Thursday, January 22, 2015

I'll be taking another hiatus for about a week. Betsy's mom passed away last week and we'll be flying to Asheville tomorrow for a memorial service on Saturday and general tidying up of affairs, back on Thursday. As ever, apologies to all those kind enough to send music my way and I promise to get to them as soon as possible.

Jim Denley/Cor Fuhler - Truancy (splitrec)

The cover image, scrawled by Denley, shows a configuration of artists from many ages and genres, arrayed in a gridlike pattern presumably trying to establish some kind of connection, or perhaps simply a set of influences. It's intriguing, though I can't discern any effect on the music herein, which is excellent in any case. It's "simply" Fuhler on piano (with preparations) and Denley on alto saxophone (again, with preparations) but sounds far more vast and intricate. While my preferential tendency is decidedly more toward the sparer, post-AMM notion of improvisation and while I've recently heard much music on disc that was, for me, over-cluttered and rushed, it's always interesting to hear work that, while certainly informed of that more considered area, chooses to fill the space, be quite active and succeed very well in this endeavor. The two tracks here are fine examples, Fuhler and Denley molding an elastic, tensile space where something is almost always occurring, usually three or four things, where "placement" or necessity seems less of a concern than maintaining a certain thrust and textural variation. Denley's alto, always a problematic notion given my personal prejudices, doesn't shy away from its fundamental properties even as its palette is greatly enhanced via his preparations. Hard to quantify, except to acknowledge the instrumentalist's inherent musicality, why it works so well here and is, again for me, rare elsewhere. Fuhler, not surprisingly, spends more time inside the piano (though standard notes percolate through every so often) and, one presumes, is also responsible for some radio work and other electronics, all of which handled with his customary deftness and depth (I miss hearing more of his work since his transference to Australia). The music never gets frenetic, more going from medium to a nice, grainy, rough-edged, slow flow, the latter always full and grimy, with that wonderful sense of air circulating around the sounds.

An excellent recording, don't miss it.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jacques Demieree - the thirty and one pianos (Flexion)

[couldn't locate a cover image larger than pea-size, so...]

Yes, some thirty or so pianists gathered together to have at the work, recorded live in 2012 (you can see a video of the part of the performance here. I recall in the far distant past when the Stanley Cowell-led Piano Choir released a two-record set on Strata-East: great excitement at the prospect, some substantial disappointment at the result. Perhaps inevitably, in 1973, the sound was muddy and murky, the contributions of the seven pianists blurred and indistinct. Well, I'm guessing that cloud effect was one of the things explicitly sought for by Demierre with so many hands at the keyboard and within the piano frame.

As can be seen in the video, during at least the second of three portions of the piece (perhaps for all), the performers are wearing gloves, some of which appear to be rather thick (the inner sleeve sports a photo of one such pair, much the worse for wear having gone through the paces of the composition). No pianistics as such take place, more several kinds of piano massage, the performers enacting broad, muffled glissandi up and down the keyboards (which range from toy pianos through uprights and grands), varying their attack at the behest of Demierre, who wanders the stage providing numerical hand signals. The first section seems to be all inside the piano and the sounds issued are relatively distinct, a slow progression of chiming plucks and trills over a misty base, the envelope gradually altering due, one assumes, the instructions of Demierre. The second section, as you can see in the clip above, is all swirling clouds with various unique textures emerging and receding. It's enjoyable listening to on speakers but one can easily imagine the greater effects inside the hall. That said, the music more of less sits in one place; comfortably enough, and clearly there's minimal concern with large scale "movement" but how long one can remain absorbed will vary from person to person. The last part seems to combine the two approaches (I could be wrong); at this point, the overall sameness of the piece begins to take something of a toll though, again, that could well be an artifact of the recording as opposed to the live experience. Nestled into, not thinking of the particulars, Demierre has created an enjoyable, billowing and slightly prickly environment.

A solo piano work is appended, amusingly titled "free fight". It's quite percussive with, I think, unison key strikes and string plucks at first, frenetic and engaging throughout, producing sequence after sequence of varied textures including some delightful bubbly/wooden sounds. An impressive work, one I enjoy more than the "main" set.


Vinzenz Schwab - dings #1 (Canto Crudo)

A very interesting and thoughtful selection of computer music by a composer new to me. While pretty much operating in the Acousmatic space, Schwab, like scarce few other composers I've heard recently in the field (notably Giuseppe Ielasi and Philip Samartzis last year) manages to avoid homogenous, slick, overly processed results. Using sources both musical (pianist Gloria Damijan, percussionist FM Einheit, synthesist Dieter Feichtner and cellist Michael Moser here) and environmental (open environments, animals, a cess pit, bushes, a street demonstration in Athens, etc.), Schwab fashions six individual statements, almost all of them enticing.

The enveloping, complex welter of scurrying and ominous sounds and creaking trunks that make up "musik ist ein dickes waldtier (music is a fat forest animal) is a fine example, containing a fine balance of electronics and grittier, more obscure noises while the brief "walked by" succumbs to the temptation to include the kind of sliding sounds derived from 60s tape collage work. Matters are righted with "variations from piano", the work with Damijan, an initially hard-chugging, rocky piece that fragments as it goes, re-forming into a serious storm by its conclusion--very strong. The short piece with Einheit is appropriately dark and festering, replete with buzzing flies and allusions to steady rockish rhythms while "quartett für gruben & sträucher (quartet for pits and shrubs)" picksup on that dystopic idea and adds conflagration, buzzsaws and more; it reaches the verge of too-much but manages to maintain its poise amidst the drama and chaos. "expand.pique", the final cut, is perhaps my favorite with Moser's long, dark, elegiac cello lines twined amidst street sounds that begin with the everyday and quiet before erupting into violent demonstrations, sirens and shouts, explosions and chants. Impressive and harrowing.

I'm very glad to have heard Schwab's music, looking forward to hearing more. Well worth your time.

Canto Crudo

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Adolf Wölfli/Nurse with Wound - Courte Autobiographie (Lenka Lente)

An intriguing release of both text (in small booklet form) and a disc (3") of music inspired by the text.

The French text is brief, some six pages in the English translation the people at Lenka Lente were kind enough to provide, and recounts a mini-recap of the early life of Wölfli (a major figure in Art Brut) up through his imprisonment on child molestation charges. Prior to that, he sketches out aspects of his miserable childhood and does so brusquely and vividly. His work has inspired work from several composers, including Wolfgang Rihm and, as presented here, Nurse With Wound (Steven Stapleton, Diana Rogerson and David Tibet). The two pieces collected for this project are "Lea Tanttaaria" and "Great-God-Father-Nieces", both of which were created around 1986. The first is a dreamy piece for, I think, piano, maybe clavinet and other keyboards (maybe music boxes) and plucked strings, bearing a Sun Ra-ish tonality, attractively vague and mysterious. It fits the text very well, lending an unanticipated, dark fairy tale quality that tinges the story in a somehow appropriate way. The second track involves multiple reeds (yes, Rahsaan is an inescapable reference), though they invoke, for me, more of the squeezebox tradition, unfurling long, harmonically unrelated tones, the awry sounds perhaps an apt soundtrack to the concluding prison sequence. The disc is "as short" as the text, only about eight minutes, but the pair form an effective little package, jewel-like yet disturbing.

Lenka Lente

David Michael/Slávek Kwi - Mmabolela (Gruenrekorder)

Two discs, one from Michael, one from Kwi (who often records under the moniker, Artificial Memory Trace), both containing recordings of fauna (and weather and, I suppose, flora) in the Mmabolela reserve in Limpop, South Africa, as part of a sound festival organized by Francisco López and James Webb. It's always a near-impossibility for me to attempt to evaluate efforts like this. I'm guessing there's a good amount of post-recording construction involved, so listening as "compositions" seems the way to go and, to that extent, things are fine. Michael's pieces move really well, are quite varied and, of course, contain sounds one's likely to have never before encountered, particularly those of an insectile nature (plus what I take to be bats on the 9th track). It's an interesting experience, "settling in" like that, approaching the pieces from a certain angle and these cuts lend themselves to it rather easily, very enjoyable. Kwi's disc is subtler, quieter, less overtly manipulated (if I'm correct about either's methods of construction, which might well not be the case; sometimes the density here, though transparent, is immense), imparting more a sense of place and time, less of a construction. It's all so marvelously recorded--turn up the volume and all sorts of sounds appear--that it's quite easy to lie back and bathe in. Both discs work very well on their own terms for me; I can only imagine how very enthusiastically listeners seriously into field recordings in this area would react. Recommended.


Marc Spruit - Small bits of indigenous space between the grains (self-released)

Blistering abstract computer sounds done right. Pruitt, whose work on turntables I'd heard previously, both solo and with Michiel de Haan has begun working with various forms of audio synthesis and the results are invigorating. Perhaps its his affiliation with the Netherlands, but I pick up a little of the same spirit I hear in Dick Raaijmakers, albeit with a fairly constrained sound palette, Pruitt tending to stay in a spiky, gaseous range--you often get the sense of hyper-amplified champagne bubbles exploding. The sounds fly by with extreme rapidity, densely layered but air-light, as though one's inside a stretch of fiberoptic wiring. Even when the pace slackens, as it does now and then, you have the feeling of intense activity still taking place behind the scenes. The six tracks almost read as a single 35-minute piece and I guess you could quibble about the overall similarity in sound, but for me, there was more than enough imaginative variation within those confines to quell any doubts, the colors far more interesting than most of the music I've heard the past couple of year at INA GRM-type events. Good work, give a listen.


Monday, January 19, 2015

As always, apologies for the brevity of the following reviews but time necessitates such...the latest batch from Creative Sources

Gregory Büttner/Gunnar Lettow/Ernesto Rodrigues/Nuno Torres - Zwei Mal Zwei (Creative Sources)

Computer, prepared bass guitar, viola and alto saxophone, respectively. Soft improvisations, making nice use of resonant string qualities, skittering and slightly nervous, but never overcrowded. Büttner's electronics (I assume) project a gentle spray of thin tones with a particulate aspect while Torres quietly bubbles and burbles. The music can fall back into a squiggly kind of meandering (parts of "22") but by and large is well-contained and focussed, the sounds clearly articulated int heir microscopic world. Things really gel on the final, longest track, "42", where the combination of long held tones and fluttering ones meld perfectly, imparting a sense of drama and depth. A good, thoughtful session.

Great Waitress - Flock (Creative Sources)

My personal favorite out of this bunch of releases, a hitherto unknown (to me) trio, wonderfully named, comprised of Laura Altman (clarinet), Monica Brooks (accordion) and Magda Mayas (piano). Mayas' piano (inside and out) forms a strong spine around which Altman's ghostly clarinet and Brooks' quavering accordion wind. The first of two works, "Rites", is a sinuous, brooding piece, the trio presenting a wide palette of generally consonant sounds, one or two usually holding long lines, the other(s) wrapping themselves around the tones, slowly expanding outward, Mayas' plucked strings often evoking a koto. The other track, "Sownder", is sparer, more ethereal but equally strong, layers of high, ringing pitches beautifully placed. A fine recording, don't let it slip through. Hope to hear more from this trio.

Alexander Frangenheim - talk for a listener (Creative Sources)

He sports such a great name, I want to like his music but I've never been able to cotton to the sounds bassist Frangenheim creates and this recording is no exception. Eleven tracks, 52 minutes, solo acoustic bass, of the kind of overly-active, scratchy, squeaky free improv that always sounds, to me, derived from the drier reaches of post-serial music. Just not my cuppa.

IKB - Anthropométrie sans Titre (Creative Sources)

IKB - Rhinocerus (Creative Sources)

Two releases from the large ensemble named for Yves Klein Blue, bother recorded in early 2014 with 13-14 musicians including the Rodrigues', Nuno Torres, Carlos Santos and others. One operating ethos of this group is, I take it, to produce a fairly quiet overall sound (an innately enjoyable characteristic of any large configuration); whether the relatively busy level of activity is desired or simply the outcome of the individual predilections of the members, I've no idea. In any case, the result is engaging on both sessions, with a subtle forward-moving sense imparted, helped along by discrete and lovely single note contributions from pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro and, I think, Ernesto Rodrigues on plucked baritone violin. "Rhinocerus" [sic] is more resonant (perhaps due to the space?), deep tones hanging in the air above the jittery, generally soft skittering below. While both recordings are fine, I enjoy the latter a bit more as it has a mysterious air about it, carrying subtle intimations of ritual.

Lauroshilau - s/t (Creative Sources)

Audrey Lauro (alto saxophone), Yuko Oshima (drums, sampler) and Pak Yan Lau (prepared piano, Hohner pianet, electronics).

Extrapolating from the apparent ethnicities of two of the participants is a dangerous business, but it's hard not to hear vestiges of Japanese and Korean traditional musics in these improvisations, a certain ritual dance quality, for example. Sometimes they venture into oddly jazzish forms, as on the fourth track, evoking something of a Jimmy Giuffre feeling, though the keyboard (is that the pianet?) conjures up spacey, 70s Fender Rhodes--I kind of like it. Most of the music is delicate, wispy, perhaps lacking in some degree of focus and intensity, but enjoyable and having a good sense of discretion and sound placement within a vaguely tonal atmosphere, the closing track especially so. Worth hearing, curious to know what else these musicians are up to (first I've heard any of them as far as I can remember).

Gunnar Lettow/Korhan Erel - Bad Falling Bostel (Creative Sources)

Twelve tracks from Lettow (prepared bass guitar, electronics, objects) and Erel (computer, controllers). As has often been the case with this set of releases, the music here is quiet but busy. There's a consistent presence of bell-like tones--not sure who's responsible--delicate patterns arrayed over sandy washes, not-quite-rhythmic. The "purer" computer activity I find less interesting--too much of the old vernacular, 60s tape collage sounds. The shortness of the pieces often work against them; there's a feeling of rushedness (perhaps intentional) that gets in the way a bit for me, despite the often attractive aural colors. By the disc's conclusion, there's something of a treading water feeling; I'd like to hear more extended work, see if they can fill a longer space and keep up interest.

Wade Matthews/Javier Pedreira/Ernesto Rodrigues/Nuno Torres - Primary Envelopment (Creative Sources)

Matthews on digital synthesis, field recordings and amplified objects, Pedreira on guitar, Rodrigues on viola and Torres on alto saxophone.

A bit dissimilar to much of the above in terms of an increased textural richness, due I think to Matthews electronics, which form a nice, constantly shifting blanket of sound throughout, into which the others weave their threads, Torres a little more vociferous here (but not unduly). This is the type of session that falls, for me, into a category frequently found on Creative Sources: an improv date that's very competent, no particular problems, but not standing out in any real way, with no (perceivable by me) really interesting ideas in play. It's fine but, by this point, I understand that this can be achieved and am seeking more. Not to harp unfairly on this particular release, just a general comment.

Tensil Test - s/t (Creative Sources)

Tensil test (Joe Rehmer and Paul N. Roth) list among their array of instruments "a beard" and "mayhem". You shouldn't do this. While I can't speak for facial hair contributions, there's little mayhem involved, just a decent improv set that utilizes space and sonic depth fairly well, often apposing deep drones (presumably bowed prepared bass) and foreground clatter. The longest piece, still less than 10 minutes, works the best and, as with some others in this CS bunch, I'd've liked to have heard an attempt at longer forms. The final piece, a strong combination of heavy bass plucks and tingling metals, practically begs for expansion....

Ariel Shibolet - 132 Work for Multiphonics (Creative Sources)

A single piece for solo soprano saxophone, a concentrated, calm investigation of, yes, multiphonics. One has the impression that a system of sorts is in play, but that's a guess. Shibolet unfurls single-note lines, one after another, held fairly uniformly, with little pause between. I thought of single color slides being presented, the colors very complex though not necessarily related to those coming before or after. I also remembered Richter's "color sample" paintings, though there's a graininess in play here not found in the visual analogy. The singular focus makes the recording more absorbing than it might have been otherwise, providing a strong sense of the player's identification with his instrument and his patience in extracting the precise sounds he wants. Good work.

Konstantin Sukhan/Yury Favorin/Alexey Sysoev - It Don't Mean a Thing (Creative Sources)

Trumpet, piano and no-input mixer, respectively. In a way, I think of this the same as "Primary Envelopment" above--well laid out, no obvious missteps but also playing it, in 2014, too safe, Sukhan's trumpet takes on any number of extended techniques, though he's more full-throated than most, Favorin stays within the piano, activating and buzzing strings and Sysoev deploys the nimb ably enough though, I sense, without the concentration and care of a Nakamura. Again, fine but not essential.

Un - s/t (Creative Sources)

Un is a large ensemble, some 22 musicians, almost all of the unfamiliar to me apart from David Chiesa. This recording presents six compositions by various members. In violinist Julien Sellam's "L'Acceptation d'Élizabeth" the Elizabeth in question is Kübler-Ross and the piece deals with aspects of mourning via approaches to A440 that never arrive and complex rhythms coming to accord and balance. It works quite well, very subtle, with the mournful attributes implied rather than hammered in. "Beb", by snare drummer Didier Lasserre, dedicated to bassist Beb Guérin, is quiet and somber, vague, low orchestral masses rubbing against one another in the darkness, ending in a funereal procession. Another impressive piece. Chiesa's "The Blue Yonder" attempts a sonic portrait of Werner Herzog and I can imagine it working better with imagery but, as is, comes across as a fairly routine, post-Cage orchestral exploration, isolated sounds appearing and subsiding but using the kind of semi-academic vernacular that never quite appeals to me. Languages are at the core of the brief "Hein!!!" by bassist Bruno Laurent, using game rules and group divisions, asking members to incorporate various idioms and approaches, including popular ones; not so effective, a bit too Zorn-reminiscent. Chiesa returns with a much more effective work, "Masses", the light, higher pitch sounds floating in longer lines,very spectre-like and beautiful. The disc closes with drummer Mathias Pontevia's "Tenir par là: 174,6 Hz et ses multiples", a powerful crescendo for ensemble, starting with an ultra-quiet hum and building to a roar, lovely plucks, pings and bangs ornamenting the drive, a bit Branca-esque. A strong work and an intriguing ensemble.

Naoto Yamagishi - Hossu no Mori (Creative Sources)

Solo percussion, quite active and containing a high percentage of rubbed surfaces. Any number of like-minded approaches come to mind, from Lê Quan Ninh to Seijiro Murayama and others. The dynamics vary widely and there are some nice sustained effects but by and large, I don't hear much that distinguishes the music from any number of free percussionists and, as is often the case, there's an insistence on activity that grates on me, never the sense of producing a sound because it's necessary. Again, it's all well done, not a problem, just a bit too routine by this point in history.

Creative Sources

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Order from Noise Ensemble - Feedback (Mikroton)

In 2004, a formidable group of musicians assembled, briefly, for a tour of England, ostensibly centered around the use of feedback. They included (at various times, I think) Knut Aufermann, Xentos Fray Bentos, Nicolas Collins, Alvin Lucier, Toshimaru Nakamura, Billy Roisz, Sarah Washington and Otomo Yoshihide. This release offers two discs worth of music performances and a DVD of Roisz' video with musical accompaniment/interaction, curated by Aufermann.

Disc One opens with Lucier's "Bird and Person Dyning", always a joy to hear. This is the only appearance of Lucier on the set and I'm wondering if he actually ever performed with the rest of the ensemble or only realized this piece, which he apparently did at each of the seven tour stops. A quartet of Aufermann, Bentos, Roisz and Washington offer a crunchy, hum-filled noise-fest, followed by a solo by Yoshihide in hyper-noise and, yes, feedback mode, raucous, thick and uncompromising. Aufermann and Nakamura present a more somber duo, dark buzzes with small, silvery sounds flitting through, very attractive and the disc closes with a sextet(sans Lucier and Roisz), "Lullaby"; soft but not exactly lulling, it's a fine exercise in control, the six members retaining composure, contributing solidly to a thick, complex whole that traverses its twelve minutes with tenseness, an outstanding piece.

Disc Two begins with a Nakamura "nimb" work, all quiet sizzle and pop, vintage Toshi. A groaning, gnashing snippet from Yoshihide and Washington leads to a solo work by Collins, "Pea Soup + Mortal Coil". I almost always want to enjoy Collins more than I end up doing so; not this time. Gentle waves of feedback escalate into a wild, complex array of electronic moans and screams, wonderfully unconstrained, not nearly as "tight" as his music sometimes gets. A short, scratchy solo from Aufermann feeds into another performance by the sextet above, "Block 3". It's far less concentrated than the other performance, more in the cracked electronics/Voice Crack area and not as special, more of a routine performance from that time.

I've never quite warmed up to Roisz' video work though a couple of the five presented herein go some way to correcting that. Her solo piece, "BÖRST" exemplifies what I don't care for, both in the chunky, pulse-driven electronics and the ragged, pale green on black videography who's flatness and sharpness puts me off. Far better, visually, is "TILT" (set to music by the quartet listed above, which doesn't do much for me), where four thin, gray verticals form a kind of framework for the dancing and meandering of red uprights that begin as near-matching overlays but mutate throughout, creating an interesting tension. Presaging their duo formation as AVVA, we see a collaboration between Roisz and Nakamura, my favorite of this set both musically and visually. Toshi's sounds are subtle, thoughtful and concentrated while Roisz' video, all black and white, anticipates the work of Kjell Bjørgeengen (at least, my awareness of same) in its usage of minimal input to generate complex patterns that veer between regular and irrational. The sextet is once again represented, giving a performance rivaling "Lullaby". The accompanying images recall Richter's smear abstracts but, as I often find, lack the depth to really draw me in. Finally the quartet is melded with image system unusual in my limited knowledge of Roisz' work, sixteen monitor-shaped, gray lozenges with red and then green amoeba-like forms making inroads to various degrees, each different though related.

An uneven but intriguing compilation, then, and a worthwhile documentation of this particular, one-time nexus of sight and sound.

Casey Anderson/Jason Kahn/Norbert Möslang/Günter Müller/Mark Trayle - Five Lines (Mikroton)

A 2010 performance from Los Angeles, I find it hard not to compare with various releases on 4FourEars earlier in the decade, many of them involving Müller and Moslang, most of which gradually became all but indistinguishable from one another. A certain level had been reached and the musicians seemed willing to dwell there, entirely capably but with little sense of exploration or danger. The burbling electronics and implicit pulses provided a ready-made bed in which to frolic but one had the impression of routineness, of being able to pull off a given show one arm tied behind the back. This didn't mean the music was "bad" just, for me, less than exciting. Listeners who enjoyed those many mid-oughts releases by that cadre will doubtless like this one as well. I find it a bit nondescript, though. (Another fine cover by Kahn, though!)

eRikm/Martin Brandlmayr - Ecotone (Mikroton)

Admittedly, this trio of Mikroton releases is problematic for me, each involving contributors I've not been terribly fond of in recent years. Here it's eRikm, someone who I've never quite cottoned to and, heard last year in concert here in Paris in an acousmatic context, I found almost unbearable. On the other hand, I tend to enjoy Brandlmayr, so....

The album begins well with "L'Hinterhof", eRikm's effects mixing well with Brandlmayr's brushwork, the latter still very controlled but not as (fascinatingly) mechanical as his past work with Radian. There's a welcome restraint on the part of both, an interest in non-flashy color for the most part, though the thundery sounds that surface a few minutes in are a bit over the top. The mix between the two works well throughout, it's just that the choices made (more overtly, due to the nature of the electronic sounds) by eRikm seem routine more often than not, reminiscent of the acousmatic school referenced above, an area that generally holds little appeal for me (the fabric of the processing tends to have a blandness to it that I equate with Photoshop). That said, the interaction can reach some level of excitement, as on the spiky, blistering portions of "Repercussion" and occasionally elsewhere. My fears of bombasticity were largely allayed but on the other hand, while ably performed, not so much stood out for me. Those more enamored than I of recent work from, for example, Jérôme Noetinger and like-minded electronicists could well find plenty to their liking.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Bryan Eubanks - From the Cistern (Gruenrekorder)

I'm not sure if I've ever been inside a real cistern (unless the old, circular Issue Project Room space counts as one), but I've always had the notion that they're amazing things. The one discovered by Eubanks in Washington state seems to be especially interesting. A squat, underground cylinder, 14 feet in height and with a diameter of some 200 feet, it also features a 45-second delay and an array of columns every 12 feet that offer a "variety of diffraction, refraction, and reflection phenomena".

This download only release finds Eubanks conducting three long explorations of that space. "Pulse" consists of sine tones (tuned to the "1788th partial of the fundamental"--I've no idea what this means) sent out into the subterranean void, reverberating and resonating for almost a half hour. Perhaps it's due to one's knowledge of the situation, but there's a wonderful sense of darkness achieved, of the pulses assuming the character of light blips disintegrating into the far reaches of the cistern. It's extra haunting when you hear an airplane passing overhead, the thrum of its engines seemingly amplified below ground. The equipment used in "Five Tuned Tubes" (played with a tenor mouthpiece) produces very different sounds, naturally enough, Eubanks setting them out in discreet, low-pitched batches with silence between. Each is tuned to a different partial, resulting in overtones that, like the sines, curl into the depths of the cistern, gradually absorbed. Inevitably, one misses the reality of being in situ but as is, it remains a fine, deep experience. "Sine Series" (for James Tenney) lasts upwards of 78 minutes and uses four overlapping sets of sine tones (partials involved, once again). Here, the sounds are round and organ-like, cottony layers threading through one another, Eubanks using a tonality that might remind one of slowed down Terry Riley (or a hyper-slow alap). On this piece, it's more difficult to discern the effects of the vault, the tones filling the space rather than snaking through it. But it's gorgeous, abuzz with rich, undulating pulsations, splintering into subtly dissonant shards at points, coalescing into new harmonics subsequently. I could listen for another 78 minutes, easily. The textural depth is really something to hear--so is this recording.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Music I really liked in 2014

OK, I was going to wait until I'd given at least a listen or two to everything that found its way to my doorstep in the calendar year 2014 but a combination of an ill-timed (as far as this stuff goes) US vacation and an utter deluge of items received (for which I deeply thank the senders) meant that were I to do so, this list would appear among the summer beach reading recommendations. So any worthy contenders that are still sitting here on my desk will just have to wait until the 2015 results are in, sorry.

Here are the recordings that I absolutely loved hearing and thinking about in 2014 (alpha order)

Lawrence Crane - Chamber Works (Another Timbre)
Delicate Sen - Four years later (since. why not) (Copy for Your Records)
Michael Duch - Tomba Emmanuelle (Sofa)
Morton Feldman - For Philip Guston (John Tilbury, Carla Rees, Simon Allen) (Atopos)
Morton Feldman - Two Pianos and other pieces (Another Timbre)
Anne Guthrie - Codiaeum variegatum (Students of Decay)
Haptic - Abeyance (Entr'acte)
Radu Malfatti/Jürg Frey - II (Erstwhile)
Andrew McIntosh - Hyenas in the Temple of Pleasure (Populist)
Michael Pisaro/Greg Stuart - Continuum Unbound (Gravity Wave)
Michael Pisaro/Miguel Prado - White Metal (Senufo Editions)
Eliane Radigue - Naldjorlak I, II, III (Charles Curtis, Carol Robinson, Bruno Martinez) (Shiiin)
Vanessa Rossetto - Whole Stories (Kye)
Toshiya Tsunoda/Manfred Werder - detour (Erstwhile)
Christian Wolff - Pianist: Pieces (Philip Thomas) (Sub Rosa)

Singling out any one, even any three or four, is a fool's errand; gun to head, maybe "detour". All are wonderful.

And, as ever, there were plenty more from which I derived immense joy and inspiration, including (again alpha)

Ryoko Akama - Code of Silence (Melange Edition)
Tetuzi Akiyama/Anla Courtis - Naranja Songs (Public Eyesore)
Thomas Ankersmit - Figueroa Terrace (Touch)
Ignacio Agrimbau - Anatomy of Self, vol. 2 (Decay, Corrosion and Dust)
Bayaka Pygmies - Song from the Forest (Gruenrekorder)
Marc Baron - Hidden Tapes (Potlatch)
Antoine Beuger - Tshirtner Tunings for 12 (Another Timbre)
Rasmus Borg/Henrik Munkeby Norstebo - 120112 (Edition Wandelweiser)
Seth Cluett - Wound of This Deep Blue (Notice Recordings)
Jacques Coursil/Alan Silva - FreeJazzArt (RogueArt)
Kevin Drumm/Jason Lescalleet - The Abyss (Erstwhile)
Jürg Frey - more or less ( ensemble) (New Focus Recordings)
Jürg Frey - pianist, alone (Andy Lee) (Irritable Hedgehog)
Jan-Luc Guionnet/Eric La Casa - Home:Handover (Potlatch)
Jack Harris/Samuel Rodgers - Primary/Unit 11 (Notice Recordings)
Takahiro Kawaguchi/Tim Olive/Makoto Oshiro - Airs (845 Audio)
Gregg Kelley/Jason Lescaleet - Conversations (Glistening Examples)
Tomas Korber - Musik für ein Feld (Cubus)
Annette Krebs - rush! (Another Timbre) (her portion of the split disc)
Catherine Lamb - matter/moving (winds measure)
Makoto Oshiro - Phenomenal World (Hitorri)
Partial - LL (Another Timbre)
Polwechsel - Traces of Wood (hatOLOGY)
Ernesto Rodrigues/Radu Malfatti/Ricardo Guerreiro - Early Summer (Creative Sources)
Keith Rowe - The Art of War (Hermes' Ear)
Keith Rowe/Ilia Belorukov/Kurt Liedwart - Tri (Intonema)
Craig Shepard - On Foot: Brooklyn (Edition Wandelweiser)
Danae Stefanou - [herewith] (Holotype Editions)
(Various) - West Coast Soundings - (Edition Wandelweiser)

There was, of course, much more fine work, but I gotta stop somewhere. Deep and sincere thanks, once again, for those who take the trouble to allow me to listen to their work.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Subroutine - Dual Processing (Record Label Record Label)

In which inveterate low road-taker Robin Hayward (microtonal tuba) teams up with Morten J. Olsen (rotating bass drum) to further plumb the depths on this cassette release. In fact, though, there's quite a range of pitches in play on these tracks, even if the drift is toward the bottom. Olsen incorporates what seems to be bowed metal, in high, keening tones, for example, every so often. "Data Dump", Side B, is a set of longish sequences, each more or less consisting of a given attack, pitch, etc. sustained (with fluctuations) for a period of time, then moving on to the next, very steady and progressive, paying great attention to timbre and the interaction of the stretched sound. The tuba ranges from smooth to granular, the drum from subsonic quavers to sandpapery scratching, but always in broad, coherent strokes. Late in the piece, there's a drop to near-silence, unexpected and space-expanding, really nice. The title piece on Side A (my initial download was in reverse order and I grew comfortable listening in this sequence! :-) )is roughly similar, though a bit more smoothly flowing in terms of textural choices, tending more toward the groan underlaid with a more percolating rumble. The music begins to fragment earlier this time, about halfway through and again the effect is subtly moving and impressive, the brief pauses implying volume and meaning. When the flow commences it's more burbling, containing numerous small surges and retreats. Thoughtful, concentrated work, creating solid worlds with (not really) minimal means.

The Hydra - On Troubleshooting (Record Label Record Label)

Said mythical creature being one Dimitris Papadatos, a co-owner of the label. Side One, "Give Me Another Universe", is something of a collage construction, seemingly comprised of extracted elements from other music; a piano intro that sounds lifted from some pop song I almost recognize, choral fragments, electronic buzzes, cymbal crashes....the list goes on. It's a kind of trippy melange, hard not to hear the choir samples as 70s horror flick references amidst the electronic throb. About halfway through, matters calm down a bit, the music splaying out into a general wash, still riding on a throb, but the disparate elements mixed into a more homogenous soup. For me, a bit too amorphous and ambient-sounding, too much of a lost focus and easy relaxation (albeit accompanied by lost spirit moans that occasionally reminded me of Lauren Connors and Haunted House). Side B, "The Metaphysical Animal" fares much better in maintaining concentration and forward drive, staying roughly within a single, expansive area, a mysterious, silvery pool of sound. One still gets echoes of elements form the previous track but the vocal traces are more disembodied, have merged with the general structure, having no greater prominence than the pulses, clicks and slippery surfaces that pass by throughout, like a joyride through an alien amusement park, leading to a rocket liftoff. It's a dizzying experience and a great deal of fun.

Record Label Record Label on facebook

Saturday, December 27, 2014

I realized that since I have several items pending review that have been sent to me electronically and since I have access to speakers here in Asheville, I can do a few reviews while on my US vacation, so....

Sébastien Roux/Seth Cluett - Inevitable Music #1: Variations on Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #260 (Future Audio Graphics)

Future Audio Graphics deals with interdisciplinary projects, in this case including music from Roux based on (or translated from, in sound) shapes used in LeWitt's referenced wall drawing and a commissioned essay by Cluett.

I've always had a bit of difficulty with LeWitt's work, rarely being able to settle into the frame of mind where the visual manifestations of (what I take to be) his precise instructions registered as more than a superficial appreciation of the resultant forms. No doubt my shortcoming, having to do at least partially with not having spent enough time and study on the matter. A few years back, there was a multiple sculpture installation of his at City Hall Park in downtown Manhattan which I walked past each day to and from work. Again, I initially found the works opaque; cooly formed and clear but hard for me to apprehend beyond the basics that were up front and in one's face. Little by little, one of the pieces, a pyramidal work composed of (more or less) cinder blocks in which each level had a reduced perimeter and an expanded height, drew me in:

Something about its odd grace, the contrast between that grace and both the materials and the blatant progression of its form began to appeal to me. More than his wall drawings, which I'd seen at DIA and elsewhere but hadn't really managed to connect with. As the title of this disc indicates, a LeWitt drawing (or the instructions thereto) forms the basis for Roux' set of elaborations, using various sine waves, square waves, etc. In his essay, Cluett notes that "Roux also runs the risk of the same failure, of losing the ideas of LeWitt to the pitfalls of translation as a mere exercise in execution." which strikes me as an interesting field of potential problematics since, after all, executing an exercise is largely what's occurring; how to transcend that? (or does one strive to do so? Might one be content with list-making à la Tom Johnson?) Cluett goes on to describe in some detail the contrasts between visual and audio interpretations of LeWitt's instructions and particulars of the recording, ending with the observation that "Roux allows the audience to become aware of being aware and get lost in the raw flow of material."

There are seven tracks, the first six of relatively short duration (0:41 to 5:32), the last a lengthier piece lasting some 16 1/2 minutes. In keeping with the methodic aspect of the work, each track is introduced by a voice, female, sounding detached and almost synthesized, describing the elements used for that cut: the type of tone, the pulse, the ascension or descension, etc., followed by the realization. It's easy enough to make a mental comparison with a LeWitt drawing; the twenty shapes used are included on the sleeve design. On the first six pieces, one hears fairly simple, discreet elements, very clear and defined, being set through their paces, essentially the number of possible variations within a given time frame. Depending on the elements chosen, extra-musical associations automatically come to the fore, whether the plaintive wails of the ascending and descending pitches in "Variation 2" or the jauntiness of "Variation 3". The more often I listened, the more I was drawn in (not unlike my experience with the City Hall Park sculpture), though there was still something a bit too clean for my taste, not that I could reasonably expect messiness on this type of stage. Except that this occurs on the final track. Largely as a result of using sound elements that (I think) are derived from object-recordings as opposed to sines, including a rattling, ceramic sound, a whoosh, a vague, metallic echo, etc. There are put through similar paces, though for a greater duration and using longer intervals (five seconds). These changes create an enormous difference for me, opening up the space drastically, allowing each element some "breathing room" in which to vibrate. A marvelous, unique piece that does, for this listener, transcend the instructional. Inevitable perhaps, but also surprising.

A fascinating release, very different and very much worth hearing/reading.

Future Audio Graphics

Monday, December 22, 2014

I'll be taking a three-week trip to the US beginning on December 23, back January 13, so no new reviews until sometime after that. Apologies to all musicians and labels who have sent items and are waiting, but I'll get to them. I've been seriously deluged with releases in recent months and really appreciate that you care enough to send them my way.

See you soon.

Four new, non-archival releases from Confront. Apologies for the brevity of the write-ups, but I wanted to get these done before my three-week trip to the US. No album cover images because metal boxes. :-)

Patrick Shiroishi - White Sun Sutra (Confront)

A new musician to me, Shiroishi wields soprano, alto and baritone saxophones (with effects) and vocalizes a bit. He displays several clear (to me) influences, leavening them with an essentially strong lyrical/emotional core that generally manages to make coherent the freer and more loquacious outbursts. He utilizes loops, pitch shifters and other devices to, on occasion, come across as a small saxophone choir, evident right from the first piece which immediately brought to mind the old Skidmore/Osborne/Surman trio, S.O.S., both in overall sound and in the dirge-like melodic character of the piece (the album was inspired by his recently deceased grandfather). We next hear a piece that sounds like a morphing of Evan Parker to Jon Gibson, very impressively played and interpolating some surprisingly pastoral and sweet passages, then a lovely, mournful piece that recalls the Roscoe Mitchell of "Eeltwo" (albeit with very effective whistling/humming additions), though at this point I wanted to hear more Shiroishi. That manifests most strongly in "despiser", probably the closest approach to raging free jazz on the disc, very piercing and needlelike, which grows more and more fierce, sirens wailing, until vocalizations begin erupting, sounding entirely unforced and even necessary. He closes with a piece that returns to the atmosphere of the first track.

A good recording. I'd be interested to hear Shiroishi in a non-solo context and without the technological trappings, but this will satisfy many a listener.

Joacim Nyberg - Fylkingen March 27, 2014 (Confront)

Nyberg's also new to me as far as I can recall, playing acoustic guitar on seven of the nine cuts here, double bass on the eighth, bell and recorder on the last. The guitar pieces didn't do so much for me, varying from (inevitably, I guess) a kind of Bailey in hard scrabbling mode to modified classical and flamenco attacks, the sound kept pretty dry and non-resonant, the structures rather amorphous, even given the shortness of the pieces, between one and four minutes. Only the last one, where the strings are scraped and allowed to resonate, really caught my attention, Nyberg creating an intriguingly pitched, almost hurdy-gurdy-like sound. The solo bass piece, on the other hand, lasting over 12 minutes, is quite impressive. He has a fine, heavy sound, a dry tone that works well as he plucks and bows through a driving, sometimes frenzied performance. The concluding track with recorder is somewhat throwaway, not sure why it was included. Aside from the bass track, then, not much that made a great impression. Post-Bailey fans may disagree.

Jason Kahn/Phil Julian - Valentines (Confront)

This one's a toughie. Both musicians on analog modular synths (Kahn adding mixing board and radio, Julian computer), the music is almost relentlessly gray and opaque, very few bones tossed to the listener. You realize, considering the fact, that most releases of abstract electronics (for lack of a better term) usually offer, somewhere along the way, some kind of foothold, some recognition of the need for at least a minimal bit of comfort, whether that comes in the form of a tinge of tonality, an underlying thrum implying rhythm--something. Here, much to the music's credit, there's nothing of the sort that I can hear. There are hums and such that appear throughout, pushed against the static and white noise, but they're hardly comforting, more bitter, thumbing their grimy noses at anyone looking for a bit of purchase. The second track tones things down a tad but it's still rough going (a good thing!), the harsh burps conflicting well with metallically ringing undertones. Even the barest hint of accommodation is tossed in the bin with the third track, abrasive, scouring whistles, harsh stutters, that gray scrim. Yes it's a rough haul but who says things have to be easy? Good stuff.

Burkhard Beins/John Butcher/Mark Wastell - Membrane (Confront)

The first (? as far as I'm aware) oversize metal box issued by Confront, presumably to house the 4x6" photo cards included, with text by John Eyles on the reverse, documenting a live set at Cafe Oto this last April, Beins on feedback 28" bass drum, analog synth and electronics, Butcher with his tenor and soprano (with assorted feedback) and Wastell on amplified 32" tam-tam and mixer.

It begins as a fairly calm, brooding set, all the instruments generating long tones, Wastell's ringing tam-tam and Beins' low thuds offset by thin, sputtering lines from the saxophone. The trio lingers in this area for a good while, manipulating the levels with subtlety and richness, gradually increasing the volume. The texture granulizes with feathery strokes on the metal, key-triggered burbles from Butcher, the sound remaining continuous, just getting drier, repeated percussive taps from various sources urging matters anxiously forward. An abrupt cessation and collapse, matters settling down to a swiftly burbling simmer. It breaks apart further, quite beautifully, into shards of bell tones, sax feedback pops and other resonant, though short, elements, very welcome. The second of two tracks starts out in more fevered fashion, Butcher overblowing, Beins (I think) hissing furiously, Wastell churning something beneath and behind. It's unsettling, serving as a good tonic to the calmer portions of the first cut, the intensity maintained throughout, buzzes and clangs over a steady bed of electronics, feedback sax roaming above, very strong.

Overall, rather what I would have envisaged from these three musicians--intelligent work with a marked sense of corporeality and visceral presence. Make room in your oversized release shelf.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ryoko Akama - Code of Silence (Melange)

"Code of Silence" appeared about this time last year, I think, but I first got wind of it via Richard Pinnell's fine review. I eventually picked it up over the summer but between being late to the party and deluged by other releases at the time, it was unfortunately lost in the Just Outside scuffle. Happily, with the issuance of the Dawn Scarfe album (reviewed below), I have the chance to revisit it and it's well worth the reassessment.

Richard did a great job in his piece and I don't want to simply echo his sentiments, except to say that I share them. What strikes me now is how well structured the album is in the sense of several variations on exquisite control leading to a partial fanning out--not really an eruption, more a sublimation of a dense gas--in the final track, "zowa zowa". The deep, shifting thrums of "jiwa jiwa", seeming to quicken and retard imperceptibly within a supremely reverberant environment (Akama's kinship with Radigue, with whom she has worked, is immediately apparent), everything funneled tightly but as if the funnel itself had countless, complexly arrayed bumps and grooves, resulting in interference patterns spread through the sonics. "gussuri" offers something of a respite, relatively pure and quiet sine-like tones emerging and disappearing, leaving nicely round gaps of silence, very streamlined and clean but subtly irregular. As the title implies, "sotto" plunges us down into the abyss, turbulent and dark but again, channeled. The heavy, liquid lumps cascading through the black cavern emit a stream of staticky clicks along the way (that, or my speakers can't handle the sub-subtones), the entirety smoothing out a bit in the distance as the track concludes. We experience another drastic elemental shift in "jili jili", everything a high, cold sizzle, a wave of needles, sharpening as the piece proceeds. All four are fine works, very different from one another and, as said, really well controlled.

With "zowa zowa", the reins are loosened just a bit, but that slight slackening, the allowing of elements to billow outward a little, makes an enormous difference. Multiple layers of white noise, thin hums and blustery rumbles stream out. It seethes and escalates, summoning images of pre-eruptive volcanic action, gases escaping in roaring vortices, muffled explosions from the depths. The power that's been biding its time unfurls smoothly but with huge force. Surprisingly, the sound-world, towards the very end, begins to stutter into blocks of brief but complete silence, crumbling apart like lava becoming solid.

A fantastic piece and a very beautiful, penetrating album.

Dawn Scarfe - Tuning to Spheres (Melange)

As this was the first time, to the best of my recollection, that I had heard of Scarfe, I did a little googling around and noted that many of the images of her (or that arose via her name) involved the holding to the ear of a glass globe in outdoor environments, instances of "tuned listening", as I understand it. I want one of those...Glass is a fundamental aspect of this recording as well, those good old wine glasses which we've all digitally stroked (the lovely cover image limns one side of an inverted glass). Here, however, sine waves are substituted for fingertips, broadcast from small loudspeakers suspended above the glasses' rims and attuned to their resonant frequencies. Moreover, several such are placed on a turntable which, in the course of rotating, causes beat effects not so dissimilar, I imagine, from what listeners commonly do whilst moving their heads during sine-related events. A photo of one such set-up of Scarfe's:

There's a certain structural similarity to the Akama disc in the sense that the first five (of six) tracks kind of lay the groundwork--very controlled sets of sound that, essentially, aren't very much different from what we've encountered with wine glasses in the past, albeit cleaner sounding and with the emergent beats due to the movement of the turntable relative to the loudspeakers. Not that these tracks are unenjoyable by an means--they're quite engaging--just that they seem to act more as introductory texts to the languages being utilized and, subtleties of beats and overlapping tones aside, are essentially similar to what a given listener may have expected going in. I do, necessarily, miss the physicality of live interaction with these sounds in space, the ability to shift pitch by personal movement (which one can accomplish in limited fashion via stereo speakers, but it's not the same), etc. Toward the end of the fourth track, there's the brief introduction of a mildly percussive sound, like a wire, say a zither string, vibrating against a piece of metal, a small hint of what's to come. The sixth cut begins with a combination of the purer tones we've been hearing and those ringing/vibrating ones. You get the sense of heightened activity, maybe faster turntabling, pushing these tones up against sonic "limits" previously unperceived. The difference in effect is slight on the one hand but really places you in a very different sonic space, more intense and agitated (you can hear what seem like little "clinks" now and again, though they might be heightened states of vitreous excitement). It only lasts some nine minutes but opens up a very intriguing world, one that I'd love to hear explored further.

An interesting recording, well worth hearing by those taken by this acoustical area.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

John Lely - The Harmonics of Real Strings (Another Timbre)

This is a tough one for me. In his interview with Lely, label owner Simon Reynall comments that his "music often has the sense of being 'experimental' in a literal, almost scientific sense." I was unfamiliar with Lely's work prior to this release but from the evidence here, as well as from that of several live performances of other pieces I've since watched/listened to online, that seems to be a fair assessment. As I've written before, this approach, to my ears, can reap great benefits but always carries the "risk" of not transcending the "science experiment" envelope. A risk, to be sure, only if you're for some reason hoping for or expecting that transcendence, another matter entirely. I often think of Alvin Lucier and Tom Johnson in this regard, composers (or, using Johnson's preferred term for himself, "list maker") who often use systems of one sort or another, sit back, so to speak, and observe the results. Sometimes the outcome is extraordinary ("I Am Sitting in a Room" being the obvious example), sometimes rather dull. Frustratingly often, the listener is left somewhere in the middle, hearing glimpses of extra-physical beauty or depth only to be drawn back to the mundane, if you will, nature of the process. That's doubtless the point on occasion and maybe it's just that stubborn, clinging old-fashionedness that insists on something more, I don't know.

Listening to six members of the Dedalus Ensemble play Lely's "Symphony No. 3", I get something of the same feeling: unison, microtonal chords in a (almost always) regular procession, related to the Parsons Code for Melodic Contour which consists simply of three symbols--u-up, d-down, r-repeat). There may be more structure embedded there than I can discern, perhaps even some play with phrase construction, but it's a difficult work for me in which to really immerse myself. On the other hand, his "Arrangement", for two pianists, is rather lovely, partially because its very simple melodic line (again regular, with single notes all played on white keys) doesn't technically require four hands at all. But the interplay and dance of the hands as they slowly weave between each other, is somehow extremely moving to watch (certainly a work that gains enormously from experiencing live). And "Distance Learning" is just exhilarating fun. Check out the videos for yourself.

But back to the release at hand. Lely, in the above-cited interview says, "Essentially it’s a very slow glissando along the full length of one bowed string. The player uses light finger pressure on the string – what is traditionally referred to as ‘harmonic’ pressure." He goes on to relate it to experiences he underwent while having difficulty sleeping, scanning the short wave radio spectrum as slowly as possible. Hearing this, I'm immediately intrigued about the transference of that experience to cello (performed here by the always excellent Anton Lukoszevieze). Four tracks, titled IV through I, decreasing in duration, 16:42, 15:57, 12:08, 11:08; I list the times only to see whether or not there might be a hidden pattern--I can't detect one. There tend to be two areas of sound: one, the specific note being glissandoed (!) and two, a background rustle, the latter more discernible the higher up the string Lukoszevieze has progressed (each iteration goes from lower to higher). There are often overtones or secondary notes, leading me to wonder if in fact it's only one string at a time being bowed; I don't know cello mechanics nearly well enough to say. These details aside, I'm left with my overall impression and somehow, I find it not as fascinating or absorptive as I expect. There's a thinness where I want to hear richness; perhaps that's intentional, perhaps an artifact of the recording process, I don't know. I can't help but recall sitting several feet in front of Charles Curtis last year, becoming utterly and ecstatically lost in the depths of his "simple" bowing on Eliane Radigue's "Naldjorlak", wanting that to occur here. Or maybe I need more time with it--I've listened seven or eight times so far, upping the volume a good bit the last couple of occasions, trying to relate the music to the fine cover image by Lely, and the piece is beginning to eat at my reservations. I'm not sure I'll ever arrive at a full appreciation, but I imagine I'll continue to make the attempt over time.

Another Timbre

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ryoko Akama/Bruno Duplant/Dominic Lash - next to nothing (Another Timbre)

The latest in an ongoing series of long-distance collaborations involving Duplant. I still find myself going back and forth on the idea but, at the very least, Duplant (percussion, tone generator) chooses some fine musicians with whom to interact over horizon, here Ryoko Akama (VCS3 and Dom Lash (double bass, clarinet, laptop, percussion. I say, "Duplant" as I get the sense that the instigation of the project was his but the disc contains four pieces, one each by he and Lash and two (or two variations of one) by Akama.

Duplant's "a field, next to nothing", while presumably knowingly playing on the English translation of the Ferrari work, has nothing to do with field recordings (though there is a bit of knocking about in the middle distance on occasion) but rather is a text score that, from the result, seems to strongly urge held tones of given durations as the tones generated by the performers roughly (not precisely) overlap with 8-10 second pauses in between. It was written with the trio of Antoine Beuger, Jürg Frey and Radu Malfatti in mind, so its Wandelweiser-esque nature is no surprise but the tones chosen are extremely warm and inviting, sliding around each other gently, caressing, the pitch shifts often subtle but sometimes, as at about the 20 minute mark and again just before the piece's conclusion, distinct enough as to acquire some drama. A lovely piece, well realized, no complaints on non-physical presence from me.

Akama offers "grade two" and "grade two extended". Three disparate sounds quickly emerge: a pure electronic tone, a struck bell or other metal, quickly damped and a plucked bass. This relatively granular (large grains, though) approach contrasts well with the preceding work in one manner but also carries forward a similar overall feel, one of sustained, serene contemplation. There's an odd conversational, even questioning aspect to it, almost like people speaking three different languages but amiably, relaxedly, attempting to communicate. Despite the titular similarity, Akama's second piece sounds nothing like the first, the elements consisting of static, a fluctuating tone and deep, bowed bass and being more contiguous to each other, wavering but never ceasing. The cross section of textures is appealing, but I somehow wanted to hear more shape in the work's structure.

Lash confronts the reality of the situation by titling his contribution, "three players, not together". Though it begins in an area similar to Akama's "grade two" it quickly shifts direction and ends up standing somewhat apart form the other music; it's also my favorite track. A rough set of clicks intrudes, slows down, stops. Underlying billows of troubling electronics weave through high, almost brittle scrims, halt, pick up. A chime sounds in the darkness, an organ-y chord emerges. It's almost cinematic, with an edge of the surreal and random, very dark and oily. It's strong and uncomfortable. The other pieces are fine but this was needed as a tonic, a different take on long-distance cooperation, perhaps and an impressive job.

Another Timbre

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jamie Drouin/Lance Austin Olsen - sometimes we all disappear (Another Timbre)

From the interview with Olsen on the Another Timbre site, we learn that this release is a kind of memory drawer, crafted from bits and pieces the pair had recorded over the years, such meetings now a difficult arrangement after Drouin (credited here with suitcase modular and portable radio) moved to Berlin from Vancouver. One can imagine the musicians "shuffling through" these recordings, saying, "Ah yes, remember that?" much the way any of us would comb old family photographs. Olsen (amplified objects and audio cassettes) relates, "At each fresh listen the album brings back moments of deeply hidden memories, including times spent sitting in cafes and on buses allowing fragments of conversations to drift in and out of my consciousness" and one does derive a very personal, quiet and introspective feeling from the recording, something that raises the question of whether an artwork can be too personal, something I found myself thinking while listening.

There's a great deal of silence on the disc. Again, I almost get the impression of someone considering an item from a few years back, putting it aside, thinking about it quietly, then moving to the next. This makes for more a series of discrete episodes that can only be "connected", in the listener's mind, by stepping back or perhaps in retrospect. On some listens I found this easier to do than on others, maybe depending on my degree of concentration. Certain portions posses their own independent power, for example the final one, with everyday static abutting some deep and disturbing rumbles, really nice and also providing a slight release from the general spareness of the album. Some linger a little while, others seem more transitory, flitting by before you have a good chance to contemplate them, like the person next to you turning over the page in a photo album before you've had a chance to really examine an intriguing shot.

It's a good recording, posing several interesting questions and maybe even answering one or two.

Another Timbre

Monday, December 15, 2014

A. F. Jones - rearward through forgottenness (Laminal Recordings)

Jones had posted a few tracks of his own work over the years at Bagatellen and elsewhere but this is his first proper release, containing seven pieces developed from 2009-2013 and it's a very strong one. I've known Al for a good number of years (in fact, he and I, along with Derek Taylor, Jason Bivins and Nat Catchpole, were the original creators of the Bagatellen site) and am aware of his career work in submarines, often for months at a time, during which periods he was involved, iirc, in underwater sonics and radar. Given that knowledge, it's impossible not to hear vestiges of what he undoubtedly experienced in those nether environs in these works, replete with layers of varied hums and mysterious clicks and knocks. The music falls largely, though not exclusively, into the electronic drone category, albeit that branch where the elements are harsh verging on the industrial, the repetitions having the aspect of turbines vibrating through metal walls. The opening track, "X Malfeasant, Appropriating Y" is somewhat unique (and perhaps my favorite) in that, after eleven or so minutes of great churning and grinding, it unexpectedly (but natural seeming in retrospect) introduces heavy drumming, only for about a minute, a gambit that works quite well, opening a brief window into an adjacent world. "Parachronists" is calmer, one of those that connotes the loneliness and eeriness of (in my imagination) sitting in a metal tube, thousands of feet below sea level, listening while "endocardiums IV" departs partially from the drone, with some iterative clanging that seems almost seems an allusion to Tibetan bells, though that's probably more me than Jones. "radiator piping" rings true to its sources and is quite bleak and evocative, like most of the pieces possessing precisely the right duration, as is the case with the minute-long "Sorrento Statis". The title track (which phrase I was curious about and googled, discovering its origin in a poem by James McMichael) begins with chiming, vaguely rock-like "chords", but then descends into a furious and agitated flutter (hard not to envision undersea propellors) that disappears with alarming quickness. The last cut, "Wrought Signals", is the most disorienting and lies closer to the broken electronics/noise end of the spectrum, thick hummage interspersed with blocky interruptions of same; it's the one track I don't thinks works so well--too much surface, not enough resonance for me--but is intriguing in terms of the range it offers in opposition to the other works.

Overall, though, a fine debut, looking forward to much more.


Also available via Erst Dist and Squidco

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Morton Feldman - Two Pianos and other pieces, 1953-1969 (Another Timbre)

It's a little strange and uncomfortable to be writing about a new release of Feldman's music (and it's a spectacular one) shortly after having read accounts of recent public revelations by Bunita Marcus, dedicatee of one of his major later works, as to the physical and emotional abuse she suffered under him for some twelve years up to his death in 1987. Some discrepancies between artist and work are enjoyable, such as the seeming dichotomy between Feldman's garrulousness, mode of speech etc. and the incredible delicacy and grace of his music. But some aren't. Of course, it's no great news that awful people can produce great art so we simply have to file Feldman into that unfortunate category and move on, though I can understand people having difficulty doing so. I've always been interested in retrospective evaluation of creative work in light of new information but that generally involves one's apprehension of attributes not previously known, not personal failings on the part of the work's creator. For myself, knowing about some horribleness in the individual's life does cast something of a tinge on any subsequent experience, but not a debilitating one. I still have a sense of the work's standing apart though, again, I'm by no means entirely confident of this stance.

That said, this is one extraordinary release. Two CDs, really well structured: thirteen pieces, nine of them for some combination of between two and four pianos, four embedded amongst these for small ensembles of between four and eight players. The principal pianists are John Tilbury and Philip Thomas, with Mark Knoop and Catherine Laws on several compositions while the other musicians include Anton Lukoszevieze and Seth Woods (cello), Mira Benjamin and Linda Jankowska (violin), Rodrigo Constanzo and Taneli Clarke(chimes), Naomi Atherton (horn) and Barrie Webb (trombone). Excellent notes on the music by Thomas can be found at the Another Timbre page for the release and Thomas' own blog.

The set is bracketed by two readings of "Two Pianos" (1957). It's hard to know what to say except to express the contention that were I forced to listen to nothing but these performances for the next year or so, I can imagine worse fates. I don't happen to own any other recordings of this work (though many exist) but I listened to one online by Kristine Scholz/Mats Persson which, while entirely lovely (hell, it's a great composition) lacks the subtle sharpness of the Tilbury/Thomas, the moving lag between the two, the sheer space created. Absolutely spellbinding, the marriage of conception on Feldman's part and crystalline, hyper-sympathetic interpretation by the two pianists. And really, I could say the same about almost every track here but that would be pointless. A sublime balance of the poised and the incisive, restraint plus the willingness to (gently) attack. It's futile to pick favorites but "Piece for Four Pianos" is also profoundly moving and deep and I think I even slightly prefer it to the 1958 recording with Feldman and Tudor. I can't even begin to choose among the ensemble pieces; each one is marvelous, shimmering, thoughtful--choose your adjective.

Everything about the release, conception to execution, is just perfect; one of the finest things I've heard in a long time and an absolute must for any lover of Feldman, warts and all. Apart from the classic Tilbury recording, "All Piano", this might be my favorite Feldman release ever.

Another Timbre

Friday, December 12, 2014

Nick Storring - Gardens (Scissor Tail Records)

Nick Storring - Endless Conjecture (Orange Milk Records)

Two solo recordings by Storring though "solo" is stretching the term a bit as he employs dozens of instruments on each ranging from strings to percussion to winds to keyboards to electronics. One of the amazing things is that nothing sounds overproduced or cloying. Plus, there's the charming, often beautiful music.

"Gardens" is dedicated to producer/songwriter Charles Stepney who worked with Eddie Harris and Minnie Riperton among others but whose name and work, unfortunately, don't ring a bell with me, so I'm unable to discern any direct (or indirect) influence on Storring's music except that it's easy enough to hear, whether via Stepney or not, a certain amount of pop song tinge to some of the pieces, most noticeably in the final one. The first track, "Open Your Eyes and Forget", runs some 15 minutes and contains a really nice, very plaintive melody mainly expressed on strings and glockenspiel that enters six minutes in, kind of a sigh with perhaps something of a Chinese cast, and weaves through the remainder of the composition, with variations and re-orchestrations. If anything, it reminds me a little of Jim O'Rourke's work from the early oughts, with a similar sense of simple, unashamed beauty--but this is better. A lovely piece I daresay different from anything you've heard recently. Three shorter songs follow: a jaunty number with banjo (? I think) and jew's harp featured, that morph's into an odd, Henry Cow-ish near-march; a dreamy, flute-driven number, the slow, wafting melody bathed in electric piano and other effluvia; a dance for thumb pianos and other plucked rod instruments that carries a bit of a medieval flavor and eventually hints at the melody form the first piece. The final cut begins with a hazy, rich section, various tonalities overlaid with mostly strings (including autoharp, I think, and voices) and electric keyboards. After several minutes, the strings introduce a winsome melodic line, again with a vaguely Asian inflection, soon settling into kind of a lounge situation, replete with delicate cymbal taps and distant, soft wah-wah, the music having traveled somewhere into the vicinity of Bryars' "1-2, 1, 2, 3, 4", disorienting but disarming at the same time.

A fine work, extremely pretty, and I use that term in the best possible sense.

"Endless Conjecture", a cassette release, sports pretty much the same instrumental form (dozens of them, all played by Storring) but much of the resultant music is rather different. A brief opener has gently wailed vocals, stray plucks and, gradually, a welter of other sounds, all amorphous and a bit murky, but with an intriguing feeling of something being swaddled, some core remaining invisible. "Terminal Burrowing" occupies the remainder of Side A and begins with far more abstract fare than the music heard on "Gardens", kind of a laminal approach. But about five minutes in, it suddenly becomes almost orchestral for just a few moments, recalling Xenakis. It becomes somewhat episodic after that, several of the intervals very attractive (including a wonderful and surprising tumble of metal exploding beside a delicate harp) but having only the most tenuous of connections; I felt the need for more of a spine. "Dewclaws" is an amusing march of sorts, led by percussion with a slightly Partchian tinge, a great deal of fun. But my favorite track is the last one, "They Carry Light", where Storring once again gives his melodic tendencies fuller rein, seeming to give a nod to Ellington ("Fleurette Africaine") with a gorgeous, wafting piano line embedded in sympathetic though by no means entirely subservient strings. As with the longer track on Side A, several divergent episodes are encountered along the way but to me, they somehow seem to be more of a piece, to have a relatedness to the central theme, though I couldn't pinpoint that if asked. When the theme proper reemerges a few minutes from the end, the effect is spellbinding, just lush, warm and full. An excellent piece.

I might prefer "Garden" by a smidgen overall but both recordings are well worth investigating. Looking forward to more from Storring.

Scissor Tail Records

Orange Milk Records

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rhodri Davies/John Butcher/Chris Watson - Routing Lynn (Ftarri)

Watson seems to me to deserve almost equal billing due to the nature of this release. Davies and Butcher performed in January 2014, at Routing Lynn, site of some ancient Northumberland rock carvings, where they were recorded by Watson. A couple of months later, they made this recording, performing while the older tape was playing quadraphonically in the space.

The quartet aspect is occasionally audible, more with the saxophones than harp. Davies, using harps of the pedal, electric and wind varieties, tends toward producing dronelike sounds, sometimes with flutters of the sort that may have been produced via a mechanical device, like a small fan, hitting the strings. I always have a hankering to hear him work with more traditional harp styles, all the more so in a situation like this where Butcher, via his usage of feedback and, generally, his production of long, smooth tones, would seem to provide the perfect foil for some more percussive harp work. This occurs little bit and the pair do slide into more burred tones but the first half or more of this 35-minute set is a bit hazier and amorphous than I'd like to hear. A little past midway, however, several layers of added grit and roughness appear and the performance crystallizes wonderfully, climbing into a fascinating, disparate and even enjoyably awkward area, Butcher's feedback sax sounding not merely haunting but pained. Even more refreshingly, through this grimy scrim, a kind of folk melody, a very slow dirge, emerges--very beautiful and moving. The music soon subsides, the ambient sounds gaining prominence, the whole coalescing back into the haze.

For myself, considered as a whole, the attainment of those several minutes settling around the song form makes the entirety well worthwhile, allowing it to be read in an almost narrative fashion, with each element leading toward and away form those very special moments.


Fergus Kelly - Unnatural Actuality (Room Temperature)

I can't resist quoting Kelly's listing of sound sources used for this release (along with field recordings from various sites): "The electromagnetic recordings were made from various sources such as computer drives, TV monitors, xbox, wii, ATMs, ticket vending machines, LED displays, smartphone, security barriers, automated advertising hoardings and tramlines. The metal percussion deployed car suspension springs which were struck and bowed, mounted on an aluminium water heater, which acted as resonator." Never a bad thing to put remnants of modern consumerism to good use.

The sounds comport well with the cover image, very dark and round. Things thrum and throb, hurling off sizzle and clang, layered and deeply resonant. supremely thick. Sometimes, as in "Spinal Landscape", it's like a thick mass of dozens of huge moths blindly flying in a room of large bells. Rhythms may appear briefly before sinking back into the inky, oily dark; spaces are scoured out, hollowed, left as a dully reverberant shell. The music might be said to vacillate between that dread hollow and an almost claustrophobic, equally alien clutter, something that begins to get oppressive over the disc's nine tracks but given the nature of the sources, I'm not sure that oppression wasn't one of the outcomes Kelly had in mind. More to the point, it's a unique and strong sensibility, one that stands well apart from most quasi-similar efforts int he territory. A strong, bitter work.

Room Temperature

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lance Austin Olsen - Fragments of Incidents Barely Remembered (Infrequency Editions)

It's always tough to quantify, in this area of music, what it is that causes an immediate reaction in the listener, either drawing him in or putting him off. From the opening sounds of Olsen's solo effort, the former applied; I believed what I was hearing, essentially. Hard to say further except that the sense of honesty and tautness seemed apparent up front, an impression not hurt by words from Olsen we hear early on: "I didn't press the fucking thing. I'm a complete idiot. Let's try again." There's probably also the fact that one senses a relatedness about the sounds employed over the work's 34 minutes. Even as the scene shifts several times, there's something of a sonic carryover that, however faintly, ties things together. From the opening machine-like noise (with birds), you hear dry metal sounds, sliding over one another, drifting into ticking that sounds mechanical here, cicada-like there, often with "secondary" sounds you might not notice on first blush but which provide great, and transparent, depth. Most of the action is quiet but fairly busy, a skittering, rustling set of noises, often against some soft, iterated sound (almost like a lawn sprinkler at times), subtly moving, offering a discernible, if undefinable, sense of particular locations, perhaps the "barely remembered" incidents of the title. This section leads to one mini-climax, followed by silence, then a recurrence of the sprinkler sounds and a gentle knocking about within a room, muttered curses, all highly evocative. The thin, prickly metallic elements exist alongside and within vaguely bubbling ones, a lovely grouping. Matters well up twice more, again clarity cohabiting with congestion, beautifully achieved, a mass of silvery sounds that ultimately explode from their confines and abruptly halt.

A greatly enjoyable, extremely well crafted and luminous recording, highly recommended.

Infrequency Editions

Robert Curgenven - They tore the earth and, like a scar, it swallowed them (Recorded Fields Editions)

A work (a single piece, occupying both sides of an LP) assessing Australia's colonization and subsequent devastation via field recordings amassed over the past twelve years from interior locations augmented by electronics and various instruments including, quite strongly, a pipe organ. The sounds are often quite sparse, befitting the place, swooping flies darting through the dry wind, distant thunder, brief, sharp rain. There's substantial tension in the air, the wavering organ agitating quietly from below, snaking its tendrils through the landscape, very well contrasted with the crisper crackles and knocks heard "closer to the ear". There are subsidences and renewal, almost feeling like a night/day rhythm, slightly different sounds or relationships arising--birds and wind rustling through reeds on the one hand, say, and a more robust organ on the other. The noises become more aggressive as Side B opens, with foggy mechanical sounds and a harsh buzz up front, those near noises almost attaining fire status, the organ still flowing at some remove but remaining subtly disturbing. There's a substantial silence, very desolate. Curgenven doesn't accede to obvious drama when the sounds return, rather just raising the heat slightly, enhancing the discomfort, the music just beginning to crest, perhaps, the devastation drawing near.

Impressive construction, showing nice restraint as well as anger.

Recorded Fields Editions