Sunday, June 08, 2008


Rhodri Davies/David Lacey/Dennis McNulty - Poor Trade (Cathnor)

Sometimes, there's a divide between sheer beauty of sound and underlying structure and in large part, this release demonstrates that. While not drones per se, the three pieces are each continuous soundscapes generated by harp, percussion and electronics and the colors heard are quite lovely and fascinating. But, perhaps akin to some of the music issued on Four4Ears recently, I don't hear too much in the way of backbone and the sounds aren't "airy" enough not to require it. There's often a pulse and, while at first blush I found that attractive, over the course of (especially) the longest track, it began to wear on me, somehow seeming to have little purpose aside from an unnecessary handrail. This is all very vague, I realize, but I'm trying to describe the swings I had back and forth between enjoyably bathing in the sonics and being frustrated at my inability to find solid conceptual ground. The two shorter (11-12 minute) tracks work better, managing to at least imply some kind of membrane beneath the hums. Not bad by any means but frustrating. It reinforces that, for myself, deep structure is what makes a music memorable, less so attractive sounds. But perhaps I'm missing something....Cathnor


David Lacey/Paul Vogel - The British Isles (homefront)

Coincidentally, on the same day as I received the above, this modestly titled disc also appeared in the mailbox, and it's a beaut. Due to Lacey showing up on both as well as their temporal proximity re: my ears, it's tough not to (unfairly) compare them. It's too simple to differentiate in terms of structure by saying that one's a non-stop stream while the other is segmented in various ways, thus the placement of sounds becomes inherently part of the structure, but....there's something to that. The balance achieved between types of sound (timbre, dynamics, texture, atmospherics) and how they're placed is very convincing, forming a very solid skeleton, though not an obvious one. Rhythms occur, but they don't push and they're rough around the edges. One of the better releases I've heard this year.

If homefront has a page (or if there's an image around for this one) I can't find it but they're available from erstdist

[Hey, here comes a cover image right now....]




Salvatore Dellaria/Adam Sonderberg - Untitled -> Ongoing

Something of an outlier. Dellaria and Sonderberg, both members of the very fine Dropp Ensemble, have put together fifteen "studies" culled from weekly get-togethers spanning 2007 & 2008. Essentially, these are bits of raw material from which they may or may not create "finished" compositions in the future. The styles thus spanned are vast, from the furious poundings of "Pulse" or "Drums" to field recordings to hums to crackles, etc.; brutally raw ("No-input mixing desk") to romantically delicate ("Piano"). It poses as nothing more than a sketchbook and, approached as such, it's a helluva lot of fun; not a weak drawing in the bunch. Best, you can hear for yourselves here

22 comments:

Robert said...

"It reinforces that, for myself, deep structure is what makes a music memorable, less so attractive sounds."

I completely concur with this Brian, this has been a reoccurring thought for me all the time. It holds true of course for things with more "grit" as well of course. Unattractive sounds not being a necessary or sufficient condition either. The juxtaposition of the two though can be part of that deep structure.

Brian Olewnick said...

Plus, one guy's structure might be another's cool sounds. Hard to quantify, as always, except on something approaching a poetic level. One has a firmness for the listener, one doesn't. But then, one might not desire firmness. Gas has structure too, though.

In this context, it's interesting to me why certain drone-based pieces seem to have strong structure while other don't. Probably why an Ad Reinhardt "black" painting does and any number of imitations don't.

Jon said...

yeah, The British Isles is quite good, although I'm torn between wanting to cut it down to an ultrafocused 20 minutes/3 inch release and thinking that the range is what makes it what it is and just keeping the more focused material wouldn't have as much of an impact. anyway, yeah, one of the very few quality EAI recordings so far this year.

I haven't heard Poor Trade yet, still waiting on those to show up...

Jesse said...

With all respect, Brian, your referencing the absence of something as mystifying sounding as "deep structure" is mystifying. Which you do own is vague (or "poetic", "intuitive"). Even more amusing, then, that Robert concurs! Apparently, an agreement struck at the felt absence of something impossible to define!

I am, as my listening life progresses, less and less inclined to say much about this music. I do appreciate, having attempted to write about this music, the strain it places on the reviewer.

Brian Olewnick said...

Guilty as charged. The term "poetic" pops into my head fairly often when dealing with these issues--not that I'm even particularly well-versed in poetry--I'm not, by any means--just in the sense, say, of a "good" (well-structured, poetic) poem and a bad one, there will be a kind of tensile strength between the elements where the effect of the words (their sound, even their visual appearance) and their connotations will blend to a degree that's impossible (for me) to parse apart but which at the same time seems clear in the sense of impact or resonance. Not necessarily clear to others, of course.

I probably couldn't be more vague!

But as I've said before, it's interesting that, say, at a live performance of some especially abstract music, more often than not there will be general agreement among "experienced" listeners as to its goodness or not. Gotta be a reason for that, even if it's only that certain sound combinations trigger certain responses in certain like-minded individuals.

Jon said...

yeah, it's hard to quantify, but I think often quite clear. it's a question of an overall logic making the individual sounds add up to something decidedly larger than their individual beauty. following along these lines, one could maybe group EAI records (or live sets) into six categories, with some examples of recent Toshi records by category from my perspective:

incoherent and not a style I'm interested in (Toshi/Bussmann)

coherent, but not a style I'm interested in (Toshi/Guionnet)

a style I'm interested in and poorly achieved (Toshi/Axel)

a style I'm interested in, successful in what it's going for, but only meriting a listen or two, an easily processed project (Toshi/Lucio)

a style I'm interested in, with depths, structures and nuances that continue to reveal themselves over multiple listens (Toshi/English)

as a producer, the more I can release in this last category, the better I'm doing my job. I figure if I get half of them there, I'm doing very well.

does that help, Jesse?

Brian Olewnick said...

Poor Toshi! :-)

Jon said...

ah, that only ended up being five categories, I was editing on the fly, sorry.

Robert said...

Well I have to say that for me there is no mysticism or impossibilities in my understanding of this music. I have pretty much no interest in what people think are undefinables. I concur with Brian on the deep structure which is something I've thought a lot about and could go on about in rigorous terms. That fact that I didn't in a comment to someone else's blog post should not be used as evidence of its absence. All music is structure and there are plenty who are better at it then others. This is why we still listen to Bach and not the forgotten baroque composers of his day.

I also agree with Jon's assessments above and also with his cited examples. Speaking for myself, I don't entirely blame Toshi - I think that most of those collaborations were poorly conceived. You could blame him perhaps for agreeing to do them or to release them but there are a lot of politics surrounding these sort of things. It may be worth while to put out something you aren't satisfied then to engender a reputation as difficult or whatever.

Jesse said...

Those are useful parsings, as useful as I could slice it, Jon. Much of what I hear would belong in the last four categories, much music of merit that leaves me disinterested upon multiple listens. Leaves no trace, as the zennies have it.
Deep structure was the postulation I find vague and radically subjective.
I would also, without much reflection, question the frequency with which a gaggle of listeners reach a critical consensus on a given piece of eai.The Toshi releases alone have shown considerable divergence in listener's reviews.
I had a lengthy discussion with Will Guthrie about the sort of concentration of internet discussion that congeals around some artists, to the exclusion of others. Also, Mr. Korber had a perspective on this I thought was right on. My point is that two significant musicians working in this area diverge off the public record from any consensus you might infer from reading the same 20-30 posters on a bbs.
I hear imponderably deep structure in Radigue.

: ^ )

Jon said...

"I had a lengthy discussion with Will Guthrie about the sort of concentration of internet discussion that congeals around some artists, to the exclusion of others. Also, Mr. Korber had a perspective on this I thought was right on. My point is that two significant musicians working in this area diverge off the public record from any consensus you might infer from reading the same 20-30 posters on a bbs."

while every person obviously has their own limitations when it comes to perspective, I'd argue that most if not all musicians are by necessity very focused on their own work, so I'm not sure I take their perspective on the area of music as a whole too seriously, although I do certainly respect both of those artists.

Robert said...

I think that any of us who have talked to musicians have heard opinions that are not commonly promoted on the message board. The best musicians I think are unrelentingly critical of first their own work and then that obviously would have to apply to others working similar territory (another tendency I've encountered among musicians is that they also tend to find something of interest in everything. They may think it's shite overall but that one bit is interesting).

Fans I think have to be less critical or there just isn't enough to listen to. After all part of fandom is creating divisions so you already are reducing the set of music you listen to. With an area like EAI you are definitely into a smaller set then other musics (though constantly growing) so if you are hyper critical then you don't have much to listen to.

Brian Olewnick said...

One can only go from those who speak up about the matter so if it's 20-30, that's it (it's somewhat more than that, surely?). My best guess for number of people worldwide with reasonable interest in the loosely defined area knowns as eai is between 5,000 and 10,000. If the vast majority, here as elsewhere, don't pipe up, you go with what you have.

There seemed to be general consensus on the recent Issue Project Room show among those who commented, for instance, on all three sets. Not absolute consensus but nothing to start arguments over. Actually, some of the most interesting shows, for me, are when an identifiable audience split does take place as in, for example, the Margarida Garcia/Taku Unami set at Erstquake a few years back.

In that case, of course, I was correct in accurately identifying the deep structure and those who thought it a structural failure were entirely wrong. ;-)

Richard Pinnell said...

esse said;

"I had a lengthy discussion with Will Guthrie about the sort of concentration of internet discussion that congeals around some artists, to the exclusion of others. Also, Mr. Korber had a perspective on this I thought was right on. My point is that two significant musicians working in this area diverge off the public record from any consensus you might infer from reading the same 20-30 posters on a bbs.

I agree with this 100%. Over the past couple of years my conversations about this music have moved away from forums and more towards lengthy email and/or face to face exchanges with maybe a dozen or so musicians I have come to know and respect the opinion of.

I've said this before, but the opinions about particular music and musicians held out there are very often completely different to the consensuses formed by the same couple of dozen names that write in places like this . Its so easy for three or four people (who all influence each other one way or the other) to agree on something in forums like IHM and that opinion becomes close to gospel. Until of course you talk to a number of people outside of those incredibly insular circles that have a completely different perspective.

The last time I posted something somewhere along these lines I received four private emails from musicians, including one I'd never communicated with before thanking me for saying what I said.

Toshi's recent releases are the perfect example... I don't know anyone out there that doesn't think he has been completely on fire over the past year or two apart from the people I read online. He is one of a very few musicians out there almost uniformly loved for his recent work.

And lets be totally honest Jon has a big part to play in this. Online EAI discussions are invariably (and understandably) full of his opinion, which is always posited with a lot of force and the weight of experience. That Jon is also (understandably) very biased towards his own releases at the expense of 99% of everything else therefore comes through strongly, and his presence is such that these things do get taken as more than just his opinion after a while. Such is life and he who shouts loudest most often etc...

So One Day is a really excellent CD, but I wouldn't say it was my favourite thing that either Toshi or Foster have released in the last twelve months. I've not really said that anywhere before now though, just as I rarely comment much on Erst releases publicly at all these days. Why not? because its more hassle than its worth to be met with the inevitable barrage of questions from all angles (and actually rarely from Jon) as to how I could possibly disagree. Maybe I'm just getting jaded with old age, but I'm slowly learning to disagree quietly. :)

Please understand this isn't a personal dig at Jon, more at the typical nature of online forums. Jon happens to have rightfully earnt the respect of a lot of people who have enjoyed Erstwhile releases, just as Brian has spent a lot of time writing about this stuff, as has Robert, Dan, Jesse and a handful of others including myself. That level of experience shouldn't be ignored, but I do think its important to remember that there are a lot of other opinions out there beyond the dozen or so names that appear over and over in the same online places.

Brian Olewnick said...

Thanks for the thoughtful post, Richard. I wish more people would write about this area (maybe they do and I'm missing it?). I've often said in the past that I view my public value in this arena, such as it is, simply as a marker that people who've tended to agree or disagree with my taste in the past can use to form one element in their prospective evaluation of some music. No more, no less. It seems to work fairly well though presumably there are many I never hear from who find no rhyme or reason to my calls.

Jon said...

there's some truth in there, but I'd guess that the people you're talking to all have their own biases, limitations in perspective and various resentments also, as we all do.

Jon said...

(sorry, my answer was crossposted with Brian and was in answer to Richard).

Richard Pinnell said...

Sure Jon, of course. I am merely saying that they aren't in forums, and that there is a much wider spectrum of opinion out there than can be easily read online.

Jon said...

well, it would be great if more musicians posted on IHM certainly, I know plenty of them lurk there to one extent or another, and I always tell people they should post there, it'd be great to read a wider range of opinions.

also keep in mind that when one runs a label, one tends to eventually associate with musicians that you're especially interested in and who share at least some overlapping perspectives. when you say:

"Toshi's recent releases are the perfect example... I don't know anyone out there that doesn't think he has been completely on fire over the past year or two apart from the people I read online."

FWIW, I could name a handful of musicians who agree with much or all of my perspective on this, pretty much everyone I've discussed it with (even including Toshi, to be honest). some of this is probably you and I spending more time interacting with people who share our general perspective, and maybe some of it is people saying what they think we want to hear (I doubt there's too much of this as people in this world tend to be quite blunt and honest when put on the spot in one-on-one interactions, but you never know.)

FWIW, in recent years, I also have a very different angle of perspective besides my own on the Japanese scene, as Yuko keeps me informed of numerous things that English speakers would never have a clue about, as well as corresponding with many of the Tokyo musicians in Japanese. Japanese people are very rarely totally forthcoming to non-Japanese people, so this added perspective has been very illuminating for me.

Jon said...

sorry, one more thing:

obviously my perspective on Toshi's recordings is primarily that of a producer, more than a fan. I've worked with him on a slew of recordings over the last eight years, and have two more in the works now.

so obviously I have very strong feelings about his releases (same with Keith), and I hold them to the highest standards, the same standards I hold prospective Ersts or Ersts in progress. so my opinions on this are at least in part because of my high expectations for any release featuring Toshi, with almost anyone else, I wouldn't care nearly as much.

maybe that all goes without saying, but I said it anyway. :)

Robert said...

Some good points here, but I think its worth emphasizing something Jon was getting at. Its all insular circles and trading the opinions of a couple dozen music fans, for that of a couple dozen musicians is simply a change of perspective. Getting both is ideal of course but then it as Jon pointed out still just one subset or another.

So One Day is a really excellent CD, but I wouldn't say it was my favourite thing that either Toshi or Foster have released in the last twelve months.

I'd be curious to know which ones are.

Richard Pinnell said...

I dunno Robert. I talk regularly with quite a variety of musicians (and not just musicians I should add) across the world who quite possibly don't know one another and are influenced by their own interactions with the music, often on a local level.. So I get quite a range of opinions from around the world, as of course you do in forums, but you don't get the "congealing" of opinions quite as easily as you do from online communities.

However I guess this thread of comments goes to show that there is still plenty of disagreement in these here halls! :)

As for favourite discs, well my opinion changes all the time depending what mood I'm in, but if really pushed I'd take Toshi's duo with Capece and Foster's duo with Parks ahead of One Day, both superb albums IMO. I'm hoping the trio of Capece, Toshi and Rowe will one of these days produce something worth a CD release too.