Monday, February 17, 2020

A few brief words on twelve new releases from Edition Wandelweiser, music that spans a very wide territory. No images this time because, well, they're Wandelweiser covers....(though the Möller/Ragab sleeve contains an actual photo...)

Tomás Cabado - historia de la luz: cuaderno de guitarra

Eight pieces for two guitars, performed by the composer and Catriel Nievas. The guitars are either electric or amplified acoustic, I think, and the pieces tend toward long, clear tones alongside hazier ones, suspended amidst the space in the room. Sometimes, "simple" lines are unfurled, even ones that resemble scales. When overlapping, the two guitars will often create piquant harmonics. You hear the room in Buenos Aires, distant dogs. The sounds are forceful and rich, even occasionally piercing, but always serene and unhurried. Like a close-in hearing of water droplets on metal, the final drops massive in context. Lovely.

Bruno Duplant/Pierre Gerard - soleil clandestin

A collaborative set of five soundscapes from Duplant and Gerard, sharing duties on "abstract" voices,  guitar, electronics, field recordings and percussion. The pieces are mysterious, sometimes  verging on the ritual-sounding, with random soft clattering and bumping offset by the deep tones of struck metal, perhaps bells of some kind. A guitar pokes through with surprising spikiness and, later, voices. This creates an oddly bumpy kind of terrain, with sounds that have a kind of separateness, giving the aural space a thick weave, like heavy material with holes. The voices can be a little...disquieting. I don't think I've previously heard Gerard's music so can't say how this fits in with prior work but it stands apart somewhat from Duplant's oeuvre, at least that portion of which I'm aware.

Jürg Frey - fields, traces, clouds

Three works recorded by ordinary affects (Luke Martin, electric guitar; Laura Cetilia, cello; P.A. Falzone, piano/vibraphone; Morgan Evans-Weiler, violin) with Frey on clarinet. The piece have the kind of calm, extremely thoughtful stance that I love so in Frey's music, something he gets at in the liner notes involving fallow land, the notion of walking in an environment and allowing inspiration to occur. The atmosphere is apparent from the opening track (the title composition) and comes to the fore in the final one, 'floating categories', where the streets of Cambridge are very much a sixth member of the ensemble. The melodies (and they are melodies, I think; toward the end of 'fields, traces, clouds', there's a passage that almost evokes a sunrise) are slow, even stately, the strings often grainy on their own--quite beautiful--but when they overlap with the other instruments, the effect is stunning. All the more so as these interactions seem almost serendipitous, though of course, they're not. Truly profound and deeply-lived music, wonderfully realized.

Mark Hannesson - undeclared

A work written in response to the October 20, 2006 drone attack on a school in Pakistan that killed 80 or more people, including 68-70 children. Hannesson asks how it's possible to respond to this aesthetically and offers his attempt. It's a very moving one, simple in conception, a kind of funereal tolling. The piece, titled 'undeclared', is presented three times, first played by Antoine Beuger on children's glockenspiel (an especially effective conveyor of grief), then by René Holtkamp on guitar and finally by the composer using whistling and electronics. Where Beuger's rendition is soft and sorrowful, a string of individual tones, all the same, spaced over about 20 minutes, Holtkamp attacks the same score more forcefully, the pain felt at the horrible event evincing itself. Hannesson's version is different, much gauzier, even ethereal, the tones still there but clouded, evanescing, perhaps disappearing like those poor victims. A moving set of music.

Mark Hannesson/Dante Boon/Anastassis Philippakopoulos - s/t

Three works for solo piano, played by Boon. One each by Hannesson and Boon and a set of four shorter pieces by Philippakopoulos. The transition between compositions is almost seamless and, indeed, it's possible to listen to the works as a single, continuous piece of music. Hannesson's 'signposts' is apparently sourced from the 2016 Wandelweiser catalog, the choice of which "fragments" to play left to the pianist. Largely individual notes, a tonal feel without a specific tonality, allowed to hang in space, expertly placed by Boon; in several ways an archetypal Wandelweiser piece and a very lovely one. 'duo (2h)', by Boon, while very much in line with the preceding work, expands things just a bit, inserting a few more subtle chords, suffusing the music with a warm light--gorgeous. The four 'piano pieces' by Philippakopoulos add just a tinge more melody, providing the hint of a line, softly undulating like a bit of seaweed in a tide pool. A beautiful conclusion to a very moving collection of sounds.

Bin Li - i am also here

As near as I can determine, despite having written and having had performed a number of works (see Li's site here), this is Li's first recording. The title track is performed twice, each with Stefan Thut (viol and voice on the first version, only voice on the second) and the composer (voice on the first, voice and qin--a kind of Chinese zither--on the second). In each instance, the surrounding environments, Manhattan and Gimmelwald, Switzerland, play a major role. The four-word text is spoken, often with many minutes between words, in English and/or Chinese, the instruments briefly played, perhaps mimicking the cadence, such as it is, of the phrase. In the wooly atmospherics of Gimmelwald, Thut begins the first rendition by saying, "I am here". His viol is briefly bowed a handful of times as the phrase, a word at a time, is spoken over 15+ minutes, I believe alternately by Thut and Li. The sound fades out completely once, then returns with the final word, "here", said immediately, a little startling, like being awakened in a park after an unbidden nap.  The ambience is  more intense on the second version, which lasts over 43 minutes, all birds and blurred traffic (though it fluctuates throughout the piece), Li (or maybe Thut?) speaking in Chinese with the odd pluck of the qin, loud in context. There are near-complete cessations of sound, the faintest of fuzz. Pileated woodpeckers and airplanes on the sound's return. Again, toward the end of the work, there's that abrupt awakening. The title of the final work is phonetically transliterated as "you" but means, "also", therefore carrying some of the meaning of the title track while also serving, to an English speaker, as a kind of mirror reflection to it. Li plays (again, sporadically) the hichiriki,  Japanese double-reed instrument heard in gagaku. He seems to be intoning the syllable, "you", with its Chinese inflection, playing the instrument breathily and, at the piece's conclusion and in contrast to the instruments on the rest of the disc, with a rush of soft tones over a relatively long period. An absolutely fascinating set of music--I'm eager to hear more.

André O. Möller with Christoph Nicolaus &  Rasha  Ragab - music for stone harps

Stone harps are crafted from blocks of black granite which are usually shaped into roughly conic forms, then sliced to create individual slabs or bars that, when stroked with wetted fingers, produce a range of rich, reverberant tones. On this two-disc set, Möller presents three compositions and two improvisations using solely these instruments. On the first piece, 'für eckl (a tanz der hauttöne)', there's too much dependence on the harp tones themselves at the expense of the composition. Those  tones contain a certain amount of inherent fascination, not dissimilar to, say, a bowed marimba, but not enough (for this listener) to sustain a 34-minute piece on their own. 'stoned fridge' is more robust, bearing a range of growling sounds (I'm not sure all are from the harps, actually, but I suppose it's possible--the credits list "playback" so I imagine some iterative function is occurring), generating a dense drone with multiple layers of activity--it breathes, and breathes deeply. On the second disc, the two improvisations are innocuous in the same manner as the initial work while the hour-plus 'ménage à trois (double)' once again uses playback as well as an influx of exterior sound. It's greater aural transparency serves as a good contrast to 'stoned fridge' and allows it to work just as wellas  the prior piece, the ringing tones of the harps layered between the car engines, bird calls and odd organ-like sounds. Overall, a slightly mixed bag for me, but worthwhile.

Kory Reeder - love songs, duets

I believe this is the first recording of Reeder's work (fwiw, I can't see any listing for the seven other musicians on Discogs either). If it's a debut, it's an  impressive one. Four pieces, all duets: 'folie à deux i' (Erin Cameron and Luke Ellard, bass clarinets), 'somewhere, some place else' (Jonathan Kierspe, saxophone, Samuel Anderson, bass trombone), 'folie à deux iii' (Alaina Clarice and Linda Jenkins, flutes)  and 'hiro yokose' (Mia Detwiler, violin, Reeder, piano). The compositions are of a piece, in a sense, though well differentiated. All slow, tonal, with no repeating melodies or rhythms, the lines from each pair of instruments gently entwining. There are wonderfully subtle contrasts in tone between the like instruments (bass clarinets and flutes), never going for mere effect, the tenderness coming first, elegiac but not sorrowful. Sometimes more somber, sometimes more wistful, but always with a sense of soft languidness. Reeder's piano is especially poignant on the closing composition, just barely verging on melody. Excellent work all around.

Dean Rosenthal - Stones/Water/Time/Breath

Rosenthal's piece extends the lineage of Christian Wolff's well-known 'Stones' into an  even more open area. Entirely text-based, he asks that interested person(s) locate a body of water, acquire some  stones and create some interactive sounds with them. (Including the word, "Breath" in the title is interesting--it doesn't appear in the score; nice) This recording documents five realizations with from one to seven performers. Canadian sound artists Gayle Young and Reinhard Reitzenstein slosh and drop stones for a couple of minutes while a septet of individuals behave similarly in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, here for over 20 minutes with a more enveloping ambient sound including birds, children and airplanes. Rosenthal's own solo realization is quite spare and calm, the sounds generated from the stones well embedded into the overall soundscape. As with recordings of Manfred Werder's works, there's a vast difference, one understands, between disc and actual presence. One can get a glimmer of this by watching and listening to one of several very fine, very beautiful videos available on the site Rosenthal has set up for this project. The great value of this release is simply introducing the listener to the score and, in addition to perusing the related site (which I highly recommend) going out and actualizing it oneself or with friends (or strangers).

Urs Peter Schneider - Klavierwerke 1971 - 2015

A two-CD set of four solo piano works by Schneider, recorded between 1980 and 2019, played by the composer. 'Clavierübung' (1971 - 79), for mildly prepared piano, bears a striking resemblance to some of Tom Johnson's pieces or, rather, given its compositional dates, one might say the reverse. There's an accretive kind of effect, as if the modules of the basic form are being slightly altered with each iteration (dynamics, stress, gradually augmented pitch, etc.) according to some hidden system. The theme itself has a wonderful, surreptitious, kind of creeping aspect, as of some slightly disreputable character skulking around the perimeter. Lasting over an hour, the permutations it goes through are many, if subtly deployed. The material is just a pair of nine note sequences but they're manipulated in a manner that makes it (for this listener) surprisingly difficult to count and seemingly possessing a greater variety of arrangements than I would have thought possible. Or maybe it just appears that way. 'So Beseelte' (2008 - 14), dedicated to Martin Luther, indeed has a kind of staggered processional feel, something of Satie's 'Ogives'. 'Ein Jahreslauf' is a more disparate work, difficult to describe. Sort of like a prelude that, over its 34 minutes, keeps building then gently fragmenting, spaces between "clumps" lengthening as the piece develops. It's oddly entrancing. The final selection, 'Aus der Tiefe' (2013 - 15) returns a little bit to the general structure used in the first, here sequences of light, almost playful, three and four chord segments, rearranged, re-accented, and otherwise shuffled, strung in a kind of bracelet.  Entirely engrossing music, start to finish.

Sivan Silver-Swartz - untitled 6

'untitled 6' is an hour long work for string quintet (Nigel Deane, violin; Patrick Behnke and Tanner Pfeiffer, violas; Tal Katz and Julius Tedaldi, cellos). The score entails two "charts"--one where things change and recur, the other where things change and don't recur; "the former has only one path while the latter has infinite". The general feeling is one of slow breathing or perhaps very low amplitude ripples on an otherwise calm surface of a pond. The lines, microtonal and well-integrated, sometimes evoking old reed organs, overlap at irregular intervals, soft and gentle, like grass fronds floating on  the pond, attenuating here, coalescing there. Endlessly absorbing, a seemingly simple surface enveloping activity with an almost biological sense of complexity. Gorgeous work.

Rishin Singh - out from the blinding white

Two lovely, subtle compositions for solo piano, played by Dante Boon. The first, 'thirty oars (for dante)', uses scale-like patterns, ascending and descending, as recurrent structural elements, around and between which are scattered small clusters of soft chords and brief single-note sequences, extremely thoughtful and warmly pensive, with the occasional welcome, just slightly sour twist. 'for eva-maria houben' is based on  a pair of three-note patterns that are ever so slightly modified throughout the work; I don't think any two sequences are identical but they're also not very far apart. That's all but that's more than enough: just a continuous blooming of akin sounds. Both pieces are difficult (for me) to describe with any kind of specificity but both are just wonderful--intelligent, tender and full of life. Great stuff.

wandelweiser

Friday, January 24, 2020





Arild Andersen/Clive Bell/Mark Wastell - Tales of Hackney (Confront)

I had to chuckle when I first put on this disc. I knew and greatly enjoyed Andersen's work in Jan Garbarek's early groups and, even earlier, when that group was nestled into George Russell's large ensembles, but I'm pretty sure the last time I heard him was on Roswell Rudd's 'Flexible Flyer'  (1975). Nonetheless, when those initial bass notes rang out on the first track here, there was no one  else it could have been. When swiftly joined by Bell's khene (a Thai mouth organ) and Wastell's deft cymbals, it ushers in this delightful and unexpected release that, among other things, seems  determined bring a fresh take on the kind of music heard on those early ECM sides, before the label became awash in pastels. No easy task, but this trio manages to generate  a lush, more or less tuneful set of pieces that retain just enough edge to skirt any concerns. Andersen employs electronics as well, creating washes of dense tones, again not altogether too comfortable and melding well with Wastell's shruti box while Bell ably navigates from khene to shakuhachi to pi saw (a Thai flute) to shinobue (a Japanese transverse flute). Spacey sections that avoid gauziness, instead focussing on laminal textures, always with ample grain or tinges of harshness, near-melodies that are pastoral and even meditative while utterly avoiding the lassitude and shallowness all too commonly encountered in this general area. And Andersen is a joy to hear throughout, such a great sound. Not only a very enjoyable release but a surprising and refreshing approach to even consider these days (recorded in  2017)--a wonderful recording.




Chris Burn/Philip Thomas - as if as (Confront)

A set of arrangements for piano by Burn, played by Thomas, including six brief pieces transcribed from guitar improvisations by Derek Bailey.

The first compositions, the title track and 'only the snow', are spiky, dense and complex works, with intriguing senses of fragmentation and silences (especially the latter), tending toward the higher registers and evoking, to these ears, something of a more spatially concerned Nancarrow. Initially  forbidding, they grew on me with each subsequent listen. I should point out that there's some confusion with regard  to track listings involving a mistaken pressing and  a corrected one; I'm going by my ears and the listing on my copy, though I'm not convinced I'm correct.... What are listed as the Bailey transcriptions (from his 1991 release on Incus, 'Guitar Solos Volume 2') are a different  matter. As odd as it may seem, they're immediately in more "comfortable" territory, almost gentle, quite introspective sounding and lovely; this is  an aspect that leads me to think that some of the four 'pressings and screenings' pieces  are mixed in  here, but whatever, it's excellent music. The pieces range from that kind of Webern-ish spatial pointillism to only slightly softer, more (relatively) lush environs, always with a firm sense of structure and not nearly as claustrophobic as I might have expected. As ever, Philip Thomas exercises both precision and touch, injecting vast amounts of vigor into the proceedings. My knowledge of Burn's oeuvre is fairly limited but this is easily my favorite recording of his work yet. Highly recommended.



Max Eastley/Fergus Kelly/Mark Wastell - The Map Is Not the Territory (Confront)

A flowing set of eight improvisations where the trio (Eastley, arc [an electro-acoustic monochord]; Kelly, invented instruments, found metals, electronics; and Wastell, tam tam, metal percussion, piano frame) concentrate almost exclusively on long tones including, one suspects, much derived from bowing. Unlike many an arco-cymbalist, however, the sounds achieved here aren't overly harsh or strident, though also maintaining a safe distance from the blandly mellifluous. There's an expansiveness in play here, perhaps less liquid than sandy, smooth but not without granularity. A kind of serenity that allows for mild discomfort and itchiness, even venturing into otherworldly-seeming territory, as in 'Seizure of Light'. The tracks are of a piece but differentiated, like leaves from the same tree. This all sounds vague, I realize, but it's difficult (for me) to capture kind of flow heard here without getting too sappy about it. Nothing sappy about the music--it's lovely on a sensual level and engrossing to contemplate. Fine work.



Mike Cooper/Mark Wastell - Sound Mirrors (Confront)

Cooper's always been a tough musician for me to get any kind of stylistic fix on, likely my shortcoming versus his complex slipperiness. There's the free improviser, of course, but also the fellow who nods to Hawaiian slide guitar, acoustic blues among other necks of the woods. Here, on lapsteel guitar and electronics in six pieces with Wastell (tam tam, percussion, shruti box), one hears tinges of all of these and others. The mix of guitar and tam tam is especially appealing here, metal strings and brushed or stroked metal--very nice. There's a fine billowy feeling  throughout much of the work though on occasion, as in 'Warden Point', the electronics gets more in-one's-face and a tad loopy. Parts of 'Joss Gap' nod to dance rhythms of a sort, creating an interesting an unusual kind of tension, in the context. Using one's imagination, you can almost summon up images of the sound mirrors referenced in the album's title (we've all seen these, yes?). An intriguing piece, gnarly in ways one doesn't often hear; Cooper's guitar toward the end is an unexpected easter egg. It doesn't always work--there's a bit of oil and water here--but when it does, which is often enough, 'Sound Mirrors'  offers some delectable flavors.

Confront




Sunday, January 05, 2020


Grisha Shakhnes - being there  (unfathomless)

A dense collage of sound "recorded live at home" and, I take it, processed [not so, I've learned--it's live: description here]. In any case, one gets layers of sound that fall somewhere between natural and mechanical--hard to determine which, often enough--with hollow moans and disembodied, unintelligible voices, masterfully mixed, dramatically (slowly) paced--claustrophobic, powerful and fascinating.



Bruno Duplant/David Vélez - our seasons reverse (unfathomless)

A long range collaboration with both extensive field recordings and other instrumentation (theramins, organ, strings), somewhat airier than the prior release though still thick with small , chattering sounds, like a horde of robotic insects, muted sirens, struck metal, exposed wiring and more.



Friday, November 08, 2019





Jon Dale - theatre (triste tropiques)

Sukora -  Ice Cream Day! Nice Day! (triste tropiques)


Two excellent approaches to the notion of non-activity or near silence and the depths available therein.

Perhaps more went into it than meets the ear, but Jon Dale's 'theatre' seems to be one 55-minute recording of an interior space in which not so much happens. But so much happens. My visual analogue as I was listening was a piece of gray felt or carpeting,  the kind of material that at a glance appears a drab gray but on  close examination reveals tiny threads of various, surprisingly bright colors, impossibly complex. Dale's room, if it is such (no information is presented with the disc--perhaps it's simply a theatre interior per the title), appears to contain a heating system, perhaps, something softly, airily mechanical that operates on a consistent level throughout, generating a warm kind of burr, in and of itself subtly fluctuating and dully shimmering as, one imagines, pressure levels shift ever so slightly. The sound is dry on the one hand, super-saturated on the other resulting in  a  depth of field that's both shallow and infinitely detailed; fascinating. As well, the space, or adjacent ones, is being utilized by humans. We hear the  occasional door being opened and shut, squeaking on its hinges, various random bangs and thuds and swatches of vague, blurred and distant conversation. These appear with delightful (that is to say, real) randomness, scattered  piecemeal through the recording but often absent for any number of minutes. That's it, but that's more than enough. One easily imagines sitting in the space, doing nothing but listening and contemplating.

The oddly titled and illustrated 'Ice Cream Day! Nice Day!' by Sukora (Takayoshi Kitajima) contains even less to immediately apprehend but again, there's so much there. The sounds on the two tracks are pitched such that it might be recommended to listen on headphones. Otherwise, depending on your volume settings, you might lose them entirely. 'The second hand turning', as in the Dale, has at the start a consistent tone augmented by ancillary noises. The tone, though very quiet, is more aggressive, a vaguely threatening throb. As it falls out, one hears, indeed, a soft click that seems to recur at one second intervals, some haze between you and it and a barely discernible, high whine. The pulse returns now and then, imparting the sensation that the listener has moved, has walked to different areas that expose or amplify a given sound. If the Dale piece was a piece of fuzzy material, 'A moving organ' might be heard as the individual fibers from that material loosely strewn across a stone floor. An ultra-soft ambient rustle upon which one hears the slightest of clicks, irregular but frequent, as if someone's tapping the floor with a leaf. Somewhere in that rustle, next to impossible to discern, there's a regular sound, like the quietest of inner grooves brushed by a microscopic stylus. Intent, so thoughtful, engrossing.

Two superb, questioning releases.

Dale's blog appears to be down, but the discs above may be ordered from:

Careful Catalog




Sunday, October 27, 2019



Nick Storring - Qualms  (Never Anything Records)

A wildly entertaining if difficult to pin down solo venture from Storring. 'Qualms' is a single piece, spanning both sides of the cassette, on which Storring wields cello (electric and acoustic), other strings including guitar, keyboards, a vast array of percussion and more. The music has one foot in a kind of post-In C minimalism--there are moments that almost sound like they might have been lifted from a variant In C performance, in fact--and several others  (it's at least insectile, if not centipedal) in adjacent areas including one that owes something to Southeast Asian traditions. The generally shimmering percussion, all light bells and transparent wooden tappings, rolls over liquid, string-generated drones, nodding in passing to Balinese and Javanese music, even evoking Laotian mouth organ music at one point, but joyfully moving to its own rhythms and harmonies. On the one hand, it's kind of steady-state but within 'Qualms' are any number of sections and shifts, fades and re-emergences, dreamlike. There's generally a pulse (the piece was written to accompany choreography for Yvonne Ng), at least implied when slowed to a breathing pace, but often enough up front, always airy and fluttering, never remotely leaden; this is particularly the case on Side B, during the episode that's most reminiscent of the Riley opus.

Overall, 'Qualms' is an intoxicating pleasure, offering both a surface beauty and a wealth of fascinating details to investigate. Well worth hearing.

Never Anything Records

Saturday, October 26, 2019



Fergus Kelly - Gleaming Seams (Room Temperature)

I've been listening to Fergus Kelly's music for about a decade now and have found it consistently rewarding, his dark percussion/tape studies always very immersive, rich and unique to his sensibility. 'Gleaming Seams' might be my favorite yet. Centered around percussion (drums, metals, plastics, gongs and more), the ten pieces are embedded--sometimes thoroughly,  sometimes more gently and subtly--into webs of field recordings taking various forms, exterior (trams, skateboard park, random conversations) and interior (ATM machines, computer drives, etc.). As well, there are samples from other musics, including brass and orchestras, that glimmer through the dim, roiling haze.

The softly clanging metals that open 'Numb Burn' draw you in immediately. Just as you're settling in, things shift to a more irregular, quasi-rhythm, the drums attempting to stay afloat amidst backward tape and brass flourishes, buzzing electronics and more, a shifting mirror-like construction that leaves the listener at once disoriented and oddly satisfied. Kelly applies variations to this approach throughout, allowing the percussion to form a kind of core, the ancillary sounds swirling around at some points, adhering and forming their own new structures at others. Now and then, the electronics drift into quiet pulses, creating an almost unnoticed thread, loosely tying together the disparate sound worlds, occasionally bearing the slightest Balinese tinge. The balance between the acoustic and electronic, including the field recordings, is perfect; Kelly achieves a unity that's pretty rare. Each of the ten tracks works extremely well on its own and the whole leaves one sated and even a little moved, the darkness of the evoked soundscapes paradoxically offering some degree of nostalgia. A complicated, brilliantly conceived sound-world. Highly recommended.

Room Temperature @ bandcamp


Monday, September 16, 2019



Antoine Beuger -  traces of eternity: of what is yet to be (A New Wave of Jazz)

Antoine Beuger - Now is the moment to learn hope (A New Wave of Jazz)

There have been quite a few releases of Beuger's music over the past several years and it's an odd,  and very pleasurable thing to consider them en masse. On the one hand, his music is so diaphanous, so air-suffused that you'd think it might be difficult (not to mention unnecessary) to differentiate  them mentally. On the other, they're always very different. There's that old AMM aphorism: "as alike or unalike as trees" that conveys something of my feelings about Beuger's work.

In his liner notes, Guy Peters writes that "traces of eternity...",  inspired by David Patterson's 'Hebrew Language and Jewish Thought', takes the form of a 288-page score with minimal notation on each page, the performer able to dip in and out as desired, to interpret as seen fit. Pianist Dante Boon, one of the very finest proponents of Beuger's music (as well as that of many other composers associated with the Wandelweiser collective) chose to begin where he'd previously left off on his own journey through the score. Single notes are struck, pure and lambent, strings gently caressed, suspended in silence, or near-silence as the rooms is heard, faintly, as are adjustments by Boon, including pedaling. As is often the case with Beuger's music, there's a combination of spareness and, if not always apparent, sensual beauty, a resilient softness and warmth. The connective tissue is gossamer but  surprisingly strong. Now and then, the piano sounds more forcefully, deeply; once in a while a fragment of a melody emerges, but just as a glimmer, something seen out of the corner of one's eye (or ear), then vanishing as the music flows past, around the corner. The same and different. Boon's  degree of sensitivity is profound, pacing the work perfectly, varying his approach subtly, maintaining the piece's vibrating sense of life throughout, reading his text. One only hopes that, someday, the work might be heard in its entirety.

'Now is the moment to learn hope' is performed by the Extradition Ensemble (Loren Chasse, bell; Brandon Conway, classical guitar; Sage Fisher, harp; Matt Hannafin, bowed crotales; Branic Howard, bowed guitar; Evan Spracht, alto trombone). The listener is immediately immersed into the general environment fulling of falling water and clouds of ambient sound. The music is more forthright, kind of oozing through the space, a thicker liquid bleeding through a thinner one. Brief but forceful guitar and harp chords are offset by longer, more languid tones from the trombone, bowed guitar and crotales. The music, already rich at the start, seems to slowly intensify, though more likely it's the listener's aural acuity growing more and more perceptive as the piece unfurls. Car horns sound, engines; the bowed portions attain greater depth, denser sonority, though as on the earlier work, the music maintains a steady character, flowing and changing/remaining the same, traffic closing out the set. A moving, enveloping experience.

Two wonderful recordings.

A New Wave of Jazz

A New Wave of Jazz (bandcamp)


Thursday, August 22, 2019



Jason Lescalleet - This Is What I Do, vol. 21 (Glistening Examples)

I first saw Lescalleet in the early oughts, on hands and knees, threading crumpled, loose audiotape between five or six ancient tape players. The resultant sound aside, there was something simply physically impressive about the sight. He's a big guy, a counterweight to the more typical weedy geek crouched behind an Apple. Something almost athletic was happening, something coiled and pent-up, ready to violently unfurl. The sound, of course, was great. Those dark, irregular rumbles, layers upon layers of them, repeating in very slow loops. I was never sure how much of the sound was from recordings inscribed on the tape, how much was due to their battered condition, the slack way they pulled through the tape heads--probably some of each.

Lescalleet moved on and I'd followed his work with reasonable closeness, enjoying the great majority of it, being confused now and again, charmed more often. I still think his 'The Pilgrim' is one of the most moving, important works of the first decade of this century. In 2011, he embarked on a project titled "This Is What I Do" which began by cataloguing earlier work and quickly became a kind of "workbook" to quickly document his current activities. I heard the first two of these, then lost track. A few months back, having reached Lescalleet during my anal playthrough of my music collection, I thought I'd make up for that shortcoming and went to his bandcamp page only to discover that he'd removed most of the twenty-one recordings in that series, figuring they'd served his purpose. By happy chance, I was up in the Portland, Maine area last month, met Jason for coffee and was given a copy of Vol. 21.

First of all, what a great cover. No  source or  photographer is provided but...excellent. Second, something I just noticed while writing: the graphics on the disc itself. Aside from the track listings (leaving out the first), there's what seems to be an entirely bogus set of...well, a list of countries in the form of a track list, though not all are countries (Africa Tabernacle Evangelism, Network, Chaplaincy Ministries) as well as credits containing a number of humorous misprints like "dublication" and  "Holy Bible: New International Venison".  Few of these yield much to googling. Lescalleet has a long-standing habit of encrypting obscure references into his work, either via titles or the music itself but he warned me not to go searching for such in this case, so I won't. Except. When I went to enter the release into my database at Discogs, I noticed the following track timings: 0:11, 11:11, 11:11, 11:11, 5:55, 11:11. I'm sure this is mere coincidence.

The 11-second track consists of some buzz and crackles followed by Lescalleet saying, "Nah, I don't like that." Gotta love it. "I Can Receive Music Alright" is marvelous, a kind of descendant of the Fenn O'Berg theme. After what sounds like some short-wave conversation, a lush, Holstian symphonic track enters, expansive and billowing. I feel like I know the piece but can't put my finger on it. There's something of a soundtrack quality to it and is the first reason I began to think of the disc as an audio film. Lescalleet has often used filmic references in the past and incorporated scenes from movies  in his live performances. This has an overture-like aspect, cloudy and surging, very attractive. He lets it go more or less on its own for several minutes before introducing low, nearly sub-sonic rumblings and explosions, the kind of element he handles as well as anyone around. These sounds, evoking large objects jostling around in vast,  echoing spaces like the hull of a tanker are extremely immersive and gripping. "Kiss Me" picks up in that same world of hollow banging and rattling, the sounds occurring more rapidly and with agitation. Suddenly, a deep male voice says, "Mademoiselle Julianne, embrassez moi". After more thick, dark noise, the same voice intones, "Il est mort, mademoiselle." and some more, a noirish tinge that picks up the cinematic theme, if there is one. That sense of thickness, by the way, is something I always associate with Lescalleet's work, a  density, a feeling of multiple, claylike layers.

Oh yes, there's also extremism. At the end of that cut, there's a sequence of some of most eardrum shredding sound I've encountered in recent years, though it feels oddly soft, like having your auricular canal reamed with dental floss. Beware.

'Thirty Percent Flat' is a whirlwind of electronics and natural sounds (crickets, tree frogs, who knows what else), its volume and density rising over its course like a lava flow, eventually boring another clean, heat-blasted hole wherein sounds can scour your skull. The "short" track, 'Korea 2002' also begins with a surge, then lapses into simple piano (or koto? the recording is blurry enough that it's hard to tell) and percussion (sticks), with a voice speaking briefly in, I think, Japanese, despite the piece's title. It's somewhere along here, or perhaps in the prior piece, that my movie notion kind of breaks down, quite possibly because it had no basis in reality to begin with. 'Korea 2002' is a fine, mysterious piece, though, its principal sounds slowly getting absorbed into vague electronics and/or room ambiance.

"Hello,  this is the Minneapolis Police. The party is over." So begins the final track, followed by a snarled "One, two, three, four!" and a dense segue into a dance track and extreme feedback, soon splaying out into a ringing, desolate landscape, industrial and nocturnal, Lynchian high tension wires. This goes on for quite a while before, for the piece's last 90 or so seconds, giving way to some utterly gorgeous piano music. Again, I'm at a loss as to the source but feel I should know it (and want to). As lovely and fitting as the Chopin played by George Dzundza in 'The Deer Hunter'.

A fine end to this movie and a great release. This one is still available at the Glistening Examples bandcamp site--do check it out.

Glistening Examples



Tuesday, August 13, 2019


Olivier Messiaen - Quatuor our la fin de temps/Linda Catlin Smith - Among the Tarnished Stars - Apartment House (Another Timbre)

I came to Messiaen fairly late in my listening career. For a long time, his was a name, not much more. Somewhere in the early 80s, I picked up the Philips recording of the Quartet, probably due to the presence of Vera Beths on violin, whose name I knew from her involvement with a number of Willem Breuker projects (I was way into Breuker then; the Doré engraving on the cover didn't hurt, I'm sure). The name of the pianist on the date, Reinbert de Leeuw, meant nothing to me at the time! It had a strong effect on me, both the historical facts of its creation and, especially, the two louanges. Still, I filed it away and managed to, more or less, forget about it. Some years later, when Zorn included a cover of the 'Louange à l'Eternité de Jésus', I recall it took me a few moments to place the work; odd. In any case since then, I've listened to many a reading of it and more Messiaen besides, though I'm still far from any kind of thorough investigation.  I listened to a few more in recent weeks and bought an old copy of the Erato vinyl, an early 60s recording with Huguette Fernandez, Guy Deplus, Jacques Neilz and Marie-Madeleine Petit, but apart from some obvious differences in approach it's beyond my ears and my available time to sit and do a proper comparison, not that it's necessary. I discussed the work a bit with Keith Rowe and he pointed me to this very interesting critical exchange on BBC Sounds, which readers might enjoy.

But first things first. There are two works presented on this fine disc, each performed by members of Apartment House (Mira Benjamin, violin; Anton Lukoszevieze, cello; Heather Roche, clarinet; Philip Thomas, piano). Though it's not mentioned anywhere I could  find, including the text on the Another Timbre site, I take it for granted that, not only by virtue if the relatively unusual instrumentation but amore importantly considering its overall sound, that Linda Catlin Smith had the Messiaen at least partially in mind when she composed the extremely beautiful piece, 'Among the Tarnished Stars' (1998).  The initial section's poignancy seems to be an indirect allusion to the louanges, though perhaps a bit more grounded, less trusting in the likelihood of spiritual salvation. It shifts subtly throughout its 28 minutes, maintaining a somber quality. The piano hits chords evoking the striking of dull metal  as the clarinet intones a sorrowful hymn. Gentle glimmers appear via occasional upward lines, the strings and clarinet adopting a kind of breathing, sighing pattern in the still air. Another deep, evocative piece from Smith; I'm very happy this label has done yeoman's work in getting her music out into circulation.

As said above, comparisons with other recordings are beyond my pay grade, though this quartet approaches the work with a certain kind of rigor and lack of any tinge of sentimentality, partly expressed by the relative lack of vibrato. The line in the 'Vocalise' is taken a bit more slowly than I'm used to, less stridently. Lukoszevieze mentions thinking of the cello part in the first louange as a kind of blues and that comes through to these ears. Thomas does something on the last movement, a slight dampening of the second of the doubled chords played (via pedal manipulation, I take it) as a kind of "ghost chord", a faint echo, or maybe I'm  simply imputing that due to the extremely fine level of touch employed by Thomas. Whatever the case, I find this effect to be very moving and beautiful. At the end of things, I can only say that, for me, this reading of the Quartet fits in quite comfortably with past favorites, holds its own very well and, in fact, is better recorded than many, giving it a bit of an edge on that front. It's entirely worth hearing of you're a fan of the piece--mandatory, even.

Another Timbre


Saturday, August 10, 2019



Driving over to Woodstock for a performance of Morton Feldman's 'For Philip Guston', played by the Bent Duo plus Emlyn Johnson, it occurred to me that not only had I never seen a live concert of a long-form piece by Feldman but surprisingly, considering my love for his work. my pretty substantial collection of his recordings, etc., I'd seen scarce few  shows of Feldman's music at all over the years. Not  sure why this is so. I'd seen the Sabat/Clarke duo at Miller Theater, Columbia University, playing 'Violin and Piano' but that was more than 15 years ago and I think the same duo, some years prior, at Cooper Union. Did  the ONCEIM Orchestra do 'For Samuel Beckett'? I have a avgue memory (!!). But certainly never the lengthier pieces. Never the classic solo piano works for  that matter. Odd.

In any case, this show was organized to coincide with an exhibition of Philip Guston drawings, drawings done in an attempt to eliminate all prior preconceptions, to get as far back to basics as possible, They're a set of "simple" images done in black ink, just line segments, roughly laid in at (I think) a single stroke:



Strong  work. As is pretty well known, Feldman and Guston, once close friends, became somewhat hostile  to one another after the former's vehement disagreement with Guston's return to figurative painting,  a rupture that remained unhealed s of the latter's death in 1980  (in Woodstock, where he resided). Feldman wrote the 4-hour plus piece played today as a kind of apology.

The concert took place in the rear room of the WAAM gallery in Woodstock, adjacent to the exhibition. For this performance, Bent Duo (Bill Solomon, vibraphone, glockenspiel, chimes, marimba; David Friend, piano, celesta) were joined by Emlyn Johnson (flutes,  piccolo). It was an extraordinary event.

I have four recordings of the piece and while there's no way I could possibly do a side-by-side comparison from memory, I'll just say that today's performance more than fits in comfortably with those by Williams/Blum/Vigeland, Stone/Jarvinen/Cheng-Cochran, Kotik/Kubera/Nappi or Engler/Schrammel/Breuer. Not only was the playing as sensitive and masterful as any of those, the spatial experience of hearing it live added an enormous dimension to the music. Though the performers were in a fairly tight triangle, five to six feet between them, the depth of sound and the transparent dancing of the intertwining, incredibly complex lines was breathtaking. Not that the sequences are complex--far from it. But the pacing and the relationships were like poetry made up of everyday words arrayed in a manner you thought impossible. From the initial four-note melodic line B-F#-G-D, if I'm not mistaken, which I easily may be, knowing little) which resurfaces throughout, sometimes whole, sometime just the first two or three notes, sometimes hidden within another sequence, to the section near the end where a six-note descending figure on glockenspiel, the pacing varied exquisitely, intermingling with a different six-note line played by flute and piano, not in unison, but out of phase, creating complexities of balance and beauty that were just stunning. In  between many "landmarks". I didn't realize from the recording how quickly Feldman goes from instrument to instrument. The marimba is  used sparingly and always tapping out steady patterns, on two occasions lines of rapid, identical notes; the first time, I didn't count but I think upwards of 80, the second time 54. These appear out of the blue, like chapter divisions. At one point, nearer the end, the music turns harsh and even strident, agitated  and intense, a welcome tonic. More often, amidst the general pastoral spareness, there are small  eruptions of extreme lushness and elegance, bouquets that bloom ravishingly, linger for a few moments, then subside.

It was along haul, sure, and at around the 2 1/2 hour mark, I felt myself  beginning to flag but managed a second wind and had no trouble sailing to the finish. It was a relaxed situation, with visitors encouraged to come and go, to roam around the gallery. The audience fluctuated from 2 to 10 or  so for the most part,  though at the piece's conclusion, there may have  been 20 at hand. Myself and one other stalwart fellow were the only ones, apart from the superb performers, to last the duration. More than worth it, a beautiful experience. Here's hoping more such events take place up in this neck of the woods.

I see bent Duo is doing a Sarah Hennies piece at Dimenna in NYC next weekend. Do yourselves a favor and check them out.

Bent Duo

Tuesday, July 30, 2019



Bertrand Denzler - Arc (Potlatch)

Denzler has created a few of my favorite pieces of music over the last 5 - 10 years, always pushing into areas one doesn't expect, especially from an improvising saxophonist. Here, he enlists the aid of the group, CoÔ, made up of the string section of the fine Ensemble ONCEIM (Patricia Bosshard, violin; Cyprien Busolini, viola; Élodie Gaudet, viola; Anaïs Moreau, cello; Félicie Bazelaire, double bass; Benjamin Duboc, double bass; Frédéric Marty, double bass) in the production of two dense, mysterious and rich works, 'Arc 1.1' and 'Arc 2.1'.

The first is a series of grainy, complex swatches of bowed tones, undulating internally, shifting ground in a fascinating manner, some voices ascending, some static, some shifting unpredictably, the whole emerging as a kind of material--I think of a fabric but one that has the complexity of stone if that makes any sense. There's something of a Niblockian aspect, but smaller scale and isolated, allowing for great penetration into each morsel, at the same time allowing them to be considered side by side as the work progresses. The predominance of low strings provides a wonderful, thick bedrock as well. 'Arc 2.1' is a kind of diptych, the sound unbroken for the first half of its 23 minutes, a brief pause, then continuing. The low, surging lines sound like dopplered airplane engines, the higher strings swirling and eddying like avian murmurations, fluctuating in a seeming random manner but evoking a difficult-to-pin-down logic, ranging ever higher and wispier. Again, the spirit of Niblock seems to hover but Denzler has found his own domain and applied a very fine ear to the strings, the ensemble brilliantly reacting to his requests.

Wonderful, entrancing music--a great job all around.

Potlatch

Sunday, June 02, 2019

(cribbed from my fb post)

fwiw, not that it's news of much import, I'm again planning to drastically scale down my reviewing activity. Hard to say how much, just that I'm less and less inclined to spend the time writing about work that doesn't *really* hit home (as is the case with these two). I've been turning aside more and more in recent months and expect that trend to continue. All of which is to say, dear musicians and label owners, please bear this in mind and act (or not) accordingly. I hugely appreciate your allowing me to hear so much amazing music over the years but can't promise anything in the way of returns for (at least) the near future. Too much reading, watching, painting, living and simply listening for pleasure to get done... 

Lance Austin Olsen - Look at the Mouth That Is Looking at You (Infrequency)

When I listen to a piece for the first time, I like to do so with as few bits of advanced knowledge as possible. I'll know the composer/instrumentalists, label, etc. but I'd rather not know the conception or "story" until later. With this work, conceived by Olsen (voice, guitar, amplified objects, field recordings) and wonderfully realized with Debora Alanna (piano, organ), Erin Cunes (voice) and John Luna (voice), I received a strong sense of narrative, of an epic journey of sorts, somewhere into the north. I flashed on William Vollmann's 'The Ice Shirt' a number of times. It stretches over 77 minutes, in three pieces titled, 'The Event', 'The Descent' and 'Lost' and among the many threads running through, three are sounds I think of as dockside, like ice-bound boats being softly buffeted against piers. How to describe? The keyboard parts are slow, rich and melodic, seeming like snatches of existing songs or hymns. Luna's voice is often listing words, as from an interior inventory ("deck...mind..sim..rah-sim...mind...") while Cunes sings clearly and ethereally. Voices appear like ghostly, hollow whispers, chilly and hard. Sometimes there are tinges of Ashley but more remote, odder.

When one reads Olsen's notes and comes to realize that the basis for the work was a stroke suffered by a friend of his, Craig, and that the piece is meant as a kind of portrait ("He is here--in these notebooks and in this score"), the sounds necessarily acquire whole other connotations, yet that initial (unsubstantiated) impression lingers, a kind of filter through which I hear the "real" meaning. I find this fascinating and hope Olsen doesn't mind my "input", so to speak, as listener. Whatever the case, it's a fantastic, enchanting, bitter, mysterious work, unlike anything I've heard in a while. Very special.

Infrequency Editions



d'incise - Assemblée, relâche, réjouissance, parade (Insub/Moving Furniture)

As has generally been the case in the last ten or so years, a new release from d'incise comes as a gentle and intriguing surprise. The disc is in two sections: a four-part suite titled, 'L'Anglard de St- Donat' and a two-part work called 'Le Désir' ('certain' and 'serein'). 'L'Anglard de St-Donat's four to six minutes portions are apparently based on the mazurka form, though this listener couldn't discern that relationship. Instead, we hear ringing, sometimes subtly piercing sustained tones derived at leas in part from bowed metal. As intense as they are, they're never without some kind of tonal basis, sometimes, as in the second part, even appearing in sequences of notes that might just about qualify as a melody (I imagine this is one evocation of the mazurka). The third has organ like chords billowing up gently and acquiring a bristly layer of fuzz before being responded to with patient, deep string plucks while the final section has clearer organ tones accompanied by a worried seesaw from bowed metal or string. The whole suite is heady, contemplative and absorbing.

'Désir' is a very different creature, performed live on "detuned/retuned" organ along with bowed metal sticks. On the first part, a steady, almost lilting three-note melody/rhythm is heard, a sequence that turns oddly queasy with the introduction of slightly off-pitch metal. One feels as though on a rocking boat, nausea filtering in around the edges. d'incise switches to a different three-note pattern a third of the way through, more propulsive, the music acquiring something of a Tony Conrad aura, the bowed metal sounding like axles struggling along under a heavy weight. The rhythm shifts once again in the final third (the pice runs 15 minutes) into a more sing-songy, stationary mode, content to wobble back and forth beneath the soft moans until cutting out entirely. Excellent work. 'Serein' is indeed serene in the sense that a consistent, single note is struck, about once every two seconds, over a steady reed bed, but the keening tones of the metal are more splintered, even anguished, writhing. Over the last minute, the organ disappears, the metal curling smokelike and acrid, into the sky.

Insub

Moving Furniture


Friday, May 17, 2019




A.F. Jones - Bourdon du Kinzie (Unfathomless)

A.F. Jones - For Eschrichtiidae (Omniana) (Taâlem)

Having known Al Jones and his history so well over the past almost two decades, it's always difficult--impossible, really--to listen to his sound constructions without performing an image overlay with his long career in the navy, especially his subsurface activity with sonar while spending extended periods of time on a submarine. Listening to the opening few minutes of 'Bourdon du Kinzie' (Battery Kinzie, in Port Townsend, Washington was the source site for the sounds here), one can quite easily imaging oneself submerging, the aural activity of the upper world being washed out in deep gurgles, swamped by tones of water, rendering all sounds strangely and aqueously refracted. The environment soon turns cavernous, stone walls vibrating with energy from hidden turbines; a photo shows Jones pressing a mic against one such old, stained wall. This seemingly distant activity buffets against bangs and dull scrapes right next to one's ears--eerie and very effective. The piece lingers in this general area for a good while, expanding into adjacent zones filled with sandy rubbings, deep, heady thrums and more. It blurs out a bit, echoes of watery voices offset by indecipherable much closer utterances. Just as the listener is settling into a kind of edgy comfort zone, a few minutes from the disc's conclusion, there's an enormous, deafening series of bangs and groans, as though the hide of a battleship is being rent (there's even a Godzilla-sounding moan or two). A dramatic and thrilling climax to a very fine release.

The title of the single track on the 3" disc 'For Eschrichtiidae (Omniana)' is '48°06'48"N 122°45'19"W', also an area  somewhere in northwest Washington state, while Eschrichtiidae is a gray whale (baleen). There's water to be heard, but here in the form of rain falling heavily on a hard surface, perhaps metal. A bit before the halfway mark, the precipitation ceases and one hears a haze of machinery, maybe HVAC units or heating generators. A harsh kind of crackling takes over, difficult to ascertain the source (I thought briefly of the clicks made by whales, though that doesn't seem likely). A gradual diminution of sound begins, as of some smoothly whirring motor very slowly disappearing into fog, interrupted by soft splashes of water. It's very obscure, mysterious and disappears abruptly before the listener can pin down any definitive meaning. Fascinating and oddly provocative.

Unfathomless

Taâlem @ bandcamp

Wednesday, May 08, 2019



Alfredo Costa Monteiro - Endlessness (anòmia)

The concluding segment of Costa Monteiro's trilogy for electric organ, this LP presents two works. Both are steady-state, drone-like pieces, both deeply layered. The dominant sound is in the higher registers, warbling slightly and even a bit shrill, but there are so many things going on below and around it. Swells appear, attain some prominence, submerge again. Almost like focussing your depth of vision, you can almost choose to hear certain strands  at the "expense" of others--it sometimes seems like you can will things into existence. I'm not sure if this is possible to perform live but, if so, it's tantalizing to imagine these sounds swirling around and through one's membranes.

Yet another strong work in the extraordinary catalog of Costa Monteiro.

anòmia at bandcamp




Mariska Baars/Rutger Zuydervelt - eau (Machinefabriek)

A dreamy half-hour spent floating with Baars and Zuydervelt. Baars' lovely voice is overlaid, enhanced and manipulated in, I imagine, many ways--though never losing its essential "song" sound--sometimes seeming to be singing in some imaginary language and woven among (appropriately) liquid electronic textures, what sounds like backward guitars and doubtless much more. Given the title and cover image, the result is almost a kind of program music, as one easily imagines diaphanous water spirits wafting through the azure, drifting slowly down into the ever-darkening blue. A few surprising and mysteriously sharp clicks transpire later in the piece--sonar pings, perhaps. Distant voices? Boat motors? Hard to tell as one's senses have numbed somewhat. Ambient done right, well worth a listen.

Machinefabriek at bandcamp





Tarab - Housekeeping (sonic rubbish)

Tarab (Eamon Sprod) has always been a unique organizer of found sound and field recordings, back as far as his first recording, 'Surfacedrift' (2004). 'Housekeeping' continues down that path, this time employing, as one might surmise from the cover image, numerous items accumulated in his home over the years. Sometimes the sounds are more or less recognizable--the clatter of smallish, thin metallic items such as silverware--often they are not. The cascade of noise that greets the ear on the first track is wondrous, especially when experienced at high volume. Tarab manages to attain extreme degrees of depth and transparency while maintaining sonic richness--a seriously impressive range of timbres. It's kind of thrilling, in fact, not an adjective normally applied to field recording collages, but this has the hurtling excitement of a dangerous amusement park ride (alternatively, like running with scissors). The second track contains a greater ration of hums and deep rumbles, sourced from who knows where. The edits throughout are excellently chosen, suddenly shifting to blurred conversation, back into a hyperactive and explosive kitchen, back into billowy, dark clouds; the disc ends in a buzzsaw--or a blender. Excellent work.

sonic rubbish

Friday, May 03, 2019



Eva-Maria Houben - Erwartung 1 und 2 (Second Editions)

A wonderful LP containing a work by Houben (English translation: Expectation), performed by the composer once on piano, once on organ.

The music is pretty much impossible for me to describe--so serene, so bare-bones, the notes so perfectly chosen and placed, the touch so precise. The piece is based on a chord from Schönberg's piece of the same name, Houben unraveling it like a thread. The piano version, 'Erwartung 1' is more austere, beginning with two clearly struck high notes followed by a low one, soon answered by two in the mid-range, the notes held, the sustained tones mingling with each other and the audible ambiance of the room. It proceeds like a slow, contemplative walk, step by considerate step, observing. That might be the overwhelming sense I get from the piece, one of close, silent observance. The organ (at Thomas Morus Kirche in Krefeld) provides several additional layers and, as ever, Houben shows her mastery at eliciting timbres and combinations of timbres that are utterly gorgeous and mysterious. The tones are so tactile, so full of detail and activity even though you know they're "only" a single note--really amazing, I could wallow here forever. Haunting, ethereal and earthly at once with subtly new experiences from beginning to end. This might be my favorite organ work from Houben thus far.

As I said, difficult to do justice to this music in words, but if you're at all a fan of her work, this is an absolute must. And if you're new to it, not a bad place to dip your toes.

Second Editions


Wednesday, May 01, 2019



Pareidolia - Selon le Vent (JACC)

Pareidolia: The tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image or pattern in a random or ambiguous visual or sound image. Good word, glad to know it and, clearly, a meaningful one in this neck of the woods. This Pareidolia, however, is a trio comprised of Joāo Camões (viola), Gabriel Lemaire (alto and baritone saxophones, alto clarinet) and Yves Arques (piano, prepared piano) with Alvaro Rosso (double bass) on the second of two works.

The first track, 'Himmelskino', is a fine mix of free playing and vague nods to tradition, especially from the viola. Lemaire's saxophonics are discreet, burbling and obligingly grimy and the trio creates an invigorating space that, while relatively active, feels uncrowded. Arques' piano is also a highlight, with very well deployed, resonant bell tones appearing near the end. A very satisfying work. The other piece, 'Herzkino', at first strays a bit far, for these ears, into that busier strain of improv where things become somewhat fussy, though Camōes gets into some strong playing that evokes Leroy Jenkins. Eventually, it settles into a calm, steady flow, calm enough that I'm reminded of, perhaps, late 70s Garbarek. An odd direction to take, one that doesn't quite do it for me, but the trio (and quartet) is intriguing enough to warrant a listen and to keep an eye on.

JACC at bandcamp




Anne F. Jacques/Ryoko Akama/Takamitsu Ohta - The Magic City (Hasana Editions)

Given the title, I thought this might be a Sun Ra tribute but, in fact, the two pieces were performed shortly after the death of Takehisa Kosugi in October, 2018 and dedicated to his memory. The trio use an array of small, everyday objects, a melodica and some electronics to fashion bustling, mini-landscapes. I wasn't familiar with Ohta's work, but from what I'd heard of Jacques', the resultant sounds seem midway between her usual approach (relatively dense and noisy) and Akama's (sparse and serene). 'Chris in the magic city' is like lifting a stone and watching an ant's nest. Quiet scurrying, a general overall pattern or set of sequences but varying immensely within that. Rattles, clicks, scrapes, the odd melodica passage, all unforced, as easily listened to intently as allowed to become part of one's environment. The general approach of 'Holly in the city magic' is more or less similar though the palette has changed to include lightly popping sounds, some slight whoosh in the background and an essentially more up front feeling--not aggressive but brighter, even a bit acid. If the previous track was formic, this one's like a hive of iridescent beetles. Fine, subtly unusual work.

Hasana Editions




Will Guthrie - Some Nasty (Hasana Editions)

As nasty as he wants to be, I suppose, but not nearly as much so as I expected. Guthrie's more than capable of laying down extremely nasty (not to say, brutal) drumming but actually reins himself in quite a bit here. His vaunted precision is still in effect but he shows a much lighter touch than, say, with Ames Room or on several solo projects. Two side-long tracks (though fairly brief, at 13-14 minutes each) which are more or less suites, with Guthrie utilizing a substantial amount of electronics, field recordings and various gamelan-related percussion in addition to his drum set. Side A begins with some rapid fire electronica, bells and sizzling drum work. This ceases abruptly and we're suddenly in a steamy Javanese environment, all soft, hazy bells and background hiss and grumble. Possibly the nastiest part occurs next, Guthrie (?) reciting some text in a strangulated, distorted matter followed by abused metal and harsh ripping, tearing noises and more. Side B begins with cloudy gongs, bells, light drums and electronics, growing  progressively denser and denser before moving into a little bit of straight up funk, then settling down again into Southeast Asia with beautiful wood blocks sounding over LP scratching and other shards of percussion and finally a great section for drums with gamelan. Good work, unexpected and invigorating.

Hasana Editions




Sunday, April 28, 2019

Vertical Music is a new cassette label based in Milan, run by Ludwig Berger. A few words on their initial three releases below.



Rubén D'Hers - Bolero Transparente (Vertical Music)

Three pieces for solo acoustic guitar. The works are inspired by the  "Bolero" song movement of the 70s, something I'm (blessedly?) unaware of but which, I gather, were very popular in D'Hers' native Venezuela among other places. I'm guessing they were quite the romantic/schmaltzy production numbers but D'Hers strips things down drastically, taking single notes and chords, playing them clearly, allowing them to suspend in space, quavering and bending gently, once in a while containing an echo of Hawaiian music. The first track, 'Romantic Chord Puzzle', outlines this approach. The chords and occasional arpeggios are independent, perhaps sourced from a sequence of otherwise unrelated songs. They hang, sometimes retuned, sometimes not, softly reverberating, their inherent richness tempered into a very attractive solemnity. The briefer 'Disipador de Tensión' moves things outside, the sounds of urban buzz and conversation forming a backdrop to guitar sounds that are similar to the first track, but more internally related, less disparate, almost a self-contained song--very lovely. Side B is taken up by the title track wherein the suspension is lengthened, allowing sections of silence between, and the timbre is roughened somewhat. This brings the music into significantly different and rewarding territory. The balance between the clear sustains and the sizzle and distortion around the edges is wonderful. Excellent work all around, check it out.




Jen Reimer/Max Stein - Sounding the City (Vertical Music)

Reimer and Stein do site-specific sound installations, generally urban, wherein the add to the existing soundscape with electronics of a drone-like nature. I was most often reminded if Max Neuhaus installations, like the one in Times Square, New York City. The seventeen tracks here are titled by their locations and seem to be simply recorded extracts of the environment. These recordings are quite clear and full. Usually, one can pick out the additions from Reimer and Stein, relatively unobtrusive hums and tones, though sometimes these are (apparently) masked to a great extent--or you're hearing them without being able to distinguish between sources. This makes it difficult to determine whether the pair is operating along the lines of, say, Michael Pisaro's 'Transparent Cities' series, where sine tones were chosen to, as much as possible, align up with the environmental sounds, or like Neuhaus and others where the additions were meant to subtly enhance or tinge the surroundings, whether consciously perceived or otherwise. In a recorded format, the listener is, of course, at a necessary disadvantage and I can easily imagine, in situ, an entirely different experience, probably a vastly more rewarding one. As is, the pieces make for engaging listening, not a problem at all, just a nagging sense that one is missing something.




Ludwig Berger - Inumaki, Esuzaki (Vertical Music)

The inumaki tree is a variety of small pine native to southern Japan and  China; its miniature version is popular as a kind of bonsai tree. For this very obscure recording, Berger used a contact mic on such a tree (on Esuzaki Island) during a strong wind. I said "obscure" above as the resultant sounds bear no obvious relationship with either trees or wind. Instead, we have a series of consistent but irregularly spaced "cries", a sound I might have guessed was from some exotic bird, a kind of howler monkey or a single-string bowed instrument like an erhu, or even a slightly hoarse shakuhachi. The sounds are short, clear, a little mournful with something of a descending line, somewhere between a whistle and a resonant scraping. In the background, you can just discern the sound of wind. I'm guessing one is hearing the same wind pass through the tree, the recording having been pared down to just the sound we hear here, though I'm not sure. There are occasional variations during the hour duration of the work, small clicks, rumblings and hollow taps, even the odd flatulent eruption. It's a challenging piece but one I found strangely absorbing. Little occurs but something about what I take to be the natural rhythm of the interaction between wind and tree, I found compelling.

Vertical Music at bandcamp

Friday, April 26, 2019


Mazen Kerbaj - Walls Will Fall (Bohemian Drips)

A site-specific work by Kerbaj, scored for 49 trumpets (seven groups of seven) to be performed in the Großer Wasserspeicher (Big Reservoir) of Berlin-Pankow. Not that it matters, but only a handful of the trumpeters (Axel Dörner, Sabine Ercklentz, Tom Arthurs, Nikolaus Neuser) on this LP were familiar to me--but the music is entirely a group effort. Kerbaj takes as his initial inspiration the biblical story of the Walls of Jericho and their subsequent tumbling, mapping it onto current or near-pst situations such as the Berlin Wall, Israel's wall of separation or Trump's proposed border wall, with the goal of hoping that music can help eliminate these barriers. The work is in several sections, beginning with a host of clicking sounds, moving on to sweeping breath tones (49 trumpets can create quite a wind storm), gradually introducing shofar-like calls and then purer brass notes and finally shouts of "Walls will fall!". The Großer Wasserspeicher is quite a unique space, structurally and sonically, so the home listener necessarily loses a good deal of the experience (though the video excerpt below gives you something more of the idea) but still, the massive reverberation of the buzzing of the horns is very impressive. 









Hannes Lingens - Pieces for Percussion (Umlaut)

I've always enjoyed, on recording and in live performance, Lingens' sense of restraint as a percussionist, his willingness to concentrate on single aspects of his kit and investigate them with care and patience. This LP continues that practice. The opening, 'Cymbal I', is ninety seconds of "simple" dulled taps on a cymbal (or gong), irregularly spaced and vaguely connotative of ritual; quite moving. 'Goofy Footer' involves dense washes of cymbals (for four players, it's overdubbed by Lingens here) that accumulate and disperse in waves throughout the piece. The next, the first of two versions of 'Arhythmic Perfection' is for bells, exhibiting a similar quasi-rhythm as was heard in the first work, extremely natural and engaging. 'Etwas Runder IV', closing the first side, is an extended snare roll within which Lingens constructs all manner of pulses and ripples, really fascinating, with more colors than you could possibly anticipate. Much of Side Two is given over to 'Four Cymbals'. an exercise in everyone's least favorite avant-percussionist technique, cymbal bowing. But Lingens pulls it off quite well, layering the tones, which range from high (but not shrilly piercing) to very low, creating a taffy-like flow. The final piece, 'Early Spring', is a lovely outlier, consisting of a field recording (or two), outdoors, with children, birds and others in the distance. The only contribution from Lingens that I can discern (I think) is a periodic low, woody tone. Wonderful work all around. 





Tomaso Corbetta - wakes in emptiness (self-released)

Doing a post-AMM soundscape and doing it right. Corbetta, a new name to me, combines thin layers of disparate sounds, many lightly percussive in nature, into an engaging, somewhat bleak, uncluttered essay, a fairly quiet, somberly industrial, nocturnal plain. There are many elements, including captures from short wave radios of Russian (?) speech and vague, distant snatches of music, some ritual chanting, embedded in an environment that's electronic at heart but not overwhelmingly so, a very nice balance. The percussive sounds, lightly abutting metals, skitters of wood on metal, etc. emerge and recede, often layered but, again, never cloying, always transparent and set within the space, not atop it. Corbetta's choices made along the way feel natural and unforced, resulting in an engaging, immersive amble, driven by a subtle, hard to explicate sense of narrative. Excellent work, give a listen.

Corbetta on bandcamp


Monday, April 22, 2019



Yan Jun/Jason Kahn - None of Us (Herbal International)

Five tracks from a vocal duo of Yan Jun and Jason Kahn during 2016, four short ones (one to three minutes) and one lengthy one running over 36 minutes, except...their vocals have been erased, leaving only the sounds that occurred in either Yan Jun's flat as they rehearsed (racks 1-3) or in the concert venue (4-5). For the shorter tracks this means, largely, the shuffling of feet, the gentle bumping together of unknown objects, etc. The longer cut was pieced together from five events, so one hears differences of general ambience and hushed conversations (presumably from audience members) in addition to the dull clicks and thuds. There are sections of near-silence, occasionally followed by a brief, startling in context, burst of applause and perhaps some post-concert, blurred general discussion. It's kind of an interesting idea--though the sort of thing that can and should only be done once (which is fine)--and even works a little if put on at low volume and not paid strict attention to, allowing it to blend in with one's environment.




Burkhard Beins/Mazen Kerbaj/Michael Vorfeld - Sawt Out (Herbal International)

An improv set with two percussionists (Beins and Vorfeld) and a trumpeter (Kerbaj). I'm attracted to that instrumental combination for some reason and the range of sounds created here, the thick matrix constructed between struck and stroked objects and the panoply of breath-derived brass sounds is quite impressive and enjoyable. The aural field is full, active and churning with little regard for silence--in this sense, it's a kind of extension of jazz-derived free improv, though of a thicker aspect, less scurrying, more grinding. 'Solid Water' features an intense, swirling sound the source of which I can't guess--it seems to be electronic, though nothing such is credited, but could be from the trumpet. In any case, it's pretty riveting and when it becomes increasingly embedded in the emergence of multiple cymbals/gongs, the effect is quite strong, made more so by its eventual abrupt cessation. 'Crossfeed" contains some searing bow-on-metal work through which one can just discern pop music from a radio buried in the mix, again developing a rich, unusual tone-world. The finely titled, 'Sore Toad' closes the disc with an engaging clatter of bells and thudding noises. While part of me would have liked to hear more space, more reticence, this set works quite well on its own terms and will certainly be enjoyed by listeners with a taste for active, visceral improv.



Christian Kobi/Christian Müller - A Second Day (Herbal International)

Five tracks of improvisation from Kobi (soprano saxophone) and Müller (sampled bass clarinet and electronics). As opposed to the album reviewed above, this combination, at least as realized here, doesn't sit as well with me. The soprano is generally strained (intentionally, no doubt) and the sampled electronics possess a kind of Ina GRM-y sheen that has never appealed to me. That said, there's a kind of delicate fragmentation at work here that's well-formed, spiky and colorful. The fourth track (cuts are numbered #1 - #5) ameliorates this, resulting in a very fine flow, a stream interrupted by chirps, buzzes, pops and other welcome detritus, very absorbing. The final track almost seems to be a reconciliation of these two approaches and works as well, combining the harsh spikiness with a sandpapery, staggered kind of flow. As a whole, the recording is hit and miss to these ears but ably accomplished and should appeal, among others, to admirers of Noetinger, eRikm and similar musicians striding the border between improv and contemporary electronics.

Herbal International