Monday, July 28, 2014

Vanessa Rossetto - Whole Stories (Kye)

I have a fond memory of the day--what, some six years ago?--when a package arrived bearing three CDs in plain black sleeves from one Vanessa Rossetto. No idea what to expect but I was pretty well knocked out. Happier still, the ensuing years have seen nothing but massive strides forward in Rossetto's work and, for my money, "Whole Stories" reaches the high water mark thus far.

It's something of a story itself, compiled in New Orleans in 2012, Side A beginning and ending with the composer explaining what she's doing to some presumedly interested passer-by, followed by wafting and hurtling through the streets, encountering tales both sonic and explicitly biographical along the way, always with a stunning spatial sense and great affinity for aural richness and poignancy. Low, obscure rumbles segue into a trolley ride with an impatient conductor that in turn dissolves into agitated water (I think Rossetto's viola makes a submerged appearance in here somewhere and again on Side B), returning to that quieter zone, back onto the street for the bracketing conversation about field recording. Theres a wonderful sense of streamlining and purpose to the work; you know Rossetto spent massive amounts of time constructing this opus but he seams simply don't show.

As fine as Side A is, Side B is spectacular. Very much a story, centering around the life complaints of a middle-aged British-sounding woman, bemoaning her marriage ("I've had many wasted years.") to a companion only heard briefly (I don't think it sounds like Rossetto, though it could be; if not, I couldn't help being curious about the nature of the recording--eavesdropping on the next table?). This narrative, though, is embedded inside a sonic wonder world, buffeted around by an awesome array of (I assume) arcade game bells and beeps, more than a little Rileyesque at times. One way or another, there's always a constant sound in effect, often a strong hum (buttressed, I think, by the viola) imparting a continuo feel that really sends the piece cascading along, a truly rollicking ride, if you will. There is a bit of a sense of an amusement park ride, not really a contemporary house of suburban horrors because one feels that Rossetto has great empathy for the woman whose story unfolds in a fractured way. The occasional crescendi of bleeps is almost operatic at points, gorgeous in both sound and in implied commentary. There's a lovely, very quiet pause for about a minute, then the calliope sounds reemerge, rather joyously, nestled in crowd sounds, and a faintly heard Nawlins trumpet leads things out, with the companion stating, "People need to hear whole stories."

A fantastic recording; I've listened over and over for several days and can't get enough. I'm eagerly looking forward to new sound searches and collaborations.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Volumes 3 & 4 of the ongoing "Berlin Series from Another Timbre which tend toward the split disc concept although here, the second disc feature flutist Sabine Vogel.

The first half of No. 3 goes all the way back to 1999 for a recording by a quartet consisting of Axel Dörner (trumpet), Robin Hayward (tuba), Annette Krebs (electro-acoustic guitar, mixing board) and Andrea Neumann (inside piano, mixing board) all of whom, I believe, were already members of the larger ensemble Phosphor (if not at this time, soon), though here they go by the name, Roananax. Mark Wastell's Confront label has been issuing items now and then from around the same period and the result, for me, teeter between the genuinely worthwhile and largely of historical interest only. Inevitably (sadly, I guess), listening like it's 1999 yields one result, while peeking in from 15 years later provides a different sensation. I had heard Polwechsel a couple of years before this, my first live encounter with this general area of music--a major event--and, int he year of this recording, ventured to Victoriaville for the first time, hearing I.S.O. among others, also game changers for me. Had I heard the five tracks here at the time, I've little doubt they would have had the kind of impact impossible to replicate now. Well, not impossible. I.S.O.'s sounds still move me as much as then but I daresay that's because, for me, they produced music on am especially high and profound level.

The music is, generally, less reticent than it would soon become with Phosphor and many of the other projects undertaken by the musicians involved. In a similar sense to some of those Confront releases, you get the impression you're catching them in a transitional phase between a more efi-inflected approach and the more radically minimal stance that would more or less become the norm within a couple of years. Krebs and Neumann in particular, often emit metallic, stridently mechanical bursts, operating mini sound factories while Dörner and Hayward, already using largely breath-oriented attacks, tend toward the guttural and spittle-infused. That's overstating things a bit as the pieces vary in numerous ways, including intensity, but I do feel a general sense of more forthrightness,of "performance". This is all fine and the music is actually quite engaging most of the time, perhaps with a wee bit of understandable awkwardness and lack of sure footing which tilts it back to that realm of historical appreciation as opposed to a "lost jewel" kind of status. Not a bad thing at all--I think it's good for gaining a fuller grasp of what was occurring where and when.

"Obliq" is another matter entirely, a 2014 trio made up of Konzert Minimal members Pierre Borel (alto saxophone), Hannes Lingens (percussion) and Derek Shirley (electronics). Two tracks, each about twenty minutes. In an odd way, though the music sounds nothing like the 1999 session, there's a similar sense of it being more or less representative, in an unspectacular way, of the current state of a given sector of new music. Both are fairly steady state, the first filled with low, electric and reed hum that, likely due to the presence of the alto as well as the general form, remind me a bit of Graham Halliwell's work from the early to mid oughts. The latter is also a little drone-based, beginning with higher, variegated frequencies before ultimately settling midrange, with attractive flutters from the alto (I think) and a nice layering of all sources. They're both perfectly fine, if a bit hard to differentiate from many offerings treading a similar pathway. I found myself wanting the relative smoothness to be disrupted somehow, even forcibly so, just to wrench the music from the least a bit. :-) Not bad at all, just...wanting.


Berlin Series No. 4 is also made up of two sections but here, each part features flutist Sabine Vogel, first solo ("luv") then in duo with Chris Abrahams on pipe organ ("kopfüberwelle").

Solo, yes, but using a wide array of sound sources including field recordings, objects, bansuri flutes, wind harps and, in fact, recordings made with Bennett Hogg on "wind violin" and "water violin". Yes, I wondered too, hence:

If I'm identifying the sound correctly, the latter is readily discernible here, some sixteen minutes in during a lovely, otherwise very still section. But guessing games are beside the point--this is a finely constructed soundscape, rich in layers but rigorously executed, always commanding attention and appreciation. Flute permeates (including the bansuris) but the environment is very alive with sounds, some ringing, others wafting--a slight tinge of the tropical. Also, odd as it may seem to say, very human sounding; sounds aren't as disembodied as is often the case in works like this, there's a palpable sense of of a person behind the breath sounds, very flesh and blood. Excellent work.

As is the duo with Abrahams, although the sound world is something else entirely. Abrahams creates several layers on the pipe organ, from a low pulsation to sustained, high, reedy tones while Vogel darts between, birdlike. Only because of my exposure immediately prior, I couldn't help but compare this piece to the Obliq tracks from Berlin Series No. 3 (unfair, I know) as there's at least something steady state about each. But, as with "luv", there's an overt, not reticent but also not pushy, human presence here that works marvelously. While clearly heard in Vogel's swooshes, gasps, and exquisite low notes, even Abraham's organ seems to be chuckling at times, providing a deep feeling of warmth. And despite the organ's consistent emission of long lines, there's substantial variation in both his attack and, more so, that of Vogel, who's constantly coming up with one good idea after the other over the course of the piece's almost 40 minutes.

Two fine pieces, very different approaches, both quite beautiful. Recommended.

Another Timbre

Friday, July 25, 2014

Antoine Beuger - Tschirtner Tunings for Twelve (Another Timbre)

The second time I listened to Tschirtner Tunings, I turned the volume up a bit contrary to the instructions on the sleeve and then went into the bedroom to lie down and possibly take a nap. My head was about thirty-five feet from the speakers, down a hallway and around a corner but I could hear the music, at least when it swelled a bit. I lied there not only "trying" to listen, but placing myself in the situation (impossible to do) of not having known there was music emanating from the living room, wondering how I'd perceive these sounds, whether I'd somehow redefine them as issuing from various possible sources in the street or behind our building, of wind or rain. I drifted into brief episodes of sleep, awoke, listened, drifted off again. It was quite beautiful, otherworldly.

The name "Tschirtner" didn't ring any immediate bells but when I searched, I realized I'd often seen his work, though I remain uncertain (apart from, presumably, Beuger's admiration) of any direct relationship to the composition's structure. It's performed by the gradually mutating ensemble, Konzert Minimal, here comprised of Pierre Borel (alto saxophone), Lucio Capece (bass clarinet), Johnny Chang and Cat Lamb (violas), Hannes Lingens (accordion), Mike Majkowski, Koen Nutters and Derek Shirley (double basses), Morton J. Olsen (vibraphone), Nils Ostendorf (trumpet), Rishin Singh (trombone) and Michael Thieke (clarinet). Chang and Nutters provide an excellent detailed rundown of both the group and the piece on the Another Timbre site. It runs 79 minutes, and essentially consists of emergent, long lines,, each instrumentalist choosing when his or her sound appears during a given time frame--very "simple", but allowing of a huge range of variations. Not just the pitches chosen but, as is gone into in the interview, the grain and timbre of the instruments is foregrounded, yielding many, many combinations. Sometimes, one or two instruments overlap, often more. Of course, there are silences as well. As with almost all of Beuger's music, a sense of intense calm as well as respiration and appreciation of place is achieved. When not listening from another room, I've always left the door to the balcony open, allowing the sounds to freely mix with the street, weather, etc. outside.

Not sure if there's more to say. Another beautiful offering from Beuger, lovingly realized by Konzert Minimal. That's more than enough.

Another Timbre

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Laurence Crane - Chamber Works 1992 - 2009 (Another Timbre)

Sometimes I wish I had greater technical knowledge about music; often I don't. But when I read something like Michael Pisaro's excellent essay on Crane and he writes about a "major chord in 2nd inversion", I kinda wish I could summon up the appropriate auditory image in my head. But I understand him in general terms and think he's exactly on the mark with regard to what makes Crane's music so uniquely fascinating. You can hear references to the work of other composers, often subtle, sometimes not, but more, Crane creates note sequences whose essence you've heard hundreds of time yet, by paring away almost all ornamentation, they seem new and, more, one understands in a deeper way why they're so well-used and effective in the first place.

The pieces on this 2-disc set are performed by members of the ensemble Apartment House, for this recording: Andrew Sparling (clarinet), Alan Thomas (guitar), Nancy Ruffer (flutes), Phil;ip Thomas (piano), Anton Lukoszevieze )cello), Gordon Mackay (violin), Simon Limbrick (percussion), Sarah Walker (electric organ), Ruth Ehrlich (violin), Angharad Davies (violin)and Hilary Sturt (viola), with Crane himself contributing on "auxiliary instruments" for one work. The opening "Sparling" (heard in three variations) sets the tone: a two-note rising line on the reed played against three softly strummed chords on the guitar. Crane often writes lines in two, three or four note sequences. I found the former to be especially compelling, the weighing of one note against another; not really "against", but alongside, recognizing both affinities and separateness, a notion I've always found very appealing and meaningful, the back and forth between different vantages. I have the mental image of holding an object between thumb and two forefingers, looking at it with one eye, then the other, back and forth, shifting the hand slightly, noticing the varying play of light on the object as time passes. That's the kind of contemplative mood Crane's music immediately delivers for me. Skempton is an acknowledged influence and you can pick up hints of his approach on compositions like "Trio" though the allusions made by the older composer toward, among other traditions, British folk forms, have been whittled down to a "simple" three-note descending series played in gentle variations, set beside single, bright piano chords. It's gorgeous, certainly, but somehow manages to generate an aura of mystery as well, a sleight of hand so sleight you don't really register that it's occurring. I'm reluctant to just enumerate the pieces, but almost all of them are hard to pass by. "Raimondas Rumsas", so richly played by Lukoszevieze alone of cello, echoes Radigue perhaps but sped up (still quite slow), the four note sequence, shifting to three, deep in harmonics, utterly immersive, inviting a plunge into the instruments interior. I picked up a vestige or two of Bryars in the ensuing tracks and the general sound of Walker's organ in "Riis" recalls that of Riley, but the composition, with clarinet and cello as well, floats sublimely, the consonant organ chords acquiring a wonderful sour tinge now and then but also (a nod to Riley's early tape works?) coming and going in an abrupt, almost jagged manner; it's a fantastic, euphoric piece. Were I to pick a bone with Disc One, it might be that "Bobby J", for electric guitar, wanders too far into fuzzy, soft Frisellian territory for comfort, but that' a quibble.

So many other notable points: the sixth of "Seven Short Pieces"--again the series of two-notes, here against a steady background, so poignant. The sumptuous (and excellently titled) "Piano Piece no. 23 'Ethiopian Distance Runners'", whose ascending figure near the beginning is, in essence, something you've heard a thousand times in manifold songs--so familiar--but, for me, never quite so beautifully. The third of "Four Miniatures" makes a decided nod to Glass, perhaps a wry comment to those who label Crane's music minimalist; it's still fun. won't venture to speculate about the relationship of "Come back to the old specimen cabinet John Vigani, John Vigani Part 1" to the play or film we're thinking of (though I assume Crane is talking about this guy), but its a great piece with Sparling's mournful clarinet marking slow, seemingly more intuitive lines over the composer's clatter and dark electronics, though again that binary thing takes hold. Finally, "John White in Berlin" (love it) emerges from a hazy cloud with low cello drones and clear, shimmering piano chords, descends to a subterranean rumble. Soon the guitar comes forward with a similar four-note sequence (to the piano)--here, we encounter another trope Crane uses every so often: the gradual lengthening of otherwise similar phrases. There's a marvelous shifting of parts in play here, like a simplified kaleidoscope. Dreamlike, strange and lovely.

As I mentioned on an fb post recently, it's hard to imagine almost anyone, regardless of musical taste, not finding a great deal to enjoy in this recording. It's special, fine music and highly especially highly recommended for those who enjoy the more melodic branches of the Wandelweiser enclave as well as descendants of the Skempton/White approach to composing. Absolutely wonderful work.

Another Timbre

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jake Meginsky - L'appel du Vide (open mouth)

Meginsky's music, at least as represented herein, occupies an area that's fairly alien to me and, on the surface, isn't something I'd normally be drawn to and yet I fell right into its grasp. All electronics, almost all smooth and clean sounds chosen, it references beat-driven styles with seemingly regular rhythms, but they're overlaid in non-obvious patterns and use very different textures, resulting in a fine sense of space where the relative absence of grit and inexactitude don't bother me nearly as much as is often the case in work I've heard that's tangentially related. The elements themselves are quite pure and simple, nothing you haven't heard before, but they're arrayed in intersecting patterns that at times allow for multiple levels of parsing by one's aural sensibility while also on occasion overflowing into sensory overload that just takes over as at the end of Side A of this LP, where an insanely ringing tone lays waste to one's sense of equilibrium (I feel like I shouldn't be operating heavy equipment when listening to this). On Side B, matters begin to fracture subtly; the tones get a bit dirtier, the rhythms more stuttering. Though it never quite loses the rhythmic impetus, it continues to crumble, edging over into territory adjacent to the broken electronics work of people like Bonnie Jones.

Very impressive, looking forward to more.

open mouth

Daniel Barbiero/Chris Lynn - Augmented Landscapes (zeromoon)

Another interesting recording from bassist Barbiero, here with Lynn providing field recordings. More, Barbiero (I believe) does some processing of his bass; one often hears both the acoustic sound and the enhanced one, each set among Lynn's recordings. The structures feel somewhat free, though more in a contemporary classical sense than a jazz one, Barbiero's approach stemming, to me, more from the Turetsky angle of attack, even if I pick up shades of jazz bassists hear and there as well. The forms and enhancements can be problematic as well, the former sometimes meandering a bit much, the latter (as on the second track, "A Delay in Sound") seeming to be more simply effects rather than having a real reason for being. What carries the recording is Barbiero's sensitivity and clear proficiency on his instrument; no matter what else, this is always something to hang onto and enjoy. When things work, as onthe final cut, "Prepared Chance" where the bass and recordings really seem to exist in the same landscape, the music as a whole is fine indeed.

It's a net release and you can check it out for yourself here

Strom Varx - A Cogent Heavy High-Technology Works (Agxibatein)

A new name to me and though his fact sheet sites collaborations with Yoshihide, Karkowski and others, my general impression of the music is more in line with an acousmatic approach filtered to some degree through the noise ethos of the last decade. A dense combination of multiple flutters, sloughed audio spirals and piercing zaps near the beginning, followed by a quieter, excessively (to my taste) spacey segment,though when it really dwindles down to dust, it's rather nice. The 66-minute track eventually emerges onto a broad plain suffused with organ-like tones amidst more abstract washes and vague, muffled bell tones, likely my favorite portion of the work; I was pleased Varx carried it out until the end instead of reverting to a "climax" of some sort. So, half and half for me; the initial segments fall into that INA GRM-kind of sound that I find over-processed and all surface while much of the remaining is quite attractive. Well constructed throughout, fans of this end of electronic music might enjoy the sum total a bit more than me.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Catherine Lamb - matter/moving (winds measure)

We're presented with four renditions of the fine piece, "matter/moving", spread over two cassettes (I listened via download), the performances recorded over two days in an apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens by Andrew Lafkas (double bass), Bryan Eubanks (oscillators) and Tucker Dulin (trombone). Lamb describes the process: "The environment outside is fluctuating, yet the quality is similar. The form and tonality within the piece remains the same in the four versions, but what occurs between form and articulation changes—in terms of the interaction of elements and grains of tones in moments of time. Through repetition of sympathetic resonances, overtime these tones interact more clearly and what at first is outside/inside becomes inside/outside."

The work consists of very subtle, long tones (you can view the score and instructions here) that gently interleave, sounds from outside drifting in, though there are also some very abrupt stoppages every so often that lend a nice stuttering quality to the music's shape. The playing is restrained and, like much of what I've heard from Lamb in other work, haunting and moving. Each version lasts about 23 minutes and I quickly gave up the game of attempting to discern variations (not that I was having much success) and simply sat back and let the sounds wash over me. I found that I enjoyed taking her instructions to the players a step further and listening with the door to the balcony open, letting the sounds of the 19th Arrondisement attain a co-equal level with the music, sometimes, as with a heavy rain shower, blanketing it. Very beautiful.

As is the recording in and of itself. Lamb has become one of my favorite working composers. "matter/moving" is a wonderful addition to her already impressive oeuvre.

Phil Julian/Ben Owen - between landing (winds measure)

One of those recordings that I enjoy a great deal but find very difficult to write about even semi-coherently, that is in the sense of distinguishing it from other low level (for the most part) abstract electronics. True, the bell-like guitar tones with which it begins are somewhat singular--soft, suspended in pools of silence. But to say it's followed by a few minutes of quiet fizziness leads one down the path of simple descriptives which, in the case of a more tiresome release, might be the best you could do. But this one is far, far better than that. Three tracks, two variations of the disc title clocking in at about 21 minutes each and a third, "a return" occupying the final 14. The music, on the whole, is somewhat more aggressive than what I've heard before from Owen, a bit less so than my previous experience with Julian, a good balance. Apart from the few minutes at the beginning, the sound in "between landing 1" is spread in a consistent manner, even with something like an implied pulse beneath the washes of static and understated squalls. The second track lies more in a dense drone with affiliated clatter state, slowly undulating, descending into a deep rumble, the clatter growing more metallic, morphing into a more pinched whine--see, this gets nowhere. Suffice it to say that each piece is effortlessly engaging and absorbing, containing a strong sense of concentration and exploration (I will say that as much as I enjoy the first two pieces, the final is especially fine, a-bristle with a large number of wonderful textures and pulses). Can't ask for much more.

Excellent work, well worth hearing. And as always, great cover graphics.

winds measure

Friday, July 18, 2014

Craig Shepard - On Foot: Brooklyn (Edition Wandelweiser)

Shepard walks around, often traveling impressive distances, and composes music, generally playing on route. I had previously heard the excellent documentation of his perambulation through Switzerland in 2005, "On Foot", but in 2012, he chose to navigate far more dangerous territory, namely Brooklyn, doing so for thirteen weeks, penning a composition per week and organizing on-site performances of same by varied musicians which are heard here, usually along with the environmental sounds at the locations.

Shepard's pieces tend to be melodic--quite delicate and almost traditionally beautiful, as is the case on the opening track from Sheepshead Bay, played by Katie Porter (clarinet) and Devin Maxwell (snare drum), which emerges from the heavy traffic and sidewalk chatter, the drum in quasi-military roll state, the reed beautifully forlorn and wistful. Wonderful on its own, it blends with the street noise in a really lovely manner, especially pitting its calm sadness against the roiling, almost aggressive nature of the ambient sound. The exception to the works being embedded in the exterior world is the following track, via Canarsie, performed by Maxwell on glockenspiel, again a rather straightforward near-melody, with ample silence, the honeyed-metal notes allowed to suspend; you might imagine primo Bryars, but better. A trip to Coney Island brings out Jack Callahan (melodica, triangle), Erik Carlson (violin), Nick Didkovsky (electric guitar), Dan Joseph (hammer dulcimer), Larry Polansky (electric guitar) and Matthew Schumer (baritone saxophone) to play a sparser composition, various instruments appearing, playing a bit of a plaintive melody, then being submerged. We transition to Red Hook for the lengthiest work, played here by a saxophone trio with Schumer, Kristin McKeon (alto) and Erin Rogers (tenor). Here, the atmosphere is more Wandelweiserian in character, longish single-note lines floating quietly to the fore, receding. The field recordings do the same, being prominent at first (an overhead subway?), disappearing entirely for several minutes, returning with children playing, the saxophone lines gently encircling them, wafting through the games. It's a supremely calm, gorgeous work, very firm in its identity, very open to sharing that identity with its surroundings. Lastly, Callahan returns wielding bottles, ensconced in a piece written in that ancient land of hipsters, Williamsburg (field recording from the somewhat recent--though surely already passé?--scene, my ancestral homeland, Greenpoint). Much dense noise, difficult to source, the bottled, blown, entering amidst, sounding almost random, as though a vessel was at the proper angle for a stiff wind to generate the deep tone.

An altogether marvelous recording, true, pure and immersive. Hear it.


Also available from Erst Dist

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga/Mark Wastell - Beforehand (Confront)

A live date from late March of this year with Lazaridou-Chatzigoga on her zither and Wastell, for this session, wielding electronics, bowls and shruti box. It begins more stridently than one might expect. Long lines are in place but there are several minutes of bracing harshness amidst the buzz, an almost Rowe-ian feel to the attack. After a short time, the music settles into an interesting place that it occupies for a good while: a thin but multi-layered hum augmented by sporadic bursts (no idea as to the source) that are vaguely Morse Code-like in nature. One gets the inkling, soon confirmed, that the entire 27-minute performance (perfect length) is a decrescendo, a kind of gradual deflation. It's a very endearing, unusual kind of stasis. Eventually, we hear a few cascades of clear zither and soon thereafter, matters contract to an even narrower range, The shruti box makes its presence known, a single, drawn-out chord, accompanied by a high, sine-like tone and, a bit later, some delicate tinkling, a sort of agitated calm that's quite moving.

That's "all". But it's very fine.

Ray Brassier/Mattin - Unfree Improvisation/Compulsive Freedom (Confront)

As I was listening to the above and writing the review, this Brassier/Mattin item arrived, also on Confront. Normally, I let new releases gestate a while, get used to them, etc. But I thought I'd write about this one as I listen for the first time. Seems appropriate (the above image is simply the first that showed up when I image-googled "mattin ray brassier"--the package is a Confront metal box, as is the previous release).

So. Almost nothing, a bump maybe. A cough. Three minutes in, hints of activity, still obscure. Wondering if Brassier will play guitar or maybe read. Heavy rain outside, possibly blanketing any sounds from the speakers. Huh, there's also a low spattering hiss (from the disc) that's not entirely unlike the rain hitting the porch. I've raised the volume a good bit, reluctantly, anticipating damage to my ears within a few minutes, but that brief emergence of sound has subsided back into the occasional cough. ok, there you go. A loud-ish, electronic throb, possibly vocal in origin, appears for ten or so seconds. Back to the coughs.This was recorded in April 2013 in Glasgow. I'm making my first trip to Scotland in a couple of days, so haven't experienced the weather yet, but I'm imagining frigid temperatures and phlegmy throats. Very phlegmy. ooh, bee-like activity, maybe sampled strings, looped, segueing into dense traffic (coughers thus given license to let go, which they do). At this point, I'm enjoying what I perceive as the structure, though that's obviously still subject to change. There's a strong feeling of presence in space, as well, always appreciated. Voices embedded in the roar (which, I now think, isn't traffic at all), murky, indecipherable. As that roar ends, I'm thinking those voices are from people in the performance space, presumably "improvised". :-) A device is turned on, an engine of some kind perhaps, though it escalates into a very loud alarm-like whine. I've just located a series of photos taken at the event, some of which show a large fan, wondering if that's what I'm hearing. If the woman in the photo above is an indication, probably so. (here). Also note that the performance site is "tramway" and am not sure if that's the name of a space or an actual tramway. Something like that initial vocal throb recurs, hanging around for a while this time, maybe a minute. [out on the porch for a minute to inspect some cool looking clouds, disc sounds continued. Questioning the recording of this, as opposed to the direct experience, but that's an old one...] Wait. an electronic Donald Duck voice is reading, I'm guessing from Brassier. [took a couple of photos of aforementioned clouds]. The voice is intelligible but distorted, the content thus abstracted enough to be more easily heard as noise. It ends abruptly, the engine turns back on.

Back to ancillary noises, minimal. Wondering...oh, there you go, applause (weirdly inappropriate somehow) at the 34-minute mark. I was just going to say that I appreciate not having track timings in place as, the first time through, it imparts more of a sense of being at the concert, not knowing how long it will last. I had just been wondering, while imagining the set, how they'd choose to end it. I'm still not sure, having only audio clues to work with. Curious if they'd been off-stage for a while. No matter, I suppose.

For what it's worth I enjoyed the disc, was never bored, found it workable to both listen and pay attention to the small things around my table.


Sunday, July 06, 2014

Troy Schafer - Untitled No. 1 (Signal Dreams)

A 7-inch, 33rpm release on nice, mucous green vinyl, with speckles. Two tracks totaling only some 11 minutes, this is a case where I would have liked to have heard more, to have things fleshed out a bit but, perhaps that's part of the point. Side A was condensed from 36 hours of material, sourced from Schafer's violin (as well as viola and cello) and elsewhere (organ seems to figure in), into six dense minutes of collage not entirely dissimilar to some of Zorn's investigations into the area but much better, far less facile. Very cinematic in effect, it could easily work as a soundtrack for a dreamy/harsh video, the lush overlaying of strings near its conclusion being especially evocative. About Side B, Schafer enigmatically writes, "Out of respect for the dead, I choose not to expound". Whatever its essence, it's quite different from the preceding, a hollow set of scrapes (possibly from some mutation of a violin), with a subtle, grim plodding aspect, creating an image of a forlorn creature in some alien passageway, gamely wending its way through the dark, until things erupt. Within the brief track, the sudden welter of spiraling sound is disorienting and even unwelcome; this is one of the things I meant when I said I'd like to hear the ideas elaborated upon further, but so it goes.

My second experience with Schafer's music and another rewarding, unusual one. You can listen for ourself, below.

Schafer on Bandcamp

Grizzly Imploded - Anabasi (Sincope)

Consisting of Francesco Gregoretti on drums, Maurizio Argenziano and Sergio Albano on guitars. The six improvisations teeter between freeform noise (to me, often with an implied rock basis, with stuttering drum rhythms and vague references to rock guitar chords) and a kind of Frithian sound circa "Guitar Solos", a liquid rumble. When the former is in effect, my interest wavers; it's simply not the sort of venture that holds my interest these days. When the trio ratchets things back, as on the concluding "The vision is dancing", they find a more rewarding space, the guitars chiming against one another gently and almost randomly, the percussion causing small sprays of noise alongside, very spacious, very lovely. On the whole, a bit too hit and miss for me, though.


Francesco Gregoretti/Olivier Di Placido - Mauvaise Haleine (Viande)

Um, that'd be "bad breath" for you non-Francophones. One less guitar than above, here with Di Placido in the chair and the results, to my ears, are far superior for several reasons. One, the sound is more transparent, less oppressive, lending a fine clarity to the proceedings. Second, Di Placido is simply a more imaginative, provocative guitarist (even if I still hear some Frith now and then), finding a wide assortment of attacks tailored to his partner's activity, almost always interesting and showing a willingness to stick by and root around for a while instead of hopscotching from one approach to the next; he's very impressive here. Too, Gregoretti adapts a different approach on drums, much more in the efi tradition, evoking Gunter "Baby" Sommer or Paul Lytton now and then, but also finding his own sound word that's like a freer extension of Ronald Shannon Jackson. Even when the pair lurch into territory tangential to that explore on the trio disc ("So Do I"), things are more sharply defined and forceful, juggering along thickly and with power. Even if the overall tone of the disc remains a bit outside my real areas of interest, what they do, they do with admirable intelligence and variation, much more impressively than your standard free drums/guitar duo. Well worth checking out if you're into this side of things.


Saturday, July 05, 2014

Greg Kelley/Jason Lescalleet - Conversations (Glistening Examples)

It's tempting to use the term "epic" here, but I'll resist. There's certainly a sense of structure, even if the six tracks are culled from three different performances over roughly a year. I say "culled" because I get the idea that the pieces were molded somewhat to fit into this conversational trope. One hint is the durations of the cuts (per itunes): 11:11, 5:45, 2:22, 6:56, 33:33 and 11:11. I've no idea what this signifies but knowing Lescalleet's penchant for messing with titles and track lengths, I bet it means something. Taking the rather banal album title as a starting point, the track names all bear some relationship to personal communication, although the parenthetical addendum to the final piece, "Pechuga Cadaver" stands apart. I'm guessing the pechuga in question refers not to the chicken breast itself but rather to the mezcal that uses the pollo as an ingredient. Moreover, if there's an audio connection to the Beefheart song, I don't hear it. Indeed, I'm a bit surprised the pun wasn't extended to "Pechuga Palaver". As to the close-up of the sausage (if that's what it is) on the back cover, I have no comment...

Descrying an arc may be reading too much into things, although the music does move from a relatively smooth, tonal opening piece to a harsh conclusion, arguably charting an initially polite conversation. That first track, "Introductions", with its woofer-threatening subsonics and long, mellifluous lines at times recalls the opening strains of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (that speech thing again) and, when some rhythmic iterations occur later in the work, some of the denser music of early Terry Riley. It's an enormously impressive eleven minutes, a great drone-like work with deep, pure lines from Kelley's horn twining through the hum and yet, as immersive as it is, there are supremely disorienting moments where this entire world, so present, is thrust into the background by hyper-real, clearly etched clicks and scratches, as though you suddenly realize that what you've been experiencing is a simulacrum and "reality" is outside it, looking on. Fantastic stuff. "Consultation" begins in the same universe, though perceptibly darker and woolier, eventually fluttering and shuddering, gaining the aspect of a turbine warming up while the brief "A Frank Discussion", which commences with intense grinding, Kelley's metals in play I think, screeching over Lescalleet's growls, but then comes to an abrupt end when the latter says, "We're gonna stop this now, ok?" and shuts things down. Again, that palpable "exterior" presence.

"La Conversación" features a welter of Kelley gabbling, both impressive and humorous and, in the context of the album, something of a breather, leading into the lengthy "Intercourse", a mini-epic on its own. It's the most recent recording, a live set from April of 2014, and is a model of controlled intensity, steaming and metallic, often sounding like a hyper-extended scrape. There's subsidence, a fine thinness in place, quiet throbs, obscure rattling, drawn out further and further, ghostly; any conversation has evaporated into the ether. But a hive-like whine recurs, Kelley's burred trumpet providing much of the color. It crests, ebbs, stutters to a stop, a fine, fine piece and, one would have thought, a great place to end the album.

But no. "Sayonara (Pechuga Cadaver)" comes forward and says, "Not so fast, not so easy". As if to comment on the futility of communicating, we get a squall of high feedback, brutal and verging on the physically damaging, whistling and spiraling near-chaotically, morphing into a despondent sounding, organ-y drone, oddly listless and empty, even alien. This 11:11 squashes the promise of the first, grinds it into sausage.

Great work, one of the strongest releases I've heard this year.

Jason Lescalleet - Much to My Demise (Kye)

The enclosed note included with this white vinyl release is salutary, advising the purchaser to allow both the disc and the cover to degrade in a natural manner over time, not to protect it as a keepsake. "There is nothing pure in your hands. let it go." Excellent, instructions duly followed. The music is as surprising as it is entrancing. Not that Lescalleet never pushes toward the (relative) quiet (I fondly recall a set of his with Sean Meehan at Issue Project, for example) but, at least in my awareness of his recent work, this level of softness and almost romantic loveliness hasn't been in play. In fact, had I been listening "blindfolded", I might have guessed label owner and frequent collaborator Graham Lambkin was responsible. Rather, Lescalleet took tapes from various sources and buried them for three months, exhuming them after some amount of organic deterioration had occurred, assembling pieces from the remains. Side One begins with "A Misinterpretation of Mispronunciation", building from its isolated piano notes hanging in dust, whispers and scratches (from the unearthed tape or the vinyl, who knows?) to the swirling, hymn-like atmosphere of "The Tragedy of Man", a dream church, a vaguely malevolent one (I'm not sure I don't hear bits of "Einstein on the Beach" buried somewhere in the depths).

Side Two's excellently titled "My Dreams Are Dogs That Bite Me" is all about the rumble. I tentatively used the term "quiet" above; I found myself playing with the volume level on this piece a bit, sometimes keeping it low and seemingly distant, other times pumping it until it became a palpable part of the room. In some ways, it harkens back to my earliest memories of seeing Lescalleet in performance, running crumpled tapes between multiple players on the floor, those impossibly complex overlays, hinting at rhythm by their iterative nature but bristling with asymmetry. The sound here is very boomy, full of muffled fluttering, grimy washes, sudden stops. Dirty feedback roars emerge, are ground to bits, spread like gravel and compressed into a dense, rough conglomerate, gradually coming somewhat unbound toward the end. The center will not hold.

Really fine work; I enjoy it every bit as much as "Conversations".

(Various) - Trophy Tape (Glistening Examples)

First, kudos to Matthew Revert for the amazing package design.

I'm not the best person to be asked to comment on videos as I have a particularly low tolerance for the form. Here, Lescalleet asked 13 people to create videos as accompaniment for the 13 songs on the first disc of "Songs About Nothing" (Erstwhile). In all honesty, I don't have anything close to a perfect memory of the album and am not sure if the music appears on the DVD as is, altered, sampled or otherwise changed. Watching through, I had only a vague notion, after the start, who was responsible for which video, assuming they were appearing in the same order as listed on the box. I admit to being a little pleased to discover, as the credits ran at the end of the disc, that my favorite was Olivia Block's car park footage accompanying "The Power of Pussy". Extended, only moderately toyed with video is more likely to nestle into my comfort zone and this one worked just fine for me. A couple of folk took the titles pretty literally ("Escargot", "Friday Night in a Catholic Home"), most less so. Contributions are from Aaron Dilloway, Ellen Frances, Annie Feldmeier Adams, Justin Meyers, Antony Milton, C. Spencer Yeh, Block, Adel Souto, Neil Young Cloaca (:-)), Todd Deal, Jubal Brown, Heidi Alasuvanto and Robert Beatty.

Your mileage may well vary. Me, I prefer my Lescalleet unfiltered.

Glistening Examples


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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Every so often, I receive music that can, broadly speaking, be categorized as "post-free jazz". This always presents something of a dilemma for me. I grew up with the music, listening largely to that end of things from 17 through, say, 40 and I still very much love much of that work. But as my interests shifted elsewhere (arguably, as the music itself entered different phases), I found less and less to draw me in. In fairness, this engendered a feedback-like effect as I became further and further removed from the free jazz scene, enough so that it became (and still is) all but impossible for me to contextualize any such music that happens to pass my way. When contacted in advance about a current release, I generally try to make it clear that in all likelihood, the music won't be my cuppa but that I'd, of course, give a serious listen and attempt to comment as best I can, given the above caveats. As it happens, I've received several such discs recently, so thought I'd group them with this explanation attached.

Marc Charig/Jörg Fischer/Georg Wolf - Free Music on a Summer Evening (Spore Print)

Oddly enough two of the recording, this and the subsequent one, are trumpet trios--well, close to it, cornet and alto horn here--, not the most common free jazz format and one that, in my mind, conjures memories of the ample space and transparency of trios (or duos and quartets) led by Leo Smith and Bill Dixon. This one has an extra added attraction. For those of my approximate age, our first encounter with Marc Charig was more likely than not while listening to King Crimson's "Lizard" in 1970, having no clue at the time about "jazz" as such and, indeed, finding the various horn sounds on that album to be somewhat mysterious, their true source all but unidentifiable. He has an identifiable sound, though, and over the years I'd hear him now and then, with Centipede, Elton Dean's "Ninesense" (I believe I saw him in concert with same in Rome, in 1998) or Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra. His sound always stood out and inevitably elicited a warm, nostalgic rush.

That's immediately the case here as well, in the company of Wolf (bass) and Fisher (drums). Between Charig's recognizability and the limpidity of the trio form, I find an easy attractiveness in these pieces, all group improvisations, even if the language is not my choice and the music is more conversationally oriented than I normally enjoy. Charig makes the difference for me here, unfailingly inventive and light (I keep coming back to "transparent"), as busy as many a free improv brass player but managing to avoid any sense of overbearing or insistence. Wolf (who I don't believe I've previously heard) has a solid, deep sound that engages quite well with Charig, similarly non-insistent and unfussy, renders some especially strong arco work, reminding me a little bit of Malachi Favors. As well, Fischer is nicely restrained, kind of like a less frenetic Barry Altschul (you see how ancient my frame of reference is!). The pieces gently meander, here acquiring a slight Spanish tinge ("Potpourri for Harribee") but also fall victim in tracks like "Flows and Flurries" to a (relatively benign) form of "gabbiness" not at all uncommon in this field (though the 14-minute piece ends quite beautifully). Naturally, that will bother others far less than myself and, overall, the salutary effects of the album are enough to recommend it to free jazz fans without hesitation. Would that all music in this area was conceived and performed at least this intelligently.

Spore Print

Brian Groder Trio - Reflexology (Latham Records)

Trumpeter Groder's recording is of a different nature, not the least in that all nine pieces are his compositions (save one by Joanne Brackeen), so depending how much latitude you allow the definition of "free"...His companions are bassist Michael Bisio, a veteran of the scene and playing partner of Matt Shipp, Joe McPhee and many others, and drummer Jay Rosen, another long-time denizen of the scene, having worked with the likes of Braxton, McPhee, William Parker and more.

Braxton, indeed, has been a point of reference for me when I've heard Groder's work (more precisely, Kenny Wheeler with Braxton), though his name doesn't appear on the humorously labelled cover image and those of Hubert Laws and Joe Farrell (?!) do, summoning pictures of old CTI LPs. His lines often have that sense of clean, fragmented, slightly askew bop, on the verge of purely swinging but avoiding the temptation. Though his tone is thicker than Charig's, there's once again a feeling of clarity and air, an impression I always welcome. As well, I hear more than a bit of Holland in Bisio's (very fine) playing. The first three compositions have a similar feel, something along the lines of Braxton's "Composition 23D" (Side One, track three form "New York, Fall, 1974"), very pleasant and relaxed with intricate lines, extremely well played though perhaps a bit self-similar for comfort. The Brackeen piece is a welcome break from this mold, a strong, maybe Sun Ra-ish bass figure supporting some agile, wonderfully melodic playing from Groder. "Tarried Breath" is dark and slow, quite luscious though here recalling piece's like "Composition 38A" (a personal favorite) from the above-cited recording. I don't mean to harp on the fact, but the associations are, to my ears, unavoidable. This is an interesting situation to consider when trying to evaluate work. I've no idea whether it's an actual influence on Groder, if he simply came to this territory via his own inclinations or if it's more me and my history. That mid-70s period for Braxton is a big favorite of mine so, on the one hand, I can loll around in quasi-similar sounds with some degree of pleasure. On the other--well, I'm not sure I understand re-mining that field forty years later, no matter how lovingly scoured. But I've little doubt that many a contemporary jazz fan without my misgivings would find this imaginatively performed, exceptionally well played album very much worth their while.

This recording is set for July 15th release on Latham Records

Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Peter Evans - The Freedom Principle (NoBusiness)

Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Peter Evans - Live in Lisbon (NoBusiness)

Rodrigo Amado - Wire Quartet (Clean Feed)

Tenor saxophonist Rodrigo Amado's work, heard here in two quartet formats, is in a way a more traditional version of free improvisation, the muscular approach that I think of as extending back from Archie Shepp up through, say, Dewey Redman and David S. Ware--turbulent, unbridled, eruptive. Which is not to say out of control, as Amado generally walks a very attractive line between the restrained and the unleashed, generating significant tension.

The first two items were recorded two days apart in Lisbon, one studio and one live, with the working trio that includes Miguel Mira (cello) and Gabriel Ferrandini (drums) as well as guest artist Peter Evans (trumpet). The three pieces on the studio date are improvisations, engagingly loose structures with much conversation, especially between the two horns, but still with a vague sense of "the solo" in place. For quite some time, I've found it a bit strange the way the rhythm section in many free bands tends to fall into its classic role lo all these years since Ornette and others strove to level the playing field; not as regimented as before by any means, but still. That said, the quartet gels finely, the recording capturing the space between musicians quite well, the ensemble as a whole creating music at least on a par with anything I've heard in the area for the last decade plus (again, allowing for my limited exposure); had I encountered this at one of the several Vision Festivals I've attended, I would have been happily surprised. I can't say I hear anything particularly new or different in the quartet's attack, but that may not be a concern; what they do, they do well.

I find the first side of the live LP a somewhat more satisfying experience, especially in the portions (as near the beginning) when Amado and Evans proceed in a less restrained manner, playing with abandon. Amado allows himself longer, more fluid lines which strike me as more convincing than the guttural, short chunks that seem more common. As above, the music works quite well on its own terms though, to my ears, it's not fundamentally different from, say a good Brötzmann/Kondo quartet affair from the early 90s. On side two, the quartet attempts to negotiate sparser territory and the results are uneven, indicating how difficult this terrain can be to navigate. It's only when they morph into a fuller area, a kind of lyrical, mid-tempo free playing (Amado channeling Shepp quite ably, along with dabs of Sam Rivers) that things once again cohere.

"Wire Quartet" was instantly intriguing to me due to the presence of Manuel Mota on guitar, a musician whose work I've enjoyed very much, off and on, in the past. Ferrandini remains on drums but Hernani Faustino is now heard on bass. I think that, despite most evidence to the contrary, I always expect Mota to flow toward the quieter tendencies he showed on parts of "Leopardo" on Rossbin but I assume that's simply not his predilection. He noisily, abstractly attacks matters here on the three improvised pieces in a way that's indistinguishable, to me, from many a post-Bailey guitarist and (not that it's necessarily a fair comparison) isn't as attractive a foil for Amado as was Evans. Still, there are fine moments as when, midway through the long opening track, "Abandon Yourself", things go from relatively harsh to lyrical (I have the general impression that Amado's musicality functions better in more "stable" surroundings) and Mota is in more of a comping mode. But the track ends with a spate of treading water, bringing to mind one of my most common complaints against recent free jazz: the inability not to play, the insistence on (everyone) continuing to produce sounds long after the point of diminishing returns. The remaining two tracks have their moments, the improv meandering a bit then clicking for a while (here spurred on by both Amado and Faustino's strong playing), all the music offering big rewards for listeners attuned to the style.

It remains tough for me to really get into the music; my tastes have simply drifted far afield. I can only say that almost all of the music covered here today sounds at least as good as most of what I've encountered, in limited excursions, in the territory over the past 15-20 years. If your inclinations tilt that way, by all means check out this work.


Clean Feed

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Philip Sulidae - History of Violence (Unfathomless)

Using a loaded title like "History of Violence" (and, presumably, not referring to the Cronenberg film of almost the same name), one expects to hear som eallusions to the subject but, if they're here, I have difficulty ascertaining any. Not so important, I guess, but the field recordings captured and massaged by Sulidae Belanglo State Forest in New South Wales, Australia don't directly refer to anything violent. One assumes the violence in question is more general, that is, damage to the flora and fauna of the area at the hands of humans. The sounds seem to have, generally, natural origins, from the opening mosquito-like whines of "Bargo" through the requisite swarms, chirps, etc., most enswathed in a kind of sonic cloud that gives the affair a muted, blurred aspect which I imagine is the intended effect but that makes much of the work somewhat indistinguishable from other field recordings of the "natural" world. "Slow dusk near long acre fire trail" seems to contain phonograph noise, maybe an ironic commentary on the wildlife sounds around it, or captured on it? By itself, this track is the one I found most moving, that and the moment near the end of the title track when muffled voices emerge from the blur.


Socrates Martinis - North (More Mars)

A 3" disc accompanied by a booklet containing poetic text and illustrations. It's a very personal document, including the music, even as it's made up of three skeins of grainy electronics: a short, loud burst that peters out in seconds, a few minutes of steamier, damper sound, as of a large, interior generator of some kind, and ten or so minutes of a more grinding, dirty sound, reminiscent of a large device in need of oil. Abstract but strangely intimate, no more, no less. the poems (in Greek typescript as well as English) seem to similarly straddle some border between distanced and closely felt, for example: Light that spills/and rhythmically emits odors of milk/with the voice of steam locomotive engines. The five ink paintings are like personal signs or totems, again quite inward looking, bearing an aura of meaning all but unknowable to the viewer. Very interesting and, ultimately, strangely alluring work.

More Mars

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Peter Streiff - Komposition/Urs Peter Schneider - Klavier (Edition Wandelweiser)

I thought I'd use a photo of Streiff instead of the cover of the disc which, of course, isn't any different from all Wandelweisers, save the specifics. Though the compositions are Streiff's you get the idea that Schneider is being given equal credit for the realization, causing me to wonder a bit at the degree of freedom the latter had, especially given the apparent nature of the pieces which, I have to say, I feel somewhat ill-equipped to evaluate. I mean, I like them very much, find much of the work quite beautiful, but I've the feeling of being in over my head, the music seeming to operate in a "classical" context that's far enough outside my experiential frames so as to render nil any judgments I can make.

Strangely, one of the impressions I had, was of a composer, a "serious" classical composer, sort of doodling at the keyboard. This is not meant in the slightest to be disparaging--just the opposite. There's a sense of wonder at the image of these figures just flowing out, seemingly without forethought. Not improvisations as such, more a sketching out of forms within a few frameworks, works in progress, ideas to be fleshed out. None of this is the case, clearly, though that conflict of the image I'm holding with what I know (or assume) to be the reality is also very fascinating. Apologies for the blather, tough to sort out.

Brief notes are provided for each piece, fairly impressionistic ones like, "Recognizable fuzziness, hidden clarity, a simple development" or "Agitation within, shifts at the margins". Whether any systems were in place, how much space Schneider (who plays gorgeously throughout) was allowed, I don't know. The music unspools slowly, even languorously, is more or less tonal for the most part, edging into pastoral now and then. There's the occasional nod to minimalism, but that's rare. Maybe a tinge of Satie's Rosicrucian period, not sure. Some verges on the strident, some is dreamy. It sounds both plain and unique; odd. There's a short portion of "Neun kleine Bässe" with six softly descending notes, a couple of blurred lower tones, a squiggle of mid-range ones that's haunting, eerie and wonderful.

So, apologies for the mishmash of a write-up. Please disregard the confusion here and simply listen for yourself--it's excellent music.


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Monday, June 16, 2014

Thomas Stiegler/Hannes Seidl - das wetter in offenbach (Edition Wandelweiser)

The notes for this piece are entirely in German and, after running them through the vagaries of Google Translate, I still have only the roughest of ideas as to the ideas behind the work, so I'm tempted to simply go by what my ears tell me. Suffice it to say that t has something to do with bicycle trips by Stiegler to the town of Offenbach (nothing to do with the composer as far as I know), the sounds encountered and also, possibly, the sounds of certain medical equipment. Who, of Stiegler and Seidl, contribute what, I've no idea.

The construction lasts for forty minutes, most of it taken up by field recorded sounds interspersed with a smooth, electric hum (not sure of the source, presumably computer or synth) whose pitch fluctuates slightly but which retains its general character throughout. It comes, lingers for several seconds, ends; sometimes it overlaps the other sounds, sometimes it stands alone. Every so often, you can pick up a quieter tone as well; perhaps there are more layers than meet the ear. In the interim, we hear various "everyday" sounds ranging widely and including crunchy footsteps, car and water sounds, geese quacks (quite a flurry at one point), airy fields. It's calm, with a sense of patient forward movement consistent with a relaxed bike ride. The listener settles into this travelogue and it's quite pleasant. Around the 34-minute mark, just after you've experienced a series of gently iterative mechanical sounds, possibly some of that medical equipment in action, the scene shifts drastically. Very much as if the CD in your player has suddenly changed, you hear a funky disco-ish line, not recorded in the field, but pure; very disorienting. It dissolves in less than a minute, first overlaid with discreet hums, a muffled voice, then replaced by some backwards tape, that familiar hum. It's almost as though one has been biking in the rural countryside, engaged in a reverie, only to find oneself back in urbanity without realizing it. Despite the hum, the last several minutes have a different character, including a set of dull, metallic clangs,before automotive noise ends the piece abruptly.

It's an odd work, with its own unique if awkward sound-logic. I found myself enjoying it pretty well though I'm still unsure if I've comprehended it decently.


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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Urs Peter Schneider - Kompositionen 1973-1986 (Edition Wandelweiser)

The structure of this 2-disc set is durationally symmetrical, four pieces lasting (more or less) 8, 60, 60 and 8 minutes. I've no idea how representative this sample is of Schneider's work (I think it's my first experience of it) but there seems to be at least something of a common thread int he way he uses quasi-repetition of forms (not in a minimalist sense) that, over time, result in something larger than the individual elements.

"Zeitgehöft" (the title of a collection of poetry by Paul Celan, generally translated as "Timestead") is for two pianos that sound retuned (maybe only one of them?) and consists of strong, dark, rounded chords, somewhat staccato though with silences between allowing the notes to sustain in the room. Initially opaque, the resolute continuation of the particular attack succeeds, for me, in creating a special world with odd logic, where the stuttering steps can be heard as a kind of hesitant dance. This piece grew on me each time I listened, very moving ultimately.

"Sternstunde" (great moment) is an astrological term and the six movements alternate between "Ahriman" and "Luzifer", the former a Zoroastrian deity and the latter, well, Lucifer. It's scored for two speaker and two singers (male and female in each duo) with two other musicians providing "noise. The latter occurs in sweeping, wavelike sounds that occur between movements, imparting a very cleansing sense. The distribution of the text between speakers and singers is extremely effective (not sure if there's overdubbing or if substantial use of the echoing aspect of the performing space is in play, but the vocal sound is wonderfully cloudy and rich); it sounds as though there's a kind of "round" in effect, the cycles of each part ever so often coming into sync, almost unison, then going out of phase, back again and so forth for the entire hour. It's sung/spoken in a kind of declamatory style, with a regular, even plodding meter, though that's part of the mesmerizing effect. Apart from the change in text, there's only slight variation in the musical approach, though minimal as it may seem, certain sections are noticeably more "transparent" than others. As implied above, the sheer accumulation of this attack, and maybe a subconscious appreciation of the underlying logical structure) tells over time. Soon you've become quite accepting of this world. I think the text is from Christian Friedrich Hebbel, a 19th century German poet, though I can't find any direct reference for it. I have to say, although it won me over, I could easily understand if the relentlessness of the approach caused other to find it wearying.

"Meridian", based once again on Celan, is tougher for me to grasp. Less overtly obsessive than the two prior works, we hear a succession of episodes (again, six), with strings playing microtonal glissandi (inevitably, due to my having first encountered it there, I think of Penderecki), rather disembodied voices, tympani, piano and more. There's a lot going and doubtless much I'm not apprehending but, while the passing moments often convey an odd, hazy kind of beauty, I can't get to the logic of the piece and leave unsatisfied. Might require a guide on this one.

"Augenhöhe" (eyes high) cites Hebbel but mirrors the first in an oblique way, consisting of short phrases played by Dominik Blum on a Hammond organ, sixteen or so quick, fleeting notes (possibly always all different?), placed between periods of silence lasting about sixteen seconds. The phrases are as playful as they are seemingly random, bouncing gaily and, given the silences, acquiring a subtly plaintive air. Quirky, elfin and lovely.


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Friday, June 13, 2014

Rasmus Borg/Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø - 120112 (Edition Wandelweiser)

Sometimes Wandels appear with substantial info about scores of methods of actualization, sometimes not. Here, there's only the cryptic inscription, "entrusted to each other from the outset, at each other's mercy" which, to me, implies improvisation, though who knows? Whatever the case, the three pieces presented by Borg (piano) and Nørstebø (trombone) are spellbinding explorations of the low tone.

Three pieces but they segue into one another effortlessly and, with the possible exception of slight variation in pitch (and I'm not even sure of that) are pretty much indistinguishable from each other unless I missing some subtle pattern shift. The sounds are all low and sustained--bottom of the keyboard piano and extremely low trombone (the disc says, simply, "trombone", though it sounds like, at least, a bass trombone to me). The trombone tones aren't quite Malfatti-pure; sometimes they begin with a slight growl, others with a half-step upswing, but they're routinely very rich and luscious. Sometimes, the pair start a phrase more or less in unison, usually with a slightly staggered entry, but often enough one or the other enters an existing line, melding in, playing a pitch very close to that of his partner. It's a very round sound, globular even, suspended among the near-silences. Listened to closely, you can pick up ambient noise, little clicks, bumps and the like, small but for me important in surrounding the music with a kind of sheath, giving substance to the air in the studio. It's difficult to say much more than that. The pieces don't really have a monolithic quality, but they're all rather (beautifully) self-similar, more like an underground seam, coal perhaps. I really enjoy it.


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Daniel Lercher/Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø - TH_X (Chmafu)

As it happens, fate also delivered into my hands another recording involving Nørstebø, a collaboration with Daniel Lercher (sinusoids, resonators, filtered red noise). "Red noise", I discovered, is also known as "Brownian noise" (as opposed to brown noise), that is, waves whose structure is (somehow) determined via Brownian motion. Nørstebø, here, initially explores similar, low-pitched areas for the most part, although Lercher's contributions, of course, are much different than Borg's, consisting at first of strong sine-like waves, pulsating and fluttering and, I suspect, doing funny things with regard to how the trombone is heard (though there may be some flutter occurring there as well. The pair splay outward from that on subsequent tracks, Lercher especially delving into more ragged, drier tones (the red noise, I'm guessing) and crisp pops, eventually ultra-harsh swathes of noise. Things continue to splay out as though, once released, boundaries are forgotten. It's a heady mix, Nørstebø's trombone becoming less recognizable as he plunges into breath/rumble territory, the electronics going more and more abstract, crackling, ragged. The last of the five cuts circles back, beginning in the storm then flowing back into the purer sine tones and hyper-deep brass that began the disc. Strong music, well worth hearing, also causing me to want to listen to far more of their work.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

(Various) - West Coast Soundings (Edition Wandelweiser)

A compilation of work by twelve composers, ten of whom studied with James Tenney and/or Michael Pisaro (who are also represented by pieces here) at Cal Arts, performed by a quintet (or parts thereof) consisting of Frank Gratkowski (bass clarinet, clarinet, alto sax, radio, triangle), Seth Josel (electric guitars, mandolin, radio, triangle), hans w. koch (electronics, radio, triangle), Anton Lukoszevieze (cello, triangle, radio, voice) and Lucia Mense (a range of recorders from sopranino to contrabass, radio, triangle). One of the heartening aspects, in a sense, is how far many of the works "stray" from a Wandelweiser aesthetic--it's always good to hear evolution outwards. A brief description of each work:

Mark So, segue (2007) - Long, soft lines, very warm, in an interesting, kind of prismatic relationship with the clearly spoken text ("Segue", by z. Laurence-Juan)-THe lines are lovely and relate to the text in non-obvious, haunting ways, occasionally splintering softly into frayed endings.

Michael Winter - small world (2008) - More aurally fragmented and diverse (apparently constructed via graphs and game theory) with disparate elements calmly meshed, even as the elements themselves are thorny, almost strident and eruptive. A collage feeling but also oneiric.

Chris Kallmyer - Between the Rhine and Los Angeles (2012) - Performed here by electronics and electric guitar, from a score in which the musicians are asked to trace the form of a river, resulting in a rich, twisty drone that hovers now and then, meanders off. Nice thickness of tones, often more going on than is immediately apparent, drawing me back a few times after I mistakenly thought I'd heard it thoroughly.

Tashi Wada - Nest (2008) - Realized here for recorders, clarinet and cello, along with field recordings by Wada. koch's note says "accentuating the tonal content of field recordings" and you can feel that approach, the musicians searching for some affinities with the birdsong, rustle and background hum of the site recordings, like a chamber trio enhancement of Pisaro's "Transparent City" series. Very beautiful.

James Tenney - Harmonium #1 (1976) - for quartet, excluding koch's electronics. A gorgeous work, all long shifting lines, endlessly subtle and complex planes of interaction. I wasn't sure if I'd ever heard the piece before (I'm unforgivably behind in my Tenney) so I found a version on-line by the Trio Scordatura, also very beautiful, but I enjoy this one more. Great work.

Liam Mooney - 180° (2011) - For dry ice and triangles. As I learned courtesy Casey Anderson, sublimating dry ice can somehow activate resonant surface if held just barely above them (a buzzing sound occasionally heard here, occurs if you come too close). It's a wonderful sound, a kind of ringing, metallic rattle, constantly in flux and we get to soak in it for 18 minutes here. This is "all" that happens--steady-state on the one hand, endlessly varying on the other; I love it.

Scott Cazan - Outliers (2010) - Per the notes, Cazan "employs a computer, gradually reducing available pitches by filtering out ones that have been heard". As played by the quartet (again, sans electronics). The work is calm on the surface, even stately, though a subtle sense of agitation grows as, I presume, the palette is reduced. Fascinating process, engaging music.

Laura Steenberge - Waltz (2013) - a dark, eerie waltz, with low cello and woodwind chords and sharp guitar plinks. Probably the most "traditional" piece here in some ways, quite cinematic in an expressionist way.

Catherine Lamb - Frames (2009/2013) - For grand bass recorder and cello. Lamb's swiftly become one of my favorite composers around and this work simply buttresses that feeling. It involves investigations of tuning played out in long lines but the magic lies in the poetry of choices, the sheer deliciousness of the note pairings, the overlapped, irregular durations, the grain in both instruments. As they say, worth the price of admission on its own. Beautiful.

Quentin Tolimieri - Trio (2013) - Clarinet, guitar and cello. It nods to a kind of post-serial, lyrical abstraction but then begins to dissemble that, the sounds becoming more and more sparse, eventually leaving substantial silences. There's a fine progression from the "normality" of the beginning to the poignancy and sense of abandonment at the conclusion that makes the work very beguiling and moving.

Casey Anderson - possible dust (2011) For five radios, very un-Wandelweiserian, exposing a wooly chaos of sounds from radios that sound randomly tuned (and frequently changed) but I imagine there's a system in place somewhere. In-between-stations static abounds, with speech (German) next in line, only the odd snatch of pop music. In this context, it serves as a bracing tonic but stands firmly enough on its own.

Michael Pisaro - A single charm is doubtful (Gertrude Stein) (2005) - Part of the Harmony series, played here by, once again, the quartet without koch. As ever, wonderful music; somewhat more forceful than you might anticipate, the recorder very much up front, gilding the sustained cello and alto saxophone, all (with the guitar) creating an emergent pulse amidst the long, long tones. Absolutely stunning, especially in its sense of time negation. It just continues on until it stops.

A fine collection then, one that's obviously necessary if you've the remotest interest in this area of music and, for me, extra valuable for exposing me to music created by composers of whom I've had no or very little previous experience.


Available in the US from Erst Dist

Friday, June 06, 2014

Wind Rose - Lamentations (Amusements Banales)

"Wind Rose" is Gary James Joynes and 'Lamentations' is a set of dark, relentless electronic drones created while in mourning for the death of his father. This fact necessarily calls to mind Jason Lescalleet's brilliant, 'The Pilgrim' but Joynes' approach is different, conjuring a sound-world almost entirely grim and, despite the plodding onwards evoked by the steady pulse (in the first track), purposeless, perhaps seething with some rage. The following cut is even bleaker, the sounds having taken on the mechanical aspect of a piece of large machinery, mindlessly cycling, eventually sputtering out. 'Arrival', the third track, is more agitated, itchy even, with rapid iterations of growl and static, but no less desolate. Then, about halfway through, it's knocked out of kilter and sent into a loose spin, a slow free fall that at least seems to offer a possible path out of the claustrophobic gears and turbines, edging into "An Index of Metals" terrain. In the final piece, 'Translation', things begin to churn, a certain kind of vital power seems to be generated. It slows however, begins grinding down, takes on the sense of a small airplane descending. No way out.

Amusements Banales

Lunt - water belongs to the night (Tremens Archives)

Lunt is Gilles Deles and this recording is rather the polar opposite of the preceding one. The label cites Fred Frith and Rafael Toral as influences and that can certainly be heard here, especially the mid-70s Frith of his initial solo release, an old favorite of mine. The first track also, I have to say, nods to Fripp/Eno but, as much as I love those recordings, i was happy to hear that Deles moves on from that attractive clime. A piece like "Stumbling Crystal" is Frithian, true, with it's spiky, ice shards delicately arrayed, but it's so inherently attractive that I forced myself out of an "influential" mode of appraisal and just enjoyed it. Still, I was also happy to hear a harsher tack taken on the ensuing cut, "Poison goes back to the ground", and even happier when Deles pulls out the stops on "Golem of fire", channelling Fripp to a degree but, again, doing it quite well. He gets harsher still on the penultimate track, ending in a stuttering, staticky grind, but ties things up peacefully on the final piece, with soft, echoey plucking that, again, isn't earthshaking in approach but is done with taste and a fine ear. If that branch of guitarists appeals to you (as it does me), you'll find this an enjoyable listen.

Tremens Archive (bandcamp)

Thursday, June 05, 2014

LP round-up, part deux

Slobodan Kajkut -The Art of Living Dies (God)

A work for solo, amplified cello, performed here by Michael Moser.

The label site offers the description, "Lack of musical material, minimalism but not for it's purposes" and that's not a bad encapsulation. The music consists of sets of phrases, always bowed, generally discrete. The initial sounds are one to five note lines, each note discrete, no obvious pattern. The air is dark, somber, the notes low but dry. Almost inevitably, one conjures up the image of a lone entity in an unlit space; "Beckettian" seems too easy, but hard to avoid. Over the course of the LP, Moser's attack varies, but not too much--a section will have slightly higher, grainier tones (that recalled some of Feldman for me), but things inevitably settle back into that sort of disengaged area where "mournful" would be too strong a term. Resigned, maybe. Yet, pace Beckett, it goes on, never to any point but incapable of doing otherwise, one desolate step at a time. The sounds themselves are easily digested but the overall effect is, intentionally I suspect, oppressive, gathering force by sheer dint of the relentless refusal to accommodate. It's quite persuasive in this regard and I have to admire Kajkut's (and Moser's) steadfastness. Strong medicine, good work.


Peter Kutin - Burmese Days (Gruenrekorder)

I haven't read the Orwell novel from which this LP takes it's title though, I'm guessing, it shares that author's concerns about Western imperialism in Southeast Asia, even if abstracted beyond direct reference points. Kutin (field recordings), here, is assisted by Berndt Thurner on Burmese metallophones and Dieb 13 on electronics and turntables, melding their instrumental compositions with his recordings to form the two side-long works. And they sound pretty great, some of the finer integrations of field and instrumental sounds I've heard in a while. I'm guessing this likely due to Kutin's skills at composing the material but surely at least in part a result of the reticence of Thurner's and Dieb 13's contributions which routinely remain at a low level in the mix, often nearly indistinguishable from the found sounds. The whole affair is rather subdued but very alive and subtly colorful, seething with a quiet pulse, from the opening chitters of insects (accompanied, I think, by Dieb 13's stuttering electronics), through attenuated near silences bearing faint hums, through cloudy, zone-tinged climes with muffled drums, voices, those metallophones. It' a heady journey, especially Side One, murkily cinematic, unsettling and all-around excellent. Don't pass on this one, it's a really fine realization.


Thomas Tilly - Le Cébron/Statics and sowers (Aussenraum)

Fitting, I suppose, that a record, half of which chronicles the shattering of ice, should be pressed on clear plastic.

Side One documents said breakage, recorded on the shores of Lake Cébron in France, ably assisted by a trio of shatterers. The combined crackling sound of the destructive process necessarily includes the sense of watery ambiance, a lovely combination. Tilly maintains that, apart from a "slight equalization no electronic modification has been done" which makes the sounds all the more astonishing, seeming, as many of them do, to have been culled from an elaborate and dense bit of INA GRM-y software. There's a minimal sense of the surrounding air, much more of a feeling of being right at ice level, inches away from the action. The piece has clearly been composed and it flows, bumps and all, very well, a natural sounding cascade of shards.

"Statics and sowers" involves beehives and electronics, and is roughly divided into three sections. The apiaries come first, an intense and just slightly creepy horde of buzzes near and far; fine depth here and more than a little uncomfortable. Quite abruptly, the bees are sharing the stage with a swathe of electronics (perhaps bee-sourced, hard for me to tell). A loud static charge all but submerges them as the music moves into a multi-layered, throbbing drone (pun intended). I found this portion less interesting, the general sound a bit too much like any number of drone works. But matters are redeemed a few minutes from the end when another harsh shift reintroduces the hive, but dimly, embedded in static fragments and barely contained feedback. This somehow comes across as very disturbing, not sure why. But it's an effective end for a very interesting venture. Worth hearing.