Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Richard Garet/Andy Graydon - Subtracted/Untitled (Altbau) (white_line editions)
I've been thinking about this area of music a bunch lately. I imagine we can agree that it's a different subset of new music, though related, from the post-AMM mainstream (if that phrase isn't oxymoronic). I don't think of it as "drone music" so much--though again, it is somewhat akin--but there tends to be a constant stream of sound, often straddling the border between tonal and noise, a layering of such strands and a sprinkling of shorter sounds/noises atop or betwixt. Often, field recordings might be a source for this stream, perhaps enhanced or modified to one degree or another. There's a tendency away from harshness, at least a few steps toward consonance, sometimes incorporating semi-melodic fragments. Maybe we can call it post-Fennesz.
Not to ghettoize it, but in the same way (and perhaps meeting the same amount of resistance) that some of us referred to a Swiss sound when talking about music that stemmed from Muller, Voice Crack, etc., I find myself mentally grouping Garet, Asher, maybe Chris McFall, a handful of others. And I've tended to enjoy the results very much at the same time as I get a smidgen of an inkling that, if uncritically accepted, a certain formulaic aspect could intrude. In other words, it's not "free" in the sense that "The Crypt" was; not anything can happen (so it seems to me--love to be proven wrong--but the level of improvisation involved is certainly less, sometimes apparently minimal, more of the music being carefully constructed). There's a general scope and approach that seems to be in play far more often than not.
I write the above not as a criticism, just as something I've thought about recently, and figured I'd take the occasion of this, yet another enjoyable release, to put it out there. The 3" disc contains two pieces designed with certain architectural sites in mind. In Garet's case, it's a tumble of metal well-known to Manhattanites, the ruins atop the abandoned Pier D jutting into the Hudson off the West Side Highway in the 60s. The connections, for this listener, remain obscure but the piece itself fits comfortably among others I've heard from Garet in recent months: a twining of a consonant hum with softly bristling static, gradual waves of differently timbred hum or static, keens that verge on feedback, lower rumbles, all proceeding calmly, adrift in a kind of serene haze. Though, given the subject, it is quite possible to envision fog, twisted metal and faintly hooting warning beacons at some points. The combination of variation and sameness makes it difficult to identify sonic landmarks with any degree of certainty; when some abrupt turntable noise appears right at the end of the 14-minute piece, it's rather arresting insofar as it protrudes. The work enjoyable while in process; looking back, it disappears like smoke. That's interesting; it's unmemorable but in an intriguing way.
Andrew Graydon, whose work I don't believe I've previously heard, takes as inspiration the Altbau projects of Mies van der Rohe. Perhaps even more than in the prior piece, the connections are hard to discern, but the music is quite different, with a smooth strata of extreme low tones undergirding organ-like mid-range hums which, in turn, lay beneath ozone-altitude sizzles. Those middle tones have something of the quality of the blurred sonics of Lucier's "I Am Sitting in a Room", late in that piece, while the deeper ones plumb bass depths cavernous enough to extend into individually recognizable beats. Remember those gigantic worm-creatures in "Dune"? This might be what one of them would sound like, wending its way through the earth just beyond about a foot of stone. Impressive track.
Richard Garet/Brendan Murray - Of Distance (Unframed)
The music on this disc edges perhaps even closer toward defining the territory I was referring to above. "In Parallel" is a thin strand of steely drones, many plies deep though more concentrated in timbre and range. It's somehow less absorbing to me than Garet's "Subtracted". This is an example of where, to my ears, the approach lapses a bit into the "too pat". It's very attractive and there's nothing "wrong" with it, but it's lacking a sense of risk that I want to here even in the most ethereal of work. I get the sense that both musicians know they can do this and do it well; my AMM-ish prejudice wants them to attempt something they're not so sure about. The second track, "The Tyranny of the Objects", achieves that degree of danger somewhat more, utilizing rougher sound sources (including semi-rhythmic ones) and progressing in a more forceful manner--not wafting but almost steamrolling; wonderful piece. The two tracks are close enough to what I hear as poles in this area--the overly genteel and the "contemplative but disturbingly unsmooth", if you will.
Phantom Limb & Earth's Hypnagogia - In Celebration of Knowing All the Blues of the Evening (Unframed)
I'll endeavor to ignore the noms used by Shawn Hansen and James Fennelly. Performed on Farfisa organs and oscillators, we're talking serious dronage here, augmented with what seems to be inadvertent external noises. For about its first half (there are six tracks, but the music flows unbroken), it's one welling pulsation, albeit with a dark undercurrent that modulates just below the surface, almost unheard. It's quite surprising, then, when it explodes into a fuzzy eight-note pattern in a vaguely Indian scale that, in turn, crumbles into blocks of chords, sounding like Poppy Nogood after too much hooch. The work ends with the Farfisa equivalent of a guitar feedback blowout. Odd piece. I loved it up through the explosion and initial crumbling/stumbling but thought it kind of limped home. Perhaps the point.
These two releases from unframed recordings arrived with two others, a pair of 7" vinyls (imaginatively and artfully packaged, as are the CDs). It's been a while since I've encountered something so baffling/annoying. Each record contains brief tracks by six musicians, several of whom I'm always very interested to hear. Record #1 has Lary 7, Joe Colley, busratch, Toshio Kajiwara, Tommy Birchett and Dieb 13, while the second one contains work by Ian Epps, Kenta Nagai, Annette Krebs, Chris Forsyth, Giuseppe Ielasi and Koen Holtkamp. Three cuts per side, each separated by a locked groove track. So the listener must sit there, attempt to position the stylus near the beginning of each non-locked track, automatically missing at least several seconds of same, lift it when the piece ends, rinse and repeat. Why this torture? Dunno, except as, well, mild torture. Yet I dutifully crouched over my turntable and wended my way through first the one (largely--totally?--turntable-based) then the other (guitars). The snippets weren't bad, some rather fetching (Krebs' hum/tape piece especially) but all gone before you knew it. Buyer beware.