Tuesday, February 27, 2007

On a good little roll here in the vinyl arcade. I'm trying to think, but I'm not sure I've ever seen Karl Berger in performance. Certainly not as a leader and I can't recall as a member. Surprising as I'd really liked almost everything I'd heard of his, from his great piano and vibes work on Cherry's "Eternal Rhythm" to this wonderful, sprightly duo with Dave Holland, "All Kinds of Time" on the excellent Sackville label, from 1976. I guess this has been made available on disc in recent years--well worth checking out. Not at all sure what he's been up to lately--the last recording listed at AMG is from '96. The first concert of this type of music I ever attended was in Woodstock at his studio in early '76, the performance of Braxton and Teitelbaum that ended up being issued as "Time Zones". I'm thinking Berger might have opened the evening, but I'm not sure.

And Holland. I was thinking about his early career this morning--guy goes from playing with some of the most adventurous musicians in England in the mid 60s (Bailey, Surman, Oxley etc.) to becoming a member of some of Miles' great funk bands, to a regular partner of Braxton, makes the great jazz album on ECM, "Conference of the Birds", in addition to records like this and the duos with Sam Rivers, then....well, for my bucks sorta peters out. I know people love his own groups from the mid 80s to the present day and I was there for a while but at their best, it's extreme competence trumping deep beauty. He wins Grammys now. I know he had health issues (I went to a benefit for him around '81 or so when, iirc, he had serious heart problems) and maybe that's a good part of it. In any case, he's in great form here, such a round, on the money musical tone.

Are all the Sackville's around now on disc? Don't think so...a fantastic label at the time.

[edit: all good things must come to an end. After the fine album above, I put on Tim Berne's "Fulton Street Maul". Mid to late 80s, I was searching pretty hard for jazz stuff to keep my interest and Berne fit the bill for a while. This one and "Sanctified Dreams" were way up there at the time. I have to say, FSM is tough to listen to now. Made it through a side, but that'll be it. Don't know exactly why except that there's a sense of trying way, way too hard. And Alex Cline's drumming is seriously aggravating.]

[edit 2: otoh, this little baby still retains a surprising amount of guilty fun power....]

Monday, February 26, 2007

My friend Richard Harland Smith, who among other things writes for movie morlocks , came across this photo in the course of doing some research on the young lad on the left, who went on to an acting career.

Name the two kids:

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Woke up this morning to the awful news that Leroy Jenkins had died of lung cancer at the age of 75.

Ever since I first heard Jenkin's piercing, keening violin--probably in the Desert Band portion of Escalator Over the Hill--he'd been my favorite violinist, as well as one of my special favorite musicians. Whatever "technical" limitations he may have had (as ridiculous an issue as that is in the case of a player as inherently musical as Jenkins was), there was no one who could wring such heart-rending bluesiness from his violin.

I think I only had the opportunity to see Jenkins perform twice. Once was the solo concert at the Washington Square Church (1977?) that was released on India Navigation; the closing "hymn" there was just stunning. The other was the only time I ever saw the Revolutionary Ensemble, at the Tin Palace probably around the same time. An amazing show, one that has stayed in my memory for decades.

The RE albums remain classics as is his lovely recording on Tomato, "Space Minds, New Worlds, Survival of America". The last track on that one, "Through the Ages Jehovah" has one of the most gorgeous melodic lines I know.

Thanks for all the beautiful music, Mr. Jenkins.

Swift Are the Winds of Life.

Playing today, in memoriam:

Leroy Jenkins/Rashied Ali - Swift Are the Winds of Life
Leroy Jenkins - Space Minds, New Worlds, Survival of America
Revolutionary Ensemble - The Psyche
Revolutionary Ensemble - The People's Republic
Revolutionary Ensemble - s/t (Inner City)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Well, it took a couple of months, but I finally managed to finish the Unseen Cinema set. The last disc concerned itself with dance images although, happily, they stretched the point. I was a little worried about being forced to undergo a bunch of neo-classical/avantist pieces, mishmashes of Expressionist and Greek classic scenes, and there was a bit of that, women wandering around seaside draped in flowing white fabric, making gesticulations so as to indicate forlorness, etc. There seems to be some latent need, once a new technique is discovered, to go back and redo art history from its (Western) beginnings. So you have "Neptune's Daughters", "Diana and the Nymphs", "Oramunde", etc. here. But things took an excellent turn with some fantastic "Mexican footage" by Eisenstein, depicting Day of the Dead dances and rituals (exceedingly bizarre in their own right); beautiful, striking images. There's another good Steiner work involving gear mechanisms and ratchet devices that recall Sheeler's paintings. Much of the last half of the disc is given over to animations, many of them abstract in nature. Oscar Fischinger's "An Optical Poem", from which the above image was taken, was the winner, an amazing piece consisting of paper cutouts shot frame by frame. "Joie de Vivre" by Anthony Gross and and Hector Hoppin was a lovely deco animation, two sylphs cavorting around city and woods, chased by an infatuated bicyclist--light but delightful to the eye.

Overall, I could probably winnow this 7-disc set down to two of essential material. But so could anyone else and their choices would likely differ from mine. I'm very glad to have pulled the trigger on it, though, as there's no way I would've gotten around to several of these things otherwise.


Terry Eagleton - Literary Theory
John Berger - Photocopies

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Coincidentally enough, two of the most underknown, under-rated jazz albums of the 80s (imho), stand alongside each other in the Olewnick vaults. The first is "Live at Nickelsdorf Konfrontationen" by the Spencer Barefield/Anthony Holland/Tani Tabbal trio, released on Sound Aspects in 1986 (recorded in '84) and, as far as I'm aware, not available on disc, though I imagine it and other things on this fine little label are able to be downloaded here and there.

Barefield and Tabbal were alumni of Roscoe Mitchell's band and would continue to play with him (Tabbal more so) but I think this is the only time I've ever heard Holland. If anyone knws what the story is on him, do tell; he's marvelous here on soprano and alto, unfailingly imaginative with a real nice, liquid tone. Three longish pieces, a herky-jerky, craggy piece, "Xenogenesis" by Barefield that provides a unique kind of launching pad for the solos, a lovely, pastoral work by Tabbal, "Hindola Spring" that features Barefield on African Harp (Dawudaphone) and some fine tabla work frm the composer, and Holland's "IOCAB-4". Perhaps not surprising considering the title, it's thematic material is very Mitchellian in origin, sounding very much like something out of the "Nonaah" playbook. ABout halfway through it morphs into a rolling theme that actually has echoes of surf guitar; Barefield's a really unique sounding player, a joy to hear. It's a really, really solid performance, easily one of the best things to come out of the post-AACM that decade. A real pity it's not better known. I take it Barefield's running a music school in Detroit and I think he surfaces now and again. Really curious what became of Holland, though. Hey, you guys at Destination:Out should get on this baby.

The other is one of my all-time favorites, Bengt Berger's "Bitter Funeral Beer" (ECM, 1982). It shouldn't work, maybe. This Norwegian guy goes down to Ghana, studies percussion music of the Lo-Birifor, Sisaala and Ewe peoples, manages to actually absorb a goodly amount of their essences, journeys back up to Norway and assembles a large group of pale-skins to recreate the music (including tapes of lamentative funeral-goers) in a percussion-laden ensemble enhanced with guitars, reeds and strings. As a masterstroke, he has the overwhelmingly good sense to ask Don Cherry to come aboard. Cherry is fucking awesome, never in better form on those clarion pocket trumpet calls. The themes are based on West African ones and Berger chooses superbly. "Chetu" and "Tongsi" especially are just such gorgeous melodies you could sit and listen to them repeat for hours. The arrangements are fantastic, with burbling bass clarinets forming soft beds from which Cherry's splintering trumpet spikes forth. Side two cooks with more of a jazz feel, something akin to the better tracks on Clifford Thornton's fine "Gardens of Harlem". I recently found this on disc and picked it up but it's still great fun to hear on vinyl. Berger released a few things after this (Seven Up was one that was OK) but this one stands apart and above. Great record.

[Edit: Ah, I forgot Berger's follow up record, "Praise Drumming" (Dragon, 1986). Pretty good, but not hitting the bull's eye as often as the above. And no Cherry.]

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Somewhere around my first year of college, I discovered that the local library, Adriance Memorial on Market Street, lent out records. Much of my serious early classical listening was done via this route. It was a fairly small selection, I think, probably no more than a couple hundred albums, but it included other-than-warhorses and I just took things out willy nilly. They also had a bit of a jazz section as well, providing me with my first exposure to, among others, Dolphy and Bud Powell.

In any case, I'm pretty sure my first encounter with the music of Samuel Barber came about here too. It wasn't the "Adagio for Strings" either; that I didn't hear until a bit later. But there was a recording with, iirc, the first Symphony, the Overture to the School for Scandal and one or two others, maybe one of the Essays for Orchestra or the Violin Concerto. I fell in love with his music and, with my meager monies, bought a few albums in the next years.

One that's probably something of a rarity is a 1959 recording (though issued sometime after 1968, I think) on RCA Victrola by the Boston Symphony under the direction of Charles Munch. The bulk of the disc is actually given over to Debussy's 'Images for Orchestra' but I've always filed it under 'B' due to the presence of Barber's magnificent "Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengence". Still sounds great. There has probably been writing on the phenomenon of the first version of a piece you hear remaining, for oneself, the "true" one--I bet it's the case more often than not--but I've heard numerous renditions of this piece (a portion of a longer suite) and none has ever hit me as hard. btw, I've no idea what Barber's current rep is. I imagine it fluctuates depending on what amount, if any, of Romanticism is allowable in a given week but for my ears, he has at his best a gift for melody comparable to Prokofiev (though not as deliciously sour); they're linked somewhat in my mind, again likely due simply to my having "discovered" them around the same time. Looks like this performance might be available on disc...

I likely picked up the next one, a Unicorn release featuring the 1st Symphony, Essays for Orchestra #s 1 & 2 and Night Flight due to the conductor being David Measham. He'd conducted Ornette's "Skies of America" you'll recall. I think I remember shortly thereafter getting the notion that Measham was something of a schlockmeister--conducting Rick Wakeman's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" probably didn't help in this regard. Dunno, but these pieces sound pretty damn OK; maybe he could pull things together when he desired. I see he died in 2005. The Unicorn album has the Thomas Moran painting here on the cover--very nice indeed.

There's one with Thomas Schippers conducting the NY Phil that's pretty OK, but my pet favorite here is a 1972 CRI recording featuring pianist Zola Shaulis performing Barber's "Excursions" (as well as Louis Gruenberg's "Polychromatics" and Ernest Bloch's "Sonata"). "Excursions" are four totally lovely variations on American folk and blues themes, sumptuously played here. I need to check out other versions, something I've never gotten around to. I guess Shaulis never attained pianistic stardom. I see this piece was included in a later CRI release, "Gay American Composers". I wonder how many people who swooned to "Adagio for Strings", which was also played over the radio in memoriam of FDR's passing, knew that its creator was gay.

As always, I welcome anyone's suggestions for great Barber recordings.

Monday, February 19, 2007

I don't actually have this album. Well, I have the sleeve. I don't remember the particulars, but I probably bought this up in Poughkeepsie while at Vassar, shortly after having first encountered Balinese music. Got it home, opened it up and found and entirely different record inside: Japanese Koto Classics, performed by Yuize Shinichi. How serendipitous, if momentarily annoying. Who knows how long it would have taken me to get to koto music otherwise?

Of course, I know next to nothing about the koto tradition, including where Shinichi is generally considered to stand. Sounds pretty fantastic to me as well as far purer than those koto players who dabble in improv who I've heard over the years. Beautiful music; it seems pretty hard to go wrong with these early Nonesuch releases. Incidentally, despite what's in the sleeve, I've always perversely filed it under "B" for Bali. This makes little sense and, following its listening today, will return to "S" where it belongs. Or "Y". *sigh* Never know the right thing to do with Japanese surnames. I'd never looked up Shinichi-san before--here he is (I guess he plays shamisen as well):

Any koto recommendations would be welcome. Why I haven't rectified the original problem and picked up that Balinese disc yet, I don't know. I do get a little confused with the repackaging, as attractive as it is--I can never quite remember which ones I have, which ones I don't.

Oh man, the third track on Side One here, "Midare", is killer stuff. I see a recording of this piece (I think--called Midare Rinzetsu) on an album by Kazue Sawai; might have to look into that. She's worked with Michel Doneda, Le Quan Ninh and others, hmmm.....

Benno Friedman. When Arista/Freedom began issuing records, about 1975, they used Friedman's photos for many of their covers, especially the quasi-reissue line that put out recordings from the 60s, including this one by Ayler. Always found his (Friedman's) work pretty fascinating, his messed around with photos that reminded me a little of Lucas Samaras but without the self-sensationalism. I recall coming across his name now and again in art or photogtraphy magazines over the years, but I don't think I've ever seen very much of his work outside of album covers. Searching around now, I see he's advanced to digital manipulations, sometimes of existing photos including stock from old Westerns.

re: Ayler, well, one of my many Halls of Shame. This is the only vinyl Ayler I own and I've only one disc as well (the reissue of the ESP-Disk, Bells/Prophecy). When I got into the music, he'd just died and he fell into that category of: I'd hear his work all the time on KCR and never really got around to picking up much. I do love his stuff although, I'll admit (ducking) that I find a little bit of sameness in much of his work. The overt "spiritual" referentiality can also, admittedly, grate on me. But hey, a fantastic record. Cherry, Peacock, Murray. Excellent Ray Ross photo on the back (I'll have to discuss Ray sometime).

But Benno Friedman, man, those gooey clouds, that melting ship.

There were a couple of weeks in the mid 80s when Bachir Attar was the bee's knees in NYC. General knowledge of the Master Musicians of Joujouka was percolating into the consciousness of new music hounds, myself included, and here comes one of those guys to New York, willing to mix it up with the downtown community. Not a helluva lot resulted though, at least on recordings. This one appeared on Enemy, maybe around '87 (there's no date on the sleeve and AMG mistakenly lists the CD issue date, 1994) where Attar teams with that guy who was on every other downtown album at the time. In essence, it's not so bad. Attar himself is a joy to hear, especially on guimbri, a two-stringed lute. Sharp pretty much is content to play sideman and happily so, with one glaring exception: his drum machine programming. I know it was the mid-80s but still. Jeez, hard to imagine it wasn't clear just how awful these patterns sounded. They're also just so unnecessary; Attar's playing carries plenty of implicit rhythm. If they wanted percussion, I kinda think there were more than a few actual players around NYC they could've gotten.

Attar made one other disc that I know of, "The Next Dream" for CMP which, iirc, fared better. I believe he went back to leading the Moroccan group after this. I'm not up on the controversy embroiling the two (or more?) sects of musicians claiming the right to be recognized as the TRUE Jajouka masters (or, for that matter, what the correct spelling is--I've seen it about 8 different ways and am using the two most popular here), but it looks like his branch, anyway, is billing themselves as The Master Musicians of Jajouka with Bachir Attar. I sniff the cult of celebrity. Their 'Apocalypse Across the Sky' disc produced by Laswell is very tasty.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

This is the only Ashley recording I have on vinyl; had it since about '82 I think. Still one of my all-time favorite album titles. Sounds pretty great today, I must say. Jill Kroesen's vocals are wonderful--bored, sarcastic, yearning, erotic all at the same time.

"I love to you like a dot dot dot symphony."

Might be the best Van Tieghem I've heard--his steady beat doesn't get as plodding here as it often does elsewhere. And Tyranny's in top form.
Somewhere around '94, I subscribed to WIRE and, with it, received a copy of Ascension's "Live/Dead" LP. This was a duo of guitarist Stefan Jaworzyn and drummer Tony Irving. I have to say, it still sounds extreme, ie, extremely loud, noisy and raucous, though you can't miss the bassic rock underpinnings lurking down there. Maybe a tad less harsh than demanded by current No Fun fans, but they still might get into it if it's around anywhere. Me? Eh, much thrashing about to no real cathartic effect. Kids making noise. Better than some I've heard, not so good as others.

Around this time, I was reading about all these musicians in WIRE whose music I had no way of actually hearing. Pisses me off a bit that it would be another couple-three years for many of them. I used to keep a little list in my wallet of things to keep an eye out for--I remember the odd name "Polwechsel" being there for quite a while.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I was supposed to go to see Diamanda Galas last night at the Knit. It being Valentine's Day and, ergo, me being obliged to have dinner out with Linda (she being sentimental that way), I was to attend the 10:30 set and review it for PT. But I was feeling somewhat under the weather, had a very tiring day at work, felt worse after a heavy Jamaican meal (Blue Mahoe on East 14th St) and figured I'd be pretty much worthless after hanging around an additional two or so hours for her set to begin.

Kinda curious what it would've been like, even though I haven't listened to Galas much since around 'Malediction and Prayer' ('98). I'd been a fan since her first release, "The Litanies of Satan", around '82. I'd only seen her once before, catching the performance at St. John the Divine that would later be issued as the 'Plague Mass' set. Pretty unique show, that one. The crowd was amusingly varied, ranging from elderly couples clad in evening-wear (I think the event was part of a subscription series that, who knows, might have included the Hallelujah Chorus or something as well) to pierced and tattooed Goths in leather and chains. Ms. Galas emerged (as pictured above) in a topless, black gown, drenched in stage blood. I assume it was stage blood. The music was more hit and miss than the spectacle, though it's hard to deny the wacky power of punchlines like, "Give me sodomy or give me death!"

As time went on though, I found her work in that vein getting somewhat repetitive. Happily, she'd also branched off into more song-oriented work once in a while, albeit with mixed results. I really like most of her EP, "You Must Be Certain of the Devil" that came out in '88, especially the best AIDS-related song I've ever heard, 'Let's Not Chat About Despair". But later releases in this style, that is Galas at the piano singing her own or older blues-based songs, like "The Singer", were far more uneven.

I think last night's show would have been in this latter area and I would have liked to have heard how she's faring these days. I could imagine it working very well but we'll have to see the next time.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

We had a toy piano in the house where I grew up. It was small, maybe 20 keys (12 white, 8 black would be my guess), made of wood, the top painted light blue, the rest of the body unpainted, no legs, about 14 inches square, four deep. Probably it dated from the late 50s. Googling around, I couldn't find an image that approximated it though I imagine the particular model wasn't uncommon around the time.

It's salient point, however, was the open nether end of the instrument. Emerging from the darkness of the box's interior were 20 or so metal rods, the ends within easy plucking distance. Perhaps they were regularly arrayed when the piano was new, but my memory of them was of a more ragtag arrangement, the 1/8" or less diameter steel dowels standing at various angles from the perpendicular.

Needless to say, fiddling with them from that end of things produced far more satisfying sounds than playing the keyboard. Flicking the rods with your fingernails generated much richer thwangs than pressing a key. Plus, you could vary the attack from hypersoft to forceful enough to set the rods vibrating against themselves or the wood casing. I created quite a ruckus over the years on a fairly regular basis as the piano was kept in a kid's/games closet in the family room, within easy reach of the TV seats. The memory of playing it is one of those that seems far more recent than it possibly could have been; it comes through very strongly. I moved to NYC in '76, so it's certainly possible I was futzing around with it after having heard experimental music of various kinds and maybe made some connection. Wonder if it's still around.

This all came back into current memory yesterday when I received a new 10" vinyl from Crouton Music, Hal Rammel's "Like Water Tightly Wound" on which he plays the instrument illustrated above, essentially a large number of metal rods, saw blades, etc., growing from a resonant wooden palette. He mentions in his notes that he wasn't very interested in setting the pieces in any kind of mathemtaical relationship, simple or complex, but instead positioning them more or less randomly. This serves to endow the music with a looser feel, of someone idly strumming through the stalks, finding a rough melody here, abstract noise there. Essentially, the result is a much better version of what I used to do; it succeeds in evoking nostalgic memories as well as providing some immersive music. A lovely little surprise.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Finally got to Volume 6 of Unseen Cinema, "The Amatuer as Auteur". Well, they're really stretching use of the term "avant-garde" with this set of what are, essentially, early home movies. Yes, there's some of the first use of synchronized sound (1924-25, Theodore Case, E Sponable) and there's some interest in that aspect, narrowly defined. And I suppose that offering some of, at least ostensibly, the earliest home movies as such, there's some documentary interest there as well. But, hey, they're home movies. Aside from giving one a bit of a view as to how folks in Maine or Santa Fe spent their daily leisure time (not notably different from 2007 if you substitute XBox for Bicycle polo or climbing on rocks....), it just ain't that fascinating. Several Joseph Cornell collages are at structurally sort of intriguing, but overall, feh.

This leaves a single volume. Now, I'm not the world's biggest dance fan which is the theme here. And it's called, um, "Viva la Dance". Oy. Might take me a while to get here.


Jason Kahn - Fields (Cut)
Gunter Muller - Reframed (Cut)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I don't think the Art Ensemble released anything for five years after Fanfare. 'Chi-Congo' (which I don't have) dates from '73 but I think it was released much later. 'Kabalaba' was one of the four albums to appear under their own imprint, AECO (the others being solo efforts from Jarman, Moye and Favors). They all came out in '78 as I recall, though this one was recorded in July, '74 at the Montreux Festival. Abrams is still in tow, but the live performance illustrates how sketchy they could be. Some hot moments, mucho doodling.

But in '79, they signed with ECM and out came "Nice Guys" (recorded in '78). I think it's safe to say that many, many people got their first exposure to the Art Ensemble via ECM and that this explains, at least partially, why "Nice Guys" and "Full Force" show up on many best of AEC lists. They're good albums, very good, but I can't help but think that their high ranking has more to do with these having been the first time many listeners heard this sort of thing. The same, of course, could apply to my high ranking of those previous six albums, who knows? Listener-friendly things like Bowie's "JA" (inspired, I take it, by his lengthy sojourn in Jamaica where I recall reading that he was treated as something of a big celebrity) and Mitchell's title cut opened the door, I imagine, to wary listeners but in the process (imho) lowered the probity quotient. Side Two works much better, concluding with Jarman's "Dreaming of the Master", a piece that can hold its own with pretty much anything they ever recorded.

There was something of falling into this habit on AEC releases for quite some time: One really outstanding piece and a bunch of OK ones. "Full Force" had Bowie's "Charlie M" (although I give it an extra point for one of the all-time stupendous song titles: "Magg Zelma"), "Urban Bushman", a live double disc, had a couple: Bowie's "New York Is Full of Lonly People" and Mitchell's beautiful "Uncle" (a rephrasing of "Eeltwo" from his solo album on Sackville, iirc, not having yet replayed it) [edit: relistening to "Urban Bushmen", almost all of it holds up better than I would have thought] and "The Third Decade", their last for ECM from '84, had Mitchell's "The Bell Piece". They're still good recordings, but it seems clear that the well is beginning to go dry. There's another odd one from around this time which I have on Praxis with the title, "Among the People", though it was reissued in recent years by Leo as "Live in Milano" as part of their Golden Years of New Jazz (yeesh). The title track is actually a sidelong version of "Tutankhamen" and an intriguing one. The other two tracks, "Shango King" and "Choosing a Cracker" are less rewarding.

Switching over to DIW, there was some hope for a less "clean", more rough-edged music to emerge and, to an extent, that happened. There's a bit more rawness but I don't think anything could prevent a natural downhill slide into a perfunctory kind of craft as opposed to inspiration. Something like "Live in Japan" hits all the required points--Ohnedaruth, a quirky song, a percussion piece, a quasi-bop number, Odwalla, but it's like ticking off agenda items. Everything's competent, nothing's inspired. Bowie was by now drifting into relatively lightweight concerns like his Brass Fantasy, Jarman into increasingly new age-y forms of mysticism. Mitchell seemed to be devoting more energy to his own projects; you almost had the sense that they were keeping the AEC together as a concern more from a sense of obligation than desire. There was an enjoyable album of covers, including a very hot version of Fela's "Zombie" (with some great Moye), but clearly they're running out of steam.

The last LP I have is "The Alternate Express", a 1989 date. I continued to hope against hope and purchased a number of AEC discs, though they were by and large disappointing. One partial exception was "Art Ensemble of Soweto" and that was due almost entirely to the presence of the wonderful Amabutho Male Chorus. I think the last disc I bought was the bafflingly bad collaboration with Cecil Taylor on which, for reasons I can't fathom, Taylor didn't play on the two Monk covers. Maybe someone knows the rationale behind this decision. I last caught them in a Jarman-less performance at Avery Fisher Hall maybe 7-8 years ago. I don't recall too much aside from enjoying Mitchell's percussion cage. With Bowie and Favors gone, it seems pointless to continue but I guess they're doing so.

Not to dwell on the lower points in their career, though. From 1969 to '75 or so, they produced some of the most beautiful music on the planet and for that, I'm profoundly grateful. Thanks, gentlemen.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Nothing if not dutiful, I filled in one of the gaps in my AMM collection, pulling the trigger and buying this compilation on e-bay for an ungodly price. It arrived this afternoon.

The AMM track (on first listen, the only thing of any interest) is from 4/20/67, a performance that was broadcast on the BBC. About 15 minutes long, it's a pretty fascinating piece, one I'll have to listen to much more, obviously. Rowe lets loose in furious fashion toward the end of the track, one of the only things I've heard from this period in which (imho) you can hear definite linkage to some of his harsher work from 30+ years hence.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

I often have this problem with sound installations in galleries and it's usually not the sound. It's the gallery.

I find it's almost always the case that, at least in my imagination, the sounds in question would work far better in some more public space, some location not specifically art-oriented. Back in the late 70s, one of my favorite pasttimes was to amble up to Times Square to experience Max Neuhaus' installation beneath one of the ventilation grates on one of the traffic islands there. A constant, rich thrum emanated from parts unknown somewhere under the soles of the people making their way to work, to the theater, shopping. Scarce few took notice, some occasionally glancing down quizzically. The sounds blended in beautifully with the unceasing traffic.

Spoiled me.

I went to experience Olivia Block's installation at the Diapason Gallery earlier this evening, a loft space located in one of the more unlikely NYC areas for anyone expecting to find sound-art though, in fact, it's only about three blocks south of the erstwhile Neuhaus site. Upon ascending the stairs to the second floor space, you're greeted by a sign asking you to remove your shoes before entering. Opening the door and parting the black, velvet drapes, you're in a space about 20 x 50 feet with floor mats, small rugs and cushions. The installation runs from 6 to 11PM on each Saturday in February. When I arrived, there were five or six people sitting, facing a couple of speakers at the street-side of the room which was darkened and, as near as I could tell, silent. Taking a floor position against one of the side walls, I tried to hear what if anything was happening. I wasn't sure. Some street noise fed in, but not much. There was an electric hiss, though I imagined it was from the speakers themselves. After two or three minutes, gentle whistling wind sounds grew in volume along with a general density of "open air" sound. It travelled from the front of the room to the back, taking about a minute to make its transverse. Another few minutes of silence then a similar though different set of sounds derived from field recordings. This seemed to be the pattern, sometimes wind-oriented, sometimes gentle rain. The piece is titled "Under Your Breath".

It was fine as such but my overwhelming feeling was how great it would be if it was installed in some large, relatively quiet public space--like an old library. More to the point--and again, as I think I've written before--without the general knowledge that an "art event" was taking place. How wonderful it would be to be sitting, reading, studying or writing, only to have these odd sounds, sounds associated with the outdoors, emanating from concealed speakers in the rafters every few minutes. There's something about a gallery space, even as lovely a one as Diapason, where listening to recorded music seems somehow off, kind of an a-social activity in a social setting. It's different, in that sense, than hearing live musicians though why that is, I'm not sure.

There was a second installation, "Angry When You Sleep", in a previously unvisited-by-me room in the rear of the space. While sitting in the main room, I experienced the amusing effect of people opening and closing the door to the other. As the sounds from the second space were far louder (though effectively shielded by the door), it was as though you became aware of a party occurring next door. The room was small, about 10 x 12 feet, illuminated by only a single, light blue bulb. In addition to a few chairs and cushions, there were eight speakers situated symmetrically. Block's work itself was far more immediately engaging, consisting of sounds drawn from closely miked dry leaves and beans being swirled around inside of metal pans. I would've guessed that there were large sections devoted to wet pebbles sliding around a wooden drawer--there was a very, very liquid effect to these ears--but, that just shows what I know. The piece ran about 10-12 minutes and then repeated (I'm fairly sure there were no variations, that it was the same thing each time, though I could be wrong). It was a wonderful work, rich and layered, wherein one was constantly forming mental relationships between, erm, blocks of sound. I stayed for four iterations.

For the first three, I was in the company of other attendees, from one to five at various times. This made for an additional...problem. Perhaps it's just me, but there's something awkward and a little uncomfortable sitting in a small room with other people listening in silence to music issuing from speakers (I mean, outside of a Record Club, I guess, where dorkitude is a given). The listening aspect is too akin to being at home enjoying one's stereo but here there's the added complication of not being able to entirely relax (again, maybe just me) as well as the anticipation of movement/interruptions from the others, including the door opening and closing at any time.

When the only other person left after the third time through the piece, I shifted myself to a central location and, happily, was the sole occupant for the duration. Major difference! Not only did the piece work even better sonically, the sounds becoming entirely immersive, circulating around the small space, but I could devote 100% of my concentration to it. It worked beautifully, as fine a piece from Ms. Block as I've heard (and dedicated readers know how highly I esteem her recordings). Incidentally, neither installation included any of the more "traditional" elements she often uses, horn chorales, etc.

Even so, I could still imagine the work being that much more effective in some public space, a more open, noisier one than a library--perhaps an urban park; I was thinking Bryant Park a few blocks away. Could be pretty spectacular there.

When I emerged back into the larger space I found I was the only person left in the gallery. I decided not to push my luck though and, after a close examination of the speakers to determine that, yes indeed, very low volume sound was constantly issuing from them, I made my way home.

I've been remiss in listing recent arrivals:

Text of Light - Rotterdam.1 (Room40)
(Various) - On Isolation (Room40)
Matthieu Saladin - Intervalles (l'Innomable)
Deep Rumba - This Night Becomes a Rumba (American Clave)
Cor Fuhler - Stengam (Potlatch)
Maurizio Bianchi/Maor Appelbaum - Environmental Meditations (topheth)
Igor Krutogolov - White (topheth)
Anthony Guerra/Inge Olmheim -s/t (document)
Anthony Guerra/Matt Nidek - s/t (black petal)
Anthony Guerra/Matt Nidek - White Eagle (foxglove)
Ray Off - nothing like a ribbon round a parcel (black petal)
Vodka Sparrows - Death a Thousand Times Over (black petal)
dj white pimpernell - lovedjwhitepimpernellxxx (black petal)