Thursday, May 21, 2015

The vinyl keeps on a-comin'

Robert Piotrowicz/Lukáš Jiřička - Samoobrona (Bôłt)

"Samoobrona" is a play written by Helmut Kajzar in the mid-70s which had been recorded for radio and elsewhere. Piotrowicz and Jiřička have taken the text (which I think was already conceived in fragmented form) and created a piece of radio theatre, further fragmenting, treating and redeploying the words while embedding them in a thick, vibrant mass of electronic sound. As much of a general problem I have with acousmatic music, I keep on finding examples of it (more or less) that contradict those issues and here's another one. The sounds are dense, swirling, occasionally rhythmic, the texts (in, I take it, Polish, though an English translation is provided in the inner sleeve) sliced and diced, the atmosphere infested with magnetic clangs, sizzling buzzes, whistling caroms and much more--yet it works for me. Some gorgeous moments here, as on Side B when a chorus of tones, like a pack of alien howler monkeys, erupts, surrounding the voices, threatening yet beautiful. The piece is very well paced, exciting to listen through despite not understanding the text. I'm not familiar with Jiřička's work and can't parse out his particular contributions, but I can say that, in terms of quality, this fits in very well with Piotrowicz's previous music and, indeed, is one of my favorite productions from him thus far.


R. Schwarz - The Scale of Things (Gruenrekorder)

An extremely impressive set of orchestrated electronics and field recordings from Schwarz, orchestrated in the sense of deeply constructed (at least, that's the feeling I get) from sounds captured in Europe, Africa and China, enhanced and integrated with synthesizers. I wouldn't go so far as to say "symphonic" but more like a tone poem, the elements densely layered with an implied sense of drama, even loose narrative, streams of dark buzzes and hums coursing through thickets of thistles and clangs. Per notes on the site, "based on the exploration of nature recordings for unheard details and hidden layers, focused on patterns of stochastic order and unique chaos created without musical intention." Though the sounds differ substantially, each of the seven tracks bristles with a similar energy and strong feeling of plasticity, sending the listener plunging through a cascade of noise, almost a sensory overload but so clearly limned as to to eliminate any possible cloying. Musique concrète without the overbearing and assaultive aspect that so often inhibits enjoyment for me. Really, really fine work.

Roger Döring/Konrad Korabiewski - Komplex (Gruenrekorder/Skálar)

Döring plays clarinets, tenor and baritone saxophones and Korabiewski supplies electronics, the pieces also ceding space to the environments in which they were recorded. The reed playing is generally somber and smooth, stating simple melodies with a dirge or folk character (reminded me of the slower portions of that old Skidmore/Osbourne/Surman recording on Ogun), only once delving into distortion when he runs the sound through a dictaphone. The electronics are very subtle, sometimes hardly there, although there's also either overdubbing of the reeds or real-time sampling. The music is moodily bleak, melancholic with a tendency toward sentiment. But at times, a certain balance is reached and the music floats wonderfully. "flucht", where Döring is on baritone, is my favorite track, one that recalls Roscoe Mitchell/AEC with deep, mournful flutters mixed with gradually strengthening scratchy interference-excellent. Most of the rest, while entirely pleasant, dwells in one area a bit overmuch; I'd like to have heard more chances taken.


Alessandra Eramo - Roars Bangs Booms (Corvo)

A 7" with eight brief pieces for voice and electronics using onomatopoeic words derived from Russolo's 1913 text, "The Art of Noises". As much as I often have my own difficulties with "free" vocal work, this set, perhaps due to its brevity and concentratedness, poses few such problems. Eramo inhabits these references to urbanization with gusto, not overdoing it, not allowing the electronics to dominate, but giving a forceful, pared down performance, guttural in parts, sibilant in others, even humorous on occasion as with (if I have my track demarcation right--there are no times or visual cues on the disc) "borbottii" low growls. Concise and well-handled.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wander - Wander (Nothing Out There)

Wander is the acoustic guitar duo of Vincenzo De Luce and Matteo Tranchesi, here presenting six tranquil, hazy songs grouped in a single track. I get the sense that the pieces have been at least roughed out, not entirely improvised but I could be wrong. There's such an air of languidness about them, a very attractive one, imparting the sensation of lazy, hot afternoons. As in De Luce's prior work that I've heard, you can pick up the influence of Fahey, sure, but here I get more of a Robbie Basho vibe, minus the Indian references. The attack sharpens now and then (portions of "dust and weins", for instance) and occasional regular pulses enter but there's an overall similarity of approach that, depending on one's tastes might be too much gentle lolling or, considering how lovingly it's played here, not enough. I found it an eminently enjoyable listen if not such a demanding one, though I doubt that was their purpose.

Nothing Out There

Hafdís Bjarnadóttir - Sounds of Iceland Íslandshljóð (Gruenrekorder)

More a documentary project than an "art" affair, I suppose, and an extremely handsomely produced one, both visually and sonically. Each of the seven tracks, save one (which is less than two minutes long) is comprised of three or four sections recorded at different locations; we move smoothly from one to another. This could occasion a slide-show quality but the choices made by Bjarnadóttir impart a subtle sense of connectivity, so that the side by side aspect feels "right" somehow. We travel from the delicate bubbling of hot springs to soft cave drippings, from waterfalls to bird-intensive cliff sides, from windswept plateaus to geysers. Impossible to say much more about it than that. If you're into lovingly assembled recordings from exotic (to most) places in the natural world , tis one is right up your alley. Really fine job.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Cathnor, as part of its most recent batch of releases (including that fly thing from my previous post), has issued four CDr albums.

Jack Harris - and neither had either of us seen anything more moving than the layers of a children's birthday cake, baked upon the heath

Apart from sporting the most unwieldy album title of the decade, there's not much information to be gleaned about the sounds herein. They're compiled from field recordings, to be sure (Harris' with contributions from Matthew Webb and Samuel Rodgers) and I take it there's a good deal of interweaving and construction in play. Whatever the case, it's a fantastic amalgamation, one of my favorite releases from recent months. There are several "episodes", separated by an uneasy quiet. On the surfaces, many of the initial soundscapes are banal enough: distant traffic, a bloke attempting to curb his dog, children, etc. but there's always something lurking beneath the crust, a thrum of one kind or another, often barely audible, as though the recordings have taking place above some subterranean power plant. As ever, I'm somewhat baffled by what it is exactly that renders some examples of this field so extraordinarily attractive to these ears, others not. But there's some kind of subtlety in play, a tenuous infiltration of rhythms and, of course, simply the poeticism of the choices made. That thrum bides its sweet time, oozing along beneath unsuspecting vehicles until exploding to the surface around the 45 minute mark, obliterating everything in its surge, the landscape reduced to random pulsations where once there were dogs, birds and children, leaving behind only the odd bump, scrape and ghost voice.

Excellent work.

Martin Küchen/Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga - Bauchredner

Amusing when doing an image search for the cover, to come across all these shots of ventriloquists...

An intriguing pairing, Küchen's guttural, intense saxophonics combined with Lazaridou-Chatzigoga's rough, extreme zither. Apparently a more literal translation of Bauchredner, per Clive Bell's liner notes, is "one who talks from the belly" which seems apropos. Küchen plays in a more abstract mode than he has on several recent solo releases, fitting more into Lazaridou-Chatzigoga's approach, his output spittle-filled, granular, breathily harsh (though never, thankfully, attempting to hide the fact that it's a saxophone) alongside the zither's varied grindings and hums, often achieved, I think, with motorized devices. The sound combination is excellent throughout and something quite unique to boot, a flavor rarely encountered. The playing is incisive, uncompromising and entirely non-sentimental, filled with long tones that writhe and bristle unpredictably. Good, tough music.

Jason Kahn - untitled for four

Two versions of a graphic score by Kahn (analog synth, mixing board, radio) with Patrick Farmer (cd players, prepared loudspeakers), Sarah Hughes (zither, piano) and Dominic Lash (double bass). Though no score is included in the release, Kahn sent one on.It's an hour long, divided into five minute segments which themselves have a top and bottom half. Within each player's line, graphic designs appear (if you're familiar with Kahn's cover art over the last coupe of decades, you're in the ballpark), more or less limited by the time segments, lasting from rive to fifteen minutes. Their height varies, something I imagine is normally taken as volume level, although I suppose it could be anything. There are 18 such portions, each bearing a unique pattern. Each player has three or four five-minute sections which are silent, resulting in a series of duos, trios (only one of these, in fact) and quartets. So much for the layout, now to the sounds. They tend to be long, relatively quiet though extending up to medium-loud and on the harsh, dry and abstract side, making the occasional emergence of something like a lone piano not from Hughes all the more striking. The two hours is a great deal to try and take in, the sounds walking a line between contemplation and agitation, the larger forms suggested by the score lending just enough structure to grasp. There are a number of individually wonderful moments and, when one can mentally imbed these within the frame Kahn has devised, one can catch glimmers of a pretty engrossing, challenging work. Recommended and a solid addition to Kahn's sizable oeuvre.

Pascal Battus - désincantation indécantation

Per the sleeve, Battus uses only "rotating objects" for this set of eight tracks which, at least as far as the number of occasions I've seen him perform in the past two years, represents a fairly small portion of his potential activity. A good thing, in my opinion, as he has a tendency sometimes to range widely through whatever he brings to a concert and I've often found myself wishing he'd concentrate on a particular aspect for longer periods. You can pick up the rotational attributes of the sounds here without much difficulty and, given the abstract nature of the sounds, they provide a certain kind of structural grammar to the pieces, again very welcome. That said, it remains a tough one to crack, Battus' sound coming across as rather thin and brittle (often the case and, no doubt, intentional) offering few handholds much less solace to the ear, sometimes generating whines that carry a mosquito-like irritation factor. I found myself most attracted to the lower key, more fluttery and airier tracks, still tough little kernels but with that buffer zone enveloping the sharp, sizzling electric flashes. A prickly, difficult set to embrace but rewarding more often than not.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Various Artists - one man and a fly (Cathnor)

On June 28th, 2012, a fly (name withheld on request) gave a performance in an Oxfordshire church. The dipteran sound artist made great use of space and the ambient atmosphere, all of which is richly captured in this recording. He intrudes into the sound field only when necessary, otherwise allowing the listener to dwell in the noises of the moment: the interior hum of the church, external traffic including a particularly loud lawn mower, airplanes, birds, a seasoned gentleman making low moans, breath sounds and metallic taps and sift scrapes on a trombone, etc. all of which, via the choices made by the fly with regard to dynamics and spatial proximity, are woven into a fantastic, breathing, air-ful event, tinged with subtle and fluctuating colors, more easily experienced than described. There's something of Taku Sugimoto in his approach, perhaps even sparer, though perhaps his choices were occasioned by the inherent richness in that space, an acquiescence to the beauty that was already resident there, for example the way in which the lawn mower (if indeed, that was the source) and the low brass instrument merge perfectly--why add anything? This reticence, still so rare and so exquisitely executed here, results in a singular, wonderful work, one that should be heard by all.


Monday, May 04, 2015

Grisha Shakhnes - All this trouble for nothing (Glistening Examples)

With this release, his second for Glistening Examples, Shakhnes continues to carve out a unique and vigorous shape for his music in these six varied tracks largely composed from, I take it, processed tape sources. "utopia" surges right in with densely layered, chugging sounds, sometimes recalling the massed steps of troops but more a churning mix, as from blades in water. But nothing remains in stasis long here as some buried guitar notes (I think?) are heard followed by an extended alarm bell, a rising tone like an impossibly long vocal intonation, balafon (and an mbira?), deepening churns, thin piano chords, wave after wave, very impressive and deeply immersive. You're somehow not surprised when, toward the end of this 8-minute journey, tablas appear, the scene shifting eastward from Israel (Shakhnes' home base). Nicely programmed, this is followed by more of a steady-state piece, "counterpoint", all traffic rumble and I imagine much more packed in, a great mass of woolliness with interesting forward momentum. "mar. 18, 2015" starts in adjacent territory, with a low, bubbling environment, maybe even molten, but also you can just pick out, at first, some hazy piano, back behind the steam, wonderfully dreamy and uncertain. Muffled ticking (clocks?) emerges, the bubbling beginning to sound more like manhandled, crumpled tapes, the keyboard becoming more apparent but remaining indistinct--a fine, ultra-evocative and troubling track. Shakhnes switches gears abruptly with "hectic light (allemagne-palestine)", the latter presumably referring to he of the cognac and teddy bears as the listener is enveloped in swirls of repeated keyboard figures and drones, rather spacey (though concluding with an intriguing bit of seemingly unrelated and hard-nosed clicks) and unlike anything I've heard before from Shakhnes. I'm not sure I'm entirely convinced but am glad to hear him exploring alternate pathways. "every other summer" plunges back into the inferno, offering a resonant cavern of fire intersected by clear, ringing tones and subtler mid-range ones boring into more distant surfaces. But Shakhnes has yet more up his sleeve as we hear the title cut to close out the album. Bowed strings, perhaps a cello, flutter like large moths in a dusty space, dozens of them. Some scraping relatively high, others trouble low, loose cords, grinding to a slow motion finish. Part of me wants to think it's an actual score for string ensemble, but I doubt it. Insistent, uncomfortable and utterly fantastic.

Shakhnes' oeuvre, including works under the name Mites, has maintained a level of excellence for a number of years now. This one ups the ante even further. Do check it out.

Glistening Examples

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Burkhard Stangl/Steve Bates - Hopefullessness (The Dim Coast)

An improvised guitar/electronics duo (Stangl doubling on CD player). The first track begins with quite the rockish fanfare; I'm assuming that's largely due to Bates, whose work I otherwise don't know, a guess confirmed by the eventual soft strumming heard beneath, a sound area much more in keeping with Stangl. It makes for a nice dichotomy, kind of a sacred and profane deal. That piece only lasts some four minutes and leads to the pair of longer improvisations. "One" is slow and thoughtful, very much in Schnee-like territory (without pop covers), a series of resonant chords that perhaps recall Loren Connors, plus some good, harsh static so things don't cloy. Indeed, they threaten to crumble and collapse, the narrative hanging by a thread, before they regroup and head off in a different direction, one of sustained chords and an electric, dripping figure and outward into stormy, molten free form scapes though retaining an essentially rock-like feel. "Three" comes across as the fullest expression here.zAgain, it's fairly mellow and slow-paced but richer and, interestingly, less comfortable, not in an overt way but subtly so--the same rocking motion that lulls you can imprison you. A sparer, less over the top Godspeed might be a referent.

Enjoyable, not essential, but always good to hear Stangl.

The Dim Coast

BRGS - Endless Walls (Zvočni Prepihi)

BRGS - Overture for a New Beginning (Zvočni Prepihi)

BRGS - Slices of Old Cntinent/Ethiopia (Zvočni Prepihi)

BRGS - Slices of Old Continent/Liberia (Zvočni Prepihi)

BRGS is Slovenian musician Jaka Berger working largely with percussion and electronics. "Endless Walls" involves subtle and patient manipulation of what seem to be processed percussion samples, including backward tapes. On "Wall 1", they seep in and out of the sound field, giving somewhat the impression of vehicles emerging on a night road, passing by and disappearing--concise and well-realized. The other piece, "Wall 2", uses much the same elements, I think, but is far more active and chaotic. The activity flits by instead of slowly driving through and is, necessarily, more concentrated and varied. On the surface, the music is not so dissimilar from any number of past efforts by others, though BRGS has a nice underlying tonal thing going on, kind of bridging abstraction and melodicism, especially in parts of "Wall 2", in a way that's both appealing and reserved.

"Overture for a New Beginning" is a more ambient affair with BRGS apparently using samples from various Western classical sources over wave sounds and such, melding them into an undulating, shifting loop that acquires a organ/synth-like texture. There's a quasi-pulse lurking beneath that rush the pace more than you think at first, imparting a welcome, partially hidden dynamism. It gradually unspools into a denser, more kaleidoscopic field, the sounds centering around a tuning "A" but also becoming, oddly enough, more interesting as they do so. It gets to a kind of blurred Terry Riley stage, nice and lush, then slowly becomes thinner, more brittle, with new lines appearing within the wall of sound, including something that resembles a clarion call. A single, 36-minute piece that maintains interest throughout, entirely enjoyable.

The pair of recordings sourcing the sounds of Ethiopia and Liberia are both short (16-18 minutes) and essentially process music from the areas via various electronic manipulations, in the former case filtering through backward mutation akin to that done on "Endless Walls"). While it sounds fine, part of me wanted to hear the original pieces, especially the sung ones, without alteration. The Liberian disc uses a bunch of percussion samples (balafons, perhaps), overlaid, with infiltrating voices, very attractive, summoning up a dreamy, Reich-like world.

Zvočni Prepihi

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Off on holiday to England, back in a week or so.

Costis Drygianakis - Άδηλα και κρύφια (no label)

A mix of field recordings, sounds from You Tube footage (largely dealing with war, death and other atrocities) and musical contributions from, among many others, Elena Kakaliagou (french horn), Kostis Kilymis (recordings, electronics), Nicolas Malevitsis (noises) and Nikos Vekliotis (cello)

Sonically, it's a pretty rich stew, taped sounds from multiple sources overlaid, interspersed with abstract electronics, voices, the occasional sound of a traditional instrument. There's always the danger, of course, using sources with programmatic baggage such as war footage, that matters will become heavy-handed and forced. For my money, Drygianakis largely avoids this although he skirts close every so often (toward the end of the third track, for instance, where you're plunged into the midst of a pitched battle). There are well-realized, lengthy stretches of hollow, more desolate areas wherein the dramatics of a firefight might stand out, whether too obviously or not is a judgment call. For me, the evident anguish tends to carry the day over any kind of manipulation, the sounds of conflict being read as such, not as mere effects. There is, for example, a fine passage where you hear a bird call, isolated, with the very distant sound of explosions, soon accompanied by what seems to be a ghostly, shakuhachi-like flute and forlorn string plucks. If there's a musical reference that tends to crop up while listening, it's Simon Fisher Turner's work for Derek Jarman, although no pop or ambient elements surface here. There's a lot going on here and I pick up more each time I listen; an interesting, unusual work, well wroth checking out.

Drygianakis' bandcamp site

Daunik Lazro/Guillame Belhomme - Vieux Carré/Sales Rectangles (Lenka Lente)

Another text/music publication by the intriguing Lenka Lente house. Here, Lazro, who has worked with Joe McPhee in the past (I recall the "Elan.Impulse" duo disc from the late 80s) takes on the beautiful McPhee composition, "Vieux Carré", first heard on the Hat hut release "Graphics" from 1977, a personal favorite of mine. It's a 10-minute solo baritone performance (this is a 3" disc), recorded live in 2011 in Rouen, in a space where you can hear a good deal of ambient sound that works very well with the music. Lazro interpolates some Monk but largely sticks to relatively traditional variations on McPhee's lovely, melancholic melody. Short but entirely sweet, such a strong tune. Belhomme's text consists of fragments--paragraphs or single lines--mostly in French, that refer to Lazro and McPhee (and jazz in general) but also include semi-random extracts from conversation and fleeting reflections on various activities in the world, each portion separated by a barcode, which lends a cynical air.

A good, handsome package, well put together. Lazro's performance is fine and I imagine would be a welcome addition to the collections of McPhee enthusiasts.

Lenka Lente

Sunday, April 19, 2015

VA AA LR - polis (Intonema)

Wherein our favorite initials-only trio (Vasco Alves, Adam Asnan, Louie Rice) take sounds from earlier installations, including the conversations of passersby and/or gallery goers, and place unexpected emphasis on rhythmic elements, albeit slow, even drippy ones.

We hear three pieces, each carrying a rhythm that persists more or less throughout. The first begins with sets of gloppy, electronic thuds of a sort, with a sharp attack and dull finish, irregular actually but giving a sense of pulse, soon interspersed with a repeated sounds like static being poured onto a table--interesting that last, imparting an oozing, liquid sense to a dry, prickly sound. The activity from the streets of Porto filters in; the voices are usually indistinct, though you can make out that it's Portuguese being spoken, parents with children, bohos, etc. But those initial elements drive the piece, some perhaps sourced from jacks being pulled, speaker frames vibrating, all arrayed in a loose rhythmic field, the static spill providing steadiness. Spare and juicy at the same time, very nice. On the second track, the rhythm is more blatant, a 2-2-1 sequence, super fuzz-laden, sounding as though unearthed from a death metal crypt, that worms its way through hammered beams and crowds, the odd buzz and bang incorporated along the way; again, good, unclean fun. The last track's rhythm is complicated, am intermingling of electronic pulses similar in character to those found on the opening piece, woven between quasi-rhythmic, burred tones that sound like a gigantic, rough-toothed saw being drawn through unforgiving wood. As before, you hear the public, in this case innocent children cavorting, blissfully unaware of the behemoth lurking around the corner. The beast unleashes a triumphant roar, bellowing like an apartment-sized double bass being assaulted by a 20 foot bow, the underlying forward chug still present and moves on, the population oblivious.

Good stuff, very different from standard fare, rather unique.


The Pitch - Frozen Orchestra (Amsterdam) (Sofa)

The Pitch is Boris Baltschun (electric pump organ), Koen Nutters (bass), Morten J Olsen (vibraphone) and Michael Thieke (clarinet), on this occasion (a live recording from 2012, issued on LP) joined by Lucio Capece (bass clarinet), Johnny Chang (violin), Robin Hayward (tuba), Chris Heenan (contrabass clarinet), Okkyung Lee (cello) and Valerio Tricoli (revox). The piece is a drone, I gather an improvised one to some degree, perhaps observing certain agreed upon parameters. I'm not sure why (and it's interesting--for me--to attempt to figure out) but I don't find myself particularly drawn in to this particular performance. I've little doubt that, in the live situation, it could be a substantially different story, with the strands flying around the space, being corporeally immersed. On disc, though, I'm never as riveted. The music, especially as powered by the organ I think, is fairly accessible and (multi)tonal with clear layers, entries and exits by the various instruments etc. as well as the odd percussive accident (intentional or an artifact of the space, I'm not sure). Maybe, despite all the churn, there's too much of a "one thing" aspect for me, some conflict between just sitting there and really just sitting there, a kind of insistence that seems at odds with the notion of droning. Who knows, perhaps that's the goal? As is, for this listener, it's ok, nothing too thought-provokng though, and not providing so much of lasting sustenance.

Sofa Music

CH/DH - Egregore Source (Art Kill Art)

This is a program, comes in a nice little USB drive with good, helpful documentation. Essentially, you set parameters--many of them are available, all with sliders--and an interacting sound/visual file is generated. More often than not, you can easily see the relationship between what emerges from your speakers and what appears on the screen. It's pretty damned fascinating. I can imagine spending hours fiddling with this and have to wean myself off. It brought back memories of that mid-90s "Chaos" program, marketed under James Gleick's name. The video below ( if it doesn't work on the blog, gives you a better idea than I can about it.

CHDH (video)

CHDH site

Saturday, April 18, 2015

common objects - whitewashed with lines (Another Timbre)

A 2-cd set from John Butcher (acoustic and amplified saxophones), Angharad Davies (acoustic and amplified violin), Rhodri Davies (electric and pedal harp) and Lee Patterson (amplified devices and processes). The first disc is a performance of a graphic score by Rhodri Davies, "cup and ring", while the second is a live improvisation.

As indicated by its title, Davies' score centers around his fascination with the cup and ring phenomenon, a kind of stone carving found worldwide but with concentrations in northern England. Per Wiki: "They consist of a concave depression, no more than a few centimetres across, pecked into a rock surface and often surrounded by concentric circles also etched into the stone. Sometimes a linear channel called a gutter leads out from the middle." Their purpose is the subject of some debate. I wish a copy of the score had been included either in the disc sleeve or on the Another Timbre site, but no such luck. I'm assuming the score in some ways bears a visual resemblance to typical cup and ring patterns, but who knows? In any case, one simply listens and that's more than rewarding enough. It's a complicated, often densely layered work, lasting over 57 minutes, making it (for me) very hard to grasp as a whole but the journey, from field to field, is almost always rich and exciting. One quickly gets over parsing out who does what and settles in for the ride which turns out to be finely varied and exceptionally strong over the first half, from dark rough and tumble to sizzling electronics and biting strings. Sounds are usually sustained with either long tones or iterated strokes (handheld fans on harp strings?), everything shot through with crackles here, plucks there, saxophonic flutters and kisses (plus a great deal of, I think, Butcher-generated, controlled feedback) and tons more. Section after wonderful section, including an especially juicy portion with layers of ringing tones gliding along dark, resonant scrapes and shuddering, subaqueous-sounding saxophone some 20 minutes in. The quartet moves into a drone-laden area once past the half-hour mark which I find a little less absorbing than what preceded, though perhaps it's called for (or interpreted as such) in the score. But they quickly regroup and enter a lovely section of quiet raindrop-like sounds, very beautiful. The music fragments (effectively), emerges in a sequence of high chirps, settles into yet another sustained, dronish area but, to these ears, a much more complex and evocative one than before. A strong work, a fine listen.

Davies, in his notes, states that he wanted to evince the "different modes of working" experienced with this ensemble, hence juxtaposing the graphic score reading with the improvisation, the latter recorded a bit less than a year ago. If there's a clear difference--and, given only these two samples, I think there is--for me, it's much more to do with underlying structure than anything else. Not surprisingly, there's a kind of consistency, not necessarily better or worse, present in "cup and ring" that's less so in the improvisation (titled, with what I take to be sly reference, "repose and vertigo"). The quartet moves more quickly from point to point where, perhaps, the score led them to linger, overall resulting in a rockier affair. As well, Butcher's saxophone is more prominent as such (no amplification or feedback) which does flavor the proceedings differently. The result is a fine and sensitive performance, fairly close to what I'd expect given the participants. In this instance, though, I'm more drawn to the scored recording which imparts more of the unexpected.

But you can't go far wrong with either. Very good music, leaving me anxious to hear more of Davies' ideas and, for that matter, similar input from the three other musicians in terms of scores or other notions for this quartet.

Another Timbre

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Magnus Granberg/Skuggorna och Ijuset - Would Fall from the Sky, Would Wither and Die (Another Timbre)

Granberg has crafted an odd and beguiling work. Scored for quintet (Granberg, clarinet; Anna Lindal, violin; Leo Svensson Sander, cello; Kristine Scholz, prepared piano; Erik Carlsson, percussion), it's 45 minutes of a certain kind of self-similar composition that I relate to pieces like Feldman's "For Samuel Beckett". Not that it sounds anything like Feldman--it doesn't, really, though one might call it a distant cousin--but that it operates in a fairly well circumscribed area, discovering a great deal of variety there but content to remain, with only the barest amount of push. There is a subtle, almost masked kind of cadence in effect, however. Very often I found myself thinking of a slow, gentle tumble down a hillside, juggling a few possessions, each step or fall similar in a general sense, different in particulars, never encountering a serious obstacle, just negotiating the slant and the minor bumps and branches along the way.

Describing it further is difficult. At first, the parts appear in brief, quiet sequences, almost pointillist but with enough contiguity between the sounds to form a kind of fabric, however tissuey. The clarinet tends to play the longest tones, maybe three seconds, the rest more or less fragmented, though the strings will also shift to slightly longer bowed notes. There are no real pauses or disjunctures; the space retains a consistent "average density", though constantly changing within that. My impression is that the scoring is intuitive but if I learned there was some kind of system in place, it wouldn't entirely surprise me. The clarinet seems vaguely mournful and given that the piece is in memory of Granberg's father, that's appropriate. The piano and percussion seem to propel the music a small bit, to the extent it's nudged along. But it's general between a thoughtful, even distracted amble and that slow-motion tumbling feeling mentioned above. Not dreamy, really, but thoughtful, concerned with balance and very patient, which makes a big difference.

Can't think of much more to say that would shed any light. It's really good, subtly bracing work.

Another Timbre

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Fraufraulein - Extinguishment (Another Timbre)

My first thought on experiencing this release, not having heard anything from Fraufraulein (Billy Gomberg, bass guitar electronics, recordings; Anne Guthrie, french horn, electronics, recordings) since 2009's "Donna Hayward's Secret Diary" is how different it sounds from the work each has issued individually since then, at least to the extent I've heard. Though you can pick up aspects of both, it seems less like a halfway meeting point than a triangulation that results in something rather different, though perhaps weighted a bit toward Guthrie. I get the sense they're really pushing to get out of their comfort zones and, by extension, to place themselves in a kind of "danger" where the outcome is less something fully formed than an exciting way-station. Whatever--and I could obviously be entirely wrong--it's a an excellent recording, one that I found a little opaque at first but which really opened up on each successive listen.

There's something about the structure of the three pieces--they feel very organic and unfolding, no clear framing but there's some underlying sensation of tensile strength; I can't figure it out, but I like it. Guthrie's horn, played straight, with overtones or sung into, is more overtly prominent than Gomberg's bass, though it's possible that any number of sounds are attributable to it, I suppose. But I hear more the horn wandering through various aural environments, often with the feeling of being outside, of looking around corners or hillsides. "convention of moss" begins with a very low bass hum, quickly engaging several strata of crackle, high feedback tones twining and numerous sounds evocative of a large space; really tons going on but always arranged in a non-cloying way, always flowing. Distant crowds, muted horn, clanging metal, that crowd congealing into an instructor and respondents, the latter singing a hymn in the sonic haze with final comments by a quietly growling Guthrie. "whalebone in a treeless landscape" starts, appropriately enough, in a far ore spare area, constricted horn floating above a desert of echoey bass notes and single, metallic clicks. The feeling is different from the first track, looser in a way, more springy and stretched out, bearing a palette full of submerged motorized sounds (dulled outboards?) amidst bell tones, far off children's cries, barely heard, a lot more, something like a denser scene from Ferrari. Guthrie's horn soon sounds long, low, forlorn calls through a more vacant landscape; hard not to imagine some large, pining creature, an elephant/Malfatti hybrid. But the core of the piece is still subtly moving, rotating, taking in other vistas; a really fascinating construction, a fantastic piece.

Robbie Lee contributes to the final piece, "my left hand, your right hand", though I'm uncertain in what capacity, maybe the voice (though I'd guess that's Guthrie) which sings a kind of simple lullaby/chant in high register in the middle distance, over a searing sine-like tone and occasional soft bass pluck; eerie and lovely. Actually, the voice seems to morph into the horn and then something that sounds bass clarinetish is heard; it's disorienting a little, though it sounded so innocent at first, like a benign dream slipping into malignancy, colors swirling and blending, darkening. In a way, I think it's the most daring track here if not the most "successful", but that's fine, a good thing really. The footing is unsure but the push is there.

Exciting work, great to hear.

Another Timbre

[I'd, unforgivably, forgotten about the text that accompanies all Another Timbre releases, only reading after finishing the above. Do check it out: Interview with Gomberg and Guthrie]

Monday, April 13, 2015

Joshua Adam Acosta - Moment's Notice (no label)

Abstract electronic scapes by NYC-based Acosta, incorporating found sounds and the odd sample. In addition to locating some very tasty sounds, Acosta shows a welcome willingness to sit with them for a while before moving things forward. Things do move and the pieces progress at their own pace until they arrive, but he leaves plenty of time to linger and appreciate elements on their own, as near the beginning of "Without Warning", where simple, open sound exists, not overtly tampered with, for quite a while--some 22 minutes, in fact, until some sines enter toward the end--and I don't begrudge it a second. When you think you detect hidden voices buried within, murmuring, whispering, you're not sure at first--a wonderful sequence, with nods to both Werder and Pisaro. The title track picks up with those sines for several minutes before they're disrupted, fracture, replaced with a rushing water sound (though electronically produced, I think) that's soon underlaid with a deep hum, all of this very immersive and oddly narrative. It's a long piece, though, 26 minutes, and the episodic aspect, to my ears, becomes a bit too forced, the sections like the motorized sequence starting around the 11-minute mark, not so inherently interesting and feeling a bit tacked on, though perhaps that's the point--always hard to say. "Where Does It Go?" closes the release with a rather different take, sines and samples existing in an airier space, the samples including snatches of radio song, PA announcements, etc., emerging and being masked by the fairly pure electronics. The latter get a tad goofy at times, but maybe that's their "answer" to the samples, not sure. As before, there's a lot mixed in, many shifts, but things cohere very well and something genuinely new emerges. Curious to see if this direction is pursued.

Hear for yourselves at Acosta's bandcamp site

Acosta is also involved with a burgeoning label that prmises to be intriguing:

Speculations Editions

Yiorgis Sakellariou - Cueb (Mechaorga)

A jam-packed 3", using sounds recorded at Canary Wharf in London and others to generate a shirt story of sorts, filled with incident and stressing looped sequences. We hear first a mechanical action, repeated, a metallic click-clack, the "click" sharper and more in the foreground than the "clack", gulls and ambient traffic hum surrounding. It pauses, then begins again with renewed vigor, the impacts harder (a pile-driver?); hard to tell if this is a loop or not. A darkly sizzling undercurrent appears and the banging acquires an echo as the atmosphere grows more oppressive. Six minutes in, the hammering ceases and we hear only the distant rush of traffic with the odd nearby rustle or squeak, a welcome lull, beautifully enhanced by subtle, low flutters, possibly from the propellors of a boat, which slowly increase in volume only to be sliced off and replaced by the ghostly sound of soft rattles in a large, dark space. The whole enterprise has taken on a noirish character. Again, the intensity surges and another repetitive, mechanical sound appears, two loud ones as though someone's manipulating a massive stapler, followed by three softer ones, almost like heavy footsteps. Clouds of noise form around this core, steamy and uncomfortable. There's something of a Fritz Lang/Metropolis feeling here. It all ends with extreme abruptness. Strong work, well-molded and definitely worth hearing.


Benjamin Finger - Pleasurably Lost (Eilean)

A set of songs, abstracted somewhat but still decidedly songs, in a kind of post-Fennesz tradition, I guess, although there are probably more accurate referents around. In an environment that mixes electronics (including glitch-prov-y sounds), classical instrumentation, fractured and all but indecipherably dreamy vocals, melodies drift in and out, none staying too long, no danger of any hooks being established. Maybe a hint of Badalamenti now and then, especially when there's a gauzy female voice. It all weaves together enough that distinguishing among the ten tracks becomes a little tough, much less picking out favorite moments, but the echoey, (aptly) distorted piano of "Edge of Distortion" stood out as especially evocative, offset by necessary static and electric buzz; I was reminded a good bit of Asher. Overall, it's a bit fuzzy for my taste, though not unenjoyable in a languid, outré pop sense.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pedra Contida - Xisto (JACC)

Pedra Contina ("contained stone", I believe) is a quintet made up of Marcelo dos Reis (acoustic guitar, voice, singing bowls), Angélica V. Salvi (harp), Nuno Torres (alto saxophone), Miguel Carvalhais (computer) and João Pais Filipe (drums and percussion). The disc, a 2014 release, is grouped into three sections: a four-part suite by dos Reis, three pieces under the heading "Solo and Duos" and a group improvisation.

Dos Reis' set of works begins with a long, soft tone from Torres, repeated, gradually acquiring a burr. Quiet, malleted tom-toms, low soft harp and other percussion enter, the heat level slowly turning up but still on simmer--very absorbing. Then things erupt into a Braxtonian bit of fragmented activity with vague boppish roots (this is the second section, titled, "Cuts"). I wasn't too keen on this direction, not appreciating that the initial few minuted had been relegated to "prologue" status, but it doesn't last very long, soon subsiding into a lovely harp/guitar section, thoughtful and calm. "Central Motif" revisits a kind of Braxton/Mitchell (specifically an imagine Mitchell/Barefield collaboration) area again, but more subdued, though filled with scurries and squeaks, very well sustained and not overly cloying. "Five Spaces", recorded live, creates a fine pool, each instrument separate, their effects rippling past one another, the harp pastoral, the computer gently agitating, Torres (I think) using water; good work.

Carvalhais' computer solo leading off the second area balances a generally reticent approach with quick flurries of wooly activity, dry and wet sounds coursing through a hollow space, low volume but intense, very impressive. This is followed by a truly pensive and pretty harp/percussion duet, Salvi playing "traditionally", with strong lyricism and subtly propulsive rhythms, Filipe providing extremely sympathetic accompaniment, especially on what sounds like a balafon-like instrument; again, excellent work. The duo between dos Reis and Torres picks things up seamlessly, the pair engaging in sustained and quiet conversation, dos Reis' voice adding a wonderful layer of warmth, a songlike lullaby or lament, seeming to refer to times past.

"Cracks, Shale and Bells" closes thing out, remaining in the same fertile territory, Salvi kind of the Tilbury of the quintet, maintaining tonality amidst the eddying sprawl. The track is very unprepossessing which works massively in its favor, Nothing feels hurried, nothing feels as though striving for importance. The music approaches silence but never quite gets there and manages to cover significant ground over its course while imparting a sense of overall structure, however vague over its 15 or so minutes. It's nothing that others haven't attempted many times in the post-AMM era, but this quintet pulls it off exceptionally well.

A strong recording, worth seeking out.

Fail Better! - Zero Sum (JACC)

Yes, an unfortunate band name. especially with the exclamation mark, this is a quintet consisting of doe Reis (here on electric guitar) and Filipe from Pedra Contina along with Luís Vicente (trumpet), João Miguel Pereira (double bass) and João Guimarães (alto saxophone), heard here in a 2013 live, improvised recording.

It starts in a soft zone, dos Reis' guitar providing gentle, strummed chords. When Vicente enters with some quite vocal, though still delicate trumpet, it almost sounds like an introduction to "Love for Sale". When he adopts the mute and begins quasi-vocalizing, and as Guimarães enters the mix (again, subtly and probingly) the music begins to resemble early Art Ensemble, those tonal/spacey areas they'd create as in some of "People in Sorrow". It's not imitative, merely occupying adjacent ground and doing so very well. Dos Reis, when he's up front, takes things into somewhat different climes, his guitar carrying traces of Middle Eastern references. It's interesting that when he finishes a segment some eight minutes in, the music switches mood entirely, actually again back to a quiet, early Mitchell kind of atmosphere. If there was no editing involved, it implies an intriguing conception of group improv on the part of this ensemble [checking my readout, I see there are indeed several tracks involved, something not indicated on the sleeve, so we're hearing extracts, not a continuous performance]. The whole has a far more jazzish feel than the previously reviewed release, well-handled and convincing when in that kind of AEC mode, a bit less so when matters shift to more frenetic, efi scrabbling which, to be fair they never enter all that whole-heartedly or for long durations. Still, it feels like something of a fall-back option when they do so, a safety valve in lieu of pushing things further along the lines that Pedra Contida attempted. While Pedra Contina crosses over into wider territory, this recording, a pretty decent one, will appeal more to the adventurous jazz fan. I'm sure they'd give it an especially warm welcome.


Friday, April 10, 2015

André O. Möller - blue/dense (Edition Wandelweiser)

André O. Möller - musik für orgel und eine(n) tonsetzer(in)...2003... (Edition Wandelweiser)

André O. Möller/Hans Eberhard Maldfeld - in memory of James Tenney (Edition Wandelweiser)

Somehow, I'd managed to be unaware of the work of Möller, a situation happily rectified via these three release, one each form 2004 and 2007 and one newly issued.

"blue/dense" (2003) is for flute (Erik Drescher) and live sampling (Frank Eickhoff), in four sections lasting between 16 and 18 minutes, each preceded by a minute of silence. The "musical math" is beyond my ability to comprehend but, for those so inclined, "this piece uses 17 tones in whole-numbered proportions to a virtual fundamental of G" (25Hz)". What one hears, after the silence (which feels very solid) is first, a single flute tone, pure and held, followed by irregularly occurring others, apparently as many as 28, forming a deep and mellifluous river, always shifting, some of the near convergences in pitch generating interference patterns, the whole sounding wonderfully warm and complex. Per the liner notes, there's amplification involved and it often sounds as though there must be electronic manipulation going on, but I'm not so sure. The pieces, while sharing an overall sound and sensibility, vary significantly form one another, perhaps insofar as which tones are "favored", perhaps with regard to how the sounds are amplified. Despite a different approach to sound generations, the result is sometimes not so far from that achieved by Eliane Radigue; fans of that composer will find much to enjoy here. Placing one's head between speakers and playing at volume provides a multitude of aural thrills in addition to the music's essential beauty. Great stuff.

"musik für orgel und eine(n) tonsetzer(in)...2003..." is a 73-minute work for organ, played here by Eva-Maria Houben. It involves just intonation and, again deferring to Möller's technical acumen, only uses "those frequencies of the organ sound that have close to whole-numbered ratios (+/- 6 cents) to a fundamental (in this case C' at about 32 Hz)". It begins without a fantastically churning, hyper-dense and rich chord, something one could simply loll in forever. About five minutes in, however, there's a bright splash of a chord, brilliant and surprising, which adds a whole other realm of possibilities. It's just an enormity of sound, filling every nook and cranny of one's aural space, enveloping. Möller credits Charlemagne Palestine as an inspiration and yes, you can hear that but there's more power here than in anything short of "Strumming". You begin hearing all sorts of things buried in there, most of them invented between one's ears; I have a distinct impression of a choir of double reeds á la the Master Musicians of Joujouka. Just as it's, arguably, becoming too much of a good thing, it downshifts at 28 minutes, pools there for approximately the middle third of the recording, Houben again sending out subtle tendrils almost below sensory awareness, sinuous continuos writhing just below the surface. At 58 minutes, instead of surging back, it recedes once again, diminishing to almost a single, breathy note (though there's a thin haze of surrounding tones). The pool image redoubles, the ripples, echoing, very slowly subsiding, eventually into silence. While being very dubious about categorizing it as such, in the subset of organ-steady state-long form, this might rank right at the front of my favorites, ever.

The tromba marina is a single-stringed instrument, played with a bow, occasionally looking like this:

For "in memory of james tenney", in four parts, Möller and Maldfeld each wrestle with one such beast, using instruments from the 17th and early 18th centuries. And f it's grain you want, step right up--this thing, especially Part I, sounds like the bow is severely serrated, close to being able to saw wood. A huge rumble that encloses myriad tones high to low. Think of a Radigue cello piece with your head inside the cello. Part II varies the attack a bit more, relatively smooth strokes coexisting with the rough; there's also the occasional pluck. It's dreamier, more liquid. There are moments when I'm reminded of the early, excited strings work of Arnold Dreyblatt. You can hear many of the brass-like sounds the instrument is capable of here, the pair sometimes sounding like a small sea of muted trumpets, pretty amazing. It's like a lost 60s Penderecki work for brass ensemble....but better. Part IV (the third section is absent) is a short, two-minute piece, almost a song, very hesitant and lovely. The final portion, subtitled "when eight is seven", is also far less steady-state than the first, shuttling quietly (though often quite deeply) from form to form, hyper-low growls wending through a panoply of mid-range, barely sustained tones, edging into silence, emerging elsewhere in the stream. It feels less sure of itself, more troubled, a welcome counterweight to the (strong sand beautiful) confidence heard elsewhere, both on this disc and Möller's earlier releases. It's wonderful work, very unique, all of these recordings (as far as I can tell representing Möller's entire recorded output) making me very anxious to hear further music from him.

Edition Wandelweiser

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Chaz Underriner - reinterprets song 6, song 8, song 9 by Anastassis Philippakopoulos (Edition Wandelweiser)

It's only within the last several months that I became acquainted, however minimally, with the lovely music of Philippakopoulos via two recordings on this same label. Apart from the stunning and subtle melodic content, one of the factors that appealed to me greatly was the way the grains of the instruments involved--bass clarinet and flute particularly--worked so wonderfully in tandem with the written content.

The recording at hand thus presents certain problems for this listener as Underriner, who I'd previously only heard as a guitarist in the ensemble that recorded the Pisaro/Sugimoto disc, "D Minor, B♭major", has taken three works by Philippakopoulos originally for, respectively, flute, string orchestra and bass clarinet and adapted them into variations for electric and bass guitars. More, as PIsaro puts it in his notes, he "explode[s] the duration of the pitches and put[s] distance between them", essentially drawing out the initial melodies into a stretched form that renders them virtually unrecognizable. I haven't attempted a side by side listen and can, I suppose, imagine being able, just, to hear some correlations but I think that would be almost beside the point here. We'll just grant the source and listen to the music as a new, if directly inspired, work. Still vestiges of the original "songs" remain in memory and, for me, much of that has to do with the aforementioned timbre, something I find lacking in the electronic hum that pervades the works as presented here.

"Song 6" sets the tone, so to speak, the piece adapted from flute to electric guitar and bass guitar, Underriner playing both. We get rich, deep tones, multi-layered and, played at volume, full of flutters that buffet the air. They appear, linger and dissipate, leaving stretches of silence, often lengthy, presumably simply the original score played just that slowly. But so slowly that, if it's possible to relate it to the primary source, I'm certainly unable to do so and, one assumes, that's intentional. So, one listens to it as is and it's a not unpleasant but, for this listener, generally unsatisfactory experience. I've often found e-bowed guitar (if that's what's being used here; sounds like it to me) to have a tendency toward a kind of blandness. Placed within given contexts, they can be fine; on their own, especially on a recording where you necessarily lack the immediacy that interaction with the room can provide, not so much. "Song 8" attenuates the string orchestra to three electric guitars and bass guitar (Armin Abdihodzic, Greg Dixon and Robert Trusko brought into the fray) but, for the listener, the result is pretty close to the same. Again, entirely pleasant, easy to immerse oneself in, but...I find I crave some grain, some air. I should say that there are portions here that are exceptionally attractive, certain combinations that do, indeed, imply some "other". "Song 9", rendered for two bass guitars, drifts appropriately lower, producing possibly the most delicious tones of the set, setting one's speakers to vibrate.

But at the end of things, I'm still left hearing more effects and too little of ideas and substance.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Eva-Maria Houben - Air - works for flutes and organ (Edition Wandelweiser)

Even if the disc's title wasn't known, the attentive listener would be very conscious of air, both as a surrounding factor and with regard to its passage through wooden tubes and pipes. The "flutes" in question are recorders, played by Ruth Walser and tuned to various pitches, their "windways" (a wonderful word which I don't think I've ever before encountered) custom made by Geri Bollinger. Houben presents three works on this recording, two for flutes/recorders and organ, one for solo recorders.

"ein schlummer (a slumber)" (2013) finds Barbara Müller-Hämmerli on church organ accompanying Walser. The interior space itself seems to rumble at the start, before the instrumental lines enter, long, shifting notes from the keyboard and, as elsewhere on the disc, a very shakuhachi-influenced recorder style with many serenely bent notes and a contemplative, even slightly forlorn feeling. The writing is both intensely melodic and very "loose" in the sense of expansiveness and non-containment within themes (again, like much shakuhachi playing). Three recorders are used, a tenor and two basses, and their sounds, while often enough residing in the upper registers of the instruments, carry a fine, dark and wooden tone, beautifully set against equally wide-ranging pitches from the organ. "aufhören (coming to an end)" (2013) is written for the same three recorders and is a stunning work. Possibly extra effective hearing it after "ein schlummer" in that the recorder is heard very much alone, without the comforting "bed" provided by the organ. The notes sound a little more questing, curious, peering into the darkness. Some of the downward decays are like a fading candlelight disappearing down an unlit corridor. Very pure, very open; soft but forthright when needed, full tones but surrounded by whispers of blown air. Hard to say more about it except to marvel at its clarity and how deeply moving it is.

"Atmen V (breathing V)" (2014) finds Houben herself at the organ (this one in Germany, the other was in Switzerland), Walser covering five different recorders over the course of the piece's three movements, from F"-sopranino to F-subbass. The organ, in the first section, is quite respiratory, producing both steady, low rales and mid-register wheezes, the recorder floating above, its lines peaceful once again, though shorter. An amazing low, hollow tone billows forth a few minutes in, I assume from the organ but it sounds, not so human, more animal, like a moan from a large sea mammal, welling up through the wind. The second portion is perhaps even more hesitant, the organ breathier throughout (or is that just the ambience breathing?), the recorder, high-pitched, sounding somewhat fearful. Lastly, the subbass recorder is heard, puddling through the vast space, winds circulating above. It sounds almost lost until its higher cousin appears, confident but thoughtful, glorious in its melodicism, leading us, if not into the light, into a place slightly less dark, only to receive more cautionary notes from below, eerily offset with keening, birdlike calls from the organ. A great set of pieces.

"Air" is yet another utterly impressive offering from, in my opinion, one of the most consistently extraordinary composers at work today, one who continues to unveil new facets of her persona. Hear it.

Edition Wandelweiser

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Vinyl round-up

Nzʉmbe - Titubeo (Organized Music from Thessaloniki)

Apparently the second project by Miguel Prado under this rubric (the first issued in the form of a phonographic cylinder), we find the adventurous Galician investigating song form in amanner which recalls, to me, work by his occasional collaborator Mattin from a few years back, though Prado certainly puts his own distinctive stamp on things. The first track, "Serpientes y Escaleras" sets the tone, with a stomping (literally, I think) rhythm and blurred, boomy vocals, like a foggy, isolated Scott Walker. Other elements enter, a swirling hum, a rapid, more mechanical beat, vague voices. "Máscara de Ocelote" fills the space quite a bit more with congas, a bass line and an army of exterior recordings, edging the music toward more traditional song structure, maybe pushing into Hanrahan territory a little. The notes for the album cite "the decadent lyricism of late-70s music" which, not being a devotee of same, I'll take at face value. The vocals, which are similar throughout, certainly generate a lugubrious atmosphere. For me, that only goes so far and I wait to hear a gelling of the band as such (which at times include Rafael and Roberto Mallo, Ruth Barberán and Alfredo Costa Monteiro) which really sets in on Side B. "Segare la Ragazza" combines a nice, semi-regular throb with some fine scratchy scrawl (over, as ever, Prado's vocal wafts like a thick mist) ending with a convergence of struck metal, marimbas and faraway choirs. The density continues to build on "Trece Lunas Nuevas" with a rich syrupy swirl that includes something that actually approximates a guitar (or mellotron...) solo.

I can't say it's my favorite area of music, whatever sub-genre you wish to assign, but what Prado and crew do, they execute very well, resonating with more power than I would have guessed.

Organized Music from Thessaloniki

Christine Mannaz-Dénarié - Viridité (Dysmusie)

As I understand it, a concert was held in 2010 inside l'Église St. Pierre in Firminy, France, the last building built by Le Corbusier. The participants were Hervé Boghossian, Bruno Capelle, Nicholas Dick, Hervé Durand, Pierre Faure, Mathias Forge, Christian Malfray, Jean-François Minjard, Jérôme Noetinger, Jérôme Montagne and Jean-François Plomb. It was a diffusion-type event, the live sounds processed (by several of the musicians, I think) and re-sent into another (?) listening space via the usual 16-speaker phalanx. For this recording, the results of that event--not sure if this includes both the live sounds and the subsequently processed ones, or just the latter--were then handed to Mannaz-Dénarié to reconstruct or, more accurately, fashion into a new creature. Regular readers may be aware of my general antipathy toward much diffusionist music but, happily, this release lacks that one salient element that turns me off: the sameness of overall sound occasioned by the processing software, what I think of as an aural Photoshop effect wherein, no matter how spectacular the result, there's a nagging sense of blandness lurking within. From the rough patch of static with which the album begins, through the metallic cycling drones, there's a strong sense of air between sounds and, crucially, of essentially different sounds, not all tinged with a common film. Mannaz-Dénarié certainly has a dramatic flair and some of the sections attain a cinematic scope even as they remain entirely abstract. Yes, there are some points at which matters get excessively spacey for my money--certain kinds of bleeps and swooshes I'd prefer not to encounter--but by and large, "Viridité" is string and convincing, establishing a unique presence and maintaing it through roars, whistles, careening electronics and more. Good work.


Diatribes - Great Stone/Blood Dunza (Aussenraum)

Yet another referential deficit issue for your hapless reviewer. Though I've almost always enjoyed what I've heard over the years, I'm really pretty unfamiliar with King Tubby at any great depth. To take the example at had, I'd never knowingly heard of either "Great Stone" or "Blood Dunza" prior to this recording, though I've since attempted to familiarize myself with them. That said, I'm not sure that were the two Tubby tracks among my all-time favorites, I would have been able to detect their presence, inspirational or otherwise, in the sides from Diatribes (d'Incise and Cyril Bondi on melodica, bass melodica, loudspeakers, electronics, objects and microphones). We're not talking Blind Idiot God here. Yes, there are some examples of echoing percussion and there's an abundance of bass--low, bass sounds, that is, however generated. Leaving the dub aside, I'll say that the recording is a very enjoyable pairing of tracks, replete with long, low hums and spiced with electronic and percussive elements, everything taking its sweet time, elements appearing, hanging around, not rushing off. The melodicas are prominent on "Blood Dunza", a lovely sound, quavering just a bit, imparting a plaintive quality, but very rich, laying alongside the deep bass tones to marvelous effect. Diatribes has, in my experience, been very much about control and here they achieve a fine balance between channeling these lines within prescribed troughs and allowing just enough seepage and overflow to keep things interesting. Do check it out, regardless of dub experience.


Thursday, April 02, 2015

Bertrand Gauguet - Shiro (Herbal International)

Eight alto saxophone improvisations, four acoustic, four with feedback and/or guitar amp. The language that Gauguet employs is not anything particularly new in this field but the combination of precision, delicacy and sensitivity of sound placement is unusually fine, making the disc well worth hearing. The tracks with electronic enhancement recall, of course, players like Butcher in terms of technical approach but Gauguet reaches different levels of subtlety and layered interaction--not better, just different, exposing his own personality. "Yūgen", the longest piece here at 14 minutes, is a superb, calm variation on tone, the pitches drifting in and out, steadily, beautifully held, Gauguet letting things linger enough that you have the impression of a quiet, night environment with just the occasional breeze floating through. this album was conceived during a residency in Kyôto and the legacy of the shakuhachi seems clear, though Gauguet is never at all imitative. On "Sabi", he lets loose a bit, creating a work the listener might have attributed to someone working an electric guitar in Hendrix-feedback mode, resonating cavernously and very effective. But the larger portion of this disc contemplative, controlled and very strong, an excellent recording.

Rodolphe Alexis/Stéphane Rives - Winds Doors Poplars (Herbal International)

Similar to the Gauguet only in the sense that the strategy involved has been done before yet the results are striking and very well conceived. Alexis, for these five pieces, made field recordings in various situations including train lines and factories, concentrating on different sound areas within each while Rives created his soprano saxophone improvisations at another time and place without reference to Alexis' recordings, the two grafted atop each other leaving the listener to make connections and patterns. I'm guessing some amount of choice was made, perhaps by Alexis, in determining which of Rives' recordings to use with which of his own (simply because they seem to "fit" pretty well), but otherwise, chance is allowed to rule vis á vis the interaction of the elements. Rives spends substantial time in his "comfort zone" of the high-pitched, two- or three-ply tone (pairs well with wind) but also engages in deep buzzes and low clucks while Alexis' choice of venues/recording sites is also imaginative, from the fine, heavy openings and closings of squeaking factory doors to exterior, rainy environs. The one scenario that stands apart here is "Solid Steel Sculpture" where I'm fairly sure some large metal element is being "played", possibly by gloved hands, resulting in a sound (and even rhythms) not so dissimilar from Partch's larger percussion instruments like the Marimba Eroica. As said, the listener creates his/her own correspondences and, thanks to the wealth of material and the imagination which which it's deployed, there's no problem doing so. A very enjoyable, thoughtful exercise.

Gregory Büttner - Pochen - Oder: mit nachschleifendem Zwirnsfaden die Treppe Hinunterkollern (Herbal International)

The title translates to: "Throbbing - Or: Roll Down the Stairs with Looping Twine" and refers to the house, a 19th century, former convent school in Picardy, France, which Büttner roamed and used as his instrument, the structure itself as a resonant chamber but also various elements within including "breathing wood planks, flickering light switches" and much more, the sum then worked into a set of pieces. The result is rather kaleidoscopic, though air-filled, and yes, there are plenty of throbs. I get the impression many of the iterative sounds are from, for example, old fans running with items stuck inside to be rudely caressed by their blades. Other sounds metallic in origin emerge, having their scarred surfaces rubbed or scraped. A wonderful sense of interior volume permeates the set, apparently large sounds echoing remotely down the hall while the foreground is filled with whizzing, dryly whirring and rattling noise, for instance, creating a fine feeling of distance and, as said, air between the sources. Büttner knots all this together with a good sense of sonic heft and an impressive ability to keep things from cloying, start to finish.

Claudio Rocchetti/Klaus Janek - Reisenotizen aus dem Land der Mitte (Herbal International)

Travel notes from the Middle Kingdom (in this instance, Hong Kong, China and Malaysia) as realized by Rocchetti (field recordings, feedback) and Janek (processed double bass). Sounds from other musicians, many of them Chinese, are also incorporated into this dense and dirty mélange. Much of the environmental sound on the first track is booming and dull, as though some large scale event is occurring beyond the walls. In front and within this you hear conversation, bass clarinet, shuffling, bells, squeals and who knows how many other elements, all oozed out into the space. Kind of a kitchen sink approach, in strong contrast to the Büttner release above and, for these ears, more difficult to retain any balance, which is presumably not the goal, instead plunging whole hog into the aural morass. It's relaxed and resolutely lo-fi on the one hand but also feels carefully pieced together from their tour. There are moments when things congeal very well, as on the fifth track with its ambient/splatter mix and portions of the final cut--effectively desolate--but much of the disc, to these ears, sounds excessively haphazard and not terribly interesting. Always a subjective call, of course, especially as to which found sounds work, which don't, which sequencing strikes one as resonant and intriguing, which don't. By and large, this effort didn't connect for me.

Herbal International

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Spanish Donkey - Raoul (Rare Noise)

Ah, a good, old-fashioned organ trio...ok, not quite. I take it Spanish Donkey (named after a particularly unpleasant looking torture device) has been extant for a while, though this is the first I've heard them. Sampling via earlier videos, it seems the music on "Raoul" is something of a departure from previous approaches. Here, the trio (Joe Morris, electric guitar; Jamie Saft, Hammond and Korg organs, MiniMoog Synth, Echoplex piano; Mike Pride, drums) lay out three jam-type tracks that have a lot to do with tension and release, concentrating on the former. Morris, at least in this setting, has a little Sharrock in his playing which led me to sensing a Last Exit vibe here. That said, for the most part Pride resolutely refuses, for a long time, to fall into any kind of regular rhythm which is the prime tension generating element. The trio gets into this extended intro territory, all build-up and the listener (well, me, at any rate) sits at the edge of his metaphorical seat, waiting for the show to drop, for the rhythm to kick in for the spirit of Ronald Shannon Jackson to enter the fray. And it doesn't anytime soon. Saft's keyboards tend to stay underneath, supporting the more up front activity of the guitar and drums, and he's quite effective, billowing and surging, propelling the mass up and allowing things to subside. Whether or not a given listener will have the patience to wait for matters to really gel is another question. I went back and forth, sometimes enjoying the journey sometimes finding the meanderings less than justified. Even without the rhythmic impetus, every so often things simply come together with both suddenness and force and the music attains lift-off for a few minutes--marvelous when this happens and perhaps that's the point of trio: keep stirring the pot until it boils. It's not until about 21 minutes into the title track, out of 30 or so, that matters seriously coalesce and when it does, it's both exhilarating and feels somehow earned, Morris in the throes of ecstatic whammying and Pride occupying an interesting area between free and Elvin Jones-like propulsion before, at the very end, dropping into a backbeat for a minute. Saft's splintery organ wells up from nowhere, filling out the sound space and further enhancing the bristling energy. I note that band members reference a "microtonal blues" idea but will quickly add that this trio sounds nothing like La Monte Young's Forever Bad Blues Band--there's far more aggression. "Behavioral Sink" has a slower, bluesier pace, Saft's Hammond is more up front and Pride slides in and out of fairly regular rhythms, causing the track to grip more quickly. Morris' lines are cleaner here, making good use of wah-wah, more floating along than knifing through. At 12 minutes, it would have had perfect duration; at 22, it overstays its welcome a bit, but is still enjoyable. The last track, "Dragon Fly Jones", also grinds, Morris again fuzz-drenched, but the forward motion at a slightly quicker pace. Much like the title piece, it segues into tight clusters of ferocious energy, unspools, returns.

While the music isn't up my normal alley, I found a good deal to enjoy here and can imagine this trio producing a great live set. Recommended.

Merzbow/Bálazs Pándi/Mats Gustafsson/Thurston Moore - Cuts of Guilt, Cuts Deeper (Rare Noise)

I came to this recording, perhaps unfortunately but understandably, with certain not very high expectations. I don't think I'd ever heard drummer Pándi before, but experiences over the years with Merzbow (noise, power electronics), Gustafsson (saxophones, g clarinet, power electronics) when not playing in his rare, more reined-in persona (e.g. the Lacy covers) and Moore (guitars) in improvised situations led me to expect a skronk-fest, more or less, a testosterone-fueled, seething mass. So we have four improvisations spread over two cds, each about 20 minutes long. Balls to the wall, as they say, save for the third track, about which more below. I don't derive great value from this, it all seems passé and beside the point. I guess there will always be a market of sorts for this approach, but if you've seen Borbetomagus in 1980, Last Exit in the mid-80s and countless other examples (much less noise with a purpose á la AMM in 1968!), you wonder: why bother? It feels good, I guess, and without a doubt there are fans for whom this album will come as a godsend. Pándi actually provides some interesting playing in this context, especially the rolling, tight sequences on the second track, reminding me of Turkish drummers like Burhan Oçal. Maybe the problem is that, to me it always sounds like four individuals, not one cohesive unit where the personalities have dissolved into a larger presence. I have nothing against wankery per se, but there's wankery and then there's wankery. Here, when the tracks sputter to an end it's difficult not to conjure up certain images...On "too late, too is over", the quartet opens up the space a good bit, getting into an almost gamelan-like area, staying refreshingly uncongested for its first half, before becoming cluttered (though not densely so) in its second. This isn't the kind of music where a given member hangs back and doesn't play unless he's got something of value to input.

What they do, they do quite well. Whether one cares is another question. Those who do, have at it, you're in for a treat.

Rare Noise

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jeph Jerman/Tim Barnes - Matterings (Erstwhile)

I recall seeing Barnes and Jerman perform in trio with Sean Meehan at ErstQuake 3 in 2006 in New York, Jerman also in duo with Greg Davis and Barnes with Mattin and possibly others. Jerman's music than, and in most subsequent recordings and videos I've experienced, was extremely personal and generally quiet, using items he'd selected and brought from his southwest desert home area: sticks, feathers, pine cones, stones, bones and more. Barnes, that day (a riotous set with Mattin) and elsewhere was always more unpredictable, ranging from the near silence of the trio to loud, even rockish ventures (which landed him gigs with Wilco, among others.

Still, my expectations for this recording lay along the quieter line of things and pretty much an absence of electronics. Wrong on both counts. "Mammatus", opening the disc, features amidst a semi-distant, loose metallic clatter, the spark and fading hum of, what, a lead being pulled? It has an initial presence, then a subsequent echo, the pair floating atop a very deep, recessed kind of gulping sound. When repeated, at first with no set pulse, gradually assuming one, you get a displaced sense of dub, before the incoming rains (form mammatus clouds?) douse the proceedings...or maybe set it ablaze. Always interesting, at least to these ears, how rainfall and flames can sound very much alike on recordings. "Relic Density" expands the apparent space greatly, a swarm of hazy tones high and low supporting a kind of wooden flutter, as if from some splintered bamboo pole rapidly waved. But sine-like tones infiltrate, scouring the area clean, setting things up for more electronics, pulsating at various speeds, evidencing various textures. Birds and insects watch with faint curiosity. When the track gets into short wave squiggle territory in its final minutes, it loses me a bit, the one piece here that I think strays a little off course.

"In Situ" is 22 minutes of amazing work. From the soft buzzing of flies and obscure rumbles emerge a widening cascade of chimes, thin and crystalline, played by hand not wind in a fast rhythm, very closely pitched and loosely gathered so they routinely strike one another (flies darting between) like some insect gamelan. The mic feels as though its inside the chime-forest, picking up whistling feedback and pitch-bending, that nether rumble becoming more strident--it's all extremely intense and even harrowing. Matters abruptly shift to a static-strewn, windy desert scenario, mic distortion coursing through radar hums, then radio, roughly lumbering to its conclusion. Something wonderful about its two partedness, the gleam and the dirt. "Talus" is a short, strong piece occupied by small stones clicking, dry, sliding passes over metal and low, resounding booms--steady state, excellent duration. In some ways, this is closest to what I expected coming in, really choice. Finally, "Bight", leaping in with dial tones and related hums. This track includes contributions from Rachel Short (french horn, voice) and Jackie Royce (bassoon, voice) which, if I'm picking them up correctly, are woven into the dronelike mix early on producing a tough, complex sound. Despite its drone nature, this might be the densest, orneriest track, filled with detail that demands attention, like the rolling metal balls on glass (?) and the ply upon ply of thrums (processed voices and/or horns?) that enter continuously. It settles into a kind of pit containing some massive old, rotating machine, swirling, throbbing, grinding, maybe pulverizing rock. It sputters out then...crickets.

A really fine recording, happily and utterly contra my expectations.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Éric La Casa/Taku Unami - Parazoan Mapping (Erstwhile)

(caveat: I was included in the "thanks" for this album, but that was only for doing a small part to facilitate La Casa's trip to Japan for the recording)

So difficult to think of things to say about this release short of simple descriptives. Less "field" than "situational" recordings, I think, some difference there though hard to pinpoint. You might start with the fact that there are fifteen tracks, rather unusual in this neck of the woods, leading one down a snapshot analogy path, which might not be all that far from the deal. But the three main photos on the sleeve, by Éric Coisel, featuring abandoned car hulks in various states of takeover by plants and animals (recalling very much the paintings of John Salt) and a bicycle in the beginning stage of blanketing by beach sand, argue for a more overtly meaning-laden reading. At the same time, the one in the CD tray of a golfer strolling atop a green is almost a cipher, hardly even a snapshot.

I wrote the above then had some communication from La Casa, filling me in somewhat on what actually occurred, saving me the embarrassment of many a wrong guess. In a nutshell, some of the sound sources are from machines with additional controls designed by Unami, more or less household devices but programmed to generate sound in various patterns, many of them rhythm-oriented. These are combined with "naturally occurring" machines in their own habitats as well as human activity sounds, both of which were processed by Unami and La Casa into sequences, again with a kind of rhythm at their core, though not always an obvious one. All this goes to develop some kind of an understand of machine/human relationships. This description may not be entirely accurate but it's much closer than my ears alone would have gotten me.

I'd been confounded early on as to where the balance lay between existing machine sounds and those initiated by the duo. Clearly, things were being turned off and on (the sharp ka-chunks of the switches sometimes prominent), relatively small engines, like those for vacuum cleaners or washing machines, revving up and dying down, the listener hearing both the whir of the engines and, often, affiliated clicks and knocks. Too, these were set within larger spaces so that, as on the first track, you hear cars, birds, etc. You have the impression of a language being spoken though the grammar is alien and obscure. You also get a sense of struggle on the part of the equipment, a constant striving, failing, striving again, failing again. It's rarely aggressive, although the opening rat-a-tat of the second cut will grab your attention as will the buzz-saws on the penultimate track. More often, knowing what I know now, I have the image of larger, modified, somewhat misshapen Roombas trying desperately to interact with their creators. Humans answer back to an extent, in (what I read as) processed kendo classes (plus one with balls of some kind), the wooden taps of a knife slicing vegetables, door hinges squeaking. Track six contains what seems to be spliced switch sounds of varying origin, sequenced in a kind of rhythm that's not really apparent until you squint your ears looking at it, very fascinating, set against an open background with muffled voices and traffic. I'm confident I'm missing a ton here and will peel back layers over time and repeated listens. It's less about aural pleasure, I think, than ideas though once in a while, both combine beautifully. My personal favorite is Track 13, comprised of a mysterious, soft swishing sound that I sometimes hear as a paintbrush scouring a small wooden box though it may well consist of hyper-thin slices of sounds from totally unrelated incidents, rapidly sequenced--a fantastic few minutes, in any case.

"Parazoan Mapping" is quite unique, unlike anything you're likely to encounter elsewhere. Perhaps willfully obscure, you nonetheless have the impression of a huge amount of thought having gone into its production, any obscurity being a necessary byproduct. Bold work, something to return to often, I think. Mandatory listening.