Wednesday, October 31, 2007

If I've done things correctly, you'll be seeing a word verification requirement for posting comments here as of now. Hate to do it but I've been getting a rash of spam "comments" lately and it's a royal pain to go in and delete each one.

Hope this doesn't impede insightful (and otherwise) contributions from you all.

I have a small "complaint" about museums: there's too much art.

When Keith and I were up at DIA:Beacon last week, I was ambling though the three rooms (about 20 paintings) devoted to Agnes Martin's last works, thinking, "I'd love to spend several hours with just one of these paintings." Being confronted with 20 or so is too overwhelming, making it difficult to really concentrate deeply on one piece. Similarly the next day in Philadelphia, in rooms like the one housing the two Newman's, the Rothko, the Klein and the Motherwell--too much information in too small a space! I realize there's no way around it, but I think appreciation of the work suffers.

And it's not just large abstractions by any means. Walking through gallery after gallery of pre-20th century European painting, I'm entirely conscious of missing most of what's there. The Van Eyck above, which is maybe 5" x 6", is an astonishing work but easily passed by if you're not looking. And even if you find it, how long can you stay and give it the viewing it deserves? On occasion, I've gone the the Metropolitan, marched directly to one painting (the Velazquez "Juan de Pereja" or the Vermeer "Girl with a Pitcher", usually), looked at it for over an hour, then left. It's the only way you can come close to doing the pieces justice, imho.

I was spoiled early on when I attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1974-75. One of the courses I took involved the purely technical aspects of classic painting--the preparation of the canvas, making rabbit skin glue, making your own gesso, glazing, etc. As the main project of the course, we were allowed to select a painting from the stacks, take it to a studio atop the museum and do a copy. I chose a Tintoretto study for his well-known Last Supper. It's a work that, were it hung in a room with other Late Renaissance or Mannerist paintings, would probably not attract much attention. But having the opportunity to sit with the thing for a couple of months, for ten or so hours a week, you inevitably come to realize how incredible this "minor" work really is, how gorgeously painted (and I'm not even a huge fan of Tintoretto!), how masterfully the paint is worked, etc. The experience had a huge effect on me and my appreciation for how truly amazing many "minor" artworks actually are.

I'm sure the same would occur with virtually any randomly selected piece. Some obscure Dutch landscape by a follower of Ruysdael, a Sebastiano del Piombo, a tiny portrait by Corneille de Lyon, a sketch of a French soldier by Edouard Detaille--all things that would likely be passed over on your way to the "masterpieces", all deserving of far greater attention. There was a small Rubens portrait tucked away in a corner in Philadelphia, a sketch that probably took an hour or two--incisive and perfectly rendered; I'm lucky to have noticed it.

Like I said, on occasion I exercise the single-view option at the Met because I can go there fairly often; I used to do it at the Boston Museum as well when I had unlimited free access. But it's, practically speaking, impossible to do on a regular basis and that's too bad, because the paintings deserve better.

Monday, October 29, 2007

*sigh* Sometimes I think I'm never going to get back to playing my old vinyl...

new stuff:

Haptic - Correction (Entr'acte)
hamaYoko - 4/29 (Entr'acte)
Marc Behrens - Architectural Commentaries (Entr'acte)
Christopher McFall - Four Feels for Fire (Entr'acte)
Moljebka Pvlse - Seventeen Migs of Spring (Topheth Prophet)
Tatsuya Nakatani - Primal Communication (H&H)


I rave a bit about the good things I see in places like DIA:Beacon, but here are some I can't quite get my eyes around there:

Blinky Palermo - Just don't see it. Flat, semiphore-like panels of no depth or spatial interest. Like this:

Walter De Maria - Two enormous rooms (maybe 50 x 250') each with six pairs of silver shapes (square and circle, oriented one way in room A, one in room B). I'd rather view them outside in a field or lawn.

The Warhol room. 72, I think, reproductions in varied tones. Just not interesting in any manner I could conceive.

The Nauman neons, eh. Never a Louise Bourgeois fan, still not. The Smithsons and Judd boxes would also be better served in an other-than-museum environment. That Chamberlain "curtain"....nope (though several others of his are great).

Minor carps because there's so much fantastic work there, but don't always want to be so rosy....

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Wonderful and exhausting week thus far. Picked up Keith around midnight Sunday, spent a fair bit of the next two days going over various bits for the book.

Tuesday evening, we ventured out to the interim space for Issue Project Room, on the third floor of an ex-industrial building not far away from the previous site along the Gowanus Canal. It's a very nice space, a longish rectangular room with high ceilings from which hang their 16-speaker system. They're planning to move to a permanent site this spring; sounds potentially great, we'll see. Picked up Julien Ottavi after a comedy of errors involving Brooklyn street numbers and all was set.

Julien led off with a solo performance, much more tonally centered than anything I'd heard from him before, almost in dark-ambient territory. It's not my favorite area, but he handled it forcefully and you were pulled into the vortex without much trouble. Keith followed, creating one of those sets where things begin in a very hesitant, fragmented manner but before you know it, there's a coalesced, solid form, kind of a musical sleight-of-hand. The duo was a bit strange, Julien remaining in the same area, maybe even more "dominant", leaving Keith very little room in which to move. Again, Julien's music itself was pretty impressive, all roaring wave patterns, but the collaborative nature of the experience suffered somewhat. You could look at it as setting Keith with some challenges that were simply difficult to overcome with just resorting to competitive volume which he's not likely to do. Interesting nonetheless.

Wednesday, Jon treated us to an amazing lunch at the legendary Di Fama's pizza. It's a hole in the wall but has become quite the attraction featuring a de rigeur hour-long pie wait, which we experienced. Still, Keith and I were fascinated watching the owner at work (he and he alone makes the pies), treating each one as an individual creation, carefully pouring on a bit of olive oil, holding a handful of fresh basil and scissoring pieces onto the surface, giving the pie a last second once-over to determine whether or not it's good enough to go then, almost reluctantly, turning it over to the customer.

At IPS, Keith and Julien turned in a unique event of their own, performing Treatise while embedding within it several other graphic score renditions including Wolff's "Stones", Earle Brown's "Four Systems", Cage's "Variations II", a portion of Cardew's "The Great Learning" and a couple of Rowe's own. It was an extraordinary event, very different from a "standard" Rowe show (whatever that might be), episodic in a sense but never drifting, always changing approaches in a manner that was both natural and intriguing. You couldn't always, by any means, determine which piece was being performed when (unless you noticed stones being utilized, for instance), though prior to the onset, Rowe announced that people were entirely free to move about during the show, including to come up, examine the score and even ask questions. No one took him up on the latter, I don't think, but the general casualness helped the lengthy set a good deal as did the interplay between the musicians, talking over what to do next, how to handle it etc. in a refreshingly transparent way. A beautiful sequence, something I hope they do more often.

Keith and I went up to Dia:Beacon on Thursday, my second such visit, his first. Still a great, overwhelming place. If I have a general quibble, it's just that if given a choice, there are many works I'd rather experience by themselves, not in a grouped context. For example, there was a wonderful selection of 20 or so late Agnes Martin's, almost any one of which I'd happily sit with for several hours (at least!). Seen together, it's almost to much to grasp and process. But short of me coming to own or borrow one, not the most likely possibility, that's the way it is. Highlights included the Serra's (there should be music events scheduled for inside those things!), a large Bruce Nauman video installation in the basement and those daunting Fred Sandback yarn sculptures, among others.

Not having quite gotten my fill of long drives and museums, Keith, Jon and I headed down to Philly yesterday, through the rain, for a lengthy trek through the Museum of Art, again my (and all of our) first time. Impressive! Especially the modern section. Awesome Twombley room, a huge room with Kiefer, Richter and Polke, another incredibly strong room with a Rothko, two Newman's, a Kline and a Motherwell, all those Duchamp's. Well worth it. Also some great Eakins', an Ingres I didn't realize was there and numerous other, older beauties. Then over to the performance site, a historic house once occupied by Philip Syng Physick, a pioneering 18th century surgeon and, purportedly, the inventor of the carbonation process that led to soda. Nice old, creaky place.

Rowe was preceded by a duo of percussion and electronics. I forget the names but the less remembered, the better. Oy. He then proceeded to deliver a mighty, no-holds-barred performance, the likes of which I haven't heard from him for several years, at least since the Fennesz show at Tonic. Surging constantly, just billowing forth, very elemental and only just remaining under control, though ending in very, very delicate fashion with an attenuated soft drone. A great evening.

Out for drinks and food with the excellent Philly crew. Thanks for everything, Tim, Jesse, Dustin, Matt & MAP!

Home at 3:30 AM, again driving through a steady rain. Slept 'til 10:30....Too many new discs to listen to, including four from Ottavi and five involving Matt Mitchel and/or friends...

A fun week!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

That mini-dust up at Bags following my review of the Propagations disc (Potlatch) is still simmering. I seem to rub Damon the wrong way, what with the "agenda" I'm pushing. I think at least some of his antagonism stems from my disinterest in what I've heard out of the Bay Area scene, actually for quite some time. Of course, I've only heard a smattering of releases over the years, but nothing's really grabbed me.

I was thinking how far back this extends and it's been some time. I was pretty much into Henry Kaiser in the mid-80s for several years; I still enjoy his cover band, actually, as well as a few projects like the duos with Frith, the Wireforks disc with Bailey (opinions seem wildly divided on that one), a couple of others. Never really cared for his pure improv, but I'd lost interest generally by the mid 90s. When I saw him at Roulette some time ago, didn't care for his work at all (though I thought Greg Goodman was fine).

I remember being excited about Peter Apfelbaum's initial large band disc; bad anticipation, there.

Every so often, I'd come across something else from that scene, things involving ROVA (some of whose albums I'd liked), Gino Robair, Vinny Golia or others and nothing ever really clicked. I think I reviewed a disc of Damon's for Bags a few years back and was middling. Gino has sent me a few items over the last couple of years and again, I couldn't hear much. While it's impossible, of course, to generalize based on a small sampling, with limited time and resources, one necessarily chooses where to invest one's attention. Unfair? Could be, but what are you going to do? Hell, there aren't many NYC based musicians I'd go out of my way to hear (Sean Meehan, maybe one or two others); it's not like the scene is incredibly vital around here either.

So Damon has at me every so often, which is fine. Then Walt chimes in, dragging in all manner of nonsense from left field, as has all too often been the case recently, getting snide and personal. I'm still trying to figure out who the Euro-nihilist with the accent I'm apparently trying to impress is. Alex? He's an American, fer krissake.

These reactions are just strange to me, so much not my way of coming at things. If I read a review of something I care about with which I disagree, I'd comment accordingly, stating my areas of disagreement and that's about it. By the same token, I have a tough time taking seriously people who get personal, so it pretty much slides off my back. (Aside from posting about it here, of course).

I did get a chuckle out of Damon going on about my "important writing". Yikes. I hope it's informative and gives potential listeners something to grasp onto but please....


Japanese Death Poems (thanks for the pointer, Jesse!)
Mark Rothko - Writings on Art

About to Watch:

The Battle of Algiers

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Moderation in all things.

Gets tricky when you do it on a website, though.

A little history, first. Bagatellen was begun several years back (2002?) by Al Jones, Derek Taylor, Nat Catchpole, Jason Bivins and myself. There was a perceived need for a site to review and otherwise talk about music (generally speaking, eai) that didn't have a decent devoted site. Talking about it at places like Jazz Corner engendered a certain amount of opposition so, in lieu of fighting about that, we set up Bags.

It seems to have worked reasonably well over the years. Nat disappeared (anyone know his story these days? Last I remember seeing anything was a photo of his baby), Al is patrolling undersea climes around the world (Hi, Al!), Jason pops in now and again but, I think, pretty much confines his music writing to Dusted. Derek and I make up the bulk of the reviews these days, with additional excellent contributions by Marc Medwin, Phil Freeman, Clifford (what is his last name, anyway?), maybe others I'm forgetting.

It's an open forum and anyone who wants to can pretty much write there. Aside from (usually) Clifford, we all leave open the Comments option on the reviews and there's occasionally much interesting back and forth, though much inevitable bickering as well. It's stalled somewhat in recent months, probably at least in part due to the infighting which, understandably, turns many off. Derek, who really manages the site, has pulled in the reins a time or two, stopping some needless nastiness. I'd never done so (actually, didn't know if I could!) until yesterday.

Briefly, I'd written a review of Lucio Capece's "bb". There ensued some decent commentary, including a post by our own Richard in which he made a typo (it's all your fault, Richard!). I followed with a (purportedly) humorous aside, referencing his typo as a possible alternative term for eai, referring to a recent, since closed, thread at IHM that had degenerated into personal attacks. Walt and someone else (using a nom de web, still a pet peeve of mine; wish people would grow up about giving their real names) began listing a series of their own concoctions in this regard.

Had I felt this was done in a good-natured way, while I still might have preferred the comments referred back to the Capece, it wouldn't have been a problem. But there was a snideness about them that aggravated me. Kind of, "The hell with the music under discussion, let's piss on this thread." I found it embarrassing, basically, and felt bad, in this case for Capece and his label but it would apply to anyone who sends out their work hoping for a serious listen and evaluation, only to encounter this level of childishness.

So I wrote Derek and said I wouldn't mind seeing those comments deleted. That's when I found out I could do so myself and...I did.

Well, there's been a little dust-up since then. Though it's a judgment call and I can see the other side's point, I'm comfortable with my move and think it'll work toward strengthening Bags in the long run, even if only slightly. There's a fine line between humorous asides and asinine jabs and people will obviously differ on where that line is, but if nothing else, I think the artists and labels involved are due a measure of common courtesy. Not deference, just basic courtesy. If there's a thread devoted to (would be) humorous names for eai, great, go for it. But to needlessly shit on a discussion of someone's seriously intended work, nuh-uh, take it elsewhere. At least with regard to my write-ups; others can make their own rules.

Of course, I'm probably just inviting further instances of the same, but so it goes; some people have nothing better to do.

btw, no moderation here, aside from the excision of penis spam and such (when seen, which is probably more seldom than its occurrence).

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I received five pretty interesting things from Hibari and Skiti the other day.

Noid - "you're not here"
Toshiya Tsunoda - Low Frequency Observed at Maguchi Bay
Taku Unami - Sound Track
Taku Unami - Malignitat
Taku Sugimoto - Doremilogy

With the exception of the Unami soundtrack, they all pretty much fall into what might be called the conceptual end of eai. Noid's is largely room atmospherics, Tsunoda alternates four field recordings with highly filtered (virtually silent) versions of the same pieces, Unami (on the wonderfully titled "Malignitat") crudely juxtaposes three (I think) sound sources, over and over and Sugimoto, after a lengthy piece which I think is a single amp hum (or its equivalent) offers to pieces for three guitars where, as the title would indicate, simple C-major scales are played.

Only one listen, but I had favorable impressions of all by "Malignitat". The subject of this sort of enterprise has been broached at IHM a bit (looked upon unfavorably by many) and I know Jon has some issues with the general direction. Ultimately, dunno, but at least a large part of me is pleased that these kind of directions are being explored. More later on after further hearing.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Party like it's 1966.

A thematic Record Club last evening. At the previous get together, we decided to do a club where all music selected had to be from a certain year. We chose 1960-1990 as the period from which to draw and Dan went and randomly chose a number from that range on Excel. Well, we think it was random given his love of music from right around 1966....

For myself, something from one particular album was an obvious choice: AMMMusic. On the CD version, there's a 5 1/2 minute cut, so it seemed eminently reasonable. My only qualm was, as good as that particular section is, replete with some raucous Keith and a great radio capture of a Pakistani (?) singer, it does read as an excerpt, which of course it is. The following track, "In the Realm of Nothing Whatsoever", is some 13 minutes in length but has far greater breadth and stands alone very nicely. As it turned out, there were only five attendees (Chris Cochrane recovering from an illness--get well, Chris!) so I went with the longer cut to lead off the evening.

It's difficult stuff, to be sure, but I think it went over well. In any case, Nayland, spinning next, successfully defined the nether pole of 1966, the AMM antipode, by playing Mike Douglas' "The Men in My Little Girl's Life", one of the most horrifically, creepily, treacly things I've ever heard. Dan followed with an odd, giddily enjoyable track derived from a BBC production company (I forget the details, but they did electronic music for use in soundtracks) featuring Anthony Newley warbling over magnetic tape bleeps, something like a Morton Subotnik pop song; very strange [Edit] This was a piece written by Delia Derbyshire, out of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Richard or Al, are you familiar with this stuff?].

Julia played a charming, very early Cat Stevens song, "I Love My Dog" (really! very nice!) while Nina closed out Round One with a fascinating brief track from a Sound Effects compilation. When it started, it sounded like a variation on Xenakis' "Bohor" but ended up being an "Alien Landscape" sequence used for Star Trek.

I'm blanking on Dan's selection for Round Two (fill me in, Dan!)[Edit: but of course, how could I have forgotten Sinatra singing "Summer Wind"?!?]. Nina fudged the rules a bit (punishment to be determined) and played a track from the "Love" compilation which, I guess (it's Greek to me) is a project with Cirque du Soleil that reconfigures and combines Beatles songs, in this case "Within You, Without You" (one of my fave Beatles pieces, btw) and "Tomorrow Never Knows". The sitars from that segued nicely into Julia's pick, a Ravi Shankar soundtrack piece, the end credits, from "Alice in Wonderland". Nayland obliterated the burgeoning spiritual mood by spinning a track from the legendary "Mrs. Miller". Those of you who don't recall this creature are arguably better off. She was a dowdy, aging housewife who performed cover versions of contemporary pop hits and did so in ghastly, execrable fashion. A novelty act, as it were. One can only shake one's head. I restored a modicum of sanity to the proceedings by ending the evening with the last track from Cecil Taylor's "Unit Structures", a beautiful, episodic trio piece with Cyrille and Grimes.

Should make for a really interesting disc. I bet you could play it for someone unaware and the last thing they'd think was that all the music was recorded in the same year.


Kobo Abe - Kangaroo Notebook
John Berger - The Sense of Sight


Rhodri Davies - over shadow (Confront)
Martin Kuchen - Homo Sacer (Sillon)
Asher - Untitled Composition (for b) - Leerraum
Justin Hardison (My Fun) - Sonorine (The Land Of)
Thanos Chrysakis - Klage (Aural Terrains)
Stockhausen - Bass Clarinet & Piano (MDG)
Duane Pitre - Organized Pitches Occurring in Time (Important)

Friday, October 05, 2007

My review of Dörner's "sind" at Bags brought up the hoary question of whether solo improv recordings are on inherently shaky ground. The arguments generally fall into two categories: 1) that the lack of one or more collaborators tends to channel the music down a path toward hermeticism, self-involvement or, less charitably and quaintly Victorian-inspired, some kind of masturbatory exercise and 2) "music" gets sacrificed on the altar of technique, the recording turning into a "look what I can do" kind of affair.

I don't think either is necessarily the case (though of course both may indeed occur) and that the escape route is simply having something of deep musical value to express and staying as true as possible to its expression, regardless of the number of musicians its execution entails. To say that there's no such thing as an improvisation that could best be expressed in solo form seems silly. On the other hand, it may be true that as music edges into more abstract forms, pulling off a solo improv performance successfully may become a more and more tenuous undertaking. That's where having a solid idea in the first place comes in. I have no doubt that, all too often, someone thinks they should do a solo recording whether or not they happen to have an idea that lends itself to the format. That's when you tend to get the "catalog of techniques" approach, a very boring thing to hear no matter how imaginatively extended those techniques are. Although it's not so neat as that, I guess; I can imagine a given newly discovered technique opening the door to a hitherto unknown range of ideas.

But the general idea, something I hear often, that playing by yourself amounts to playing with yourself (again, as though that's an evil thing anyway, like it's 1860 in Puritan New England) seems misguided. I got to thinking about this again last evening, playing for the first time Rhodri Davies' new release on Confront (the title of which I'm blanking on at the moment). It's solo harp with e-bow and exists just fine on its own. There's no in-your-face technical prowess to be heard, no excessive arcaneness, just a delicate, ethereal series of overlapping hums.

To vastly different effect, the great Ferran Fages disc on Etude is all about emotional devastation, concerning private enough events that creating it in tandem with others would seem to be at least very uncomfortable if not unthinkable. I also have on hand solo saxophone discs from Lucio Capece (bb, a question of re_entry)and Martin Kuchen (Homo Sacer, Sillon) that, on first blush, strike me as successful gambits (maybe half and half with the Capece).

Anyway, rambling on a bit, just slightly rankled that solo improv efforts sometimes get dismissed out of hand, often unfairly, without giving the actual music an unbiased enough listen.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

(photo: Yuko Zama)

As I've mentioned before, I do try to write up the great majority of releases that are sent my way and feel more than a little guilty when I don't. In recent months, I've pulled back a bit with regard to things that are sent to me out of the blue from labels/individuals with whom I've had no prior connection (if the recording is otherwise uninteresting, that is). More a time thing, than anything else plus a certain amount of exasperation in trying to figure out what to possibly say when, more or less, it's more of the same old.

So I felt especially bad a few months ago about shelving Dorner's "sind". I've enjoyed at least portions of just about everything released on Absinth since its inception. As I said in the review at Bags, it wasn't just that I didn't like the release (I didn't) but more that it was opaque enough that I didn't feel I could say anything coherent about it aside from expressing a certain amount of boredom. I respect Dorner enough as a musician to suspect that he had something up his sleeve conceptually, but I was damned if I could figure it out.

So when Marcus mailed me the other day, checking to make sure I'd received the disc, I felt obliged to pull it out and give it a rehearing. I'm actually very glad I did since, although I'm still not fond of it in and of itself, it got me thinking about other things I don't care for from artists I admire that, somehow, seemed related in my head. Trying to figure out why this is so, both the antipathy and the relatedness, is interesting and worth pondering, not that I've figured it out yet. Of course, I could easily just relegate it to, "It's simply not a very good record". But more often than not, I think that likely shortchanges the artist involved. At the least, it's another indication of the general health of the genre, that it can still cause issues like this to arise, at least for myself (!)


It looks like I'll be attending the four Interpretations concerts being held at Roulette this fall. I've gone to a number of them in the past with middling results, sometimes very nice, sometimes overly academic for my taste. The first is tomorrow with the Ensemble l'Art pour l'Art (not the best group name I've ever heard) performing works by Eckart Beinke, Matthias Kaul, Michael Maierhof, Ernstalbrecht Stiebler and Annea Lockwood. We shall see.

Upcoming shows in the series include Roswell Rudd/Mark Dresser (10/25), Maria de Alvear/Gavin Bryars (performing early works by the latter, which might be pretty good) (11/8) and an 11/15 set celebrating 40 years of Mills COllege with pieces by Ashley, Maggi Payne, John Bischoff, James Fei, David Behrman, Chris Brown amd Pauline Oliveros.