Friday, November 30, 2007

I played a track from this album at Record Club last night. I think it may have been the first King World Music Library disc I ever picked up and, like virtually everything I've heard from that label, it's a wonderful one. In prep for last evening, I did a bit of searching on Kim Sinh and found that there are apparently a handful of other discs around (including one on Caprice from 2003) though they're not easy to come by. If anyone knows a handy source, please let me know.

He's a pretty amazing musician, here playing guitar in a style you'd swear was blues inflected but purportedly he grew up ignorant of non-Vietnamese music (he was born in 1933, I believe). Whatever the case, he plays and sings beautifully. I played the last track on the album, a duo with a female singer whose name escapes me. The basic song structure seems to me to be not atypical of southeast Asian pop (the piece was written in the late 50s) but the intertwining voices, in very Vietnamese mode, set against the quasi-blues guitar is a thrilling juxtaposition.

I need me more Kim Sinh!

Other selections I enjoyed last night: Nayland brought Ukulele Ike doing "Paper Moon" (!), Nina played a local fellow....I want to say David Skinner but I think that's wrong...doing some warped slide guitar work. That was just before my slot with Sinh, so the segue was excellent. And Derrick closed the evening with a lovely rendition of "How You Gonna Keep Him Down on the Farm After He's Seen Paree" by Andrew Bird from a 3-disc compilation of American songs that, as I understand it, was compiled at the suggestion of Janet Reno (!?!?!?!). Whatever, it worked.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

While in Philly for Keith's show last month, I had the pleasure of meeting Matt Mitchell for the second time. Matt released a very fine disc on Scrapple this past spring, the inscrutably titled, "vapor squint, antique chromatic". Oddly, he doesn't really resemble the photo above anymore, more like a combination of that and this one:

...but it's the best I could find.

Matt was kind enough to donate five more discs (a couple as yet unreleased) to the infinitely expanding Olewnick music library and brief comments appear below. Thanks, Matt! I've mentioned before, but the Philadelphia eai scene is one of the strongest in the US as best as I can determine and more people should give these fellows a shot.


Unreleased CDR
May 2003

Kaktus is a trio with Lars Halle (percussion), Aaron Meicht (trumpet) and Mitchell (piano, inside piano, objects). If this disc is representative (they have a few others I’ve not heard), the trio abides in quiet, delicate territory, fairly abstract but with occasional forays into dreamy jazz-tinged areas, usually courtesy Mitchell’s piano. Twelve rather brief cuts here, Meicht evoking “small sounds” on his horn, Halle something of a colorist, always soft and subtle, Mitchell often softer than that, sometimes sounding Tilbury-ish. They keep things on low simmer throughout, admirably and sensitively contributing only as little as necessary. Nice recording.

Propped Fulgurations
(not yet released)

“Flounder” (Mitchell & Brendan Dougherty on percussion) is quite different, much more in the tape collage category. Mitchell took recordings of the duo from 2001 and re-processed them in 2005, creating a rough, bumpy, hyper-real noise-scape. There’s a great variety of textures and densities, even of apparent “distances” between the listener and the sounds. Mitchell drags in detritus from every conceivable corner but the piece never feels weighted down or overstuffed. Brief repetitive episodes, loopy moog-like tones, needle-sharp crackles and clam hisses all gambol playfully in the general tumult. My interest never flagged a bit over its 20 minutes. Hopefully this sees proper release one of these days—look out for it.

Laughter only feigned reproach

Admittedly, the name of this trio made me revisit the above and think of it as, “One who flounds.” Dougherty, Meicht and Mitchell on hand here, in a June 2004 performance and damn if it’s not another good one. It kind of crept up on me, starting off a bit too tentative and haphazard but become very much more solid and engrossing almost before I realized it. Although it also covers a good deal of ground, the music tend toward soft industrial drones, the contributions of the three musicians often beginning disparately then subtly entwining into one complex sound. It loses a bit of steam toward the end of the single 48-minute piece, descending into a small jungle of flutes, percussion and calliope-like tones for longer than necessary, but still, a fine effort.

AB Duo
Everyone Is Happy

The last two in this bunch are sets with Dougherty and Meicht. This one is much more in the “traditional” (that is to say, post-AACM”) vein of improvisation. In fact, it might even be heard as something of an homage to Lester Bowie, so strongly is his sound evoked. Dougherty might not be so close to a looser Philip Wilson but isn’t so far away that the thought doesn’t cross your mind. The disc contains six studio tracks, about a half hour, and then a single set of the same length, live at ABC No Rio. The latter is a bit less derivative overall but still didn’t do so much for me.

AB Duo
…Too Much for a Pogie
(unreleased CDR)

This recording, created only a few months ago, is entirely different, marked largely by a wide use of electronics but also a large variation in approach, sounding like some bastard child of Bill Dixon and….I don’t know, Jon Hassell? “Sextant”-era Hancock? It seems that, for the most part, both percussion and trumpet are processed on their way to the disc and also, one gathers, chopped up and recomposed later on. There’s a dreamlike quality, but one of those rude, off-kilter dreams, the kind that bother you later the next day. It’s an engaging effort, only 30 minutes long (don’t know when/if it’s released, whether more will be added) and points in a more interesting direction than the earlier disc.

Monday, November 19, 2007

While he was here last month, I picked up four discs from Julien Ottavi: the most recent three issues on fibrr and one from noiser.

The latter is a very obscure little item called “The Noiser – Noise Serie #2”. If you go to, there’s nothing I can see about it. I think Julien said something about it being a compilation culled from the streams of sound that used to be (are still?) found at apo33, generated from a mic hung from a window in Nantes, the recorded sounds subtly processed. When I had my own office, I used to play that for hours on end, resulting in fine bemusement on the part of droppers-in. This disc contains four tracks. The first is a steady state, low rumble for about 20 minutes; rather nice. Track two is quite different, an off and on series of cracking static bursts, eventually increasing in volume and accompanied by (possibly) the enhanced roars of passing trucks. Static takes up most of the remaining time, growing somewhat sparser as the disc progresses. It’s OK, though I missed the hum of the opener.

007 – Grand Orchestre d’Ordinateurs – GOO. Apparently an assemblage of computerists (though no personnel is given) and the result of a performance in November 2002, though details are murky. Exchanged sound files figure into the mix, though the ambience of the room is also heard. It begins overly bloopy for my taste and returns to that area too often. In between there are some nice, full passages, though the fuzziness of the recording makes one sure that being in the hall would have been an entirely more rewarding experience. Has it’s moments, but not a must.

008 – Formanex – Pic-Nic. A 2002 collaboration with Jérôme Joy who, I gather, co-wrote an interactive computer program which gathered in and processed sounds created by the members of Formanex, and so on, back and forth. I found it pretty dull, the sounds themselves tending too much to fall into that bloopy electronic area redolent of primitive synth and tape sounds (not in a good way) and their deployment, bland.

009 – Le Poulpe. I have little to no idea of the sources of this disc. I know Julien’s involved though I don’t know if others are as well. It comes with a 44-page mini-magazine which probably explains a lot but it’s in French and I haven’t had the time or patience to sit down and translate it (Perhaps one of my thousands of French readers could help out!). All I know is that the mag contains many circuitry diagrams as well as illustrations of a synaptic nature. It appears to be largely, maybe totally, made up of processed field recordings but whatever the case, it’s excellent. Hard to describe why, just that the way the sounds are laid out, the accents and relative prominence given to different elements just feels as though guided by a confidant and imaginative hand. Really, one of the better things I’ve heard this year.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

(a sigh of relief is heard from those uncomfortable with Beckman's stare...)

There aren't nearly enough good new photos of Sachiko on the Web, btw. Some nice ones that we've all seen dozens of times, but...

Her new disc on hitorri is here, Salon de Sachiko. Very different from, for example, Bar Sachiko (what is it with these titles?) in that the hour-long piece is made up entirely of small, isolated crackles. I found myself thinking of it, not pejoratively, as "fly speck music". The utter lack of dronage makes it (at least for me) very difficult to comprehend as a whole--actually something like "sight" now that I think about it. But intriguing and challenging on first listen.

Also received four Balloon and Needle releases:

Hong Chulki - with cartridge/without cartridge (a double 3" set)
Hong Chulki/Choi Joonyong - hum & rattle
Choi Joonyong - CDPS 01/02
Choi Joonyong - White Disc Ver.2

Lotta severe noise and stylus abuse here. On first blush, I enjoy the rare quieter parts (including most of the last one listed and the without cartridge disc of Hong's) more than the assaultive portions.

Friday, November 16, 2007

I noticed in the NYT this morning that William Beckman currently has a show at the Forum Gallery. I forget if I've mentioned him here before, but he was a very important painter for me in my college years and beyond. I still follow his work when possible, even as a good deal of it has become problematic for me.

Though it didn't make a huge impression on me at the time, I actually first saw a painting of his as part of a group show of "New Realists" at the Huntington Hartford Gallery, in that strange building on Columbus Circle, around 1973. It was an odd, quasi-surreal piece, a depiction of himself, his wife and child aboard the Staten Island Ferry, Beckman in the process of removing his clothes.

But my first real exposure was an exhibition at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in the fall of 1974. (I don't quite remember if they ran concurrently, but interestingly enough, the other show there that knocked me out was one with Rauschenberg's splayed cardboard boxes--two rather different approaches to art)

There were two full length portraits of his wife, Diana, one clothed, one nude and two self-portraits, just the head, about life-sized. While the pure technique was stunning (he's often likened to Dürer), I was even more drawn to the psychology of the portraits. No angst, just a calm, extremely penetrating gaze, one that was rather confrontational actually, challenging one to meet it on equal terms. Both with the self-portraits and even more with the ones of his wife. No artifice, no romanticizing; in the nude she stands arms crossed at her chest, almost daring you to deal with her.

Anyway, I became a fan. When I moved to NYC, I found that he was showing at the Allan Stone Gallery and went frequently. There were some great paintings in the late 70s (which I can't locate images of on-line): a full-length self-portrait in jeans with a marvelously illuminated interior and an amazing double-nude, nearly full length of himself and his wife. He had a hand protectively wrapped around hers, staring somewhat aggressively out of the picture while she looked as though the last thing she needed was protection.

As you can see, his subject matter was intentionally limited, though he began to do landscapes, both from his native Minnesota as well as the workaday semi-rural countryside where he lived in Millbrook, NY. The grounds depicted were always worked, often farmed. The skies tended to be huge. They also, imho, showed a perhaps surprising affinity to color field painters, something I think Beckman acknowledged at one point. Here's a recent one.

His relationship, such as it is, to abstract painting is obviously tenuous. He's pretty much a cranky old-style realist, but he is quite an aware one and things creep in. His flat backgrounds, in the portraits, tend to be extremely vibrant, often creating great tension with the hyper-real faces. otoh, he plays with this, doing (for example) a series of enormous paintings of cows crossing country roads. Cows. Moving, black and white abstract images. It takes (for me) a great deal of effort to look past the damn cows, something I imagine Beckman would rather I not do.

Anyway. In recent years, maybe the last 15 or so, some of his work has become disturbingly slick, usually when it involves portraits of friends and others. Often takes on something of a cartoonish quality. Here, for example:

I can't even attempt to justify that. These have cropped up often enough that the last time I went to an exhibition of his, I left quite disappointed. The intensity he achieves in his best work is a fine enough balance as is, something many people are going to pass over either oohing and aahing over his technique or derisive of the same. That last, I'm guessing, is a common enough reaction from contemporary art enthusiasts which, imho, is too bad. There's always more than enough room for those who stubbornly go their own way, fixated on their own ideas. His self-portraits have spanned four decades or so now and have generally been unflinching (though occasionally odd as well, like the one in the motorcycle suit). Hair recedes, creases multiply, eyeglasses arrive, age spots bloom, but that gaze remains.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Unless pushed, I've pretty much given up reviewing Erstwhile releases for Bagatellen (or elsewhere) simply because conflict of interest accusations get too bothersome to deal with. But, on my own blog, what the hell and I haveta say, the Pita/Schmickler disc is really good.

This corner of eai, the dense, noisy, in-your-face one, isn't my favorite. I often find too much surface sheen and too little meat and I wasn't anticipating overly enjoying this release. But even though there's a good bit of out and out raucousness, the duo reins things in enough to sell it to me; I think all four sections are exciting, solid and repay repeated listening. I haven't noticed much talk about this one and there should be some. Check it out.

I believe Schmickler's playing in NYC in December, very much worth going to see.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Just a note on recent arrivals:

Mattin/Taku Unami - Attention (hibari-w.m.o/r) hoo-boy.....
Abjector (Tim Goldie) - [sic] (hibari - w.m.o/r) er.....
Robin Hayward/Annete Krebs - sgraffito
Fessenden - v1.1 (other electricities)
Eric Carlsson/David Lacey/Paul Vogel/Martin Kuchen - Chipshop (Homefront)

Ordered the Tashi recording of Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time.

Began reading Cao Xueqin's "The Story of the Stone", volume 1 of the classic Chinese novel, written around 1760.

Purchased Vol. 3 of Proust, "The Guermantes Way". A multi-year project, making my way through. Always meant to but then a few years ago was seriously prodded by my wonderful cousin Jana, so....Hey, Jana!

Friday, November 09, 2007

I finished reading Morton Feldman's "Give My Regards to 8th St." this afternoon which, shockingly, I'd never gotten around to before (thanks for the book, Jon!). Of course, I'd read numerous excerpts and stories from it over the years. My favorite had always been the following:

I was having a conversation with my teacher, I wasn't studying at the time. His name was, a fabulous guy by the name of Stefan Wolpe. And Stefan came out of a 1920 Weimar Republic. He was Marxist and he had a studio on at that time, more so now, one of the more proletariat streets in New York. It was on 14th Street and 6th Avenue. And I brought him a new piece. I wasn't studying with him but I was still seeing him, bringing him my music. I brought him a new piece and he says, "Morton" he says, "it's so esoteric, you're so esoteric. Isn't there such a thing as the man in the street?" He was on the second floor. And we're looking down and who's walking across 14th Street and 6th Avenue - Jackson Pollock.

I didn't know for sure that this story was in the book at hand (the above quote is actually the same story from another lecture, I think) but figured it was. It's toward the end of the book and I arrived at it while waiting for Linda to meet her for a movie and dinner as I was leaning against the side of a building at 14th St. and 6th Ave.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I'm going to see a performance of several Gavin Bryars pieces on Thursday at Roulette as part of the annual Interpretations series. It will only be the second time I've seen his music performed live.

I can clearly remember the first time I ever heard a piece of his, around 1980. I was sitting in our car (a yellow, 1979 Corolla) on 5th Ave and 98th St., waiting to pick up Linda from work. It was late afternoon and I was listening to WKCR's afternoon music program, hosted at the time by Gregory Sandow who was then also the contemporary classical critic for the Village Voice. He said, "All the time, my skeptical friends ask me, 'What modern piece compares with Beethoven?' and I usually play them this." Whereupon he proceeded to spin Bryars' "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet." I was entranced. Here was something that was essentially a process piece yet conveyed a huge emotional impact (and on the most anti-religious of listeners, no less). I picked it up at the Soho Music Gallery and recall having a little discussion there about Bryars and others with Zorn, who was an employee at the time. I think that's the only time I've ever spoken to him.

I was pretty well smitten with the LP, the Obscure release that paired "Jesus' Blood" with "The Sinking of the Titanic". There wasn't much other Bryars around in those days, though I snagged the other Obscure album, the one with his lovely "1,2, 1-2-3-4", which record was also my initial exposure to Christopher Hobbs. Fairly soon thereafter, I found what's still a small favorite, his "Hommages" issued by Les Disques du Crepuscule, four gorgeous works for piano, vibraphone (celesta?) and percussion--not sure if it's currently available on disc.

Around 1982, I went up to City College to attend an open rehearsal of his opera, "Medea", staged by Robert Wilson. The score was only performed on piano (with singers), but it was quite beautiful. Ah--just checked and here's Bryars on that very show:

Acts 1 and 2, plus Act 4 scene C (written in New York) and Act 5 scene C (the ending) were performed, with two piano accompaniment at the end of February 1982 following rehearsals at City College, New York with a mixture of students, semi-professional singers and singers, notably Wilhelmina Fernandez, who was originally cast as Medea.

I get the idea that a recording has never been issued?

Well, as we all know, soon thereafter Bryars signed with ECM and a slow downward spiral commenced. Things began well enough with "Three Viennese Dancers" and, at the time, I enjoyed a few of the subsequent works though I think I'd have trouble with them today. I doggedly stuck with him for a while (the lousy Point remakes of the two Obscure classics severely testing me, that utterly needless Tom Waits appearance.) There was one highlight: a brilliant version of "Titanic" on Les Disques du Crepuscule from 1990, a rendition I think is even better than the original. [Wow! just checking again, I discover that the "Hommages" album is due out on disc next week! Also, the LP had no personnel info and here I find out that John White and Dave Smith were among the players! Here's the promo:

Newly remastered CD edition of the lost yet influential album by acclaimed modern British composer Gavin Bryars. Originally released in November 1981 on Les Disques du Crepuscule, Hommages was recorded in Leicester in February 1981 and produced by noted Belgian composer Wim Mertens. The album was conceived as a series of diverse homages to other composers, which include Bill Evans (My First Homage), Ferruccio Busoni and Gustav Holst (The English Mail-Coach and The Vespertine Park) and Percy Grainger (Hi-Tremolo).

Featured musicians included Andrew Bilham, Ronald Reah, Andrew Renshaw, Nigel Shipway, Dave Smith, John White and Marie Wilson, as well as Gavin Bryars himself on piano and vibraphone. The album is the only one which documents the important period between Bryars' early experimental music and later works from Medea onwards, as well as his enthusiasm for small composer/performer ensembles.

This new 63 minute digital remaster of Hommages includes two bonus tracks composed and recorded by Bryars during the same period: Danse Dieppoise, and the lengthy piano piece Out Of Zaleski's Gazebo. The booklet features extensive notes by Gavin Bryars on the origin and performance of all six pieces, and preserves the original album cover artwork by Marc Borgers.

Anyway, I think I finally gave up after "A Man in a Room Gambling". Not that it was so bad--it wasn't--but his work had begun to pall. (I did like the Joseph Holbrooke disc from around '98, though).

What's being performed on Thursday, however, are four early works including the aforementioned "1,2 1-2-3-4" as well as "Pre-Medieval Metrics" (1970), "Made in Hong Kong" (1970) and "The Squirrel and the Rickety Rackety Bridge" (1971), all of which are being issued by Mode Records on a disc called "The Marvelous Aphorisms of Gavin Bryars". Actually, I'm not sure if all of those are scheduled...

We shall see, but I'm looking forward to it.

Also on the bill is a solo piano work by Maria de Alvear, a Spanish composer with whom I'm unfamiliar. I'm kind of guessing the sound will be something like a minimalist-influenced Rzewski, but I could be totally wrong.