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

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Jürg Frey - Pianist, Alone (Irritable Hedgehog)

Two fascinating pieces by Frey on this double CD, (listened to on download by yours truly), beautifully realized by Andy Lee, but fascinating for different reasons.

"pianist, alone (1)" lasts for almost 90 minutes and consists of a series of discreet episodes. Will Robin's excellent notes on the site below do a far better job of describing things musicologically than I ever could, so I'll give a few other impressions. The opening chord sequence provide one of the most haunting and lovely sets of sounds I've heard in recent years. The chords are held for about five or six seconds, very luminous and clear. As they end, we hear, seemingly in the middle distance, the mechanics of the piano, in this case (I think) the action of the pedals, a soft, almost crunching sound but one that contains a strong aspect of respiration, as though the instrument is taking a breath between chords. This resurfaces several times over the piece's length. You also come to realize that other ambient sounds in the room are audible: various knocks and perhaps even the odd grunt from Lee. These elements are especially wonderful given the stately nature of the work's progression, supplying a nice dollop of chaos. That calmness pervades, whether the pianist is asked to plunge to the keyboard's depths letting the entire piano frame vibrate with those low, low chords or single, high register notes (with offsetting pedal or lever action). Lee, as in earlier work of his I've encountered, is a master at subsuming his ego, truly disappearing into the music. Enough so, in fact, that another thought occurred to me, not a complaint, really, just a consideration. I began thinking of my feelings about recordings of Manfred Werder's music based on lines of text, the notion that documentation of the scores often strikes me as less on point than actually performing them oneself, especially given that there's nothing inherently musical about them in a professional sense (though the texts often certainly connote a kind of musicality, abstracted). The first version of "pianist, alone" requires, it seems to me, a minimum of pianistic dexterity (though the quality of touch might be pertinent); it seems more involved with the physicality of the instrument and the performer's experience of same. As lovely as it is, I get the sense that a more thorough, rich experience would be had by the listener, regardless of technique or lack of same on the piano, playing it his or herself. If I ever get a piano again and can access the music, I'd definitely give it a try (likely played at one quarter tempo). In the meantime, this will suffice quite nicely, thank you. It's a long haul, meditative and embracing.

"pianist, alone (2)", clocking in at a scant 30 minutes, is a different creature, bearing some of the latent romanticism I tend to detect in Frey's music in a more overt manner. The atmosphere is the same, the mechanism heard working away, but while still calm, the tempo is varied, non-repetitive, and an allowance seems to be given for the emotional attachment of note to note, phrase to phrase. In some respects, it reminds me of a longer and more abstract version of Howard Skempton. The low figures are more brooding--how easy it is to get sucked into associative forms! How difficult to separate the physical actions of the keys from the automatic connotations the notes evoke. Approached this way, after the "lesson" of the first composition, I feel a fine tension, a healthy questioning of perception.

A marvelous recording and a great addition to the canons of both Frey and Lee.

Irritable Hedgehog

Monday, October 06, 2014

Bryan Eubanks/Jason Kahn - drums saxophone electronics (Intonema)

An odd set, this and one with a strong sense of pushing the music with an unlikely (in terms of contemporary improv) instrumental pairing. If I've ever heard Kahn on a regulation drum set before, I can't recall it, but that's where he is for the better part of this session. I guess it's been a while since he's wielded the hyper-intensely struck gongs and metals, in recent recordings that I've heard opting instead for electronics or field recordings, so this is a surprise not only for him, but also in the context of working with Eubanks. Again, my experience is doubtless incomplete, but I've almost always encountered Eubanks in a more abstract or "broken" electronics environment, one where a drum kit would generally seem out of place. Here, in addition to his electronics, radio, etc., he wields soprano sax, evoking, almost reflexively, jazz-oriented sets from Coltrane/Ali onward. And Kahn's drums do indeed often--by no means always--refer to that tradition, risky behavior in some circles. Managing to skirt the imitative "dangers", if you will, that lie along that route while still progressing along an ideally non-idiomatic pathway is no small feat and I'd say the results are mixed here though by no means uninteresting. There's good variation in density levels, welcome timbre fluctuations from the electronics and each of the pieces (six, between five and eight minutes in length) all flow very well, again in a manner somewhat akin to good free jazz. Not what I would have expected coming in, but perfectly enjoyable.

Andrey Popovsky - rotonda (Intonema)

A live performance by Popovsky (lap steel guitar, electronics, objects) in the rotonda [sic] of the Mayakovsky Library, I take it in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The reverberant quality of the rotunda is put to good use throughout this extremely quiet set, both as a subtle spatial presence and as an echoer of the occasional louder (though contained and pure) percussive elements as well as the odd, siren-like sound that emerges about 24 minutes in. Prior to that episode, Popovsky engages in a well-considered, tentative exploration of the space, sometimes eliciting vaguely guitar-ish sounds, more often discreet hums, clicks and hushed sustained tones. The sirens are strange, "out of place" in a sense but welcome in that they act as a break in what had up to that point been a fairly standard, if well done, "lower case" set. They seem to act as something of a release valve as afterwards, Popovsky opens up somewhat, notably in a gently roiling and rattling section toward the performance's end, one of the highlight's of the disc. A good recording, not sure if it's representative of Popovsky's work (I believe it's the first I've heard him) but I'm curious to hear more.


Thursday, October 02, 2014

(Various) - G.I.A.S.O. (fibrr)

An "international online orchestra", whose members contribute remotely to a (physical) site containing, perhaps among other things, ongoing videos with which they interact, the whole shebang live-mixed by (again, perhaps among others) Julien Ottavi. The contributors are: Cdrik Croll, Jenny Pickett, Kadet Kuhne, Romain Papion, Ryo Ikeshiro, Shoï Extrasystole, William Nurdin, Emanuelle Gibello, Eva Ursprung, Philippe Cavaleri, Ottavi, Shelly Knotts, Joachim Montessuis, Erin Sexton, Brice Janin, Elpueblodelchina and Seamus O'Donnell. The sounds are entirely electronic in nature, spread over six tracks (two of them silent) recorded between "early 2013 and early 2015"[sic], in Bourges, Nantes and Bergen, with no indication which musicians appear on which tracks, not that it matters.

Apart from the obvious caveat that one would necessarily need to experience this live to get the full effect, the sounds here are both varied and immersive. The opening track falls into the sort of area I'd expect going in, an amorphous, dense cloud of fairly aggressive growths, a kind of loose free-for-all, chaotic but with the "formlessness" of a natural system, a pile of stones or plot of weeds. Various disparate sounds enter and leave, some droning, others clattering; I'm curious if the participants could hear the totality of what was occurring or not, whether they had the opportunity to consider or not consider how their sounds integrated with or affected others. Then again, since someone is also live-processing the various inputs, it's hard to know how it would have sounded in situ, so better to simply go from the disc. There's a welcome dynamic variation among the tracks, some, like the third, arriving at a particularly sumptuous low level, the sounds circulating like swamp gas over a moonless pond, really fine. The fourth is nicely abstract and hesitant, including voice grabs, obscure percussive noises, bell sounds and various hums, the kind of assemblage that, if heard unprocessed from multiple sources, would be a good example of long distance reticence, very impressive. Repeated listens elicit a great amount of detail and sound relationships, one's brain going about its pattern-recognition way regardless whether one exists or not, which is quite enjoyable. As is the recording on the whole, as good a job of replicating the events, I imagine, as is possible on disc form. Not as much pure noise as I might have anticipated, which I appreciated here--more light, less opaqueness. A good job.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Konrad Gęca - art of choices (Mathka)

Here's a tidy little quandary for a reviewer. Gęca, a field recordist and sound installation/video artist has, via Mathka, issued an "album" in an edition of 100 copies, each one of which contains entirely different material. So, essentially, he's released 100 recordings in editions of one, under the same title. So what I've heard (and enjoyed) will have only little to do with what you hear, should you decide to do so, the connecting strand being (perhaps) Gęca's sound sensibility. Describing the contents of my copy is rather pointless, but I'll say it ranges from "banal" ambient recordings in urban settings (but all sounding, somehow, pretty interesting) to snatches of music, recorded and live, to bits of indistinct speech, to abstract bangs and rustles, trains, kids, much, much else. It's all very relaxed and straightforward, easily heard as a kind of mini-travelogue even if, in fact, it was assembled randomly.

I liked mine and would encourage other to try their luck. Just don't complain to me.

Sympli Romatikó - Sympli Romatikó (Mathka)

The music here, provided by Denis Kolokol (electronics, voice), Tomek Chołoniewski (drums, percussion, voice) and Alexander Chikmakov (guitars) is much less aggressive than the cover image might lead you to believe. Three tracks, each allowed goodly length to sprawl. "Misinterpretation of misunderstanding" bubble gently along, a faint church organ-like tone heard beneath taps, percolations and soft screeches. ou often hear electronic burbles of the character I associate with early SF films, cheery little blips as from some well-meaning robot. A strong voice emerges, declaiming in...Polish, I think; it sounds worrying, but those little blips are comforting, even if the words are followed by some guttural growls. The voice returns, sounding arrogant--mixing in Spanish, ending with a cry of "Muy fuerte!" whereupon the music shifts to layers of flute-like sounds and percussion. Things get boiling as the drums settle into a steady, almost Blakey-esque rhythm at one point, subsiding into lather, returning. From here, it wanders a bit for my taste, into vocalized bird and animal sounds, but it was a pretty fine trip all told. A rich electronic drone opens "PG/L1", swiftly becoming all swirly and never quite centers again, instead going adrift on a bed of blips similar to those encountered earlier, though more plaintive, and incessant tap-drumming. "GP1" opens up a bit, almost tangential to old Jon Hassell territory, an engaging, quasi-rhythmic meander, odd electric flora sprouting up along the path, emitting pings and throbs, very spacious, pulsing and inviting. A nice conclusion to an inconsistent but not uninteresting recording.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

A quartet of releases from Mikroton and one from an affiliated label, Laminal.

NG4 Quartet - A Quartet for Guitars (Mikroton)

There are times when one has too much information and at least part of me would have liked to have had less with regard to this release, even if that would have led, in all likelihood, to some embarrassing evaluations. But as it happens, Rowe had talked about this quartet (himself, Anthony Taillard, Emmanuel Leduc and Julien Ottavi, all on guitars and electronics) for much of the last year and a half. At first, he only let on that it was a guitar quartet and that the musicians were meeting, when possible, once a week to rehearse it and that by "rehearse" he meant not only playing but talking quite a bit and examining preconceptions. He stressed how difficult but rewarding the process had been. Then, in June, he discussed the premises behind the work (which you can read about on the Mikroton site, linked to below) quite openly, a nurturing of, among other things, his long held notion of the value of failure but also, I think, of the lack of rigor to which current improvisatory/experimental music is held, by musicians and critics alike (something I'm surely guilty of myself). He wanted the work to be something that was impossible to describe with adjectives like "gorgeous", "strong", etc., anything positive, really, as paradoxical as that aim might be in the sense of the impossibility of jettisoning prior knowledge, of trying to play badly. I kept thinking of an able, adult visual artist attempting to draw like an eight-year old; can't be done, imho. This information doubtless saved me from coming at this project from an entirely erroneous direction but, I have to say, I would have liked to have been able to do so, whatever the subsequent chagrin.

The piece is loosely based, as you can read, on the third movement of Haydn's String Quartet Op. 20, No. 1, at least so far as the five track lengths which follow the one-minute, silent "Affectuoso e sostenuto" (tender and sustained, here referring to the expression on the face of the first violinist of the Lyndsey Quartet, Peter Cropper, as he performed the work), all of them about nine minutes long. They bear the titles, "Ineptitude", "Awkward", "Gaucheness", "Underwhelm" and "Failing". These pejorative qualities don't have anything to do, as near as I can determine, with either amateurishness or the overly slick aspect of some musicians; it's not like they engage in Al DiMeola impressions here. More, I think it has to do with what Rowe perceives as failures on the part of improvising musicians to do so with, for lack of a better word, aptness. This, depending on the situation, can range from graceful delicacy to brutal heedlessness, though I imagine Rowe would have that range of qualities inherent somewhere in the created sounds. This is a very personal distinction on his part, one encountered by anyone who has spent some time with him and listened to his criticism of a given performance; sometimes I can understand what he hears, often the degree of discernment is lost on me. Here, he uses a simple time cell structure based on nine one minute segments for each track, the number of events for each player occurring within a given minute ranging from zero to nine, progressively, the specific events and, I think, the minute sequences, shuffled randomly (perhaps a gentle nudge at the Cage and post-Cage Wandelweiser habit of using similar structures). The sounds are roughly the sort one encounters routinely in free improv contexts (there's a bit of rockish fuzz thrown in now and then as well) but more heard by me as a catalog rather than any purposeful or probative series; I would think of that as one of the work's "failures", not sure if it was on Rowe's mind. The final result is, indeed, underwhelming if one looks at it that way, less so, naturally, if standing back and considering Rowe's premise. It's hard to fail that badly when you know so much. Unless, by blatantly failing, you've managed to lurch into new, potentially fertile territory. Maybe so.

Keith Rowe/Alfredo Costa Monteiro/Ilia Belarukov/Kurt Liedwart - Contour (Mikroton)

No need for much procedural analysis of this one, just an hour's worth of your plain, old-fashioned improv gathering with Rowe (guitar, electronics), Costa Monteiro (accordeon, objects), Belarukov (alto saxophone, objects, ipod, mini-subwoofer, mini-speaker) and Liedwart (objects, electronics). IT's all very subdued and all quite good really, Belarukov once again impressive in his reticence while still often using pure tones, no mean feat. Though I may be mixing him up here with Costa Monteiro if the latter is occasionally summoning similarly pure tones from his squeezebox. No matter, ore to the point that each of the two tracks breathes freely, stretches out quite ably. One notices, after dealing with the guitar quartet release that that one dealt pretty much in short phrases while this is about long-held sounds, much to its benefit. One wonders about similarly "awkward" playing using this formation, if it's more difficult to "underwhelm" in a more stasis-prone environment. Whatever, it's an excellent set, focussed and considered, working up to a subtly exciting rumble towards its conclusion. Well worth hearing.

Kazuhisa Uchihashi/Noid/Tamara Wilhelm - I Hope It Doesn't Work (Mikroton)

A set of live recordings from 2013 by the trio of Uchihashi (guitar, daxophone), Noid (cello) and Wilhelm (DIY electronics).

Mostly at a medium-low dynamic level with medium a medium amount of activity, Noid's cello providing some grain, and longish lines, Wilhelm's electronics flitting back and forth between cracked electronics sounds (nothing too harsh, though) and smoother glides and blips, Uchihashi contributing unobtrusively to the flow, adding color and accents. All pretty enjoyable if not so distinguishable from other ventures in a similar field. Nothing particularly to latch onto; the music slides into the foreground, occupies the territory with some grace and invention, glides away. That could be a good thing, but it sounds like the type of event, were I in attendance, where I might have situated at some remove, allowing the music to blend in with other surrounding sounds. And there's value in that. Otherwise, hard for me to say much about it. Andrew Choate, in his review of one of the live sets (which you can see on the Mikroton site), writes, " was clear that this band had no identity, and was therefore actively constructing it in front of us." That might be it.

Angélica Castelló/Billy Roisz/Burkhard Stangl/Dieb 13 - Scuba (Mikroton)

A work written by Dieb 13 and performed by Castelló (amplified subcontrabass paetzold recorder, electronics), Roisz (electronics), Stangl (electric guitar) and the composer (turntables, klopfer--unless that's a German soft drink, I'm confused; but image google paetzold recorders for some cool pictures).

I haven't been a huge fan of much of what I've heard from Dieb 13 in recent years, so I approached this release with some degree of caution, but I'm happy to report that it won me over completely. A piece composed along a timeline which also gives the players room for improvisation, the overall sound does indeed evoke the underwater world, particularly via the enormous recorder wielded by Castelló, Stangl's lovely if limited guitar chimes acting as glints seen up on the surface. The whole piece is very understated, various elements, including voices (some reciting numbers as in old East German coded radio transmissions) floating slowly through, glimpsed and then reabsorbed by the sea. There's even a fairly visceral depiction of air intake through a breathing tube, augmented by a hiss (other apparatus) and the odd ping (passing fauna). It's all quite coherent and deftly executed; whatever the parameters were, excellent choices seem to have been made by composer and performers alike, always leaving a thread, never overburdening it. It possesses that wonderful quality of staying in one place yet being endlessly, subtly different. A happy surprise for me, thoroughly absorbing, and one I highly recommend checking out.

Triac - In a Room (Laminal)

Triac being Augusto Tatone (electric bass), Marco Seracini (piano, synth) and Rossano Polidoro (laptop). Soft soundscapes, inescapably Enoesque, but bearing enough grain to maintain interest. The four tracks drift by pleasantly, no complaints really just impossible to single out particulars from the clouds and hard to think of much here that wasn't accomplished on "On Land", for example.



Thursday, September 25, 2014

Moniek Darge/Graham Lambkin - Indian Soundies (Kye)

A seductively absorbing release. Essentially the work of Darge, two of the four tracks are hers alone, a third is a collaboration between Darge and Lambkin (using, I think, her material) while on the fourth, she invited Lambkin to create his own work "using materials gathered online), though perhaps some of Darge's recorded sounds find their way in there as well.

Regardless, there's a difference between the first two tracks, "Tamil Nadu" and "Ladakh" and the latter ones. To her credit, Darge (to my ears) manages to steer pretty much clear of mere exoticism even as her sound collection includes what seem to be ritual ceremonies, local insect life, street merchants, etc. We also experience recorded music, possibly blaring from markets, traffic noise, car alarms and such, Darge balancing these elements with both a welcome transparency and a strong sense of immersion, not mere onlooking. On the second track, the elements are sometimes disarmingly simple: lapping water, regularly struck drums, a man chanting--but the effect is rather mesmerizing. As new sounds slowly filter in--a rough-toned, struck bell, a responding chorus--there's a strong sense of build, of thickening atmosphere, all very dramatic (in a good way). Very satisfying work.

The collaboration, "Indian Weather Trap", has a thicker, messier sound right from the start (that car alarm elbowing through the fog), urban sounds in rain but with sharper, right-next-to-the-ear raps and bangs, plus an encompassing throb, as from loud bass notes heard through a wall. There's more of the seemingly casual, hands-on approach we tend to hear in Lambkin's work (for example, what sounds like the pressing of a record button, the fumbling of a mic), all of which serve to further de-exoticize the Indian elements. As enjoyable as the Darge tracks were, this one, especially for listeners less attuned to field recordings and more to electronic experimentation, is a bracing tonic, something more akin to Lambkin's work with Jason Lescalleet, very fine. Lastly, Lambkin's own "Therianthropy" (yes, I had to look it up: the mythological ability of human beings to metamorphose into animals by means of shapeshifting) is an entirely other thing, the predominant early element being a swarm of shenai-like instruments whose intensity recalls things like Master Musicians of Jajouka, the swarm buffeted by obscure ruffles of sound, soon evaporating in a mix of fauna, heavy breaths and automotive exhaust, cutting off sharply. It's as giddily disorienting as anything I've heard from Lambkin in a while, which is to say, it's pretty fantastic.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Jason Kahn - Noema (Editions)

Man, I miss those beautiful covers by Kahn for his sadly defunct Cut label. It was a pleasure seeing this one, hand done in, I think, gouache; just fantastic. [Nope, acrylic...d'oh!]

The cover, made of a kind of cardboard open on three sides so, in a way, a folder, houses two LPs which contain 37 short tracks, all recorded in and around Kyoto in 2012. Kahn writes, "The over-arching theme of the record is the idea of exploring social space through everyday sound-and especially in the case of Kyoto, not just focusing on what we've come to know the city for (temples, shrines, etc.-though some of these are there as well)." It's clearly a very personal collection, which Kahn acknowledges via a reference to Proust's madeleine. Kahn devotes a descriptive paragraph to each track int he accompanying insert.

I won't comment on each of the tracks but at the same time, generalizing does them a disservice as does calling them sonic snapshots" or some such. Each deals with a specific environment or set of environments, each appears to have been constructed from several recordings, sometimes overlapping, sometimes spliced together roughly. There's little pure "naturalism" despite, as near as I can determine, all the sounds being sourced directly from real world activities, natural or man-made. "Memories" isn't a bad, if banal, signifier, in the sense of someone recalling a small sequence of events from, say, a few days prior, certain events/sounds foregrounded in retrospect, including things that may have seemed trivial at the time and, one assumes, "major" occurrences forgotten. Canned music and various electronic manifestations figure prominently, as do voices, conjuring (often) nighttime images of the sort Westerners often have of Japan, the crowds, the sales, the bright displays but also the single events happening amidst the quiet darkness. Kahn manipulates the sounds, sometimes overtly ("Parlor", for instance, or "Kamogawa") but I have the feeling that there's often post-recording construction going on that's more seamless and has escaped me. It's difficult picking stand-outs, senseless perhaps, but the radio scans of "Sender" are pretty fabulous.

My natural tendency is to find the short form in use here to be a bit disorienting; I want to hear these type of things (and the sounds themselves are virtually all quite wonderful) explored at length. So I have to readjust my listening aspect and almost hear these as songs, pop songs maybe. So here's a brief suzumushi (bell cricket) duet, there's a chorus of shoppers. The sporadic appearance of actual pop music (often seized upon and looped by Kahn, as in "Shopping"), something that seems to ooze out of many Kyoto crannies, makes this approach a conducive one. The closing track, featuring coins jangling in a cup in front of an ambient urban hum, is quite moving.

I still find it a tough album to grasp in its entirety, tending to isolate this or that track but individually, all of those cuts are fine and fascinating. I'd certainly recommend giving it a try and especially so for field recording fans and, of course, it's automatic for admirers of Kahn's fine body of work.

Jason Kahn

Monday, September 22, 2014

Ian Vine - frieze/static form/division (self-released)

I get the feeling I should have known Vine's work, but I didn't until now. Im not sure how representative these selections are but they're certainly of a piece, all occupying a very lovely section of the steady-state zone, one filled with countless subtle variations. "frieze" is for acoustic guitar and live electronics (presumably including something on the order of an e-bow)and emits several strands of wonderful color. An airy, almost wheezing organ-like tone is one, mid-range but near the bottom of these particular layers, slowly pulsing amidst kindred drones and the occasional sharp accent, like a harsh glint of sunlight. Various tones and timbres enter now and then, all clustered fairly close together but, of course, varying enough to cause sonic perturbations galore. A very beautiful work. "static form" substitutes electric guitar for acoustic but is generally similar, albeit with (not surprisingly) a more electronic tinge to the sounds, the "glints" having more the resonance of dulcimers and, halfway in, the introduction of various rhythmic, rapidly clicking sounds, ending with severe abruptness. Again, a thoughtful, interesting piece. Finally, "division", for nine electric guitars and electronics. Oddly, "blindfolded", I couldn't have told you which of the last two was solo, which a nonet. Still a drone, though, here with a more overt organ-y quality. The pulses are soft and mellifluous and I can imagine the composition working some amount of wonder in situ but on disc, it was the one piece I thought went on a bit longer than its ideas merited.

A very enjoyable recording overall, however, and I'm glad to belatedly hear Vine's work. You can be your own judge at:

Vine's bandcamp site

6335 - ♭'s safari (self-released)

A youthful Salt Lake City-based trio comprised of Brian Pickles, Lance Buchi and Ryan Fedor wielding all manner of electronics, cheap reeds, turntables, mics, etc. The pieces here (recorded in 2010) are loosely organized soundscapes, sometimes incorporating hazy melodic patterns and rhythms, sometimes drifting. "Whoa, Rhonda", the opener, is wonderful, a kind of Ashley-esque, swirling line, awash in lush tonality, multiple lines of what sound like (but probably aren't) bass clarinets, playing a slow, slightly bluesy, almost dirge-like sequence. I'm reminded, oddly, of parts of the 1990 recording on Les Disques du Crepuscule of Bryars' "The Sinking of the Titanic", that kind of resonant underwater feel. The title track stretches things out and adds a healthy dollop of harshness, but meanders a bit overmuch; it's a tough fence to straddle. "Rainbow Jumpers", the other longish cut, is simultaneously spacier and tighter, the floating clouds of softer sounds and heavy fuzz tones ably enveloping the rough clatter that sounds for all the world like random objects tossed about inside a room; quite nice. "Salt Palace" gels a bit better than the second piece, some fine stuttering sounds throughout but again overstays its welcome somewhat. It turns out that those two were recorded outside, the other three in the studio, so perhaps that's somehow the source of (for me)the slight lack of propulsion I found myself wanting to hear. In any event, "g'night ♭'s" takes things out in strong fashion, sprawling and dark but with a solidity and, as in the first piece, a strong sense of melodic content, that carries it through.

Good work overall, give a listen yourself.

6335's bandcamp site

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Some things with words...

Firstly, I just wanted to make sure people were aware of this marvelous new resource, edited by Ryoko Ayama, Heather Frasch and Daniel del Rio, One.

Issue #1 contains texts by Akama and del Rio as well as text-accompanied recordings by Ryu Hankil (a typographical work based on Ponge's "La Table", but one that incorporates, somehow, resonant qualities of the table), Sarah Hughes (a gorgeous trio performed by Bruno Gastella, Dom Lash and Hughes) and Toshiya Tsunoda (text set against silent video plus extracts from field recordings).

I'm quite excited about this journal--do check it out.


David Neal Lee - The Battle of the Five Spot: Ornette Coleman and the New York Jazz Field (Wolsak & Wynn)

Lee, a former writer for Coda magazine and the author of "Stopping Time: Paul Bley and the Transformation of Jazz", has chosen an intriguing slice of history on which to concentrate in this brief and highly enjoyable book: Coleman's 1959 emergence, fully-formed, onto the New York jazz scene and his virtually immediate ascension into the slot of "the next big thing". Lee chooses not to concentrate directly on the music at all save in the most general terms, instead focussing on the sociological forces at work that enabled an outsider in every sense of the term, someone who hadn't followed the rules of apprenticeship, sideman-activity or working his way through the clubs (as, for example, the equally avant-garde Cecil Taylor had done), to bypass these cultural regulations and garner sought after gigs and an enormous public response from press to fans to emissaries from the aesthetic elite, including the classical world. Lee traces Coleman's journey to that point and drawing heavily upon the writing of the French philosopher/sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and his notions of the "consecrated avant-garde" and hierarchies therein, the lines of power that came together to "allow" such an event in the field of cultural aesthetics.

Engaging and lucidly written, without a trace of academese, it's a fascinating perspective from which to view this sequence of events, an all-too-uncommon stepping to the side and coming at an issue from a new angle. Would that this were done more often. Highly recommended.

Wolsak & Wynn

Hein Schoer - Box of Treasures (Gruenrekorder/[transcript])

Sound ethnographer Schoer is less than 40 years old but "Box of Treasures" has something of a magnum opus feeling about it. Three discs are included: an audio CD, and audio DVD and an interactive DVD as well as a 400+ page book. The book covers a vast range, much of it fascinating and I daresay invaluable for the field recordist, especially those who re attempting to document cultural artifacts as opposed to those interested in purely sonic phenomena. Schoer does go to great lengths enumerating all manner of technical geekery but his main interest is in the history of sound archiving (worth the price of the set on its own). He provides a good summary of cultural anthropology, stressing sound aspects, from Levi-Strauss and Boas through Edward Said and others, laying great stress on ethical elements of the endeavor. This is all presented in a conversational style, interspersed with tales from the Native American groups he interacted with in and around Alert Bay, British Columbia and his own participation in their daily life, including potlatch event. Schoer comes across as a quite honest individual, providing personal takes and opinions on everything he encounters. If these sometimes cause the raising of a critical eyebrow (naming "Lord of the Rings" as the greatest work of fiction ever, citing some "wisdom" from "Star Wars", claiming to have actually seen the Thunderbird spirit during the above-mentioned rite), one generally welcomes his forthrightness and willingness to spend time making sure things are clear. The book is, overall, an excellent resource.

As you might gather, what's heard on the disc is an attempt (Schoer realizes the impossibility) to convey a sonic impression of the culture, something done both through stories and conversations with members of the Kwakwaka'wakw nation and his own reconstructions of recordings, many of which are indeed post-production feats designed, as he admits, to draw in the listener with elements more "dramatic" than were necessarily captured at a given time or place. Personally, while not uninteresting, I found the CD less revealing of both the people being recorded and Schoer himself than the text.

But if you have any interest at all in this area, "Box of Treasures" is probably a mandatory acquisition; beautifully assembled and presenting a wide glimpse into this particular world.


The Sounding Museum

Friday, September 19, 2014

Gerardo Alejos' and Enrique Rejón's new label looks mighty promising (apart from the fact that they're releasing on cassette...argh. :-) ) and here are the first two offerings, heard by me via mp3.

Steve Flato - Mara's Daughters (Lengua de Lava)

I think this is the first Flato I've heard since his fine collaboration with Vanessa Rossetto, "hwaet" and I'm happy to report he remains as uncompromising as ever. Three pieces totaling over 80 minutes. The title track is a storm of harsh electronics, harsh but somehow not as opaque or self-aggrandizing as much in that vein; a gentle harshness, if you will. Relentlessly abstract and hurtling, it nonetheless feels transparent, like looking at/listening to up close a rapid jet of water, a natural stream at that, containing various kinds of torrents and aquatic life, many layers of such. It's one of those pieces that, on the one hand, seems to be engaging in the kind of kitchen sink approach that almost guarantees sonic mud but, miraculously, manages to balance its elements so adeptly that it takes conscious effort to begin to understand how much is occurring at any given moment. A plug is pulled some minutes from its conclusion, resulting in a certain amount of very appealing stutter, small rhythms becoming apparent during the lengthy winding down. Very impressive, another work that I'd love to experience in situ. "Mara's Veils" is every bit as forthright but sounds quite different, more rhythmically diverse, little ratchets and crystals of sound sprouting up all over, spatially distinct, allowing a good amount of "air" between. Clouds increase, chirps appear as the piece careens into greater and greater density, eventually grinding and fluttering to a halt, again very strong. Given these precedents, the last track, "Salton Sea", is something of a surprise, a relatively soft, grainy soundscape, very atmospheric and with a tonal base. Plenty of sour and sandy lines work their way through the haze, though, providing needed friction as the piece unspools into ringing tones, wildlife before acknowledging those prior tracks with an abrupt, brutal final second. Strong work, highly recommended.

Joe Panzner/Greg Stuart - Jason Brogan/Sam Sfirri - Harness (Lengua de Lava)

A split cassette, very different works both recorded at the same event in early 2014. The first half of Panzner and Stuart's "We didn't get there tonight" strikes me as both radical in relation to most improvisatory electronics one encounters these days at the same time it hearkens back to Tudor's work in the field. The essential quality strikes me as one of uncertainty, of a "teetering on the brink of disaster" feeling, a harder and harder thing to come by as the technology advances. The piece stutters like some top-heavy robot on spindly legs, always just barely managing to negotiate the landscape without collapsing. Love it. There's something of a drone element in place at all times and, during the work's second half, it comes to predominate, splaying into a prickly set of overlays, again fragile but in the sense of possibly caking and dissembling instead of falling over. It sort of does that in its closing moments, flaking and curdling into a mash of flatulent buzz. Demanding work, really, really good.

"Wolf", from Brogan and Sfirri, involves, well, wolves. Also water, thunder and subtle electronics. The lupine aspect, perhaps inevitably and not at all hurt by the atmospherics, conjures up dark, miasmal images, swamp gas, leafless limbs, the wolves engaging in multipart choruses in the hazy moonglow. It sounds as though some of the howls are processed into low, reverberant moans, the entire performance shifting to a kind of gluey, Seconal vibe, sparked only by the odd rush of static. The piece gradually settles into a kind of serenity, softly hooping bird calls and a distant hum, the wolves' voices penetrating the landscape. Unusual and effective.

So thus far, Lengua de Lava is two for two; here's hoping they keep it up.

A label website, Lengua de Lava is still under construction.

In the meantime, orders can be placed by mailing:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jürg Frey - more or less (New Focus Recordings)

Three compositions of Frey's recorded by the ensemble (Alex Temple, synthesizer, melodica; Ammie Brod, viola; Billie Howard, violin, auxiliary instruments; Eliza Bangert, flute; Jeff Kimmel, bass clarinet; Kenn Kumpf, voice, whistle; Matthew Oliphant, French horn, auxiliary instruments; Nomi Epstein, piano, auxiliary instruments; Nora Barton, cello, auxiliary instruments; Robert Reinhart, voice, bassoon).

"more or less normal" (2005-2007) is a standout for me. Frey has always been one of the, if not the, most overtly melodic composers in the Wandelweiser group and, though there's not anything like a clear melody in play here, the whole sense of the piece is a kind of luxuriation in the tonal, a bed from which the melodic could easily spring. I'm reminded of a more fleshed out variation on Feldman works like "Why Patterns?" or "Crippled Symmetry" (flute and piano ring through brightly). There are hazy, mass fluctuations of groupings--hazy, but never moving without purpose, like fogs clouds moving slowly over a landscape, feeling and undulating with the ground beneath. A gorgeous work, almost maximalist in breadth.

"canones incerti" (2010) has been recorded by the Dedalus Ensemble on the wonderful Potlatch from 2013 (see my write-up here). The earlier performance was very delicate and firmly embedded in an audible, urban soundscape. Here, the ensemble offers a somewhat more robust reading (in studio, I assume) and it's equally effective. Like all the works on this release, and common to Frey, the performers have wide latitude with regard to their negotiating a way through the score, here choosing when to initiate and play their two lines. Akin to the above, though sounding quite different, there's a strong feeling of shifting masses, here more laminar and semi-solid. So lovely when, as near the conclusion, the bulk of the instruments subside, leaving a lone voice, in this case piano. Beautiful piece.

"60 pieces of sound" (2009) is a tougher nut to crack. True to its title (I think; not that I've counted), it's made up of 60 sound blocks (about ten seconds each) separated by silences (some 15 seconds in duration). The sounds are dense and even a bit rough, the latter quality provided by some rustling apparatus, the tones shifting, presumably at some discretion of the instrumentalists. There's not the flow of the previous works and the fairly abrupt demarcations between sound and silence lend an opaque aspect to the music that, for me, is difficult to embrace. But taken int he context of the recording, it's a good offset, can be read as the other side of the coin from its precedents. P;us, of course, I may simply not be getting everything out of it I should.

Epstein writes: "Across the three compositions, Frey gives the performers aesthetic impulse and direction coupled with a sense of freedom. Patience for the sonorous outcome is required. The sonic space is left with a fluctuating balance of what might happen (or what the players hope to happen) with the actual realization. Performers must give in to the unknown, knowing their role within the piece is both small and essential."

This is more than enough. A fine recording, expertly realized, do give a listen.

In Focus Recordings