synth noodlings but everything works,, even the Glassian (circa Dance Music) keyboard runs. Supremely silly and entirely non-nutritious; maybe like the music Roger Powell would make if he redid "Cosmic Furnace" today.

But remember, you can always sniff the jacket.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Ian M Fraser - The Realness (self-released)

Quoth Mr. Fraser: "No conceptual garbage, no MIDI bullshit! Just hard hitting, non-linear equation synthesis heavy algorithmic noise!" He ain't kidding.

A cassette release with two ten-minute tracks of exceptionally harsh noise, pretty fantastic noise. From what (little) I understand of Fraser's previous music, there's a good amount of math involved in the software and I think it might be detected in the fascinating irregularity of what at first blush might seem to be simply white noise. "Parallels" begins with a brutal tumble but soon subsides into a quiet, eerie space of wandering signals which in turn, erupts into a cascade of blisters, sounding like acid hail pelting into mud. But the sounds lie somewhere between white noise surface regularity and the gestural; hard to pin down but fascinating to attempt to parse. Imagine the most extreme Xenakis electronic work and up the intensity by a factor of two or three, retaining the stochastic basis. "Worf Gets Denied (Again and Again...)" is even denser, with more in the bass register and added thickness to the crackle, also buttressed by various steam-jet hisses. It's a steadier flow, just a non-stop torrent of rapid fire splatters of molten lead, oddly immersive in the sense that it's superficially violent but, on reflection, not so at all at least if approached as a kind of microscopic and highly amplified view of some aspect of the physical world, even at the atomic level; the "violence" underlying the everyday. There's a pause and reorientation on this track as well, toward the end, kind of a mirror image of what occurred on "Parallels", leading to a spattered, white-hot conclusion. Would love to experience this live but this is the next best thing. Strong work.


BJ Nilsen/Stilluppsteypa/Anla Courtis - Golden Circle Afternoon (Mego)

Hard to avoid using the term "psychedelic" for these tracks (two, both running about 23 minutes). Kind of collage-y, with the feeling of snippets and longer tendrils strung together intuitively, often to good effect. Assembled from shards accrued during a lengthy tour on Courtis' part (I was wondering if the title might be a reference to the Ornette sessions from 1965 but see that there's an Icelandic bus tour bearing the same name, a more likely source) and I'm guessing assembled by him after his return to Buenos Aires. Some sort of "traditional" musical presence is generally found, whether it be lazily strummed guitars, electric drones or multi-layered conglomerations of who-knows-what, presented with a liberal spicing of found noise and voices, steady state for a while, cresting (with some fine, odd textures), subsiding. Dreamy and, I daresay for some, druggy. "Aurora Australis", the first cut, might end up meandering a bit much for my taste but its companion, "Fish Is God" is quite solid, the mix denser, ropier, the individual elements a bit more vivid though still retaining an air of the phantasmagorical with groans, whispery electronics, echoing pulses and much more, including a fine ghostly section toward the end. Trippy, in a word. Not a term I usually use as praise but this one works pretty well.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Bruno Duplant/Stefan Thut - the fullest extent of possible movements in two particular places (diafani)

[a little strange including a cover shot as all diafanis bear the same cover image, but...I just realized the drawing is the boundary outline of the Greek village of the same name.]

A construction created, going from the description printed on the actually disc, by the overlaying of two compositions: Duplant's "l'entendue des possibles" on which he plays organ and Thut's "one and three boxes 1-3" where Thut plays boxes and zither. As far as I can tell that's "all" there is to it, a kind of process music, I suppose where the initial choice of recordings is made (I'm guessing by Duplant) and the results unfold. One may have had some confidence going in that the selection was a workable combination; both pieces are quite spacious and transparent, the Duplant tending toward long, low tones and the Thut carrying more of a percussive feel, the distant sounding taps and thuds heard sporadically, separated by substantial space. Permeating both (I think) is the ambient sound from the respective rooms in which the originals were recorded. All well and good, but how does it sound, listened to "innocently", as a standalone work?

It works just fine, in fact, very mysterious and immersive. The organ tones, which aren't continuous but are of long duration and are much more often present than not, form a shifting matrix, both in terms of dynamics and pitch, somehow giving the impression the room, its rough boundaries and shape, while Thut's activities with the boxes and zither (the latter, so far as I can discern, not strummed in any traditional manner, perhaps used more as a resonating box? or maybe e-bowed) are heard as occupants therein, rather perceived as from a distance, figures scurrying or ambling about or maybe even as animals going about their business. The disc works extremely well and, more, it's an example--not unique but worth pursuing--of an approach that stems from Ives through Cage and beyond of hearing several things at once. Here, the transparency of the result reminded me of Cage's overlaid score sheets for "Atlas Eclipticalis" as well as my (and I hope, many people's) habit of opening a door or window to the outside world while listening to music, especially that of the Wandelweiser group. It's music that sounds open to everything. The chance occurrences and congruences are the crux; chance but, by their original nature and sense of life, accommodating.

Fine work.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

PARA - PARAphore (Listen Closely)

Rank Ensemble - Papilio Noblei (Leo)

Two recordings and ensembles featuring French hornist Elena Kakaliagou, a new name to me and an interesting musician.

PARA is a Vienna-based trio consisting of Kakaliagou, pianist Ingrid Schmoliner and bassist Thomas Stempkowski. They operate somewhere on the fringes of post-free jazz European improvisation but with a heady and healthy dose of implicit post-Cage flow and, as well, traces of melodicism. Given my own predilections, it's not surprising I prefer those tracks where the latter elements predominate. The disc,a live performance, contains fourteen relatively short tracks, allowing for a wide amount of variation. There are times when the music is overly busy (never frenetic, really, but with the insistence on filling up space that's all too common) in a manner reminiscent of much efi but also, happily, many moments when the trio seems more about letting the music happen at its own pace, not forcing the issue and, more, allowing a small rivulet of their own inherent musicality to flow. Schmoliner uses preparations now and again and I get the feeling that it's mostly when she gets into a more Cage/Feldman state that the music relaxes, more air enters and the contributions of Kakaliagou and Stempkowski acquire more meaning (this is perhaps unfair, but it's the sense I get in, for example, the lovely horn/bass interplay following the piano introduction to "An Messiaen"). This is followed by a fairly bland and routine, spiky improv ("C.M.") but that, in turn, leads to my favorite cut on the album, "Uroboros", a delicate and lovely work, where pensive bass leads into a space that seems, oddly, equal parts AMM/Tilbury and Paul Bley, the latter's melodic sense filtered through the abstraction, the horn eventually settling on a powerful, almost dirge-like figure (written?). Very strong; I'd love to hear more in this vein. The remainder of the recording tends to vacillate between these poles, sometimes within the same cut. Of course, this is likely more of a concern to me than many a listener and, indeed, for the musicians at hand; some may prefer the more crowded cuts and PARA needn't share my concerns. As is, I'd be curious to see the direction they choose, up my alley or not.

The Rank Ensemble stems from Helsinki and, in addition to Kakaliagou, includes Solmund Nystabakk (guitar, voice), Saara Rautio (harp, ukulele, spring drum) and James Andean (piano, electronics, flute, melodica). I also found this recording uneven but in a different way, stemming from more of a contemporary classical angle rather than efi, although the tracks here, from 2009-2013, are improvisations as well. Here, the distracting elements have less to do with clutter than a certain dryness although, by and large, the overall effect works very well for me. The quartet has a healthy habit of interjecting iterative or tonal elements into the mix, as with the soft clip-clop and accompanying piano chords in "The Promise" that allow the music to coalesce briefly from the abstract cloud, gain some shape, then evaporate again, very beautiful. But just when you've settled in, some loopy and unnecessary electronics intrude and mar the atmosphere. Though later, on the longer track, "Huget, the electronics, now growly and somewhat aggressive, work perfectly with the mechanically repetitious guitar, creating a fine, rough, stormy atmosphere. In "Weitersfeld", another lengthy piece, the electronics provides a deep, lush bed over which the harp flutters alongside a lonely horn; again, thoughtful and considered playing abounds, with no shyness about reference to "traditional" forms. When it crumbles into a series of plinks and whooshes, it feels right, as does the poignant harp, piano and guitar passage that concludes it. The disc ends with "Revenge", a gorgeous track with a folk song feel to it; if this was improvised, I'm impressed.

As with PARA, I'll be anxious to hear where the music goes. Right now, I'd give the nod to Rank, but both records are well worth the listen.

Listen Closely


Friday, October 17, 2014

Silvia Tarozzi - Virgin Violin (i dischi di angelica)

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to attend a concert at the Italian Cultural Center with this same program, performed by Tarozzi and cellist Deborah Walker. Tarozzi performed the Criton piece solo, the pair combined on the Oliveros and Walker played the Radigue, a lovely evening. Here the violinist assumes all chores and the result is a largely very strong, quite varied recording.

Criton's "Circle Process" (2010) is written for violin tuned in 1/16th tones (much of her music is for instruments tuned beyond quarter tones) and, as the title suggests, is played by the violinist bowing in generally circular patterns, though decisions regarding duration, starting and stopping points within the score, etc., are left to the performer. The work begins with whispers and gradually grows more complex, not with regard to the bow movements but form the increasing interactions of the micro-tuned strings, which begin emitting all manner of ghost tones, flute-like sounds, jew's harp evocations, etc. There's a very dry, powdery aura in effect, the bow pressure causing single sweeps to range from wispy to resonant, all very tactile and corporeal. The piece seems o be about the navigation of the performer through the subtleties evoked by the tuning, pausing or forging on as she see fit, eventually ending near the starting point, though the whispers now contain more air, carry a greater respiratory character. Very impressive and a work that reveals new relationships on each listen.

Apart from her amazing tape work in the 60s, I've previously fessed up to not being a huge fan of Oliveros. Granted, I've never thoroughly investigated her music but what I've heard over the years and having seen her live three times, in three different performing situations, hasn't led to a change of mind. Nor does the piece included here, "Thirteen Changes: for Malcolm Goldstein" (1986), in which Tarozzi, in addition to violin, contributes field recordings and sounds from toys, stones and a music box (which plays a Butch Morris piece0 and is assisted by Massimo Simonini on electronics and mix. Oliveros' voice is heard in the final section, listing the titles of the individual sections (many of which carry the new-agey aura that puts me off much of her music). Given the structure, it's necessarily episodic but generally reads as a string of effects, with a bit of wackiness thrown in. There's an oddly free improv feel about some of it; that is, free improve circa the late 70 or 80s. The ninth portion sounds weirdly like Fred Frith from his 1975 Guitar Solo album. Other parts recall David Moss, Derek Bailey, Nicholas Collins and others. None of it "bad" per se, just hard to get behind in anything but a conglomerative way and to remain impressed by Tarozzi's dexterity in negotiating the terrain.

But then there's Radigue, represented here by "Occam II" (2012). I may be as biased in favor of Radigue as I am against Oliveros, but so it goes. As with most of her pieces for stringed instrument, it's "simply' the back and forth bowing but the sounds thus elicited are anything but simple--magical instead. The quavers, the pulses and the pure gorgeous sonics of the bow patiently sliding over the strings are almost enough. You get the sense that it's only through extreme concentration via repetition, extreme honing of touch that harmonics (or a combination of harmonics and high strings lightly stroked?) begin to emerge, dancing ghostlike above the arco drone. Worlds unfold. Recorded well enough that you easily hear multiple layers from the actual touch of rosined bow on strings, up through the mid-range "true" notes encountering those delightful, plaintive plucked notes to those tones you're not sure are on the recording or only in your ears (no difference, of course). A marvelous piece of music, beautifully played.

i dischi di angelica

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Michael Francis Duch - Tomba Emmanuelle (Sofa)

Duch continues to impress, even amaze, with this May, 2013 solo concert though partial credit is in this case surely due to the venue: Oslo's Emmanuel Vigeland Mausoleum, whose extraordinary acoustic qualities are taken full advantage of. There's just one piece, fairly short (a bit over 28 minutes) and occupying territory not so far, in a way, from some of Eliane Radigue's work, notably "Naldjorlak I" (solo cello) in the sense of broad, incredibly complex drones being generated by slow, deep, back and forth bowing. But whereas Radigue's piece restricts the musician to a very narrow range of tones (nonetheless revealing the enormous complexity of sounds that lie within), Duch, improvising, spreads things out just a little more, though where the bass playing leaves off and the effects of the room begin, it's impossible for me to say. Some of what you hear sounds virtually impossible to have emanated from an acoustic instrument. Wave after wave of intense, thick strands, draping across one another so richly you want to reach out and run your hands through it. The initial hyper-low drones give way, about seven minutes in, to similar workings at a slightly higher pitch, perhaps more focussed and "pure" sounding, but again with the vibrations being hugely enhanced and otherwise beautifully changed by the room. Really, some of the most incredible music I've ever heard emerging from a bass. There's a section of more rapid bowing, though never coming close to anything frenetic or crowding followed by, some 23 minutes in, Duch introducing a little chordal singing, another element melded into the mix, not sitting atop. The final few seconds find Duch ascending into the bass' upper reaches, a floating tendril at the end of a deeply rooted organism.

Easily one of the finest solo bass recordings I've ever heard. Mandatory listening.

Microtub - Star System (Sofa)

A very intriguing pairing with the above release, dealing as it does with deliberate, patient explorations of deep register spaces, in this case naturally enough as we're listening to the microtonal tubas of Robin Hayward, Kristoffer Lo and Martin Taxt. And it's very nearly as enjoyable. Two pieces organized by Hayward, each a 3D graphic score using models made with Zometool parts (a "toy" construction product that can be used to create some wonderful structures, including some of the buckyball variety), the balls or nodes representing pitches and the struts connecting the nodes, "musical intervals". I can't say I'm able to discern a lot of structural difference between the two works; each about 20 minutes long, each consisting of mid- to low range, fairly pure tones from the tubas, long-held and overlapping. But that in no way diminishes their basic gorgeosity, especially with regard to the layerings of those microtones and the pulsing and ghost tones that emerge. Very fine work and a nice counterpoint to Duch's recording, less emotionally stirring but, perhaps necessarily, more grounded. Deeply embedded, even.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ryan Jewell - Radio, Vol. 2 (NoticeRecordings)

A common complaint I've had over the years, especially, as it happens, with percussionists, is their reluctance to concentrate on one area or aspect of their instrument for extended periods. Jewell has no problems in this regard. Often a "regular" drummer as nearly as I can discern (I believe I've only previously encountered his work in a collaborative context), on this cassette release he engages in two lengthy explorations of "limited" territory with fine results. I'm not precisely sure what elements were used here but it seems to be some mix of electronics and percussion, or at least percussion-sourced recordings. On the first track, "O-O" (recorded in 2010), the world is one of acid sizzles and a rough, rubbed sound that occasionally grows into quasi-vocal moans that remind me very much of the nocturnal, unconscious murmurings of Robert Ashley in his "Automatic Writing" and is similarly disturbing. It's not that shifts of focus don't occur; they do, but feel absolutely appropriate, like moving smoothly to an adjacent, related space, here one where the rubbing becomes more vivid and stone-like, achieving a fine, near-chaotic state, ending with a couple minutes of soft, brushy sound and a punctuative clunk. The second side of the cassette, "OO" (2009), sounds more purely percussive to me and is even more concentrated, Jewell producing, through rubbing both smooth and rough, wonderful nests of sounds existing somewhere between tones and rapid rhythms, rising periodically to a frightening wail. He spends the entire cut right in almost the same spot, not generating anything new or spectacular but, better, letting the richness of what he's initially discovered sink in. That's something I greatly appreciate, wish it happened more often.

Excellent work, highly recommended.

Notice Recordings

Mecha/Orga: Yiorgis Sakellariou - 41:38 (More Mars)

Consisting of two earlier pieces that Sakellariou exhumed and reworked.

The first begins with in extremely rapid tapping, as of a hard rubber ball on a wooden surface, but far faster and more regular than humanly possible. It sounds like more than one item in action, as what begins as roughly synchronized slips in and out of rhythm, creating small wavelets of patterns; really great. The same rhythm is eventually replicated in light, metallic fashion for a little while, again to wonderful effect. The ball-like object drops out, the metal lingers then collapses into an entirely other sound-world, all dark, cavernous hums with a mysterious, misty aspect, but it returns with a vengeance a few minutes later, now supported by this subterranean rushing river. Once again, it subsides into the dark, but a more troubling one, boiling a bit. A fine track, great to hear with one's head between the speakers.

The second track sounds almost as though it picks up at the other end of that underground tunnel, the liquid bubbling up into an adjacent area, building to a roar and, as before, collapsing, but this time into an urban environment, some bustling business, maybe the back room of a restaurant, boxes and such being tossed around. The scene abruptly skews and we're (I'm imagining) inside a moving truck, its contents (bottles in baskets) jouncing against one another, an odd, repeated, tonal two-note pattern permeating the air (many loops in effect here). A vast rush of sound, that pattern still dimly heard, like two distant marimba notes.More shifts, always clearly in human territory, maybe airports. Thing get a bit hazy here and, to me, don't quite cohere as well, but it's never boring, just disorienting, which might not be a bad thing. The piece returns to form with a particularly brutal, mechanical loop, really excellent, before drifting off.

I think I'd only previously heard Sakellariou in partnership with Julian Ottavi. Glad to have made a reacquaintance here and am curious about his other work.

More Mars

Monday, October 13, 2014

Birgit Ulher/Ilia Belorukov/Andrey Popovsky - Live at Teni Zvuka 2012 (1000füssler)

Two tracks, one solo Ulher (trumpet, radio, speaker, objects), one trio with Belorukov (ipad with sine waves, mini-speakers with preparations, objects) and Popovsky (motors, ebows, mini-amp, dictaphone, contact mic, surfaces, objects).

Ulher's set begins with some of the most purely percussive playing I've ever from here, I think, the trumpet at this point more resembling a snare drum. From there, she constructs a 24-minute piece that fairly zips by, one limber idea after another. It's hard for me to pin down in any quantitative way but although Ulher uses many approaches to her instrument that are apparently similar to, say, Greg Kelley, something about her music always sounds unique, sometimes nervous and slippery, sometimes strangely calm despite the rapid succession of attacks. It's marvelous work, some of my favorite music from any free improvising trumpeter.

The trio piece, only 12 minutes long, is a quiet, percolating track, with Belarukov and Popovsky contributing subtle enough sounds that it almost seems like Ulher with accompaniment, but their music really enhances hers and also impairs a fine sense of the space they're inhabiting, the trumpeter's metallic screeches floating atop the softly bubbling/prickly electronics. Good stuff, solid release.

Birgit Ulher/Gregory Büttner - Araripepipra (Hideous Replica)

It's a bird. :-) The titles of the other seven tracks refer to creatures as well, some near extinction, some extinct, some crypto-zoological. It's tempting to hear the sounds generated by this pair (Ulher--trumpet, radio, speaker, objects and Büttner--computer, loudspeakers, objects, fan) as evocative of real or imagined sounds created by these animals--actually, it's rather fun to do just that. The pieces are in line with what I've previously heard from each musician, individually and as a duo: fairly active, bubbling, possessing a fine sense of timbre and pacing. "Kongamato" stands out for its long tones, very welcome; easy also to imagine them accompanying the titular pterosaur in flight. Good, crunchy, imaginative music, another in a string of strong releases involving Ulher, a musician who listeners should definitely check out if they haven't already.

Andrea Borghi - Glyphe (sqrt)

A short set of six pieces on this 3" disc by Borghi, constructed via software, microphones and other effects.

The music is quite subdued,ranging from soft crackling to sustained, quasi-ambient, near-tonal hums, to ringing metal tones embedded in liquid splatter. Each brief track is discrete and self-contained and each is a very enjoyable nugget, often bearing a beguiling percussion/electronics feel. On the one hand, there are sounds and ideas here that I'd love to heard explored at greater length but on the other, there's something very satisfying about the notion of a delicious morsel. A small gem well worth hearing.



Hideous Replica


Friday, October 10, 2014

Andrew McIntosh - Hyenas in the Temple of Pleasure (Populist)

Let me say at the outset that I find this recording very exciting and extremely enjoyable. But it's also the kind of music that I feel somewhat ill-equipped to discuss, especially on a technical level as its elements, insofar as tunings and structures, are really beyond my (limited) expertise. That said, some descriptions.

The album contains two sets of suites by McIntosh, "Symmetry Etudes" (a set of eight such, amazingly performed by a trio of James Sullivan and Brian Walsh on clarinets plus the composer on violin) and "Hyenas in the Temple of Pleasure" (in four sections, played by the ensemble Yarn/Wire, with Laura Berger and Ning Yu on pianos and Ian Antonio and Russell Greenberg on percussion). Four of the "Symmetry Etudes", V, II, III and IV, are heard first, then the quartet suite, followed by Etudes I, VI, VII and VIII.

The "Symmetry Etudes" are relatively short, between about two and twelve minutes and varied in their approach; in some, the symmetrical character is apparent (though never too formulaic; there's a tinge of Tom Johnson in play, I think, but nothing as overt as his pattern pieces), in others it's obscure, if present at all. Several things are immediately striking. One is that, despite McIntosh's history of having worked on occasion with the Wandelweiser group, the voicings of the instruments are "traditional" in expression, if tuned in just intonation. There are none of the breath tones in the clarinets or whispery bowings on the violin that one has come to almost routinely expect; the sounds are robust and full-throated with a deep sense of reediness and all things rosiny (just the combination of two clarinets and violin seems to afford a special kind of sonic deliciousness), the music urgent but not strident. McIntosh remarks in his notes that he chose the more emotive readings of this series for the recording, something that doubtless enhances the latent Romantic aspects of the music, the kind of thing I've picked up in much of Jürg Frey's work, more overtly vivified here. There are moments when the combination of tonalities and plangency here recall, for me, Gavin Bryars around the time of "After the Requiem", but this is better, without a shred of kitsch. Even the more "skeletal" etudes, like the fourth, have a resonance that lingers far beyond their scalar aspects. The entire set is probing, intelligent and, simply, sensually gorgeous.

McIntosh opines that the title work represents a major advance in his compositional history, a kind of freeing up with a greater use of intuition and less of a reliance on systems or elaborate tunings. Still, the percussion, including pipes and wine glasses, incorporates an amount of tuning in just intonation and indeed, bear echoes of Partch's Cloud Chamber Bowls (a beautiful sound). The structure does, in fact, seem "looser" (not flaccid) than the etudes. The pianos (at least partially prepared) and percussion weave amongst each other, a pair of twin strands, aligning, parting, blooming independently; there's a dreamlike quality in much of the work, very absorbing and almost numbing. Hard to elucidate the structure but I sense it in there, very organic.

Well, that's about the best I can do now though I feel I'm giving the music short shrift. There are a couple of samples available at the bandcamp site below, but do yourselves a huge favor, pick this one up and hear it all. One of the most enjoyable things I've heard this year.

Populist's bandcamp site

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Bayaka Pygmies (Louis Sarno, recordist) - Song from the Forest (Gruenrekorder)

Selected recordings from the soundtrack of Michael Obert's documentary on the Bayaka Pygmies of the Central African rainforest. Some 25 years ago, Sarno, enchanted by music he'd heard on radio from this area, ventured there and ended up remaining, adopted by the Bayaka. The film, as I understand it, documents Sarno visiting New York City with his son, Samedi, 13 years of age.

The soundtrack album presents fifteen tracks culled from some 1,500 hours of recordings. I imagine many of us have heard various Pygmy music over the years though, speaking for myself, as entranced as I've been by what I've heard, I really know very little about it (even saying "it" is likely pretty stupid as I'd suppose there are myriad kinds). The collection makes no claims as far as being representative and, approached thusly, as a sample of music and sounds that Sarno has experienced, it's rather extraordinary. The jungle is always present in the form of insect and bird calls, sometimes, as in the track "Women Sing in the Forest", the dominant element, the human contribution all but lost in the swarming cloud, other times, that's all there is. There's some extraordinary "tree drumming" as well as the better known and no less amazing water drumming. There are flutes, "earth bows" (a bent sampling with twine played over a hole in the ground acting as resonator, sounding like a bass doussn'gouni), bow harps and much singing, especially lovely when employing their version of hocketing ("Lingboku Celebration"). Really a wonderful document with, thankfully, none of the sense of cultural imperialism one often finds, doubtless due to Sarno's commitment to and immersion in the culture. Fantastic music and sounds, highly recommended.


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Lee Noyes/Lance Austin Olsen - Craig's Stroke (Infrequency Editions)

A very enjoyable, thoughtful collaboration, but one of those where it's difficult (for me) to say too much about it. As I understand it, Olsen sent an image he'd created to Noyes who, in turn, working with a no-input mixer, responded with the initial layer of sound to which Olsen then affixed (a verb that seems somehow appropriate given his work as a painter) other sounds of a non-electronic nature. Somewhere during this process, Olsen learned of a stroke suffered by his 40-year old friend, Craig, and incorporated his thoughts on that event into the project.

The result is some 49 minutes of quiet--generally very quiet--but prickly music that conveys, for me, a great amount of tautness and tension. Small crackles, delicate (though often harsh, in a tiny way) hums, the odd bang or breath. It's "not there" to a degree that you can easily lose track of it but I think, if so, there would still be a vague sense of disquiet imbuing the room. Perhaps the sounds, as they emerge, might be analogous to the unblacked-out portions of the triptych painted by Olsen (see below). A subdued, wooly vibration comes through in the waning minutes of the piece, like a generator from the next room with occasional power surges. There's a bit of a surprise a couple of minutes before the end, when we encounter, out of the blue, a loop of some orchestral music, vaguely cartoony in nature, before that fuzzy throb resumes dominance, ending curtly.

A fine, contemplative recording, tough going or not depending how one chooses to listen. Not to mention another great cover by Jamie Drouin.

Infrequency Editions