Monday, October 22, 2018

Thrainn Hjalmarsson - Influence  of Buildings on Musical Tone (Carrier)

A very exciting release from a composer new to me, Thrainn Hjalmarsson, from Iceland. Five  pieces for varying  ensembles (and solo), all rather complex and  tough to describe. The title piece, performed by the Caput Ensemble (violin, viola, cello, bass, two percussion) skitters and dances in a light but gritty manner, pausing some fairly intense activity for soft, grainy, whistling observations by the strings, punctuated by breathy exhalations--eerie and precisely limned. 'Grisaille' finds the Icelandic Flute Ensemble (a dozen of them) navigating through a slowly swirling, misty world, the flutes creating gorgeous, otherworldly harmonies, breathed in and out in (very) rough unison, gradually splitting into higher and lower sections, gently seesawing. True to its title (a painting in gray tones), it remains in a single area and explores it wonderfully, a compelling work. Violist Krista Thora Haraldsdóttir is the solo performer on 'Persona', all ultra-high whispers, indeed often sounding  flutelike. Careful and delicate, but sinewy. Ensemble Adpater, a quartet with flute, clarinet, harp and percussion, lopes and hops through 'Mise en Scène', valves softly popping, pausing for a quiet, long flute tone, percolating along again, encountering blurry clusters of backward-sounding phrases.  Again, mysterious and very enticing, evoking image after image. Finally, my personal favorite, 'Lucid/Opaque', played by Nordic Affect, a violin/viola/cello trio. In and out breath is once more the structure, a three pulse phrase, very simple (but massive complex within the chords), low-high-low, iterated over and over with small shifts in individual duration, tone and attack throughout and occasionally punctuated by brief puffs. A sleeping dragon? Hjalmarsson again stays within a narrow territory but augments it and works it to a marvelous degree, every addition or new angle perfectly apt. It's an immensely moving piece. 

I'm very happy to have heard this, recommend it highly and can't wait to hear more (curious about the Carrier label as a whole, as well)

Jérôme Noetinger/Robert Piotrowicz/Anna Zaradny - CRACKFINDER (Musica Genera)

An LP issue by this powerful trio. As one might expect, rich, harsh electronics are the order of the day but very finely focussed, like some otherworldly, arcane machine. More swirling than harsh, betted by the unexpected wielding of an alto saxophone by Zaradny amidst the dense electronics. A good deal of structure underlying the chaos, with a fine break several minutes from the end of Side One ('The One Who Searches for Cracks') that leads to a thrilling conclusion. The other side, 'Universal Atlas of Evidence' uses a bending, elastic substrate to support more alto excursions and dozens of other bits and pieces besides. It's a bit more "spacey", perhaps a little less visceral than the previous track, but rewarding. It, too, has a pause some four minutes from its conclusion, whereupon it veers into darker, more anxious and warped territory. Good work from all involved.

Musica Genera

Espen Lund - Blow.Amplifier (no label)

Three excursions (available for download purchase) from Norwegian trumpeter Lund. When the title track begins, we're in reasonably familiar territory, Lund ably playing in the manner of any number of post-Bowie trumpeters. But soon there's a heavy flurry of electronics, aggressive and semi-droney, Lund seemingly triggering some sounds, playing through others, those waves changing character to clanging reverberations. It splinters out from there, becoming denser and more propulsive, the "normal" trumpet seeking to be heard through the walls of noise. Well done. 'White Mass' is a small, involuted knot of gurgling noise, a strong balance of cohesion and random strands, growing quite harsh toward the end. 'The Great Equalizer' begins with jagged echoes before lurching into what an innocent listener might guess is a fuzz-laden, slow guitar intro to a death metal dirge ("noise" on this track is supplied by Bjørn Ognøy). The overt rockish references I could likely do without but Lund handles them quite well, spreading the sound like dark paste over almost 15 minutes, grinding to a fairly spectacular conclusion. Good, exploratory work.

Lund's bandcamp site

Kaori Suzuki  - Conduit (Second Editions)

The single 26 1/2 minute piece begins with high-pitched, iterative electronics, kind of related to the sort of sounds you might hear, or imagine hearing, when two communications systems are interacting, except multiply layered. Alien and a bit disorienting. There's a pulse but the patterns seem ever so slightly staggered, gradually overlapping and muddying the rhythm. Sometimes the music reminded me of Terry Riley's 'In C', for a severely limited range of instruments (Reich's glockenspiels come to mind as well). A very low, very quiet and subtly quavering hum emerges as the primary tones continue to, very slowly, blur and mingle, but then recedes. The elements coalesce into a smooth but fluctuating hum, then cease. A fine, concise, no-nonsense piece of work.

Second Editions

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Tonus - Intermediate Obscurities I +  IV (A New Wave in Jazz)

Tonus - Texture Point (A New Wave in Jazz)

Tonus - Cagean Morphology (A New Wave in Jazz)

Ok, the label name is unfortunate. The three items above are the first I've heard from this imprint and, as it happens, the music has little to do with jazz, though I take it from looking through the label's catalog that prior releases do.

Tonus seems to be a project of guitarist Dirk Serries, the personnel varying from album to album, in these cases from duo to trio to two sets of sextets. 'Intermediate Obscurities I + IV' is a two-disc release, performed by those sextets. On 'I', listed as being "based on a leitmotif by Martina Verhoeven', the ensemble has a superficial jazz-like aspect: Jan Daelman, flute; George Hadow, drums; Serries, acoustic guitar; Verhoeven, piano; Nils Vermeulen, double bass; Colin Webster, alto saxophone. If I were searching for any quasi jazz-related music to compare with this 58-minute work, recorded live, maybe I'd go with some of the sparer Roscoe Mitchell. Carefully composed, softly played longish lines overlap in ever-changing patterns, the tones ranging from clear to harmonics-laden (especially the arco bass, sometimes the alto). The flute and alto tend toward the higher registers, never harsh, the percussion arhythmic and sparsely colorful, the piano and guitar injecting slightly acidic chords as needed. The basic character and approach is maintained throughout but the interior details are constantly shifting. It only moves internally, but that movement and the choices made are engrossing.

'IV', a graphic score by Serries, utilizes an ensemble with Cath Roberts, baritone saxophone; Serries, Acoustic guitar; Benedict Taylor, viola; Tom Ward, bass clarinet; Webster, alto saxophone; and Otto Willberg, double bass. There are certain similarities with the previous work: a single piece, here about 45-minutes long, remaining in more or less the same territory for its duration, the instruments playing longish, overlapping tones. But, perhaps via the instrumentation, it's pitched lower, darker and, to no small degree, more sumptuously. When the baritone, alto (played low) and bass clarinet combine in complex harmonies, the effect is quite luxurious. There are also occasions where the intensity level surges, though not for long. Some listeners might consider the two pieces overly akin. I don't have that problem at all and hear them as related, but entirely distinct and very absorbing entities.

'Texture Point' presents four tracks, performed by Serries (acoustic guitar), Verhoeven  (piano) and Taylor (viola). There's no indication of compositional credit given here, so I'm guessing the pieces are improvised (Guy Peters, in his liner notes--he also wrote them for the other two releases--is a little defensive here, as though writing for listeners unused to this atmosphere), though the three "textural" pieces are indeed that while the single pointillistic one lives up to its title. 'Texture I' offsets deep notes from the piano, lending the music a darkly romantic, even gothic aura, with mid-range, rich plucks from the guitar, both sliding alongside rougher scratching, bowing and rubbing from the viola. 'Textures  II' is more vibrant, the piano crystalline, though the viola is more somber, with low, wailing laments. The pointedness of "Point A" resides in the piano and, especially, the guitar--the viola casting skittering harmonics that swirl around the two more stationary sound emitters, the music growing harsher as it progresses. Finally, 'Texture III', returns to the rich bleakness, both the guitar and piano plucking dry tones against sustained, darkly questioning, isolated piano tones. A very impressive recording.

The third release, 'Cagean  Morphology', is a duo with Serries and Verhoeven, a single 34-minute piece. Again improvised, this is easily the sparest of the three offerings, the single, ringing tones of the instruments allowed to hang and decay, leaving much silence. One picks up the likely influence of the Wandelweiser school here. As with the previous works, the music remains consistently within one "space" throughout and, again, manages to offer patterns, exceedingly slow as they are, that subtly vary, more than maintaining the listener's interest. Toward the end, the piano hits several high, brilliant notes while the guitar answers with more hesitant, wavering ones--very lovely. 

All three recordings carry a fine quality of perseverance, of sustaining an idea over a long time, closely investigating aspects encountered, a favorite approach of mine. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Yiorgis Sakellariou - in Aulis (Unfathomless)

Mathieu Ruhlmann/Joda Clément - Sound Diary of Quiet Pedestrians (Unfathomless)

Jeph Jerman - Imbrication (Unfathomless)

Since 2009, Daniel Crokaert's Unfathomless label has been releasing music that, by and large, revolves around the nexus of field recordings and electronics. In one sense, you're pretty sure of the general area to be explored when first slipping a new disc into the player. In another, he and the musicians tend to do an excellent job of exploring the vast amount of potential variation within such apparently restricted environs.

Yiorgis Sakellariou brought Aeolian harps to the site of the Greek temple of Artemis in Aulis, Greece, recording (and, I assume post-producing) their interaction with the wind, in the process picking up other ancillary sounds. That contrast, between the wooly, whistling, windborne atmospherics and the rougher (though always blurred) booms and bangs, forms the basic structure of the 43-minute piece. But there's much more, many shifts in focus and mood, from quiet contemplation replete with crickets to dully roaring, grinding, somewhat threatening cycles ending with a sharp crash of glass. Subsidence, resurgence in different guise; there's a wavelike effect throughout, relatively clear or detritus-filled, a fine combination of the natural and manmade. A very well thought-out effort, overall.

Canadians Ruhlmann and Clément constructed the four pieces that comprise their "diary" in Vancouver. A photo in the accompanying sleeve shows the pair on a beach, but there's something vaguely industrial about the sound-world created here, a hint of ozone in the air. At the beginning of 'Crook of Land', deep thrums are offset by a distant buoy (?), steamy hisses and bell after-tones. 'Gore and Hastings', the longest track, is very expansive, unfurling in a multilayered array of burred, marbled sounds before migrating to harsher tones that recall bowed cymbals, then sputtering, returning to a harborlike area with softly booming foghorns and urban hums. The anxiety level ratchets up a bit on 'Point-No-Point', with higher pitched, keening whines set against (again, faraway) machinery clanks and groans; a very strong track. The  disturbingly titled, 'Middle Arm' extends this mood, a kind of inky, billowing darkness emerging, swallowing the bay. Excellent work, fine soundcraft.

I think I've only heard one thing from Jerman in the last few years ('Matterings', his collaboration with Tim Barnes on Erstwhile) and prior to that, nothing since around 2010, though I have plenty from the oughts. Even so, 'Imbrications' (yes, I had to look it up: the overlapping of edges, as in tiles or scales) fits in very well with my previous Jerman-ic listening. Recorded at various sites that seem to cluster around the American West, it begins with a long section of dry objects rubbed, rustled and otherwise gently assaulted. As ever, Jerman possesses an uncanny sensitivity and sensibility in his choice of objects, touch and sound placement, something very "natural" but also quick and unhesitant. An interlude of booming noises, sounding as though he's smacking the edge of his fist against an empty oil drum briefly shifts the focus, before the raspy shaking and rattling resumes. There seem to be machines or rotating devices in play, recalling the shaking tables used in his fantastic 'Lithiary' (Fargone, 2005) and the work closes with echoes of that, what sounds like marbles being rolled around the top of a rough, circular surface. Jerman is wonderful at extracting a nearly infinite amount of sounds and layers from the most basic of substances. He does so once again, here.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Lucio Capece/Marc Baron - My Trust In You (Erstwhile)

This is the first appearance of either musician on the Erstwhile label, and, at least as far as this listener is concerned, the results are a little surprising (and excellent). I'd admit that in Baron's case, "surprise" shouldn't really be an option as the relatively small number of prior releases under his name certainly gave one little reason to expect this or that general approach--they varied quite widely. Capece's sets, in recent years at least, on record and in concert (I've been fortunate to witness events of his in both Paris and Sokołowsko, Poland) have often (not always) been very quiet affairs, both in acoustic contexts (on bass clarinet and other reeds) and with regard to his floating speaker installations. So there were at least a couple of aspects of 'My Trust In You' that were a little surprising: one is the relatively aggressive nature of many of the constructions and, secondly, how often (if subtly) drones or pulses were present.

Seven tracks, Baron credited with tapes, field recordings and various analog devices while Capece wields a vast array: bass clarinet, slide saxophone, analog synth and filter, drum machines, double looper, equalizers in feedback, regular and telephone field recordings, mini speakers in movement, the latter I take to be his airborne mini-speakers. It begins abruptly with stark vividness ('Believe in Brutus'; the recording is replete with odd track titles), recalling 60s-70s tape collage music, but with massive depth and shifts of focus, from distorted radio transmissions to mumbled (looped) verbiage to colorful swatches of synthetic tone. It's dizzying, very in-your-face like a slap, bracing. With 'Black soils - museum without statues', we seem to enter a Lambkinesque world, murky, with iterated, cyclic sounds (noise), slurred words. Midway through, beneath thin cymbals, a grimy drone emerges briefly, is swallowed by electronic flutters,  dissipating into a raft of clicks and clatters--then chaos ensues with much louder cymbals, backward tape, loud yet distortedly muted chimes and more. Very complex, extremely immersive. But things shift to a rather more approachable form in the following cut, 'Self-centered interpretation of', where we enter a relatively calm but still simmering soundscape that sounds like something Fennesz might have come up with had he stayed on track--sandy drones, multiply-layered horns--while the ensuing piece rotates around an intense, mechanical rhythm (or two superimposed), before splintering into a public space with footsteps and hazy voices. Different rhythms appear, rapid and flickering, with high-pitched squeals. Given the presence of elements such as the pulses and extended tones, the works are reasonably approachable; probably one of the better recent Erstwhiles to proffer to someone interested in dipping his/her toe into the general vicinity. The remaining tracks branch out further, though really always maintaining more than enough fabric to pull the listener along, to sustain a thick undergirding of sound--no silences to be found here, just surge (nonstop in 'Snowblind', until an odd, loopy gunshot-laden conclusion).

A wild ride, not what I expected but eminently worthwhile, a very fine addition to the catalogs of both Capece and Baron. Hop in.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Matthew Revert/Vanessa Rossetto  - everyone needs a plan (Erstwhile)

Even without the Wynken, Blynken and Nod imagery that graces the cover and the other five panels of the CD package, any listener would be struck by the dreamlike nature of this release, though not so much in structural sense. The single track, running some 75 minutes, is a kind of steady-state construction in that its overall aspect is roughly the same throughout even as the interior details bristle and mutate. It's like a large, think slab of material, the outline defined, the stuff of it chaotic, oneiric.

There are several constants: the voices of Revert and Rossetto primarily. They're never conversing as such (natural enough given their half-world spatial separation in real life, although the illustration on the disc itself implies ears connected by wires), more like words and phrases passing each other in the ether. Sometimes, it sounds like they're reading, other times perhaps one side of a phone conversation, first separated, eventually overlaid into an all but incomprehensible density, isolated words emerging from the crowded eddy of sound. If there's any slight reference one might have to previous sound-work, it could be Robert Ashley's great 'Automatic Writing', but pretty much only in the sense of (sometimes) indistinct language embedded in a larger flux. There's also, often, a kind of electric guitar tone, fairly consonant, that weaves in and out, providing a fluid kind of spine. As dense as it becomes, the sound-world is never particularly harsh, never thin or attenuated, always thick and rich, a sweet stew. Crucially, it's never overcrowded; there's a great deal going on but the sense of depth imparted allows the events to be heard as receding from one's immediate plane, occupying  space at some distance from the listener.

How else to describe this? The music very slowly intensifies as it flows along, the words and phrases are both personal and serious; Rossetto, for instance, talking about recent writing, laughing self-consciously, saying, "I try to tell  you everything", "I've had things happen to me", etc. But these are all just elements of an overall stream. It's like trying to describe a swirl of cream in a cup of coffee. At the end, multiple voices entwine around themselves, unaccompanied, finally thanking each other.

An exceptional, deep, unusual and wonderful recording.


Friday, September 21, 2018

Some capsule reviews of items that have arrive via download in recent weeks. Apologies for the brevity, but I just don't have time to get to them all in detail. Sorry!

Michael Lightborne - Sounds of the Projection Box (Gruenrekorder)

A sonic documentation of the history of the film projector (movie house version), from spool to digital. The recordings seem to be presented as is, with little or no obvious enhancement. The sounds, unsurprisingly, are cyclic near the beginning, less so as time moves on but also include the actions (and noises) made by the projectionist moving about, manipulating parts of the machine, etc., which sounds are perhaps even more intriguing than the mechanical ones. Sometimes you hear what's being shown in the theater, also fun. The last two tracks (this is a vinyl release, btw) form a small drama: 'Tower (death rattle)' (like the title implies) and 'Digital Light', spinning off into the hums and drones of the new age. Enjoyable work, especially for those interested in localized field recordings.

Gregory Büttner - Voll.Halb.Langsam.Halt (Gruenrekorder)

Contact mic recordings sourced from a 1930s steamboat that had been used as an ice-breaker, on which Büttner voyaged in 2010. Much of the ship was metal and contained a vast array of sound possibilities and excellent resonance. Büttner has assembled a load of recordings, not altering them in any manner apart from cutting and reconfiguring, presenting a 35-minute sequence of sounds that, while often iterative in an engine/machine sense, strike me as generally remote from water, an interesting isolation and encapsulation of internal noises and environments. Those repetitive sounds, which layer and agglomerate in the work's end phase, can be quite hypnotic and rhythmically fascinating. As one who has spent time on ferries, ear pressed to engine housings, I enjoyed this quite a bit.

Eisuke Yanagisawa - Path of the Wind (Gruenrekorder)

Yanagisawa crafted a homemade Aeolian harp, then took it to various locations where it interacted with the environment, natural and manmade. The harp created the eerie, quavering tones that these instruments tend to do and both blends in and offsets the surrounding sound-world very effectively, whether that world is made up of low horns of passing ferries, waves and seagull cries, drilling from a local mine or much subtler contributions. The minute fluctuations in the character of the harp are quite intriguing as are the various environs and the interpenetration of the two. Yanagisawa evinces great sensitivity in his choices. While perhaps more over than, say, Toshiya Tsunoda's recordings, fans of his work will find much to enjoy here,


Jason Kahn - Circle (Editions)

Kahn previously released an album with the same title (Celadon, 2009). Not only is this quite different from that one, it's (as near a I can determine), very different from anything else he's put out. I should qualify that as Kahn has issued a large amount of material and, though I've heard a great deal of it over the years, I'm not a completist but we'll just say that, on the surface, we're a long way from the rotating metals, etc. from the past. Here it's just guitar and voice and, on first blush, a slightly more subdued Keiji Haino comes to mind. The guitar work is a kind of abstracted blues form (it was Kahn's first instrument), played in very much his own style though perhaps guitarists from Fahey to Tetuzi Akiyama might drift into the listener's mind, while the voice ranges from strangulated cries, to soft moans to evocations of Robbie Basho.  Whether the works, reasonably similar, quite justify the hour of the disc is open to question, but I largely enjoyed it and appreciate Kahn's willingness to venture out on this particular limb. Curious to see how long-time listeners deal with it.


Ilia Belorukov/Miguel A. Garcia/Alfredo Costa Monteiro - Etwas (Tanuki)

A cassette release from Belorukov (Electronics & fluteophone), Garcia and Costa Monteiro (both electronics). Hard say why but for me, the music never rises out of the ordinary (and I say that having greatly enjoyed work from all three musicians involved over many years). Long quiet tones, ghostly and industrial, like sounds one might hear at a power plant late at night. Sometimes they morph into distant, ghostly sirens. All well and good, ok enough to listen to but, more or less, nothing that hasn't been heard before and, really,  quite a while before. It's almost retro after a fashion, perhaps a revisiting of similar constructs from the early oughts. An upward surge in volume and texture flowing atop the previous whines appears about halfway through the second side, contributing a welcome change of atmosphere.  Took a while to get there, but it arrived.

You can judge for yourself at Tanuki

Crackfinder  - Crackfinder (Musica Genera)

Crackfinder (not sure if it's just the LP release name  or also that of the trio) is Jérôme Noetinger (electronics, tape), Anna Zaradny (electronics saxophone) and Robert Piotrowicz (electronics, synthesizer). My experience with Noetinger's music in recent years, as well as to a lesser extent that of Zaradny and Piotrowicz, led me to expect something  along the lines of an extension of the "classic" electronic work pioneered by musicians who worked with INA GRM, not necessarily a genre of which I was overly fond. Indeed, 'Crackfinder' begins vaguely in that neck of the woods, though denser, extremely so, with Zaradny's saxophone (clicks and moans) prominent amidst thick, ropey swirls of electronics. This was bracing enough, but then Side 1, 'The One Who Searches for Cracks', launches into even further reaches towards its conclusion, touching on kind of a hyper Glass-circa-Einstein explosion (but better)--pretty great stuff. Side 2, 'Universe Atlas of Evidence', gathers up the debris and proceeds, wending a more slippery path, oozing its way, acquiring detritus as it goes--less spectacular than the flip side, but as impressive. Really strong work, highly recommended.

Musica Genera

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Linda Catlin Smith  - Wanderer (Another Timbre)

This is the third release of Linda Catlin Smith's music on Another Timbre, preceded by two wonderful recordings, 'Dirt Road' (2016) and 'Drifter' (2017). On 'Wanderer', yet another very fine entry into both her and the label's catalogue, we're presented with eight compositions, written from 1990 to 2010, and performed by Apartment House in various configurations ranging from solo to septet plus conductor.

While serenity and a sense of the rural (not necessarily pastoral) pervades Smith's work, the pieces here might not be as immediately ingratiating as those from the prior two albums which, as much as I enjoy those, might be a good thing, evincing an even greater range than I knew (my failing, no doubt). 'Morning Glory' begins with lovely, soft piano arpeggios (Philip Thomas), soon echoed by vibraphone (Simon Limbrick) but when the strings and reeds emerge (Mira Benjamin, violin; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello; Heather Roche, clarinet; Nancy Ruffer, flute; all conducted by Jack Sheen), a certain level of astringency is introduced, a chill breeze. As the piece progresses, it remains unsettling, balancing soothing lines with darker bumps and squiggles, ending in a somber, lushly umbral sequence. Thomas is heard solo on 'Music for John Cage', the earliest-written and shortest track, which begins as a kind of slowed-down processional, steady and light-filled, but ends with unanswered questions. A septet plus conductor (Chloe Abbott, trumpet; Benjamin; George Barton, percussion; Limbrick; James Opstad, double bass; Roche, Thomas and Sheen) tackle 'Stare at the River', the waterway hazy with fog. Long lines from bass and trumpet are offset with delicate cymbals, briefly tinging the piece with a jazz-like aura, perhaps enhanced by the clarinet. This segues into an almost hymn-like sequence atop which the piano plays spare but sparkling chords before eerily fading back into the haze. 'Knotted Silk', played by the same septet, is spikier, with sharp percussive strokes over strings and muted trumpet, burrs in a meadow.

'Sarabande' is a sextet with Benjamin, Limbrick, Lukoszevieze, Roche, Ruffer and Thomas (here on  harpsichord). A wafting, dreamy layer of reeds and strings is pricked by the keyboard, like a meandering yet stately dance that now and then slips into unison. Thomas is joined by pianist Philip Knoop for 'Velvet', another dark, probing work, initially recalling Satie from his Rosicrucian period, then floating skyward with a series of ethereal arpeggios, eventually settling gracefully and comfortably to ground--a wonderful piece. The title work, for a quintet of violin, percussion, cello, clarinet and piano also navigates an uncertain terrain, the piano stepping carefully through a skein of quavering lines, tiny bursts of cymbals and deep, soft drums. Finally, there's 'Light and Water', an enchanting vibraphone/cello duet, not negating the preceding uncertainties entirely, but offering some amount of solace, the lowed, bowed cello tones laying to bed the clear, steady vibes before raising their own questions.

A captivating set of very thoughtful compositions, rigorously and empathetically performed by members of Apartment House.

Another Timbre

Monday, September 17, 2018

Lance Austin Olsen - Dark Heart (Another Timbre)

Olsen was originally a visual artist and has continued to produce a vast amount of paintings and drawings, some of which have adorned the covers of other Another Timbre releases (it's well worth reading the excellent interview with him at the Another Timbre site for a career overview). So it's not surprising that three of the four works presented here derive from graphic scores, one by Olsen (heard in two realizations) and one by Venezuelan musician Gil Sansón.

'Theseus' Breath' is the piece heard twice, both times by a quartet, each almost ten minutes in duration. The first, interpreted by four members of Apartment House (Mira Benjamin, violin; John Lely, electronics; Simon Limbrick, percussion; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello), is a rough and stormy affair, the strings grating and grumbling, the percussion wooden and clattery, the electronics burbling with a menacing air. One envisions a minotaur lurking on the other side of the maze wall. The range of colors  and tones evoked by the quartet are a fine analogue for those seen in Olsen's visual art, for instance that seen on the cover (although an interior image shares the title--perhaps it's the score?). The second version, quite different, is realized by Ryoko Ajama (turntable, melodica), Patrick Farmer (paper, card), Isaiah Ceccarelli (reed organ, percussion) and Katelyn Clark (organetto). While still creating an unsettling aura, there are more held tones via the organs and melodica. This yields an open, if foggy, environment populated by odd chirps, whistles and skittering sounds, that slowly evaporates; very lovely and mysterious, especially the last several minutes.

The source material for the title track derived from recordings sent to Olsen by Norwegian guitarist Terje Paulsen, consisting of both guitar shards and field recordings. Olsen began working with the material in 2013, let it be for a few years, then picked it up again in 2016 to rework it, by that time no longer able to always distinguish between Paulsen's original contributions and his own. The quality of the guitar sounds--liquid, bulbous, globular--makes for a unique element in Olsen's sound world. There's an interesting break after about five minutes at which point one may have been satisfied. When the sounds return, however, we hear piece of old radio theater: Dragnet, if I'm not mistaken. These disembodied voices weave their way through a morass of whines, echoing clangs, deep guitar scratchings, etc. For all the variety of landscape, it strikes me as somewhat steady state, a dark vision of an endless alley. I'm not sure it quite holds together for its length (32 minutes), but it's an gripping enough ride.

A Meditation on the History of Painting' is another story. Along with another work from this Canadian Composers series, Cassandra Miller's 'Duet for Cello and Orchestra', it's one of the single most impressive and absorbing pieces of music I've heard in years. Gil Sansón's graphic score begins with some very loose directions, for instance, "Some sounds can be related to painting, or not" and "Gestures can be smears or can be calligraphic". The images on the 12-page score are a complex sequence of clipped texts (including numerous cash register receipts, laid horizontally, puzzle pieces and, most prominently, smears of paint, from streaked and, frankly, fecal looking to saturated swathes of color):

Olsen, wielding field recordings, amplified copper plate and engraving tools, amplified iron park bench, found recording (wax cylinder), guitar and voice, traces his way through, beginning with exterior sounds, cars and trucks on a wet road, maybe, some chimes, wooden clatter as from a balafon, the noises welling into a large wave, fading after some six minutes and shifting into another world. Here, velvety ringing tones circulate dreamily, their wafting overlaid by what sounds like a sharp instrument tearing through cardboard--it's an intensely sensual juxtaposition, just fantastic. A men's choir emerges (the wax cylinder, I take it), subaqueous and quavering. The scene shifts again, guitar plucking amidst hums and harsher buzzes, sparks and clacks, a slow-motion seesaw. Male voices, vaguely distorted in one way or another, appear in snipped fragments. The volume heightens, the elements acquiring more tension, a disturbing rattle skims back and forth across the stereo spectrum. Finally, a last, quick scratch, like a struck match. Difficult to describe, wondrous to experience.

Yet another very fine entrant in this series, highly recommended.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Alex Jang - momentary encounters (Another Timbre)

I believe this is the first physical release from Jang, a Victoria, Canada-based composer (the recording is part  of Another Timbre's Canadian Composer Series). It presents four subtle, delicate works, three performed by members of Apartment House and one by the Chilean guitarist, Cristián Alvear.

'momentary encounters (5)' is a lovely piece, played in an exterior environment (Tooting Bec Common, South London) by clarinetist Heather Roche. It's an idea that's been in play for a while but this performance is exceptionally strong. I gather that the instrumentalist doesn't make a "scene" of herself, simply sits and plays in a public space, any intervening noises--truck engines, barking dogs, yelling kids, birds, etc.--occurring more or less without knowledge of her presence. The music is soft and serene--long, hollow tones that easily weave in amongst the environs, tinging them gently. The whole piece evokes a calm, observant state of mind, natural and unforced. Interested listeners may like to hear another version, recorded recently outside of Cafe Oto, London prior to a performance of Jang's music inside. Here, a loud conversation "interrupts" the playing, though whether or not the speakers were aware of Roche's presence is open to question. Either way, it casts the piece in a different and, for me, intriguing light.

The remaining three works are studio recordings. The instrumentation in 'any three players' (here, John Lely, melodica; Simon Limbrick, vibraphone; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello) might remind one of Christian Wolff and the music does as well, at least a bit, with quiet, near-melodic lines slowly dancing about each other, paths interweaving but rarely colliding. It meanders, but I have the sense that's the purpose--slowly wandering, seeing what happens; very satisfying. Alvear performs, solo, 'a gray, bent interior horizon', a sparser work. Slightly muffled notes are plucked at a slow pace, sometimes in regular sequence, sometimes with varied density. It's a fragile piece and I'm not sure there's quite enough there to hold up for its ten minutes, but thoughtful nonetheless; I'd be curious to hear it out in the world, as in the first work. The final track. 'distributed tourism', is played by a quintet (Mira Benjamin, violin; Limbrick, vibraphone; Roche, clarinet; Nancy Ruffer, flute; Lukoszevieze, cello). It's more a clearly composed work than the trio, with overlapping lines, harmonies and somewhat less vague melodic material. And it's gorgeous. Again, an amble is what I think of but here, instead of three walkers on their own (in a common space), there's some teamwork, some mutually agreed upon points of interest and convergence. As with all the music on this disc, the atmosphere is quiet, unassuming but alive with intelligence and perspicacity. Its a 25-minute stroll, well-paced, deftly colored and subtly structured: a joy.

'momentary encounters' is a fine introduction to Jang's music. I'm eager to hear more.

Another Timbre

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Cassandra Miller  'Just So' - (Another Timbre)

Cassandra Miller 'O Zomer!' (Another Timbre)

The second installment of the Simon Reynall-curated Canadian Composers Series has arrived and it's a rich batch of work. Two of the releases contain the amazing music of the currently London-based composer Cassandra Miller, the first two recordings devoted to her work, as near as I can determine. Long overdue, I'd have to say.

Miller's music is absorbing for any number of reasons. She makes use of aspects of various branches of modernism including minimalism and, in some pieces, a kind of structural stasis but almost always also references traditional forms and techniques, from Bach to folk songs to Ives and more. 'Just So' collects four pieces for string quartet, performed in typically beautiful and rigorous fashion by the Bozzini Quartet, two shorter works bracketing two longer ones. The title composition is a lilting affair, recalling some kind of village gig or reel, the strings pitched high, dancing, the rhythms just this side of irregular, the cello coming in for some wonderful underpinning in the final few moments. A bracing, joyous number to open the set. 'Warblework', as the title implies, concerns itself with birds: three thrushes and a veery. To my ears, not birdsong as much as tracing the paths birds make in flight and very movingly so. The strings swirl and skitter in brief bursts for the Swainson's thrush, alight for a moment, then take off once again while the hermit thrush swoops a bit more, stays lower to the ground and the wood thrush grunts and pushes its way through the underbrush before standing still to survey its surroundings, which are filled with lovely, dry harmonies. The veery, another kind of thrush, does seem to make a doleful call amidst grainy streaks, the calls multiplying, a little anxious as though espied. Here, as in other pieces, Miller makes subtle use of approximately iterated cells of music, a near repetition of clusters that nods to minimalism without ever falling into rote usage--this is an especially fine work.

'About Bach' is the longest work presented here and kind of a centerpiece, illustrating the sort of structural tack that Miller seems to enjoy and that, in a way, she elaborates in her marvelous composition, 'Duet for Cello and Orchestra', commented on below. Here, if I'm not mistaken, one violin (maybe sometimes both?) plays a very highly pitched, seven-note ascending "scale" throughout the piece. Readers with more musical knowledge than I might identify it, but I was reminded, oddly enough, of the scale sung by the lead tenor at the conclusion of Glass' 1979 opera, 'Satyagraha'. It's very poignant in and of itself, gathering strength and weight and, indeed, poignancy as it's repeated again and again. The lower strings, in an almost conversational manner, reflect with phrases that seem obliquely derived from Bach, though with an entirely modern hesitancy and questioning aspect. Toward the end, it attains a clear dimension of solemnity. There's a type of stasis in effect, pinioned by the violin(s) but also enhanced by the general self-similarity of the interposed phrases, though they in fact vary at all times. The sense of overhearing snatches of discussions in a large room pervades, dreamlike. Just a deep, marvelous and affecting work, brilliantly performed. The disc concludes with 'Leaving', another work that appears to have folk song roots, maybe a sea shanty, lolls in place like an old docked boat gently buffeted by small waves. Each of the strings seems to carry a related tune, melding together at times, drifting apart at other moments. It's an immensely satisfying, soft kind of almost-lullaby, a fine ending to a superb recording.

'O Zomer!' also contains four compositions, but for instrumentation ranging from the ensemble Apartment House (on this occasion consisting of Chloe Abbott, trumpet; George Barton, vibraphone; Simon Limbrick, marimba and crotales; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello; James Opstad, double bass; Christopher Redgate, oboe; Heather Roche, bass clarinet; Philip Thomas, piano; and Jack Sheen, conductor) to a piano/whistling duo  (Thomas and Clemens Merkel) to solo violin (Mira Benjamin) to full orchestra (the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ilan Volkov). It's yet another astonishing and spectacular set of music.

I get the idea that Miller likes the notion of partitioning her works into parts, often halves, leading the listener down one path of expectations only to offer a surprising (but entirely appropriate) shift. The beginning of the title piece (I discovered that "zomer" is Dutch for summer, but don't know if that's the allusion in play here) displays that idea in a nutshell: eight quick, steady taps of the same note on a marimba (underlaid by a bowed chord by, I think, cello) followed by a held tone of roughly equivalent length, maybe a tad shorter, by...hard to say--a muted trumpet? The marimba gradually slows down, though remaining steady. It's very pure, even pristine, eventually accompanied by single notes from the piano. Suddenly, four minutes in (halfway), the music erupts in a bright, clattering, bleating explosion of sound, extremely colorful, wonderfully arranged, that surges and pulsates for the remainder of the work. Two worlds, the serene and the gorgeously chaotic. 'Philip the Wanderer' opens with low, brooding piano rumbles, the left hand way down there, grumbling, the right stabbing at mid-range notes, almost forcing them out, the entirety bearing an anguished, troubled mien. Again, about halfway through its 14 1/2 minutes, the atmosphere breaks for several seconds. Then, very surprisingly, we here the piano tracing a lovely single-note, halting melody offset by thick, chorale-like chords, very regal though still retaining some of that tortured feeling. More surprising still, and marvelously moving, is the emergence of a whistler (Clemens Merkel, normally the lead violinist of  the Bozzini Quartet), limning a sad, wistful tune, low in pitch. He only stays for a minute or so but has imparted an important layer, or several, to the music. After his disappearance, the piano takes on a more joyful guise, cascading raindrops in a higher register, before coalescing around a simple, rising eight note pattern that repeats for a minute or two. 'For Mira' uses kernels of repeated lines, gnarly, stretched and involute with elaborations shooting off like tendrils from a vine. The language is almost Romantic; one can imagine it being formed from shards of cadenzas severed from a late 19th century concerto. The line is fairly long and involved, long enough that one might not realize it's repeating, albeit with short breaks and augmentations. On the whole, it's a keening, wrenching, grinding piece, fraught with longing and desire, extremely heartfelt.

And then we come to 'Duet for Cello and Orchestra'. I'll say at the outset that this is one of my single favorite pieces of music heard over the past several years. We hear Charles Curtis bowing two dark tones, seesawing slowly, growling them out, infused with grain. I was immediately taken back to an event I witnessed several years ago in Paris when Curtis, along with Carol Robinson and Bruno Martinez, performed Éliane Radigue's 'Naldjorlak I, II & III', the first third of which, lasting about 45 minutes, was Curtis playing a single "wolf tone". We were sitting about six feet in front of him and the effect was overwhelmingly powerful. After four iterations of this "simple" pattern, there's a flowering of trumpets, a small, fluttering fanfare that appears, bounces about and ends with a little, humorous curlicue. This form is essentially repeated throughout the first half of the 32-minute work, with both the complexity of the lines and their instrumentation expanding to the full orchestra, the cello maintaining its grim, slow-stepped progression. The orchestral pattern matures into the form of that flutter of arabesques followed by an extended, steady chord, again sometimes ending with that wry flourish. I had the impression of the flocking of three or four different birds, their patterns varying and intersecting, rising from trees, settling. I also sensed a faint allusion to the orchestral parts of Ives' 'The Unanswered Question'. The pure sound color aspect of Miller's writing (and, I suspect, of Volkov's conducting) is an absolute joy, as is tracing the complex but individuated lines; I really can't say enough about how glorious it is. The cello, while maintaining the basic pattern, seems to stretch it out a bit now and then, acquiring a greater sense of dolor, of inevitability. Around that halfway point, the orchestra subsumes the cello entirely (it may be continuing underneath, difficult to tell for sure) but the ensemble has been bent to the solo instrument's will, adopting its back and forth motion, though writ large (glimmers of John Barry's score to 'Moonraker' as reconfigured by Fenn  O'Berg spring briefly to mind). The whole conglomeration sways and rocks like an old ark making its slow, steady journey through heavy water. Just when you think that this is the way it's going to end, in an indefinitely cyclic eddy, the music quiets down and we once again hear the cello, buried for the past 10-12 minutes, emerge with a new demeanor, playing an oddly lilting line, high notes, sad but sing-songy, like a lost bird making its way home. The work ends with an ironic iteration of that winking flourish we heard earlier.

Just a phenomenal recording, huge congratulations to all involved. I can't wait to hear more from Miller.

Another Timbre

Friday, September 07, 2018

Thomas Ankersmit - Homage to Dick Raaijmakers (Shelter Press)

Back around 2000, in Boston, I fortuitously (maybe with some urging from Jon Abbey) purchased the Dick Raaijmakers boxed set of his complete tape music. European tape music of the 50s and 60s had always been an area that gave me some amount of trouble, largely due to what I perceived (and still do perceive, to some degree) as a kind of synthetic sameness, the aural Photoshop effect I get from many products emerging from the INA GRM scene, for example. Raaijmakers (1930 - 2014), along with others I've heard along the way, struck me as subtly apart from that sound-world; not entirely, but enough that I found much of it to be thrilling.

Ankersmit's piece, a single track of electronic music lasting over 34 minutes, traverses a wide expanse, making reference to Raaijmaker's art but very much carving its own path. In fact, I get something of a landscape feel despite the "unnaturalness" of the elements. It begins abruptly with a dense mix of disparate sounds, including sizzles, crackling rumbles, a steady, burred hum and a repeating horn-like tone, very much as if one had suddenly awoken in a busy environment, natural or man-made. This lasts about three minutes before subsiding then shifts to a subtly different zone of soft clicks, small eruptions of static and billowy, blurred explosions. Ankersmit's sound-world not only has great depth and varied textures but also entirely avoids that gloss mentioned above. The shifts have their own vague logic, the adjacent areas seeming somehow appropriately linked. Considering the vast range of sounds employed, from jagged to drones (albeit generally with a harsh edge, the latter sometimes recalling telephone busy signals), the degree to which the work hangs together is extremely impressive. Violent electrical storms emerge, settle into a disquieting calm (an amazing section some 23 minutes in with small bursts from a throbbing bed), gather strength for a renewed onslaught. The last seven or eight minutes are not so much quieter as more distant, as though watching explosions from afar, the hum from a nearby generator permeating the surroundings. It's like a slow, minutely detailed camera pan where one can't tell whether the vantage point is miles above the surface or microscopically among the earth and small organisms.

Ankersmit does a fine job in simultaneously offering an appreciative and imaginative homage to Raaijmakers while being entirely true to his own creative self. Needless to say, this is required listening for those who enjoyed the work of the late Dutch master. It's also one of the very finest releases I've heard from Ankersmit since first encountering his music back in 2001.

Shelter Press

Friday, August 24, 2018

Biliana Voutchkova/Michael Thieke - Blurred Music (Elsewhere)

'Blurred Music' is technically the first recording from Yuko Zama's very exciting new Elsewhere label. I wrote earlier about Melaine Dalibert's release, the second in the imprint's early catalog; it was a single disc and, for me, easier (in one sense, anyway) to grasp. Here we have three CDs, three live recordings from within the space of nine days in December, 2016, each with its own complex character. I found it tougher to grapple with but, ultimately, just as rewarding.

I've known and greatly admired Thieke's clarinet playing and composing for some time now, particularly as involved The International Nothing, his clarinet duo with Kai Fagaschinski, and The Magic I.D. with Fagaschinski, Christof Kurzmann and Margareth Kammerer. I was much less familiar with Voutchkova's violin work, though what I had heard led me to "place" her more in the jazz-based free improv camp rather than the quieter, smoother territories often investigated by Thieke, so I was curious and even tentative about this combination. It was only belatedly that I realized I actually possessed an earlier collaboration, 'Already There' on Flexion (2013), which I enjoyed a great deal at the time; the problem with hearing too much music: one forgets things one shouldn't--need to revisit it.

In any case, I came into this with notions both accurate and false. The methodology used here is fascinating. There's a base of pre-taped material. The duo sometimes attempts to duplicate these sounds (the "blurred" aspect arising upon the inevitable failure to do so precisely) and sometimes improvises along with/atop it. There's more to it than that and I may not be understanding it completely. The at-home listener, however, can only rarely distinguish between the taped and live sounds, so experiences the music as a two violin, two clarinet quartet. The first portion of Chicago is rather active, even frenetic, tending more toward the kind of movement I'd associated with Voutchkova--very gestural and virtuosic, with Thieke (unusually, in my experience) following suit, his clarinet a-bubble and not above the occasional shriek. But soon enough, the music splays out into thick, taffy-like lines, slowly settling into various lovely forms of stasis, then spinning out once more into a soft but energetic space with spit-out breath sounds and quietly strangulated vocals and pizzicato attacks. There's more of this kind of back and forth on the first disc, 'Chicago', than on the others and for my taste, the music works better the less raucous it is, but that's perhaps more on a micro-level. Listened to as a whole--a more difficult task, more so over three discs--it fits in quite well as a "chapter".

'Philadelphia' picks up, a week later, where 'Chicago' left off. In fact, I found myself wondering if the underlying tape might be one long session, returned to at the point which the previous concert ended. I've been remiss in remarking how simply gorgeous the meld of violin and clarinet (or two violins and two clarinets) is. That's brought home near the beginning of this set, the strands intertwining licorice-like, creaminess and grit, so great to wallow in. After my first listen-through, I had the impression that 'Chicago' was the most active and intense section, but I was over-simplifying. There's plenty of intensity on hand in Philly. For just one example, there's a portion that begins some 25 minutes in that's like being among a set of buzzsaws--pretty spectacular, ultra-intense music. Even the quieter moments are somewhat harrowing.

The New York set, recorded at Phill Niblock's Experimental Intermedia loft, runs to 70 minutes, a good deal longer than the prior two (about 50 and 40 minutes, respectively). Part of my fascination with this release is the embedding of three fairly long sets into one (as I hear it) extremely long one. This begins with layers of extended tones, the kind of laminal approach that I find very satisfying, allowing the listener to directly experience variations in pitch and timbre and construct relationships for himself. They slowly dissolve into a kind of warbling keen, pitched high, birdlike, before tilting back into relative consonance, where it lingers for a delightfully long while, fluctuating and quavering. Midway through, there's a quiet nest of pizzicatos and muted squeaks and breath tones. Here, and later as things quiet down even further, the integration of the tape with the live performance is utterly seamless. The set is perfectly paced, always riveting, concluding with hazy, uncertain lines that point toward future music.

A really fine, complex and unusual release, and a superb initial outing for Elsewhere.


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Melaine Dalibert - Musique pour le lever du hour (Elsewhere)

In essence, Dalibert's wonderful, hour-plus solo piano composition is a kind of process music, but one where its structural aspect can, if desired, be easily ignored, the listener perhaps choosing to simply be wafted along by the sumptuous, lingering tones.

One hears sets of single notes, evenly played. They arrive in sequences of 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9--I don't think there are any "5's" or anything greater than nine, but I could be mistaken. The sustain pedal is held down throughout. The rests between the phrases are, I believe, equivalent in seconds to the number of notes in the preceding phrase. The lengths of the phrases appear to occur randomly but are, in fact, generated by Dalibert's use of the Thue-Morse sequence, a mathematical theory well beyond my meager comprehension skills but one which, when used in certain ways, results in numbers that converge on the fractal curve known as the Koch Snowflake. There is a fine sense of repetition inextricably meshed with irregularity. The notes chosen, per Dalibert, "are only second major, third minor and fifth (or their reversal), in equal repartition so that the general color is diatonic, very slowly modulating."

What, then, does one hear? If I'm to make references, I sometimes think of it as halfway between a Tom Johnson work and the approach used by La Monte Young in parts of 'The Well-Tuned Piano', albeit without the retuning (!). There's a quasi-similar feeling of drifting, of floating while at the same time the soft rigor of the structure constrains too much wayward movement. The clearly struck notes (from a peek at a couple of pages from the score, often flatted) both stand forthright and, via the sustain, effervesce and dissolve into one another. Within each sequence, the notes tend to follow a similar pattern, enough so that it always feels familiar, perhaps previously heard, but really just slightly different; the same general environs but via differing glances. Also barely heard, but always a plus for this listener, is the distant sound of a street and what seems to be flowing water, as though from rain down a gutter; I love the sense of immersion this provides.

The music itself is watery--apparently clear on the surface, disappearing when examined very closely. One can listen to the structure, try to grasp its fractal nature or can just surrender and be borne along, irritation setting in only when the disc ends. In the interim, one floats.

Excellent, intelligent and rapturous work.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

Seth Cooke - Double B  (2015-2018) (Reading Group)

Seth Cooke has created many fantastic sounds over the past few years (see especially his 'Triangular Trade' on suppedaneum) and here's yet another set. Here, we're dealing with field recordings but not only have they been sonically manipulated (as Cooke puts it, "Five tracks of one-take pseudo-performative no-input field recording/field recording, upon which compression was piled until the structure broke under the weight."), but they carry referential weight as well. Cooke alludes to bullet holes in a sculpture, MP Jo Cox' stabbing and plans for attempts on the lives of Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan.

Even if, as I am, you're at some remove from these events, they and things of that nature are well worth keeping in mind as you listen to these five rather harrowing tracks. The sound field is abrasive, loud, skittering and clanging. Electronic scrapes collide with metallic bangs on 'Sun Tunnel (Solar Totem #1', the piece involving the sculpture (this one, I take it:)

This segues to 'The Centre Cannot Hold'--quieter but just as agitated, even more so--windy, buffeted electronics mingling with rapid scrapes and rasps, then dark, deep metallic strikes. On purely aural terms, just a spectacular excursion. In an odd way, 'The Crossing (Syria Notes #1)' ratchets up the unease, with a repeated (backward, I think) sequence of about seven grainy sounds in swift succession, over and over, with scrabbling beneath--I found myself, especially given the title, thinking of war plane fire over a city, its inhabitants scurrying for shelter. Its conclusion is even darker, summoning images of soldiers sifting through ruins in the aftermath. 'It Does Not Further One to Go Anywhere' is brief but cavernous and full of foreboding. The final work, 'Return of the Jihadi/No Platform', the longest piece here, may also be the subtlest. While the sounds are as acidic as ever, their melding is more generous, more integrated, multiple levels weaving and intersecting, maintaining very separate lines on the one hand, forming complex "balls" of multi-element noise on the other. There's a slow but steady surge, chillingly enhanced by a siren-like grind--think buzzsaw slicing metal--interrupted by blasts static? sharp fragments of other recordings?...I have no idea. And then simply crumbles.

Great work. Listen.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Tim Feeney - Burrow (Marginal Frequency)

Percussionist Feeney seems to have been developing a new kind of minimalist approach in recent years, never before shown to as clear and excellent effect as on this cassette release. Two pieces, each 28-29 minutes long, each divided into segments sporting their own instruments. He first taps out a steady, quick rhythm on wooden sticks--I say "steady" but that's not strictly true as the pace fluctuates slightly and the tone deviates as well, presumably from the sticks being struck at various distances from Feeney's hands. Throughout, I'm unsure how much of the rhythmic variation is intentionally, how much due to fatigue or, as I suspect, there's a forgone accession to aspects of fatigue that Feeney knows will enliven the piece. After six or so minutes, he switches to a drum of some kind, maintaining both a similar beat and, again, varying the pitch by, in this instance, striking the drumhead at various distances from its center. I should emphasize that  all of these sounds exist in a very space, very pure, even dry atmosphere. It's just them and the room, quite bracing. This pattern continues with pieces of metal (loose and clangy), a hollow-sounding drum (wherein the pace becomes quite slow, the sound muted at a point), more metal (stiffer and less resonant, sometimes blurring the boundary--excellently--between "playing" and "beating") and concluding with some double-time on a drum with (guessing) some metal atop. There's a certain kind of benign brutalism in play that I love. A brilliant recording, highly recommended.

Grundik Kasyansky/Danil Gertman - Insect Angel (Llull Machines)

Kasyansky and Gertman are an audio/visual duo. Though my impression is that, live, Gertman works in a video format, he's a figurative painter, responsible for the cover image above and, as an example selected more or less at random, paintings like this one:

Kasyansky's music here is a kind of bumpy drone, winding, throbbing layers of electronics, not overly dense but resonant, all of it circling over a steady, muted beat. There's an interesting, semi-regular sound that lurks below the surface, sounding like a rotating machine that's slightly off-kilter, generating a set of soft taps when one of its sides rubs up against something it's not designed to. The main sounds shift ever so slightly over the course of the piece's 40 minutes, becoming more growly but essentially, we're in one territory for the duration. It's fine, very accommodating and easy enough to wallow in but I wanted to hear more change or depth and the pulse, after a while, begins to wear. It might well work better (for me) in a live context with imagery. But you can hear for yourself at Kasyansky's bandcamp site, linked to below.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Four releases involving Ilia Belorukov.

Wozzeck - Fact I (Intonema)

Wozzeck is a power trio, kind of, with Belorukov on synth and computer, Mikhail Ershov on bass guitar and Konstantin Samolovov on drums. 'Fact I' is a vinyl release comprising one 36 minute piece. It bolts from the gate with a hard-driving, lurching mass of music that strikes me as a blend of aggressive prog and late 80s thrash bands--mid-70s Crimson funneled through Pantera. The music is pounding and bracing, a disturbing siren-like whine circulating within the onslaught. Then an odd thing happens. About nine minutes in, the storm begins to fragment, the rhythms becoming blockier, the whine accompanied by others--things get (intentionally) confused. From here, the music sublimates, traveling from the initial "solid" state to an  increasingly gaseous one, all vague, quiet tones and blips, isolated bass plucks, distant, obscure voices. Some songs, a hymn. Eventually almost nothing but the  quietest of cymbal taps. A good idea, finely executed--nice job.

Phicus & Ilia Belorukov - k(nó)t (Intonema)

Here, Belorukov, on alto saxophone, teams up with the Spanish trio Phicus (Ferran Fages, guitar; Alex Reviriego, double bass; and Vasco Trilla, drums). The four pieces, improvisations' are pensive and groping, nicely subdued and investigatory. Occasionally, one of the musicians comes a bit to the fore, as Reviriego does on 'Gordian Knot', where he's brilliant and dark in a manner that recalls primo Haden. Trilla also has a fine way with vibrating bell-like tones, judiciously applied. The whole album has an aura of somberness about it but also a strong sense of curiosity, of quiet excursions into uncertain territory. Not  much else I can say except that I found it very satisfying and would recommend it highly.

Ilia Belorukov - Arzed-one (Albertineeditions)

KickGuitarSinRun - There & Back (Intonema)

Two releases, the second a DVDr with links to an online video, that showcase another very different facet of Belorukov's music: beats. 'Arzed-one' uses a 1986 Casio RZ-I drum machine and only six factory-installed sounds at that: kick, snare, open/closed hi-hat, clap and cowbell. The track titles,--for example, '170-160'--indicated the bpm range as, if I understand correctly, Belorukov slides gradually from one to the other. He writes that at high beat rates, he experiences the resultant sound more as a drone than as beats and that the gradual shifts create "unexpected relationships between sounds". Admittedly, this is a hard sell for me as I find the essential sounds and the associations with them that have built up over the years, to be more or less uncompelling. Then again, the almost entirely hidden hums that manifest (perhaps as a sonic artifact) can indeed be heard to fluctuate as the beat rate rises or falls, providing at least something of non-superficial interest (probably best experienced via headphones). More science experiment than deep sounds? You can be the judge.

'There & Back' takes the same basic idea--shifts in bpm--but a) re-locates the sounds to a distorted electric guitar (Pavel Medvedev) in addition to (lighter) computerized beats and b) adds video of a dancer (Daria Plohova in 'There' and Anna Antipova in 'Back'). They're filmed head on, in black and white, running in place in rhythm to the beats. They're intriguing exercises (also impressive physical ones as each runs about 43 minutes) and it's borderline fascinating to watch the variation in, especially, arm movements as they go from crisper at higher beat rates to more languid and, in context, almost carefree swaying during the slower periods. An odd kind of near-minimalism, somewhat hypnotic. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Lance Austin Olsen - Plato's Cave (Infrequency Editions)

Jamie Drouin - Paysage (Infrequency Editions)

Way back when, I received a 3-disc set on Mattin's label, W.M.O/r that consisted of a performance by Keith Rowe and Seymour Wright that had been recorded from three vantage points. At the time, I happened to have three devices on which to play CDs (stereo, computer, Xbox) so I listened to them simultaneously, not worrying much about the slight but inevitable time discrepancies involved in turning on the machines. It was great fun and, in some ways, revelatory. The idea of a more active way of listening, even at home, was an intriguing one.

For some reason, this came to mind when listening to these two fine releases, though of course they're individual, isolated sessions and don't even share anything close to a common duration. Plus I have only a single means of playing the discs at this time. But Olsen and Drouin have worked and recorded with each other often in recent years and, even as these two samples show very different approaches, there's an affinity in play that make me think that synchronous listening might not be a bad idea. Well, maybe one  of these days...

Olsen's album strikes me as surprisingly programmatic, especially in this neck of the woods. Credited (on the bandcamp site, not on the CDr sleeve) with "guitar, field recordings, amplified copper plates, stones, and assorted objects", Olsen produces sounds that indeed sound as though their source might be within a cave. The guitar is often played low and echoey and various objects that might range from ping pong balls to billiards in addition to the stones, are dropped onto dryly resonant surfaces. The sounds are vivid but spatially distinct; as in his visual works, Olsen seems to take great care with a combination of placement and texture. Seeing flickers and shadows on the wall--Plato's cave, indeed. The voices which intrude, twice--"You ready?", a grunted reply--add to the disembodied mystery, the sounds liquifying toward the work's conclusion, retaining several loud clacks. Wonderfully constructed, of perfect length (some 26 minutes) and entirely engaging--might be my favorite music I've heard so far from Olsen.

'Paysage' was recorded between 2005-2009 on a "Moog-style 5U modular synthesizer system" and occupies a pulsing, blurred world, steady-state in a sense but constantly shifting within that condition. There are several "chapters" with varying characters, some carrying eerily vocal connotations, others with brief, empty digital spaces interpolated, some where the hums are steady, others where the pitch shifts subtly, causing a small sense of queasiness. I'm tempted, given the Olsen release, to take this disc's title at its word and conjure up programmatic content here as well, particularly when, as occurs some 16 minutes in, a sounds that could be interpreted as rainfall suddenly appears; somehow, a sun shower is evoked. But the pervasive mode is the drone--always very rich, sometimes fluttering, sometimes melting into droplets, here anxious, there relentless. It's a solid, engrossing set, entirely fine and absorbing on its own, even if I still have a slight hankering to hear it mixed in with 'Plato's Cave'. 

Infrequency Editions