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 electronic 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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Joëlle Léandre/Michael Duch - (live at) Gråmølna (Confront)

I admit to being a little bit apprehensive when I saw this pairing. My experience with Duch's work has been generally positive, though he seems at home equally well with various schools of thought, including the kind of jazz-based free improv of the efi branch that tries my patience. Léandre, while an extraordinarily strong player, had, in my experience live and on record (in recent years seeing her in Sweden and here in Paris) almost entirely given herself over to that area; watching her in Vasteras a couple of years ago, in a trio with François Houle and Raymond Strid, if I'm remembering correctly, I recall thinking how much I would have loved the music 20 years prior (it was exceptionally well rendered) but could not dredge up interest nowadays. In any case, I'm happy to report that my fears were unfounded or, perhaps, that they were lodged in places I needn't be afraid of in the first place. They succeed in creating some marvelous music not by venturing into post-AMM or Wandelweiser territory but but revisiting, however obliquely, the pleasures of tonal improvisation.

Six pieces in this live set from 2013, four duos and a solo from each. The first begins in the sort of area I expected, rapidly bowed, skittering; very supple and alert. Gradually, though, the sounds deepen, the interplay complexifies and you start to pick up (unintentional?) references to music that owes more to Shostakovich than to Peter Kowald--it's quite exhilarating, a kind or dipping into prior knowledge ameliorated by all that's come between. The next continues in that line, with harsher bowings, sharp breath exhalations, voice and accentuation via plucks, very forceful and dramatic, the bass playing (not the vocals) reminding me a bit of some of Dave Holland's best work in the early 70s. Léandre's solo continues with the vocalizations, evoking vague folk traditions, with simultaneous heavy pluck and harmonic bowing, quite impressive. The following duo might edge closest to the claustrophobic effect I get from much efi, but it' leavened, again, by some wonderfully expansive work in the low registers, sounds that enliven and even give purpose to those flitting by hyperactively above. A delicate, considered solo by Duch (really fine and super melodic in nature), leads to the final track, a robust, bottom-heavy improv with tight rhythmic kernels buoying the load jauntily along.

I'm very glad to have heard this, a really solid effort.


D.O.R. featuring Crys Cole - Hestekur (Caduc)

Six tracks, the first four with Jamie Drouin (suitcase modular (!), radio), Lance Austin Olsen (floor guitar, amplified objects) and Mathieu Ruhlmann (turntable, motors, amplified objects), the last two with the addition of Crys Cole (contact mics, objects). Fine, low level rumble 'n' hiss with all sorts of intervening sounds leaking in; the distant, globularly distorted radio voice on the first and third tracks is especially effective. There's a cool sheen to much of the music, a metallic cast that sends out the odd spark or short term series of rhythmic pops; very somber. Without wishing to tread on stale stereotypes, I do think it's clear that as of the fifth track, when Cole enters, things warm up substantially, the music becomes more enveloping, thicker; perhaps a coincidence. The album structure works very well, building to a kind of release at its conclusion. The individual elements aren't earthshaking but they've been molded into a thoughtful, solid form with strong ensemble playing. Well worth a listen.


(Various) - Balloon & Needle Compilation (Balloon & Needle)

In which 19 musicians (and, by extension, given the materials provided in the always amazing B&N packaging, the listener his/herself) are asked to construct music using only a balloon and/or a needle.

Names familiar to me included Judy Dunaway, Enrico Malatesta, Benedict Drew, Eugene Chadbourne (! shockingly, his track goes on far too long), Jin Sangtae, Ricardo Arias (an experience audio-balloonist), Dave Phillips, Hong Chulki, Luciano Maggiore, Umeda Tetsuya and Frans de Waard. The results are...mixed. Despite the "rules", other sound sources are heard every so often, but even within the parameters, the tracks, while likely as varied as they could be, have an overall patina of sameness about them. Most, to put it in shorthand, carry an efi feel (abundance of activity, little use of space) rather than an eai one. Gen 26's (Matjaz Galicic) dense noisefest stands apart for its non-stop clamor, Drew's work (using cymbals) has some thoughtfulness going as does Arias' "Crackle (Low)" (experience showing, perhaps). Hong Chulki's "No balloon but a needle" is pretty much as fine as his work elsewhere and Tetsuya's piece, "Use paper as a needle put microphone in a balloon" traverses wide, interesting territory including the liquid.

With a couple of exceptions, it's all fine, just not too much I was able to get very excited about. Reduced palettes can be great but sometimes one wants more. Me, I took my balloon, rubbed it between my fingers--nice texture and a lovely soft sound--, blew air into it, let it out, slowly, next to my ear. Quite enjoyable.

Balloon & Needle

also available via Erst Dist

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Kevin Drumm/Jason Lescalleet - The Abyss (Erstwhile)

Another double-disc released at the same time as the Frey/Malfatti "II", but, unsurprisingly, a whole nuther bowl o' tapioca although also not exactly what one might have expected from this pairing. The potential for (worthwhile) ear damage was there, no doubt, and while such moments are at least approached, the overall feel of the release is a troubled, brooding dark. Abyssal, one might say.

One learns to expect hidden structures in most anything Lescalleet's involved with and, from the start, I'm curious about the track lengths, all of which bear either repeated or palindromic numbers; of course, I've no idea what this means. The overall structure is a bit odd as well, the first six tracks on Disc One totaling some 38 minutes, leading into the title cut (33:33) which, in turn leads to Disc Two's single track, "The Echo of Your Past" (49:49), the last two being of a pretty different character.

Disc One belies expectations by beginning with a short snatch (:55) of ambient birds before a cauldron of molten lead is poured onto the scene ("Anger Alert", 11:11), hissing and aroar, which is swept into a cymbalic landscape underlaid by deep, deep rumblings. (Pausing to note that, in addition to their usual devices--guitars, electronics, tape--, Drumm is credited with piano and Lescalleet with Hammond 136J, Casio SK5 and Dell XPS). The next surprise is a sudden brass fanfare, lifted from I-don't-know-where followed by an organ descent into a damp morass that includes a slowed vocal that I think I almost recognize, an iterated revisit by the brass that crumbles into ash. It's a pretty great track. We hear the piano bang heavily beneath the surface boil and clatter of "Flaws Played Thawed and Flayed", tympanum-shredding electric shards (very similar to what I recently experienced with a live Drumm set at Instants Chavirés) on "Abuse" leading to wavering organ in "Boatswain's Call"; this entire trio, all palindromic timings, is very fine. "Outside Now" lowers the heat, again with organ-y (sounding ring-modulated) chords which intensify, turn to gravel and coruscate, a slash and burn strategy that leaves the field clear for the title cut. Ya got that? "The Abyss", the cut, is all about low, ultra-low cloudy sound; it caused audible vibrations in various objects on my table. There seem to be numerous elements involved but the two that standout are what sounds like a low, controlled feedback yawp/billow and something approximating a corroded, distant orchestral sample, sometimes with fuzzed guitar swoops entering. But it's all so blurred and dark that things morph into one another and you're left with the impression of sheer, deeply vibrating mass. There's tonal content buried in there as well, occasionally sticking its head out and conjuring up images of the nether reaches of early prog bands. It's an impressive piece, managing to sustain interest throughout its length despite more or less occupying one space, and serves as a fine repository for the tracks that preceded, as though they eroded or were tossed into the churning chasm. Disc One would have been a very strong recording on its own

But no. "The Echo of Your Past" starts akin to "Dawn" on Disc One, a (nighttime?) swath of crickets, fumblings about and passing engines. Lava emerges, scours the scene leaving a low hum. One begins to think that this work will be more episodic than the title piece and, in a way, it is but very subtly. Again, things drift down to the murky depths but now, in addition to the layers of thrums and vibrations, there's a prickly super-high tone flitting around, messing with your cochlea and other gradual shifts as well. The organ surfaces (I think it was there all along), dark, rich and grinding, a great sound, wonderful tension in the sustain. This peaks and abruptly fades just short of 20 minutes in, the "natural" sounds re-emerge for a bit before we once again descend to the abyss' floor, the quiet swirl of noxious gases inevitably building in strength and solidity, back to that subterranean feedback-y quality we heard before (it wouldn't surprise me if much of this track was constructed from those on Disc One). Table shaking again with the subsonics, eventually augmented by (I think) a raft of burning sounds. From those ashes, ethereal ringing--redemption? An explosion back into the night, soft guitar chords, crickets taking things out and sudden silence. A really fantastic piece.

And an excellent release in toto, as strong as most anything I've heard from either in quite some time.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Jürg Frey/Radu Malfatti - II (Erstwhile)

Two discs, the first with a work by Malfatti ("shoguu"), the second containing one from Frey ("instruments, field recordings, counterpoints").

"shoguu" translates into "dealing with" and I could deal (and have, actually, dealt) with the piece for days. Clarinet and trombone, in some ways not entirely dissimilar to most of Malfatti's pieces of recent years in that long, quiet tones are offered suspended in space, sometimes touching or overlapping, but also extending his ambit. The nature of the placement, the clarity of the tones (sometimes with a slight burr on the reed, also the odd Malfattian clink of fingernail against bell, all so finely recorded by Christoph Amann), the almost too large to discern, organic structure--these all conspire to form a kind of gentle monumentality, an open vastness. The general contrast of the tones is wonderful in and of itself as is the poetry of the subtle shifts in pitch and the irregularities of placement. The "gaps" themselves are alive with soft breaths and moist lip movements. I get the sense of a hyperextended song as though, were the music to be compressed, a somber melody would more clearly emerge. As is, it seems to be the task of the listener to retain this long string of notes and construct one for him or herself. And that's supremely enjoyable. I'm not sure what else to say; like a lengthy Feldman piece, "shoguu" defies encapsulation. Only to say that I've listened numerous times, have loved every occasion and, thus far, have always found relationships I hadn't heard or understood on previous listens, something I expect to continue indefinitely. A fantastic work, something to be dealt with.

The Frey composition inhabits a very different sound world and is equally wondrous. Even at his sparsest, Frey always seems to have a subtle Romantic quality to his music (as opposed, deliciously, to Malfatti's rigor) and that sense of longing and gentle melancholy seep through the blurred field recordings here, the trombone (very deep) and clarinet imparting a brooding, pensive note. The acoustic instruments bleed through the recordings which, on their own, seem to go through stages of feedback, obscuring the boundaries of those contributions. It's possible that vehicular sounds are there, with wind through trees or an overall urban hum, but all the elements merge so well, one swiftly puts concern over differentiation aside. Echoing bangs, sounding as though emanating from a large interior space, are mirrored, in an oddly touching manner, by what almost becomes a melody from the horns about 18 minutes in; it's a stunning moment. That moment lingers for quite a while, amidst foggy clangs and, eventually, near-at-hand chirps. The horn tones are like warm extensions of the general hum, as though the multitude of natural frequencies coalesced into this sonic breeze, floating through the landscape knowingly and sympathetically. About 42 minutes in, the character changes somewhat, Malfatti inserting a mute, the surrounding sounds thinning out, becoming shopping-mallish (with drips), a kind of cymbal wash seeming to appear; it's disjunctive but, for me, arriving at precisely the right time, an elbow nudge acknowledging other areas, perhaps less accommodating. Foghorns and buoys. This drift toward the conclusion, attenuated, not nearly as lush as heard at the beginning, is bracing, an astringent tonic offered instead of steady state. I love it.

A fine, fine release, certainly among my top favorites of the year.


Sunday, September 07, 2014

Asher Tuil

Two Compositions
Selections from an Unlimited Series

The mysterious Asher (here using Tuil, previously having used Thal-Nir or no last name) emerges from the darkness once again with three offerings all available for listening at bandcamp. I have the general impression that Asher's music straddles something of a dividing line among eai aficionados, many finding that it strays overmuch into ambient territory. I can understand that and, indeed, find it to be the case now and then, both in the past and among this current batch, though it often enough transcends that circumscription, sometimes with extreme beauty.

These recording fall into the long-form, "ambient" bucket (as opposed, say, to Asher's "Miniatures" project) albeit with substantial differences between them. "Two Compositions" is perhaps the most traditional in that sense, with washes of gentle, grainy sound wafting through the room, never confrontational, vaguely tonal with complexities only discernible upon micro-listening. Still,to me, it seemed a bit regressive, covering old territory. I enjoyed the "Selections from an Unlimited Series" much more, in part due to their ghostlier nature, very much verging on a kind of insubstantiality but more clearly brimming with faint layers,sometimes evoking images of distant bee swarms. Instead of wafting through, they left traces on the walls of the room. "Nocturne", in fact, sounds not too unlike a 32-minute extended variation on the kind of music heard in the aforementioned "Miniatures": spectral piano, as though from an instrument that's sat in an attic for decades, its notes drifting through webs, curtains, dust, achingly melancholy. Perhaps too spacey for some but very moving and rich to me.

Hear for yourself at: Asher's bandcamp site

Saturday, September 06, 2014

more from downloadsville. As ever, apologies for the relative brevity but most of these can be heard for yourself, for free.

Giacomo Fiore - iv: american electric guitars

A fine selection of four works for electric guitar. Eve Beglarian's "until it blazes" is a very attractive, propulsive minimalist piece utilizing delay, eventually recalling "Carol of the Bells" before crumbling into a welcome chaos. This is followed by a morsel guaranteed to set me drooling, Christian Wolff's "another possibility" (2004), the piece he wrote attempting to recollect what he could of the lost Feldman score the latter wrote for Wolff in 1966. It's a lovely piece, delicately meandering in ways maybe only Wolff can create, gentle with the odd abrupt spike or surprising rhythmic motif. Beautifully played and, I'm sure of no direct relevance, reminding me of Derek Bailey in a reflective mood. Anthony Porter's "hair of the thing that bit you" is up next and, on the surface begins not so far from the Wolff, though more intrinsically melodic, before segueing into a light, repetitive section, prickly and jumpy, with rock allusions. Finally, Larry Polansky's "freeHorn" appears, a work involving computerized retuning of the guitar in a manner that surpasseth my understanding. Over the years, I've had reservations of much of what Polansky I've encountered (surely a limited sample) but this piece, with its alap-like character and liquid microtonality, is wonderful, happily never really resolving, just wandering off. Good stuff.


Tim Allen - Emergent Forms (Conv)

An hour-long work comprised of processed electronic signals, that is to say the sounds emitted by electric devices such as lights, refrigerators, computers etc. Allen, as you can read on the Conv page, was able to unearth all sorts of "hidden" sounds and has woven them together into this entirely enjoyable mesh of hums, static, quasi-rhythmic clicks and more. It can drift into spacier areas than I'm comfortable with from time to time but Allen always manages to wrest things back into more interesting, grittier places, incorporating snatches of voices (phone conversation?) and other harder-edged sounds. Just as I'm thinking it's overstaying its welcome, a new element is introduced that makes the wait worthwhile, as occurs at approximately the 53 minute mark with a wonderfully ringing tone, supported by low, stuttering growls and sandy washes. Check it out.


Glenn Stallcop - Ash Fork Verses #3 (SMS Recordings)

A set of thirteen solo piano improvisations that lie somewhere in the kind of jazz/classical area that I associate with musicians like Ran Blake. Reflective, even gently melancholy, rhythms implied rather than overtly stated, a tonality that hovers around the 1920s French classical world (though suitably Americanized, with discrete bluesy accents), a sort of blurry, sour-tinged (aptly) romanticism. Stallcop has none of the fussiness that often mars such ventures (Jarrett and his ilk); things are pared down, clean and honest. Again Blake or, in his more ruminative moments, Mal Waldron come to mind. No extended techniques, no sense of living in a post-Cage world (or, for that matter, a Skempton or John White-occupied one), which is fine. After a while, I get a sense of sameness from the pieces, all of them occupying a similar area in terms of dynamics, pacing and general content. Extremely well-played and, I'm guessing, right up the alley of more chamber jazz-inclined readers, if lacking some urgency for me. Not a criticism, really, just a taste thing. I'd be curious to hear Stallcop in duo with, say, a Barre Philips or Joe Morris, to hear what else could be evoked.

Hear for yourself at: Soundcloud

Friday, September 05, 2014

Anne-F Jacques/Tim Olive - Dominion Mills (845 Audio)

A tasty little nugget that somehow struck me as much more difficult and impenetrable upon first listen than it turned out to be. Jacques (my first exposure to her work, pretty sure), uses "rotating devices", described in the notes as manipulated and amplified motors, and you can hear them in effect throughout (I initially thought turntables or objects thereupon were involved), providing disjointed rhythmic, loopy avenues. Olive here solely employs magnetic pickups, "the engine of a devolved one-string electric guitar". This proves quite ample as the duo constructs very solid, plastic tracks, the motors evoking a presence both corporeal and whirling, Olive's lines (which sometimes sound like toy saxophones or trumpets) skittering through--the thick and the thin. Far from difficult, the music becomes rather beguiling, retaining substantial materiality and an oily/grimy feel (a good thing) but supplementing it with a kind of calm. I've heard a number of things from Olive over the years; this might be my favorite. Good stuff.

845 Audio

Jonas Kocher/Badrutt Gaudenz - Cinema Rex (INSUB)

A free net-release recording of an improvised concert with Kocher (accordion) and Badrutt (electronics). Kocher's been gliding more and more into Wandelweiserian ranges in my recent experiences of his work but here, with Badrutt, he modulates that tendency (welcome as it is) just a bit, injecting some amount of stridency and acidity into the often long-held tones. He's both mirrored (in a well-distorted manner) and commented upon by the electronics which are as likely to generate along lines indistinguishable from the accordion as to set up flurries of opposition. The accordion sounds electric and the electronics, acoustic as often as not. There's usually a fine irregularity at play here, not scattershot at all but also without the sense of being confined to a given approach or dynamic level; sometimes, as during a raucous section that begins around the 15-minute mark, there's some vexing discontinuity but even then it's rescued by a charge into the depths. Kocher shows an affinity for his instrument's nether regions here and elsewhere and, happily, doesn't mind letting the reedy textures seep through now and then. The pair's "social insects" in 2012 was less satisfying in this regard, so I'm happy to hear a more cohesive result this time around. Strong performance.

You can hear, for free, for yourself at: INSUB

Thursday, August 14, 2014

OK, another batch and then I'm outta here for a few weeks.

Bruno Duplant/Eva-Maria Houben/Bileam Kümper - Field by memory inhabited III & IV (Rhizome.s)

Two extended works from a score (unseen by this writer) by Duplant, realized by Houben and Kümper.

III is rendered by piano and viola. The first eight or nine minutes are all (or at least mostly) viola drones, only to be abruptly "disturbed" by a surprising piano arpeggio, like a pleasant awakening from a dream. A lengthy, non-digital silence. A similar up and down flurry from the piano heralds the next section, the viola following shortly, beginning in the same manner as he had played earlier but soon adopting a different set of approaches, sometimes skittering, sometimes swooping. If there's piano during much of this portion, it's faint enough to fade into the woodwork, until a bit later, some interior instrument noises emerge and there's an unexpected few moments of hyperactivity. It shifts a bit back and forth between these poles for the remainder of its 40 minutes. I enjoyed it pretty well, though felt there was some disconnect between the instruments. Admittedly, this reaction may well have been due to the contrast to "IV", at least partially because of the sonic nature of the instruments involved, organ and tuba (how many people double viola and tuba, btw?). Houben evokes gassy, breathy expulsions from her organ, woodenly knocking about now and then, and Kümper tends to do similarly, with obviously different timbres, on his horn; the pure sound is simply fantastic. As well, there's more continuity even as the elements slide though there are also the occasional stabs of sharpness and harshness to keep things honest. A strong work, worth the price of admission.


Jeff Gburek/Karolina Ossowska - Visitations (Catalogue of Wonders)

Gburek is a thoughtful fellow and this release arrives with plenty of text, both in the disc insert and in accompanying material. The former is poetic in nature while the latter encompasses Benford numbers, meteorological concerns (both "out there" and "body weather"), the 2012 US Presidential election and a biblical citation. I'm doubtless missing aspects of how these and other elements enter into "Visitations", but it's, in audio terms, more than challenging and sprawling enough to deal with on its own. The principals are Gburek (guitars, field recordings, bass recorder, electronics and processing) and his wife, Ossowska (violin, keyboards, penny-whistle, collages) with flutist Asia Zielecka making an appearance on one track. "Hallucinogenic" is one word that recurred in my head while listening; there's an intense, dreamlike feeling to much of the music, propelled often by Gburek's guitar (which often possesses a tone that toward which I'm not too partial) and Ossowska's violin (which I like very much) amidst a swirl of spacey keyboards and mutant field recordings, occasionally soaring along rockish heights, other times lingering amidst abstracted ambient sounds and small percussive noises. The violin lines (sometimes multi-tracked) tend to have a strong and very attractive Romantic quality, I might go as far as to say with a fine Polish or northeastern European cast; they provide some of my favorite moments on the disc. In fact, there are numerous episodes that are quite beautiful scattered throughout (the ending several minutes of the second track, for instance and all of the eighth); trying to process the work as whole, which I get the impression is what the musicians would like, is a tougher task. You pretty much have to succumb to its logic, something I couldn't quite do entirely, instead appreciating this section very much, the next not so much. But that's dreaming for you.

It's really an impressive effort though, even if I'm on the fence about it re: pure enjoyment. There's a lot to dig into. Oh, and there are thunderstorms. Loud ones. You can hear much of it at the soundcloud site below.

Catalog of Wonders

Ryan McGuire - Civilian (Glasswing Music)

McGuire is a Boston-area bassist who has performed with many of that cities new music luminaries including Greg Kelley, Dave Gross and Mike Bullock. "Civilian" contains 12 improvisations for solo bass. It's one of those recordings that's really sufficiently outside of my current purview that I find it tough to honestly evaluate. McGuire is clearly an accomplished player with strong technique. Most of the music is bowed, almost all of it in the instrument's lower registers which yields a dark, rich atmosphere here. His approach might be said to lie somewhere between the lyricism of a holland and the assault of a Guy; I actually found myself thinking of Joelle Leandre more often than anyone else. He's not nearly as frenetic or show-offy as Guy can be (a good thing) but at the same time, I found myself wishing he'd investigate more tonal--in a word, straighter--climes; I think the results would be quite rewarding. He veers close to that once or twice here ("Delicate Creatures I", for instance) and it's lovely, comparable to primo Holland. For me, it's a tough assignment to carry an album's worth of solo bass (or anything) these days if you're not dwelling in a more contemplative framework where the sounds are allowed time to live and breathe on their own rather than rapidly being shunted aside to let the next torrent through. Obviously, that's me. Fans of post-free jazz bass will find a good deal to enjoy here. Me, I'm curious to hear what McGuire would sound like with a partner or two, especially if those persons came from a different vantage. You can hear for yourself at the bandcamp site below.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Radio Cegeste - three inclements (Consumer Waste)

I've been wanting to hear more of Sally McIntyre's (Radio Cegeste) work since her collaboration with Lee Noyes a couple of years back and this one satisfies that desire quite well. Three pieces, each fairly short (total disc time less than a half hour)and concise. The titles make one curious about the contents. "a lagoon considered against its archival image", for instance, a series of statics amidst thunder and rain (one of the inclements), the former tearing jagged holes in the fabric of weather. Some faint beeps (shortwave? two sets of four tones, repeating) can be gleaned through the storm. A marvelous work. I get the sense of more radio involvement in "study for a lighthouse", a bristling sound essay full of both intense activity and plenty of air, the sonorities several plies deep, with a series of five, sharp, hard "taps" repeatedly establishing a harsh surface while hisses, gurgling and perhaps faint voices occupy strata beneath; entirely absorbing. In "1897 (song for Richard Henry), McIntyre unsheathes her "broken violin", wending it through wooly masses of static, birds and (there must be a better name for it) the "woo-woo" you get on shortwaves, normally a sound I'm not terribly fond of (too much baggage) but here, it just manages to fit in. The violin is dark and a bit mournful, evoking an off-tune sea shanty, perhaps, though that thought might be influenced by the preceding nautical imagery.

Fine, fine work.

Luciano Maggiore/Enrico Malatesta - talabalacco (Consumer Waste)

Recorded separately, using synths and objects (though the overall cast of the piece is percussive), recombined at a later date, with a very clean, clear sound and including a fair amount of silence. It's fine though I can't say it grabbed e especially. This practice is entering middle age, at least (I think my first file sharing exposure was Otomo and Carl Stone's "Amino Argot" back around the mid 90s) and I often to find it somewhat lacking barring an overarching, at least tenuously cohesive idea as was the case, for example, in MIMEO's "sight", at the behest of Keith Rowe. Any sounds can be molded after the fact, of course, and often, as here, the results are unobjectionable and even reasonably enjoyable on their own merits. That's one way to view them, to be sure, distancing oneself and regarding the activity in a Cagean way but after a while, I admit, this begins to be something of a chore. Not to particularly take this release to account, just mentioning the sort of thoughts that routinely pass through my noggin while listening. Things are kept on a generally low boil here, full of medium level knocks, taps, squeaks and scratches. The silences act to create a kind of episodic character but there's (intentionally, I assume) no discernible structural, much less narrative idea in play, just sequences of sounds, which is enough sometimes; other times, one hankers for a bit more.

Consumer Waste

Monday, August 11, 2014

Apologies for the even briefer than normal write-ups. I'll be away on vacation in the US as of August 15th, not back until September 4th and I have a heap o' stuff here, both physical and digital, wanted to get a batch done before I left.

The International Nothing - The Dark Side of Success (Ftarri)

"Berlin's finest in clarinet entertainment since 2000". :-)

The third release by this self-effacing duo (Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke on clarinets) is very much in line with the first two, both a good and, perhaps, a slightly troubling thing. Good in the sense that what they do is so luminous and beautiful, tracing delicate lines, often with closely adjacent tones creating a panoply of ghost tones and beats, all played with extreme subtlety and sensitivity, carving out a fine area of sweet/sour tonality; it's wonderful work. Troubling, maybe, in a kind of treading water sense. I find myself wanting to hear them more steadfastly confronting song forms, something they do in one track here, "Deepwater Horizon". There, a simple seesaw rhythm undergirds some gorgeous playing, ironically, opening up (for me) wider vistas in urgent need of exploration (!). The remainder of the recording is absolutely fine and should be heard both by fans and, as ever, curious listeners just getting into the genre. It's lovely music, greatly appreciated; I just want to hear them push things more.


Also available from Erst Dist

Paul Baran - The Other (Fang Bomb)

I think it's safe to say that within in this extremely wide-ranging recording, most everyone will find a few things they enjoy a lot as well as a few tracks they could easily do without, though those would doubtless vary a great deal from one person to another. Baran is well aware of the further reaches of experimental music but chooses to pepper "The Other" (assembled between 20101 and 2012 with the participation of, among others, Sebastian Lexer, Axel Dorner, Lucio Capece, Werner Dafeldecker and Sylvia Hallett, to mention only those with whom I'm familiar) with nods in various more popular directions including electro-funk. Sometimes the music recalls early Bryars (the strings on "Himmelstrasse"), though I often found myself thinking of the shifting electro-exotica of Simon Fisher Turner (this is, for me, a good thing). A young girl elucidates chess moves, Baran sings a couple of times (evoking Robert Wyatt once). The general atmosphere is one of flux, of shadow movement; I had no problem drifting along with it, enjoying the ride. Others may find this or that episode distracting, either an over-reliance on song or, on the other hand, if that catches their ears, too much disjointed abstraction. I liked the mix.

Fang Bomb

Neu Abdominaux Dangereux - Dangereuxorcisms (CKC)

I forget exactly how it happened, but somewhere around 1990, I picked up a disc by an outfit with an unlikely name (at that time, the first word was spelled, "Niu") and had a bit of a blast, eventually writing it up at All Music Guide. So, some 25 years later, the bastard child of Roberto Zorzi and Nicola C. Salerno is back...and it's still rollicking good fun. the cast consists of Zorzi (guitars), Scott Amendola (Drums, electronics), Giovani Albertini (guitar), Pino Dieni (archlute, daxophone, guitar), Henry Kaiser (guitars), Michael Manring (bass guitar), Enrico Merlin (guitar, banjo), Mauro Ottolini (trombone, sousaphone), Marco Pasetto (clarinets, alto sax), the ROVA Saxophone quartet and Garvey Salerno (bass guitar). There remains a bit of the collage aesthetic here, though subtle enough as when the theme from Ornette's "Peace" just pokes its nose out at the end of the first track (Coleman is more fully represented by a cover of "Feet Music" later, a banjo feature, naturally). Perhaps it's unfairly assigning a national flavor but I couldn't help hearing the spirit of (a jazz-funk-rockish) Nino Rota hovering over things; the Godfather theme is also referenced here. Highlights include a lovely take of Frith's "Water Under the Bridge" (originally written for ROVA, I believe), "Europa?" (Angela Merkel on vocals--someone should sign her) and Larry Ochs' "The Shopper" (which I think I remember from a shared LP with Braxton, "The Aggregate", on Sound Aspects). Oh, and they cover "Interstellar Overdrive" and, on a hidden track, perform a moving version from the main theme of Ornette's "Skies of America".

Good, clean, slick fun, lots of it.

their Facebook page

Virilio - Signature (Record Label Record Label)

Virilio is Corinna Triantafyllidis (tympani, tamtam, synth, drum machine, voice) and Dimitris Papadatos (electronics, guitar, turntables, synth, voice) and "Signature" arrives as a 45rpm, 12"slab of creamy white vinyl.

Side A is a dark, propulsive mixture of noise and blurred industrial rhythms--cavernous, echoing with siren-like wails, creating a very paranoiac feel. Very effective at conjuring up an oppressive swirling atmosphere, dense and resonant. Not really my personal cuppa, but well realized. Side B is more threatening still and is enhanced by a bed of rich consonance behind the skittering/gravelly surface. More pulse than rhythm, this track breathes much more convincingly, hovering with menace for several minutes before evaporating into whines and bell sounds; very nice. For fans of dark electronics.

Virilio's site

Friday, August 08, 2014

Catherine Lamb - in/gradient (Sacred Realism)

Lamb has become one of my favorite composers in the new music (are we using the term post-wandelweiser yet?) and this recording does nothing to deter me from that opinion; cements it pretty firmly, in fact.

"in/gradient" is performed here by the quartet of Andrew Lafkas (doublebass), Tucker Dulin (trombone), Jason Brogan (electric guitar) and Lamb (viola, filtered/formant oscillators), a single 55 minute work. While there's something of a steady-state character to the piece as a while, within, it makes extensive travels and creates a vague structure. Lamb has a professed fascination with just intonation, very much on display here. I've not seen the score but I'm guessing a good part of it involves an instrument's migration from one note to an adjacent one over a given period of time, dwelling on the microtones encountered during the passage. [Shortly after writing the preceding, I happened to have some communication with Lamb and she was kind enough to send me the score. Unsurprisingly, there is a helluva lot more to it than I imagined. It's quite dense, in fact, and among other things, the specific pitches involved are delineated in ratios, colors and cent values--if I'm reading it correctly, never a safe assumption--, quite specifically, although other aspects of the approach are up to the discretion of the musicians. In any case, there's a huge amount of things going on] With four instruments (plus oscillators) all capable of this kind of gliding (I get the impression Brogan is using an ebow or similar sliding apparatus) the overlay of these microtones is consistently amazing and beautiful. It begins on solid tonal ground, just trombone and bass, I think, before the former veers off slightly. There's a silence, the horn reiterates its direction, the others join in, almost hesitantly and the trek continues, pathways bifurcating. The sound is quit but full, the notes tending toward the lower ranges of the instruments. The lines shift in duration so that the overlapping is always in flux and the presence of this or that instrument shifts as well, one or another always emerging or submerging. It's difficult (for me) to describe further except to say that I found it entirely mesmerizing, leaving on play for more than a day, over and over, appreciating it on its own and how it colored and interacted with the environment; at one point, the Wednesday noontime sirens were heard and fit in gorgeously.

A fantastic piece of music, one of my favorite things for a long time.

Bryan Eubanks - Anamorphosis (Sacred Realism)

Three works by Eubanks bearing a certain amount of similarity to each other, each very concentrated and interesting.

"Double Portrait" consists of brief alternating patches (four to five seconds) of field recordings and sine tones/soprano saxophone. There are two of the former, each repeated through the piece's fifteen minutes, one including church bells (which, for me, impart a kind of ominous sensation), one with what sounds like horse hooves and traffic. Actually, the first repeats in whole, the latter seems to be an ongoing process, four seconds at a time. Interspersed with these are calm held tones that more or less occupy the same area throughout but with subtle pitch variations and differing strengths of the sines vs. the soprano. Irregularity within regularity, very rigorous, like a set of shutters opening and closing, some offering the same view, some with a slowly changing scene. Toward the end, the sections begin to overlap. Eubanks requests the listener do so with an open window, something I do fairly routinely anyway, and it works fine here, adding another layer of quasi-regularity.

"Spectral Pattern", for sine tone, tuned pulse, white noise and instruments (here, Johnny Chang and Cat Lamb on violas, Eubanks on soprano) lasts twice as long and begins in a similar structural territory, a steady, light pulse with the occasional (more widely spaced than above and longer) "window" during which the strings and horn play lines near enough in pitch to engender wonderful quavers. A bit over seven minutes in, the pitch of the instruments in a more plaintive direction and you begin to detect an additional, very faint sine tone alongside the pulse. Somewhere past the halfway point, a general hiss (the white noise) infiltrates things, blotting out the pulse, entirely "other", alien in a way. The noise feathers out, commanding more of the sound field, the instruments continuing as before but unable to enter into anything remotely suggesting a dialogue. Oddly disturbing, very effective.

The final work is "Enclosed Space Phenomena" for generative sine tone patterns and interior space. Immediately, we're in a different sound world, one filled with multiple ringing, swirling tones, crystalline but also liquid in nature, not loud but insistent (the piece was recorded in a cistern). The cycles gradually come into phase, reminding me of the glockenspiel patterns from Reich's "Drumming", though looser and not overtly rhythmic. It's actually tough to discount the mental image of a number of teensy percussionists at play here, going in and out of phase, shifting the attack and dynamics. One can only imagine being in situ for this event, but it's beguiling enough on disc. The cover image is a pretty good analog for this music. Played at sufficient volume, perhaps you can approximate the cistern effect at home.

Extremely rigorous and well-focussed, each piece is substantial and absorbing. An excellent recording.

Andrew Lafkas - 1 + 1 = year zero (water/moon) (Sacred Realism)

Sacred Realism pulls the hat trick, three for three in this new batch. I've been increasingly impressed with Lafkas' work these past few year and this one extends his streak. Scored for nine musicians (Jason Brogan, electric guitar; Adam Diller, bass clarinet; Tucker Dulin, trombone; Sean Meehan (rare sighting!), percussion; Ron Stabinsky, piano; Leif Sundstrom, percussion; Karen Waltuch, viola; Barry Weisblat (another rare sighting!), radio; Lafkas, bass), the nearly hourlong piece breathes and lives, the time passing with remarkable quickness. The work sprawls, very beautifully so, the sounds generally soft and low (though there is often a burred tone buried in the mix, imparting a needed roughness) but welling up at multiple points to brief crescendi, quite dramatic. Funnily enough, given my reference to Reich above, I sometimes had the faintest glimmer of the structure in "Music for Eighteen Musicians", those bass clarinet-led surges. Those crests surface through the great, dark masses every few minutes for much of the work, often heralded by clear, striking piano notes, becoming more frequent toward the closing minutes, eventually mixing in and forming a new kind of mass, just for a few moments. Lafkas, in his last several releases that I've heard, has a way of constructing these amorphous-seeming but very solid pieces that do indeed possess a strong sense of respiration. Not as overtly rigorous as Lamb or Eubanks in the above recordings, but more mammalian (!) and also with a faint trace of brooding Romanticism. Wonderful work, something I'd love to experience live.

Sacred Realism

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Angle - Premier Angle (Nueni)

Not your standard improv outing, no walk in the park. Angle consists of Jean-Philippe Gross and Jean-Luc Guionnet (each on electronics, I believe, Guionnet also wielding his alto) engage in rough play here, constructing entirely abrasive sounds and unpalatable blocks of noise, dismissing any notion of pleasantry. And it works quite well. When, early on, Guionnet's flat, harsh, affectless alto tone is welded to an even harsher, more brutal one, it bores a clean, smoking hole in your skull, not very nice. The relatively quiet section that starts shows a fine disregard for the normal way of things, sending through opaque electronic ropes and shimmers, nothing very appropriate, events carried along by force of conviction. It plunges into digital silence at the flick of a switch, emerges 15 or so seconds later in an entirely different space, hissing steam and irregularly pounding metals that resolve into a seesawing, low thrum through which a pitiful alto whines (I've no doubt intentional), very effective. A solo alto section, highly controlled yet disjointed, followed by a quiet sequence which stands out, oddly enough, in that it does in fact conform to some areas we've familiarized ourselves with in this genre over the years; strong on its own, interesting when placed in this set. Perhaps more surprising, we then hear Guionnet playing a very soft, simple "melody" over rumbling electronics, very attractive, I daresay, more so when the tone is splintered into delicate overtones, the electronics softly prodding (I'm thinking, due to the latter's exact overlapping, they might be generated here by Guionnet as well.). That's where it ends, having travelled from blunt and awkward to faux calm. A disturbing set, posing questions. Good stuff.


Seijiro Murayama/Éric La Casa - Paris: public spaces (ftarri)

La Casa writes, '"Paris as it is"in our daily life, with its ordinary but intimate moments captured in public spaces, with its delicate nuances of atmosphere.', and that's what we get, following he and Murayama into several neighborhoods (some within a stone's throw of my desk as I'm writing), observing closely and clearly, making the occasional interjection but withholding any judgment but the most general, that this "scene" portrays something real about this city. We hear, I assume, Murayama making some discreet mouth noises now and again (quite possibly more often than I realize) though he approximates some conceivable local fauna. More pervasively, we encounter people, bustling, traffic--nothing so unusual but caught with a lovely clarity, in a beautiful "light", if you will. Each track contains some small wonder; I got a special kick from the Murayama's humming along (or athwart) the marching band heard on Part 8. La Casa has shown a fantastic ear in prior releases and does it again, having far more in common, in effect if not in mode of construction, with Luc Ferrari than with standard field recordists. (I'm not certain how much of the recording part was done by Murayama--I may be shorting him on that front; both likely deserve equal credit).

Excellent work, don't let it slip through.


Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Michael Pisaro - black, white, red, green, blue (voyelles) (winds measure)

Just wanted to let folks know about this CD issue of items originally released on cassette in 2010. I wrote about the pieces then and am reprinting the brief entry (with minor editing) below. Suffice it to say that it holds up and then some, especially "voyelles" which is sublimely sink-into-able.

""black, white, red, green, blue" is performed solo by Chabala. It's an hour's worth of suspended, individual notes, of varied tone, length and texture, generally separated by five to ten seconds [it complexifies somewhat toward the end]. It's quite lovely and thoughtful, like all of Pisaro's work I've experienced, requiring fairly intense concentration and immersion to fully appreciate. His conception is amazing at suspending time and Chabala offers a very fine, sensitive reading.

For "voyelles", Pisaro took the same recording and infiltrated into it sounds sourced from sine tones and field recordings (possibly others). As good as the original piece is, "voyelles" really brings it into its own and makes it extraordinary. As with other works (like the great Transparent Cities set), Pisaro has an unerring ear with regard to precisely what sound will most strangely but somehow appropriately compliment a given instrumental tone. By adding a single layer, Pisaro multiplies the piece's depth many fold. A great, great work, one that unfurls differently on each hearing."

[been listening to "voyelles" all afternoon, here in August, 2014--immensely satisfying]

winds measure

Monday, August 04, 2014

Robert Curgenven - Sirène (Recorded Fields Editions)

I freely admit to being a sucker for certain micro-genres and contemporary, drone-based pipe organ is surely one. Despite that caveat, Curgenven's "Sirène" is a real treat. I'd previously heard and enjoyed a bit of his music on a winds measure release shared with Will Montgomery. For this LP offering, he uses unprocessed pipe organ (recorded in several different churches) augmented in parts by turntable and other sources.

Curgenven tends toward (more or less) traditional organ tones, that is, nothing too extreme in terms of airiness, extreme grinding or other extended techniques. But he arrays these tones wonderfully, layering contrasting lines, each of them pretty much tonal but, in combination, resulting in a fascinating chromaticism. The first track engages in this while also possessing a rising and falling swell, the elements shifting, cloudlike before evanescing into less linear, more amorphous shapes, cultivating a growing sizzle of alien sputters. These extraneous, though quite welcome, noises manifest clearly on the second track, "Cornubia". Ebhind an even more sonorous skein of organ tones, one hears first some vague shuffling and sliding, soon resolved into what sound like slaps on a hard, wet surface. The massed organs well mightily before, again, faltering as they splay outwards. Side B is taken up by "Turners Tempest + Imperial Horizon", a generally less tonal, reedier work. While building strength, it nonetheless flutters and shudders; what sounds like a blurred but enormous mass of hornets hovers over the affair for a while. The first half of the piece is like some mythic, shambling beast, falling, rising and continuing, beset by swarms of static. As before, however, matters are smoothed out somewhat, as though the creature emerged onto a flat landscape even if, as it progresses, irregularities become apparent among the shimmerings. Four minutes from the end there's a cessation. When sound reappears, it's distant, almost underwater. A foggy orchestra, lost in reverberation, brings things to a close.

A unique, superb recording. Don't let it pass you by.

Recorded Field Editions

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Seth Cooke - Sightseer (Organized Music from Thessaloniki)

It's easy, probably all too easy, to draw comparisons between field recordings and photography but I do like, in certain instances to think about snapshot photography, the work of people like Garry Winogrand and Todd Papageorge, when listening the work of people who consciously veer away from anything traditionally evocative and towards sound that, on the surface, seem to have been almost randomly chosen. In the same sense that simply by virtue of its components, a snapshot photo will contain vast amounts of information--audio, sociological, what have you--so might a "snapshot" field recording.

This may be piling too much weight on Cooke's offerings here: nine tracks on a 3" disc, but there's something about their "ordinariness" that summons these thoughts. The one-second wash of sound that constitutes "Traveller's Checks (sic)" could have come from almost anywhere; something equivalent to an accidental, blurred photo. The next track's 68 second have more a sense of place, however vague and activity, assuming the bowed shell of the title is the source of the keening sound we hear. We begin to parse out inevitable, even if "undesired" specialness, more so in the ensuing clicks, soft pings and mechanized voice nestled into the indistinct, sometimes aflutter ambiance of "Window Shopping". Cooke's titles seem to vacillate between the deadpan descriptive and the sardonic; one wants to hear the muffled, difficult-to-discern groans of "Weekend Soul Retrieval Workshop" as, well, a soul being retrieved. One listens more and more closely, determined to figure out these un-figure-outable snippets. The mini-epic, "Santa Barbara Christian Field Recording Association" manages to remain singularly opaque with reference to either title or source but is a hell of a lot of fun to wallow in. We tumble through the closely miked violence of "Self-Catering/Package tour", into the wind-scoured wasteland of "Hotel for November" and, finally, for another brief second, a glimpse of Hell in that FLAC we need to hear.

Fine work! A bracing tonic to the endless stream of birds, cars and water gurgles.

Grisha Shakhnes - distance and decay (Organized Music from Thessaloniki)

Shakhnes adds yet another volume to his impressive string of strong releases, retaining ties to past work on the one hand, moving into subtly different areas on the other.

The opening track, "so close to home" ism indeed, something like that, displaying the Shakhnes we've come to know and love; dark and grainy, rumbling with multiple layers of sound, as though subjected to a rough grind, through some processing mechanism that leaves copious lumps and irregularities. There's more going on at any given moment than you can hear, causing an odd experience on subsequent listens-- the "Hey, that wasn't there before!" response. Some sounds are looped, other not (or, at least, I don't think so; maybe lengthier loops). It churns, new elements swiftly incorporated in the grimy swirl. Ingredients dissipate, the mix turns dry and choppy, re-forms into a mass of what seems like engines or generators, with looped pops, imparting a somehow wet feel, sublimates and fades;classic, if you will, Shakhnes. "air" almost sounds as though recorded near the prow of an ice-breaker for the first few minutes but it soon degrades, quite beautifully, into a sequence of dronelike sounds including, I think, recordings of Mideastern music, bleeding through the stuttering taps and pervasive hiss. Possibly a distorted recording of a stringed instrument surfaces, disappears under shuffling and the frozen wastes return. It's a lovely, even moving work and a bit unexpected in parts but the next cut, "concrete" is even more so, beginning with a quasi-tonal hum, or layering of hums, a continuo that girds the piece throughout in one form or another, beneath whistling wind and undefinable rumbles. This creates a wonderful, kind of tidal swell beneath things and Shakhnes is quite careful choosing the textures of the sounds above to allow space to form between. The undertones disintegrate somewhat when we move into some large interior spaces, but there's always a lingering trace, subtly propelling one forward. "slow life" is a mini-maelstrom that I can't begin to parse. At a mere nine minutes, it's gone before I can grasp it but it's intensely tantalizing.

The Shakhnes odyssey continues, one excellent release after another. Get this.

Organized Music from Thessaloniki

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Scott Worthington - Even the Light Itself Falls (Populist Records)

A long (87-minute) piece for clarinet (Curt miller), percussion (Dustin Donahue) and double bass (Worthington)--collectively, the three comprise the trio, ensemble et cetera. My first impression, with the clarinet's avian, swirling trills, was of Messiaen filtered through Crumb (the percussion (celesta, I think, light gongs and cymbals, among others), with the bass lines supplying a kind of sostenuto effect while also singing back to the clarinet. But standing back, as one must do with a work this size, and taking into account the self-similar nature of the music (while the internals vary a good bit, it more or less stays in the same "field" throughout), I do get a little bit of a Feldman feel. About a half-hour in, there's a slight shift to territory a bit more sparse as though the bird in question wandered into a drier garden, but the essential character continues. In his notes, Worthington writes about the work's repetitive nature, though using waves or mountain views as a metaphor. I hear it more in the sense of "repetitive" sounds in a natural environment (like birdsong), lines that exist in a narrow spectrum, perhaps, but contain much variety and beauty and, of course, are a fine source for contemplation. A bit after 50 minutes, a celesta figure enters that's quite different from anything that preceded, more explicitly rhythmic and iterative; it only lasts a handful of seconds but leaves faint traces in what ensues, again recalling work like "Crippled Symmetries". I don't mean to belabor the comparisons as I think there's much going on here that's pretty unique to Worthington. It's a lovely recording; I'm very glad to have heard it and look forward to more.

Gnarwhallaby - [exhibit a] (Populist Records)

[If I may pause for an observation--young, contemporary chamber ensembles have developed an odd tradition of possessing seriously annoying whimsical names but, perhaps unfairly, this tendency seems to be worse on the West Coast. "et cetera", above is somewhat innocuous, "Gnarwhallaby" pretty bad but "wild Up", below...erm....ok, old guy rant over, back to the music]

Gnarwhallaby is comprised of Matt Barbier (trombones), Richard Valitutto (keyboards), Derek Stein (cello) and Brian Walsh (clarinets). "[exhibit a]" collects works by eight composers (including, interestingly, two who are better known--at least by me--as instrumentalists). There's an immediate item of fascination, two performances of which bracket the selections: Morton Feldman's little known "Half a minute it's all I've time for" (1972) which as near as I can tell, has never been recorded. It's like a tiny sliver plucked from a larger composition, four beautiful crumbs, isolated and lovingly rendered; the renditions have fine and subtle distinctions. Edison Denisov (1929-1996) is represented by "D-S'C'H", which begins colorful and spiky in true mid-century, modernist fashion, but mutates into a lovely dirge, the piano still poking holes in the dark fabric. We next encounter the first of five brief works ("Fluffs") by Nicholas Deyoe, a Southern Cal composer. Four of them clock in at between 19 and 35 seconds and are little more than amuses oreilles, tough to say much except two are delicate and soft, two growlingly aggressive, but the last, at 2:40 opens a window onto a very attractive, muted sound world, rather mysterious and implying a vaster space, something I'd like to hear more fully investigated.

I only knew Mark Sabat as half of the Sabat/Clarke duo, mainly for their recordings of Feldman. Gnarwhallaby performs his "Modernes Kaufhaus", in three short movements, the first a humorous tiptoeing through sour but tonal patches, the second more of a slightly drunken stumble (in a good way) through similar territory and finally, a surprisingly strident quasi-anthem, tick-tock rhythm supporting broad unison lines that seem to vaguely reference Eastern European tonalities. My personal seemingly constant exposure to 20th century Polish composers over the past few years continues with "Pour Quatre" by Włodzimierz Kotoński (b. 1925), a six-minute essay that seems to crete its form as it moves along, nodding to Penderecki now and then (perhaps the nod was returned?), taking some fine enjoyment from low, twining, sinuous tones; solid piece. Speaking of hitherto-unknown-to-me Polish composers, here's Zygmunt Krause (b. 1938) and his "Polychromie", a soft, subtly shifting piece, smoky and reticent, again quite attractive, a taste leaving me with the strong desire to hear more from this fellow.

The other composer I previously new only from his instrumental work is Steffan Schleiermacher. His "Stau" is possibly not something you'd expect if you knew only his Cage and Feldman interpretations, the music containing harsh, declamatory lines and regular rhythmic ticks before mutating in a kind of Louis Andriessen direction. I wasn't convinced but can imagine many folks getting a kick from it. Finally, Henryk Górecki's "Muzyczka IV (Konzert Puzonowy)" in two parts, the first a rollicking and riotous affair, the quartet sounding at least twice its size, the trombone riding, bellowing atop a deep, surge, the second a somber, reflective near-dirge, grainy and rich, ending in haunting, suspended piano chords.

Interesting choice of repertoire, strong readings--a fine recording.

wild Up - Feather & Stone (Populist Records)

A very large ensemble (including the members of gnarwhallaby) playing an eclectic program of flight-related material.

Christopher Rountree's "Stand Still Like the Hummingbird" gives a kind of misleading indication of the disc's music, a bluesy jazz piece, not entirely convincing (think grand scale Either/Orchestra) that morphs into Gershwinesque pop classicism, a John Adams-y section and, eventually, Parker's "Ornithology". Nicholas Deyoe reappears with "A New Anxiety", a raucous affair with jazz affinities but in the Mantler/JCOA lineage before surprisingly, veering into grimy, drone-y electronics and more of a dark improv area filled with string harmonics; interesting piece. Messiaen's "Oiseaux Exotiques" is given a light, colorful reading, featuring good work from pianist Valitutto; a nice inclusion here. This leads top the first of two compositions by Archie Carey, "Mothlight", beginning with lush, sliding strings which dissolve into woodwind breaths and soft knocks before the strings reform; a sweet, brief piece. Odeya Nini's "Dante Quartet" is quiet and winning, gentle rustles and vibrations leading to a lovely, pastoral theme from winds and piano, unexpected and delightful though interrupted by short flurries of percussion that keep things grounded. We then range from abrasive electronics through varying prisms of rockish abstraction and massed brass in Andrew Tholl's "Still Not a Place to Build Monuments or Cathedrals", the whole sounding a bit constipated in a Michael Gordon sort of way, the music just begging for some real, unshackled abandon. The title of Chris Kallmyer's work, "This Nest, Swift Passerine" intrigued me (such a good word, passerine) and its onset entranced--bird sounds and a low string line that slowly blossoms into a cloudy field, gently meandering, picking up melodic fragments here and there, discarding them, climbing a small rise, enjoying the view; really a fine sweet/sour work that breathes quite convincingly. Carey returns to wrap things up with "Bird of Paradise in Paradise", commencing with a Mingus reference, sliding into long respirations, almost meditative, an odd melange that doesn't quite gel for me.

A mixed bag, then, containing a couple of jewels.

Populist Records

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