Monday, October 30, 2006

Adventures in self-googling

I was going to say, "We all do it" but I dunno. Doesn't everyone do it? I bet it's the case though a lot of people seem ashamed to admit it. Helps, of course, to have an eminently googleable last name, one that's unwieldy enough so that, when googled, the vast majority of hits circle around the proper person. Like Olewnick.

Early on in my access to the net, I located a passel of other Olewnicks about whom neither I nor anyone in my family had ever heard. They tended to be scattered in the Catskill region, extending west toward Batavia and north-central Pennsylvania. I'd assume they're related from somewhere prior to the Greenpoint Brooklyn days of my dad's childhood, back in the old country when the name carried along its "kin of Olav" connotations (I'm guessing, actually; that's the best I've come up with). This was moderately interesting in and of itself. What was disturbing and unsettling, however, was the discovery that there existed another "Brian Olewnick" up around Schoharie, NY. What the fuck? I mean, if you're from some good Polish family, what are the odds of slapping an Irish tag like "Brian" on one of your kids? I think (I'm hazy on this in fact--have to verify it with the folks--that mine came from an uncle somewhere so, conceivably, that could be the familial connection). Very annoying to realize there's someone else walking around, blatantly using my name. I mean, really. I've been contacted three times by people looking for him. One was a former exchange student from Brazil who'd apparently resided with the Schoharie Olewnicks some time ago. In his e-mail he asked, in order for me to "prove" I was the right Olewnick (*sputter*) the name of the family dog. Sorry, buddy. Oh, and this joker seems to pronounce it Oh-LEW-nick. How gauche.

Hey, Schoharie Brian, if you've self-googled your way here, how ya doin'?

So, anyway, I periodically search on myself, seeing out of curiosity which sites have picked up reviews of mine (the largest portion of hits), occasionally finding some comment on them. Google blog search revealed a few surprises as well. Kinda cool.

But this post was prompted by a recent (and, as of today, still current) result whilst performing a google image search on "olewnick". Go ahead, try it; I'll wait.

OK, there are a bunch of album covers. To be expected. There are a few snaps of me at the crossword tourney, in the company of a pair of dashing gentlemen displaying the requisite xword fashion sense and demeanor; fine. There are a couple of photos of one Allison (or Alison) Olewnick, out of Burroughs' hometown, Lawrence, Kansas. Don't know who she is. Bet she knows me, though. Hey, Allison! Say hi to a missing cousin.

So far, so good. But then we come to a large photo of someone about to eat a grub. "Survivors eat grubs" says the caption. Now, I'm known in some parts for my willingness to eat most anything. At Jazz Corner, I'm the recipient of more than a few jibes from people to that effect. But what the hell does "olewnick" have to do with that photo? Maybe that mouth belongs to the other Brian. It's suspicious, though. If you try to go to the associated site, it's "Not Found". Further down the google page, there's a particularly creepy photo of Dame Edna, replete with purple wig. Again, what gives? Where's the olewnicity of that photo? Not even just me, but any Olewnick? I can't quite figure this out. On page 2, there's a very cool still capture from the DVD of "Harakiri". Now, I purchased "Harakiri" a few months ago--wrote about it here, I think. How does my name get affiliated with this particular pic, though? Just chance? Seems unlikely. I've not commented on any Japanese film site. I think I did so at Bagatellen, briefly, but I can't see how that could possibly connect to this one. Damned eerie.

Ah well...

The Richard Powers book, "The Echo Maker", is fabulous 1/3 through.

[edit: I note that if I refine the image search to "brian olewnick", the Dame Edna pic is thankfully lost, but the others remain.]

Thursday, October 26, 2006

It's long been something of a paradox: I listen to a teeny tiny fraction of the music available out there in the world, some miniscule sliver of the market, but that slice grows and grows becoming all but unmanageable. There might be only about 5000 people worldwide really into contemporary "eai", but most of them seem to put out discs (the rest of us write about it).

A necessary outcome of all this product is that much of it is, relatively speaking, mediocre. That is to say, I'd still rather listen to your average, humdrum eai track than My Chemical Romance (don't get me started), but things do have a tendency to blend into one another. Even musicians who I have a seriously high amount of esteem for, say Gunter Muller, get into the habit of releasing things that become real difficult to differentiate from prior recordings or, essentially, from any number of current offerings from others.

So, I end up placing more and more value on the music of those musicians whose individuality remains striking, whose creations sound like something that could only have originated with them. (I'm not sure, by the way, if this is an entirely justifiable outlook, but I'm old-fashioned that way). Rowe would be one, of course. Samartzis, who I wrote a little bit about is another; happily there are plenty more. One, most definitely, is Olivia Block. I first heard her several years ago, getting her initial two releases, "Pure Gaze" and "Mobius Fuse" (see my AMG reviews, the urls of which aren't being accepted here--maybe too long) at the same time. Many people use field recordings but only a handful, like Block and Toshiya Tsunoda, consistently apply such a poetic ear for sound. Even more than the usual query, "How do you tell what's 'good' and 'bad' in this music?", discerning "good" and "bad" field recordings might be a fool's errand but, presumably for subjective reasons, there are some that simply leap out at you in their incisiveness, concentration of detail, poetic character, juxtaposition within a mix, sheer gorgeousity of sound, etc. Block is not only unerring in her choices of raw material, she has the added...fearlessness to inject and overlay music that is unabashedly nostalgic in nature, harkening back to neighborhood brass bands playing in the gazebo. There's a beautiful, rural feel to the music--one can easily imagine lying in a field, listening to the wind rustle through the weeds, faraway fireworks, echoes of the music from a half-mile away. Dunno, maybe it helps if one grew up in a quasi-similar environment (I believe Block is originally from Texas, now residing in Chicago), open enough to allow the isolation of elements to be perceived, peaceful but active. In any case, both recordings are unique, wonderful discs, well worth checking out (presumably both still available from sedimental).

Last year's "Change Ringing" on Cut, made it three for three, another wonderful recording with a larger contingent of live instrumentalists (see a multitude of reviews at the Cut site, here). This month, Ms, Block is back on Sedimental with the bracing and superb (and superbly titled) "Heave To". I've only listened a handful of times, including blasting it in the car downtown NYC last Saturday night, but I feel safe in saying it's a helluva piece of music. The first several minutes of the opening track are as exciting as anything I've heard in the last few years and, if the remainder doesn't quite stay at that ridiculously high level, it's not all that far behind. The over-riding impression I have is of being in the belly of an old wooden ship, the vessel itself traversing a heavily flotsam'd sea, the detritus banging off its hull, echoing through its innards. The park band elements aren't entirely absent, chords emerging like the foghorns of passing tankers, then receding. There's also a lot of insane Pendereckian string playing. I'll have more to say about the disc when I write it up for Bags but, do yourselves a favor and pick this baby up.

Monday, October 23, 2006

So, I'm sitting at my desk Friday afternoon around 3PM, glance down at my right hand and see, on the underside of my wrist just below the ball of my thumb, a chickpea-sized lump under the skin. "What the...?" I exclaim. Immediately I race through a bunch of rather humorous conjectures. Was this always there? No, I think I would've noticed it before. Is there an equivalent lump on my left wrist? Nope. Hmmm....It's pretty hard and initially seems like it might be a growth on the tip of my ulna. Or radius. Whichever bone ends there. But further prodding reveals that its hardness is more of a cartilage type than bone--there's a little give. It's seems capable of being moved a wee bit. It doesn't hurt at all though the more I poke it, it seems likely I could make it sore, so I try not to.

Well, when in doubt, google. So I type in, "bump on wrist" into the staunch search engine and, fairly quickly come to realize that it's a ganglion cyst. Kewl. Such growths are non-cancerous and not otherwise malignant. In some people, they are painful and can be easily excised. For others, they disappear after a while or just hang out there in perpetuity. The most common site is on the back of the wrist but, as the illustration shows, my area and the base of the ring finger are also frequent. There's no danger of a small, Alien type creature erupting. This thing appeared so suddenly that I have the strong feeling that, had I been looking in that direction at the right moment, I could likely have seen it flower.

For me, the main thing I've gotten out of this is a reminder, as though I needed it, that the body is just a sack o' stuff that has its own schedule of gradual decomposition and weirdness. If this extrusion is the worst thing that happens to my shell in the next 20 years, I'll be pretty lucky. It's just strange to suddenly acquire a new physical characteristic after 52 years. Plus, until a matching one appears on my left wrist, my sense of symmetry is thrown off.


Olivia Block - Heave To (a wonderful new release on Sedimental. I should write something on her, one of my favorite current musicians)

Two new releases on the fledgling Azul Discografica label:

Loy Fankbonner - La Pebellon (I think I'm remembering the title correctly--"The Pavilion" in Espanol. An intriguing disc made of of processed sounds recorded through the artist's window)

Mattin - Songbook Vol. 4. Raw, short (22 minutes) live recording of improvised "songs" with Taku Unami, Anthony Guerra, Jean-Luc Guionnet, and Tomoya Izumi.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Look here. This delightful package fell into my lap a little while ago courtesy of Nicolas Malevitis at absurd records. There will be a review up at Bags in short order, but I wanted to mention it here as well since it's such a wonderful, unique item. Essentially, it's an hour's extract from the birthday party of one Amaryllis, who turned 2 in November or 2005. The party was held in a tiny village in northern Greece called Iasmos, and the Barcelonan musician Didac Lagarriga was on hand to entertain the crowd with a small truckload of instruments. He plays mbira, balaphon, cello, guitar, chimes, laptop etc. but the music, as recorded, is on an equal level with the sounds of the party. So you're just as apt to hear little kids chortling and crying, tipsy moms singing and scolding, dishes clattering, etc. as you are to hear the odd patch of rhythmic melody. It's a lovely, unhurried, unpretentious disc that almost no one will ever get to hear. It's out on Lalia records which, apprently, was formed for the sole purpose of issuing this one recording. They have no distribution but will, I think, wing one your way if you contact them at: . It's worth it.

[edit] I'm informed me that ErstDist should be in possession of copies soon.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A couple weeks ago, I picked up the 5-disc set of Nusrat FatehAli Khan's Paris Concerts from 1985 & 1988 on Ocora. Amazing, amazing music. I wrote a little bit the other day for Bagatellen here. One thing I touched on is something that's always...bothered me when listening to songs sung in a language I don't understand, that is, how easy it is to ignore content, to isolate one aspect of a work from others.

In painting, you can look at, say, Raphael's 'Transfiguration' or Velazquez' 'Crucifixion' and pretty much ignore the explicitly Christian content, instead concentrating on the underlying human essence. One needn't believe in the myth of Jesus' resurrection to read the Raphael as an evocation of transcendence over earthly travails, a triumph of human spirit. Christianity, unfortunately, is imbued in most of our daily existence, so it's something that needs to be dealt with. We (I think) have less difficulty ignoring the ostensible reality of Athena or Mercury when admiring Greek sculpture, whereas there's a certain amount of conscious effort required to extricate one's judgment from scenes purporting the reality of the religion one happens to have been in the midst of during one's life. There's that necessary caveat to be expressed: "Of course, I don't think any of these things depicted actually occurred, but..." It's a tough hurdle for many people, I've found. They can't separate out the overt text from the subtext, always seeing the looming face of Christianity (or Islam, or Hinduism or Judaism, etc.) tingeing, if not outright discoloring everything else.

This carries over to music as well. I have this problem, to some extent, with religious classical music; if I never hear "The Messiah" again, it'll be too soon. But even there, I can disentangle the mythological trappings in given examples, say, the "enfant Jesus" section of Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. It's an inconsistent thing.

In standard pop music, much the same thing applies albeit (usually) without the religious content. Pop lyrics, obviously I should think, are by and large vapid, boring, banal, stupid, etc. It's real difficult, for me, to ignore them and concentrate on either the underlying music or, less often, the "spirit" behind the moronic lyrics. However....I can happily listen to some pop music where the song is in a language I don't understand. I've no particular reason to think that the lyrics in a Toure Kunda song are any less stupid than those in one by Snoop Dog or Dave Matthews. But since I can't translate them, I don't care!

But how valid is this stance? If I understood Senegalese, my appreciation of Toure Kunda's music would, I assume, drop a bit. By wilfully ignoring this shortcoming, by not going out and finding translations for the lyrics (I imagine thy're available), I'm not knowing the music as fully as I could in the fairly certain knowledge that, were I to do so, my enjoyment would be lessened. I admit to feeling somewhat dishonest when pursuing this tack.

So, the late Mr Khan. Aside (I think) from the Rowe/Nakamura disc, "between" (Erstwhile), this set is the most beautiful music I've heard this year. The majority of it (perhaps all of it) is Islamic religious song sung in...Urdu? (I'm not sure) I don't countenance Islam any more than I do Christianity and were Khan singing in English about the glories of Jesus instead of in Urdu about those of Allah, I can't help but think that, incredible music aside, I'd've been at least somewhat put off. Who knows, maybe not. I can listen to some Gospel without retching...But this stuff is so gorgeous, so rapturous, so full of life that I blithely cast off those other concerns. He might be singing about subservience to Allah, but I don't care. The essence that comes through, the core beneath all the fol de rol, is humanist and beautiful, just like it is in Raphael, Velazquez and Messiaen.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Seem to be getting linked to here a little bit in the last couple of weeks. Thanks Steve Smith, Mwanji and anyone else who thought it worthwhile. I've been meaning to continue with the Browsing Through My Record Collection thingy, but encountered a stumbling block in the form of a non-working turntable. This, combined with my less than perfect memory of what albums like Muhal's "Mama and Daddy" actually sound like, has inhibited my from further reminiscing lest my descriptions fall even farther off-mark than usual. Might be remedied later this week, we'll see.

Monday, October 09, 2006

On Saturday, I enhanced my status as best all-around brother-in-law by taking Linda's never-leaving sister and hubby on a drive to the Catskills to view the fall foliage. Took about an hour and a half to get from Jersey City to the Palisades Parkway due to several closures of Tonnelle Ave. with no remotely reasonable detour available. The roads clustering around this artery are a maze of back to back to back one way streets that lead nowhere, unmarked dead ends through scary industrial areas and thousands of drivers even more clueless than me trying to ascertain which way is north.

The delay had its silver lining--we no longer had time for a tour of West Point, desired by the retired military brother-in-law, not looked forward to by me. I mean, it's just buildings. A bunch of years ago whilst motoring around in the area, I ended up on a road that forced me into the academy. I wasn't at all sure I was even allowed in and feared being ordered, at gunpoint, to reverse course. Instead, even more uncomfortably, I was saluted by the young cadet at the guardbooth. "Um, yeah, OK" and waved/saluted back.

So we got on the Thruway at Nyack and headed north. Always some great scenery along there, especially as you get to the Harriman Interchange with those wonderful fields that go right up to the base of imposing hills. Got off at 299 to crawl through New Paltz, marvel at Manny's Art Supplies (that it's still there--I used to bike over from PoTown to get my art stuff in the early 70s) and head on out into the flood plain to the West.

It was getting on 1pm, so we decided to stop for lunch at Mountain Brauhaus at the intersection of 299 and 44/55. Fantastic location, right at the base of some of the more impressive cliffs in the Shawungunk Ridge. You can look up and see the rock climbers speckled along its face. We'd been there several times in the past, often after going swimming at Minnewaska or hiking at Mohonk, but it had been at least 12-15 years. What was once a solid if unspectacular German Restaurant had, while keeping its general looks, transformed itself into a pretty upscale eatery with, in addition to the wursts and schnitzels, an unusually wide menu. Whereas hasenpfeffer might have been the most exotic option in times past, on Saturday I was debating between Sliced Goat Sandwich, Deer Goulash and....Kangaroo Loin. Well, it's not every day that you're presented with the possibility of munching on some Kangaroo (I never had, in fact) so the choice was made for me.

It arrived, bathed in mustard-wine sauce, in two tapered cylinders, each about seven inches long. I had a brief pang of concern, wondering if I properly understood the limits of the term "loin". Nonetheless, I plunged in and it was quite delicious. Kind of beefy with a liver-y edge to it, virtually no fat and very tender. Good stuff. Still, I was a bit relieved when I located the above illustration.

The others had unadventurous but good fare and, eschewing dessert ('cuz we were eventually heading to my folks' where Mom's own German pastries would be in effect), we headed on out 55, past Minnewaska, out along the Rondout Reservoir, up the fantastically beautiful Peekamoose Road (waterfalls by the roadside, chalet-like houses out in the middle of nowhere), along the Ashokan Reservoir and back down to Poughkeepsie where the aforementioned parents and goodies awaited.



Two on Esquilo: Minamo's "A Herdsman's Life" and Fages/Barberan/Costa Monteiro - "Semisferi"
Two on Room40 - Richard Chartier's "Current" and Janek Schaeffer's "In the Last Hour"

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Went in early on Sunday afternoon to meet the estimable Pan Schaumann at the bar, dba. A pleasant surprise to see old Record Club member Sasha tending bar (Actually, I knew she worked a bar in the area, just hadn't realized it was dba). Schaumann, in from St. Louis, insisted on buying me a large bottle of a rather strong Belgian beer, De Proef Flemish Primitive Wild Ale which I emptied in about an hour. I'm not a drinker. I haven't been drunk since I was 17. This may have been the dizziest I've gotten since then. Thanks, Mike!

So, we stumbled on over to Tonic for the final night of the fest. First up was the trio of Tim Barnes/Jeph Jerman/Sean Meehan. They positioned themselves in front of the stage and, as my wallside seat was one table further removed than previously, I had absolutely no view as to what, specifically, they were doing. Which is fine as I tend to close my eyes anyway. Apparently Jerman had some tiny motorized devices wandering across his frame drum, Sean was rubbing the old dowel and Tim, I'm not sure what he was doing. But, unsurprisingly, it sounded fine; subdued and subtle with all sorts of textural variation, the type of thing I could happily listen to for hours.

Ami Yoshida/Christof Kurzmann were next, hot on the heels of their new release on Erstwhile, "Aso" which, after a couple of listens, I think I can safely recommend highly. I know Jon thought it was the set of the festival and while I think I can see where he's coming from, I was a bit less enthusiastic. There were moments that were extremely beautiful, especially the last 6-7 minutes including a very long spell at the end where Ami froze in one position, possibly emitting the slightest of sounds. But much of the rest I found a bit bumpy, swerving toward rapturous moments, just touching them, then pulling away. It's a set I'd like very much to hear again, though, as I may simply have been missing some connections (I was more tired for this evening than any of the others).

English is Joe Foster and Bonnie Jones, here joined by the redoubtable Sachiko M. Foster's been a grating, not to say enjoyable, presence on several websites I frequent, taking me to task at various times; I was eager to see him live. He was manipulating a snare drum (I think--again, they were in front of the stage and my view was generally obstructed) and wielding a trumpet. Ms Jones, who I'd never previously heard, was making use of open circuit electronics while Ms. Matsubara deployed her usual sublime sines. I thought it was the set of the evening. Hard to describe except that there was an added layer of excitement, some extra sizzle in Tonic's ozone while they were playing. Everything just fit together wonderfully. Some of the trumpet, played into the drum, got a little clunky but enough good will had been built up in this listener by that time that I wasn't really bothered. Sorrier still, now, that I missed English's Friday show, about which I heard great things.

I'm not extremely familiar with much of Phill Niblock's work though I've heard a good amount over the years and have always very much liked what I've heard. Jason Lescalleet has been a big favorite over the past five or so years, both live and on recording. Something about the pairing of them struck me as potentially fantastic. Well, maybe not. It was an odd set. Niblock sat at a table below the stage on the extreme left of the room while Jason's large set-up occupied most of the stage proper: a couple of laptops, three or four old tape recorders, a couple of cheap Casio-style keyboards and much more detritus. As the music began to flow from the speakers, he futzed around with some connections then sat behind his computers, hands in various positions around his face, sometimes rocking back and forth dolefully but doing naught else. It became clear that the music was entirely Niblock (again, I was rather blocked, so it was difficult to tell if Jason had set something in motion previously), creating a fairly lush, moderate roar mixed with water sounds. This went on for about 15-20 minutes, creating some amount of psychological tension as one wondered what, if anything, Mr. Lescalleet planned to contribute. Attractive enough at first, I found Niblock's music to pall after a while (again, tiredness may well have been a factor). Finally, Jason rose, having apparently sampled a goodly bit of Niblockian product and intent on regurgitating it in his own fashion, which he proceeded to do. Amazingly, ferociously. Little by little, he allowed layers of sound to accrete via, it seemed, different machines, ultimately constructing an absolutley massive, infinitely dense wall of noise, woolly rather than prickly, tweaking it here and there but essentially letting it just sit and breathe. Now, that is noise. Eventually (it seemed like a very long set, maybe an hour?), he went about turning off various devices 'til there were no more. As a collaborative set, it may not have worked so well but Lescalleet's portion more than made up for it (anyway, as it appears to have been entirely based on what Niblock created; maybe the set did work well).

Lasse Marhaug/John Hegre? Well, I felt duty-bound to stay for the whole thing and did so without resorting to digitally plugging my ears but it was a chore. It was loud, it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't very interesting either. Two minutes in, you were pretty sure what the next x-minutes would bring. There was one sort of cool moment when both dropped out almost entirely, kinda like a bass break in a funk tune. But otherwise, eh.

As always, a fascinating bunch of music to hear. I'm rather amused and pleased at the drastically disparate reactions I'm reading about on places like I Hate Music. I'm not sure there was a single set that someone hasn't judged spectacular while another deemed it shit. That strikes me as a healthy state of affairs. Congrats to Mssrs. Abbey, Barnes & Wolf for managing to piece all this together, to get people, maybe, to think a little bit.
The first three sets on Saturday were my favorite combined "moment" of the festival. Each was pretty quiet but each approached quietude from entirely different angles.

The Mattin/Radu Malfatti disc released earlier this year on formed is a big recent favorite of mine (see review here) and I was anticipating something along similar lines which, indeed, transpired. The piece was more "composed" than I had thought, the duration of the elements plotted out to the second, Malfatti positioning a digital clock next to the small score. It began with a few minutes of silence before Malfatti picked up his horn. As on the recording, the trombonist's contribution consisted of soft, long tones, recognizably brass-derived but burred. Mattin, on laptop, played sounds that sometimes coincided, sometimes overlapped, sometimes were out on their own. These sounds, it soon became clear, were derived from recordings of the ambient sound in the room played back a few minutes later. You began to listen for the odd cough or chair squeak to recur. But that was all secondary to the gentle pace that began to assert itself, a breathing kind of tempo, very slow like some large sleeping creature. At least twice, silences of upwards of three minutes were maintained. I was held rapt throughout, a beautiful set. David Jones made some interesting points later on--the audience had kept as quiet as possible during the set. But once you, as an audience member, realized that whatever sounds you happend to make were being utilized by Mattin as part of the performance, didn't that free you to be as "noisy" (or at least, normally active) as you wished? I'm guessing Mattin wouldn't have minded that at all; not sure about Malfatti.

Burkhard Stangl & Kai Fagaschinski actually began in less tonal territory than I'd anticipated, the former taking a violin bow to a small object held on his knee underneath his hand (a piece of wood?) while Kai demonstrated a ridiculous command of his instrument, taking it through breath tones, key clicks, gorgeous pure notes and more. It stayed fairly abstract for a goodly while, Kai holding his forearm under the mic, blowing transversely across his arm hairs, rubbing the clarinet reed over his beard stubble, etc. At one point, rather humorously considering Cosmos was to follow, he made mouth noises of the pinched and squeezed variety, sucking air through teeth pressed to lips. It was a rather comic sound, made more so by Stangl's choice of delicate, prettily strummed acoustic chords behind it. Gradually, the improv began to coalesce into more and more concrete form, naturally not forced, until it ended with an absolutely lovely melodic section, a simple and effective "song" to cap the performance. Very beautiful, very gutsy in this context. Fagaschinski, I get the feeling, has a fine stubbornness that won't allow him to simply bend to fashion. I'll be following his future work as closely as possible.

I somehow think of Cosmos as a fragile affair, something that in a given performance, has a greater chance of failure than success. This is baseless, actually, as their Erstwhile album ("Tears") and their track on the AMPLIFY box, the only times I've previously heard them I think, are both outstanding. Once again my fears were rendered groundless as they turned in a thrilling, gossamer and steel set. Admittedly, Sachiko can virtually do no wrong in my ears but Ami's work outside of Cosmos has been far spottier. Here, however, she was right on point, modulating her high-pitched squawks beautifully as well as doing some relatively "normal", lower-pitched work. There's a certain beguilingly theatric aspect as well, Yoshida, her mic set at a level several inches above her mouth, adopting a kind of pleading position later offset when she turned her face to her left, burying her mouth in her upper arm. Wonderful set. My only minor issue is that, when singing for longer stretches, she tends to fall into a pattern that you often hear with, say, free jazz saxophonists where there phrases last for a set duration that has to do with the breathing capacity. This "super-rhythm", once perceived, can be grating. Ami sometimes fell into that, her screeches lasting for about 7 seconds, one after another. Small carp, though.

GOD. Sorry, but it's difficult to get past the name. Aside from their having been a not entirely capitalized God band in the mid 90s (Mick Harris? Justin Broadrick? not sure of the members right now) and even if it's an acronym, it's just kind of silly. I'd've preferred DOG. They're pretty big favorites of much of the crowd, this electronics duo (Bryan Eubanks & Leif Sundstrom), but I've yet to be convinced. For a while, it was an OK noise exchange then, somewhat astonishingly, Eubanks resuscitated those pure rising tones that were so irritable from two nights prior. Sometimes, it's true, they seemed to arise in tangential pairs and their intermingling fields provided a bit of interest, but it just went on and on, long after everyone had grasped what structure there was. I jokingly said to a few friends afterward that it may have been a tribute to the recently deceased James Tenney, whose "For Ann Rising" used quasi-similar, ever-ascending tones. Varying reports surfaced that this might actually have been the case though the last ones I read denied it.

I don't know Wolf Eyes, despite Braxton's endorsement. I may be missing something but I've yet to feel impelled to sample them having, maybe, a reasonable idea of what I'd get, that being something not so different of the No Fun approach I've already written about. Aaron Dilloway is an ex-Eye and he capped off this evening with the festival's only solo performance. He looked pretty cool, admittedly, what with dual mics inserted in mouth, their wires trailing out each side, causing him to appear like nothing so much as a plaid-shirted catfish. He generated a fairly strong wall of noise, augmented by processed vocalizations, swaying in place captivated by his own creationbut also using way too much goofy sounding echo-effects. I thought, "eh." If I can over-generalize, one of my problems with this area of music is that, on the one hand, there seems to be very little thought involved but on the other, there's not the out and out abandon you might otherwise wish to see. It's often stuck in the middle, wanting to be outrageous but not really pushing it (I think Mattin gets there, Joe Colley too) but not having a lot of seriously interesting ideas. Given some sound-generating equipment, too often it's a boy's night out affair, seeing how loud and abrasive one can get which doesn't strike me as all that far from seeing how many beers one can down and just about as worthwhile. The audience demanded an encore (there was more than a whiff of a rock performance ambience) and I liked it much more than the main set but, damn, give me Cosmos' depth any day.
The following evening was spent in the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium watching our town's fairly amazing offense turn out the lights on Toronto. Consumed a healthy meal of three ballpark franks, Crackerjack and cotton candy. First time I've had cotton candy in a dog's age. Interesting stuff.

We were in the upper deck out in left field, about ten rows deep. Nice, cool evening. About 7 or 8 kids in their late teens filed in several rows in front of us, pretty clearly white trash from the burbs. One of them wielded a sheet of posterboard, on the front of which was messily scrawled in magic marker, "JETER MVP", which she held up periodically as though anyone cared. On the back of the poster, however, presumably left over from some prior use, was the charming inscription, "Beep if you understand English. Fuck Mexicans." Lovely. I scoured the papers the next couple of days, hoping to see a report of a "tragic" car accident later that evening, somewhere in the depths of Jersey or Long Island. Alas, not.

I glanced up at the stadium clock at 8:30, thinking, "Hmmm....I bet Sachiko and Sean Meehan are beginning to play about now...." Ah well. She apparently projected her sine tones that night through her headphones into the room. Wonderful idea. Next time...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

So, ErstQuake 3, 2006. Four nights, five performances each evening. I had to miss Night 2 due to a small matrimonial commitment (27th wedding anniversary), but the other three days presented much to chew on.

Wandered down to Tonic Thursday evening, meeting a gaggle of known personages hovering around outside--always good to see these fellows (unfortunately, yes, all fellows) at least once a year. Secured my preferred Tonic seat, the foremost stool on the right hand wall with the round table for elbow resting.

The opening set is always somewhat invocational in aspect and this year's, with Jeph Jerman and Greg Davis, was no exception. The two stood behind tables littered with natural-ish detritus including stones, sticks (bundled and individual), feathers, shells, bells, a bull-roarer, seeds, etc.They tended toward the very quiet, for instance holding a handful of pebbles under a mic, gently rolling them inside their palm. Pretty effective overall, though I couldn't help but register a couple of reservations. One, no fault of Mssrs. Jerman and Davis, is that the "mystery" aspect of this sort of music tends to be lost in live performance, at least if you're choosing to keep your eyes open. That is, heard on CD (please check out their excellent recent disc, "Ku", my review of which here) even if you have a rough idea what's occurring, there are plenty of sounds whose origin is impenetrable, lending an extra layer of enjoyment. Actually seeing it produced strips away this veil. On the other hand, maybe that "veil" isn't really a desirable function, that the reality of what's being done is more important and meaningful and that not knowing allows a certain fantasy element into the proceedings that you' d be better served not "enjoying". Hmmmm....The second issue harks back to my early free jazz days when, not atypically, the percussionist in a given ensemble would have dozens of "little instruments" arrayed on rugs around his basic set-up and, when it was time for his "feature", he'd go through a rote series of gestures, making sure each instrument was heard. ie, ten seconds of guiro, 15 of the handful of shells, 10 of the dried carob, 10 of the triangle, etc., etc. Really, really boring. With Jerman and Davis, things didn't reach anywhere close to this level of routineness, but I would've much rather they stayed with some sounds for longer periods rather than often switching around; it became a bit too episodic for me. The bundle of dry sticks that each manipulated, for instance, I could gladly have listened to for at least several minutes rather than a few seconds. Jerman's "Lithiary" disc on fargone, where he "simply" places multiple rocks on a couple of shaker tables and records the quavering results, is a fine example of what I'm talking about. Still, quibbles aside, an enjoyable opening set.

Los Glissandinos were up next, a duo (most of the festival coonsisted of duets) with Kai Fagaschinski on clarinet and Klaus Filip on computer, playing his lloopp program. I'd been fortunate enough to meet Kai the day before, an extremely wonderful guy, so I may have been a bit predisposed to like this performance, but like it I did. As with his duo a couple days later with Burkhard Stangl, Kai has no fears about injecting a strong dose of melodic content into his work. They created two improvs this evening, both brooding and melancholy, Kai devoting equal time to extended technique and "traditional" playing. The first 2/3 of the second piece got tonal enough to be verging on Gavin Bryars territory, maybe a little bit too much for the musicians as they abruptly broke off that pathway, wandering around a bit disjointedly for the concluding five or so minutes.

I've seen Barry Weisblatt perform many times and my reaction has varied widely. He's charting very difficult waters, using an electronics set-up dependent in part on light-activated devices (piezo-electronic? Is that the propoer term?) and often eschewing through-going drones which tends to shift the burden to sound-placement, a touchy area where the listener's internal sense of poetics often determines how one reacts. Here he was teamed with Bryan Eubanks, whose work, what little I'd previously heard, I wasn't so taken with. In addition to small fluorescent tubes (?), Weisblat used a steady flame, whose slightest fluctuations in the internal Tonic breezes, such as they were, caused massively turbulent eruptions from the sound systems. That was very cool, as was the smoke effect when he later blew it out) but the general interaction between the two struck me as awkward and blocky---and not in an interesting way. Eubanks at one point initiated a series of rising pure tones, the timbre of which was a little off-putting as was the general obviousness of their structure; he kept at it for far too long. I can easily imagine, however, listeners with a slightly different take on it reveling in the music. Didn't work for me, though.

I was greatly looking forward to Scenic Railroads, having enjoyed Joe Panzner's writing in the past as well as liking him personally. And the first five or so minutes of their performance (Mike Shiflet being the other half of the RR) won me over completely. But then....I dunno, on the one hand it seemed to lose focus for me, the occasional dollop of fasciantion burbling to the surface only to be swiftly subsumed into the general drone. Later in the set, I got to thinking that it had more to do with the actual quality of sound they were generating from their laptops, something that struck me as fundametally thin or at least less substantial than I wanted to hear. Like styrofoam instead of glass. It's notoriously difficult to create consistently rich work from computers, especially when you're shooting for richness and depth; Fennesz does it, not so many others. It was too easily graspable, like you could see to the bottom of the bowl instead of getting lost in the liquid. If that makes any sense. A frustrating set, for me, one that I really wanted to enjoy more than I did.

Ah, but then came Mattin and Tim Barnes. Probably the most polarizing set of the festival in terms of audience reaction and not just from one diametric. I'd heard a goodly amount from Mattin over the past couple of years and, more and more I'd found myself really enthusiastic about his his work, including even the goofiest projects like his "Songbook". Much as one finds certain jazz musicians to be inherently musical (re: the old comment on Monk, "He even walks musical."), that most anything they come up with just sounds good no matter how absurd the premise (Don Cherry might be an example), I found I'd been getting that sense from Mattin. Had someone verbally described what was to take place this evening, I very likely would've demurred. Happily, no one so informed me. Tim was on stage, sitting at an oversize sock cymbal set-up which was hooked up to some electronics (he was in awesome form throughout, if visually and psychologically overshadowed). Mattin began the set by pacing in a wide circle at the rear of the room, his computer held open to his right ear like a large clamshell as it emitted an intense whine. This went on for several minutes. He then began marching up and down the center aisle. Near the stage was positioned a guitar amp on a wobbly circular table; as the computer drew close, feedback ensued. And Mattin began shouting. What he was shouting was a matter of some debate over the next few days (not sure if it was resolved). It seemed to be in English--"fucking" was certainly one word--but it was so grotesquely strangulated that the rest became guesswork despite its being iterated umpteen dozen times over the course of the set. "Computers are fucking with you!" was my stab. "Consumers are fucking consuming." was someone else's. This was often yelled directly into the computer's mic hole, causing even greater levels of distortion. All this while plunging the device toward the amp, itself teetering on the frail table endangering the welfare of the first row denizens. I had a vision of Mattin smashing the laptop somewhere, preferably the amp and not Richard Pinnell's head. The sound was immense, brutal and almost unbearable. I thought it was great. Partially just as a change from what had preceded (including opening up the performance space, thus making you realize how slightly hermetic things had been earlier), partly the commitment to the drama by Mattin, partly the sheer, fascinating noise. Whatever, it worked for me, though others had vastly different opinions. Some had problems not with the chaotic noise as such (after all, we're a hardy crew) but with its presumed derivativeness from bands like Whitehouse or its similarity to previous Mattin/Barnes shows (which I've not seen, perhaps luckily!). Some resented the political nature of the slogans, a position I have great sympathy for, normally. Except that in this case, it simply worked for me.

This is getting rather long. Think I'll do the other two days in their own installments.