Monday, June 29, 2009

Phosphor - II (Potlatch)

Waves of crunchy goodness. I saw Phosphor in Nancy, in 2002 (I guess just after their first recording?) and the performance has stuck with me; the largish ensemble with an unusual combination of sounds, balancing the electric and acoustic in a unique way, and tending to straddle the edge of the audible. So I was somewhat surprised at how...rambunctious this release is and, initially, may even have been a bit put off. Silly me. It's knotted, abrasive and gnarly all right and all the better for it as the palette has substantially widened and the concern with improvised structure is thereby foregrounded. That palette is interestingly recognizable--I think I'd pick this band out in a blindfold test, something about the combination of the grainier (Beins, Krebs) with the harshly airy (Dorner, Hayward) and the relatively smooth (Renkel, Schick), with Neumann as a wild card, combined with the clearly high level of musicianship, sets this group apart.

So even while the character of the tracks varies widely, and it does with respect to volume, density, fluidity, the overarching tone says Phosphor. That previously mentioned structure is felt throughout; there's a real built aspect to the music, a fine plasticity. A kind of gracile blockiness emerges, a stumbling forward that's balletic. New angles protrude consistently, right up to the last cut with its plangent plucked strings.

One of the stronger releases I've heard this year; get it.

Narthex - Formnction (Potlatch)

OK, talk about yer conceptualism. I think what's the case in the first of the two equal length tracks is that the sounds originally produced in six improvised situations by Marc Baron (saxophone) and Loic Blairon (string bass), after having been resegmented into six excerpts thereof, have "simply" been replaced by two sine tones of 1000hz and 500hz, any ambient sounds having been digitally erased. Most of the source performance was, presumably, rather spare, so one is presented with one of two tones, occasionally overlapping, laid amidst pure silence. It could be dry as a bone, but somehow it's not. Richard, in his write-up mentioned repeated xeroxing; I found myself thinking more of the solarization process used (still?) in photography, wherein the image is increasingly abstracted toward either black or white, often resulting in a kind of fine line drawing. It has a resoluteness that's ultimately winning, though it'll try many a listener's patience.

Bold move to place that cut, the supremely spare one, first. When the second, acoustic, version appears, it's difficult not to feel that someone's thrown open the windows. Fascinating to re-hear the sounds in their "natural" state, all the depth and variation (though still spare) that was transmogrified previously. Again, these are six five-minute excerpts from 1/2 hour performances (the first five from the first, the second five from the second, etc., therefore accesses more or less randomly). Still, as a suite, they're kind of wonderful: smudges, taps and punctuated shrieks, unhurried but urgent.

A unique release, one I quite enjoyed.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

This was a somewhat different vacation than most as one of the main purposes was to try to get a feel for what it might be like to retire to this region, that is, Northern Spain, particularly Asturias. So, much of my mental energy was spent weighing the pluses and minuses of a given area, how comfortable or not it felt imagining actually living here (oh, and taking Linda's feeling into account as well!)

We agreed that of the places we visited, we loved the area around Llanes, especially the lovingly named hamlet of Poo. Llanes is a small town (pop. about 8,000) that caters to tourists in the summer months but is decidedly pleasant for all that. Poo is 3K (see, how I'm already adopting that bizarre measuring system?) to the west, a collection of houses splaying out into the adjacent farmland as well as having its own beach or two; the north coast is lined with hundreds of these small, scalloped beaches, gorgeous little tracts. Gijon, a city of some 280,000 is also quite attractive, but at the moment we're gearing more toward a quieter area. We'll likely return in a couple of years, spending a couple weeks in the Llanes area, scoping things out more thoroughly.

Some pluses registered during the trip:

--the landscape. Included in this area, the relative undevelopedness of the region. Asturias, the province, has a population of 1,000,000 or so and it's a only bit smaller than Connecticut. More than half of this is concentrated in two cities, Oviedo and Gijon, so it's pretty wide open. As the distance from rugged seashore to sizable mountains tended to be only five to ten miles, the terrain was wonderfully vertical with nary a flood plain to be seen.

--the people, who almost to a one were exceedingly pleasant. Bland maybe, but pleasant. I don't think I ever encountered a street argument, rarely heard more than one or two car honks a day. Everyone was relaxed, ambling around taking paseos, a wider generational range than you find in NYC. Now, some of this pleasantry doubtless stems from the racial homogeneity in play which is a bit uncomfortable. I'd say 98% plus of the folk we saw were Spanish with a smattering of Africans (Nigerians, I think, relegated almost exclusively to the street sales of knock-off bags and such) and Central Americans (more often than not, begging); I'm not crazy about this. Then again, there's virtually zero US tourist presence there (a good thing!) so I suppose I stand out a bit as well.

--the food, uniformly excellent. Amazing seafood everywhere, great bread, the sidra, the fabada....

--other small things: cell phones exist but you don't see three out of every four people with the things permanently affixed to their earholes. Ipods also exist, but I almost always only saw them being used by joggers or bikers. Not sure is these two things are economically derived or stem from social conventions, but I'm hoping the latter. Drivers are polite. Fast, but polite. You see many public workers acting to clean or beautify the area, planting flowers, trees, etc. One night in Gijon, there was a festival of some kind, fireworks at midnight. The next morning when I went up to my favorite park, there was party debris--bottles, paper and other garbage--strewn across one side of a hill there. I came back two hours later and it was gone. People seem to take care with small details as a matter of course. There was a general sense of respect between citizens that you don't find here. Very little police presence and zero sense of impending criminal activity. Beautiful, small beaches with incredible rock formations. Caves with neolithic paintings (I visited one, Tito Bustillo). Old buildings; we stumbled across, outside of Oviedo, the oldest standing Christian church in Europe, built in 872. This doesn't happen often in Jersey City.

Minuses, insofar as actually living there:

--The isolation. I couldn't have imagined even considering the move pre-Net but even so, one has to deal with great distance between friends and family. A vacation is one thing, not sure how that would play out over a longer term.

--As nice as the people were, I didn't get the sense that there was a huge amount of intellectual or aesthetic ferment in the area. I could have easily missed it, of course, and am aware of several compadres around here in Galicia but, for example, bookstore sightings were rare and I didn't notice any performing spaces or posters for same. Not even music clubs. Outside of Bilbao, few modern art museums or galleries; in fact, now that I think of it, I don't recall seeing a single gallery, even an awful one, in Gijon. So there's some concern there.

And too many men were wearing pastel-colored sweaters tied around their shoulders. Far too many.

Anyway, a decision won't be made anytime soon. We'll likely go back in a couple of years, spend two weeks around the Llanes area, investigating more thoroughly and see where things stand then.

As is, I can only recommend visiting there yourselves. It seems to be entirely off the US tourist map; reason alone to go there.

Friday, June 19, 2009

So, in Gijon now for six days, stationary enough to try and post something.

(btw, extremely beautiful here in Northern Spain. Unbelievable landscapes, very lush, very dramatic. We just came in from the tiny hamlet of Poo, just outside of Llanes, a gorgeous, tranquil place to which I hope to return.)

We were in Bilbao for a couple of days, the primary purpose to visit the Guggenheim there. The third floor, which houses its permanent collection, was closed for new installations, something of a disappointment. I saw there was a large Serra install, though, several enormous pieces similar to those at DIA Beacon, laid out in a long room. Very enjoyable, as always, though it's interesting, I find his works fare better in rooms in which they barely squeeze in, where the space becomes at least a bit oppressive. Minor quibble, though. Off to one side, there was a room with models, drawings and a video interview of Serra, which was quite good. I was sitting there, watching/listening, when a horde of schoolchildren found their way into the main exhibition space. As tykes are wont to do, they entered the sculptures and a crescendo of hoots and hollers began. Little by little, it overwhelmed the voices in the video, rendering them entirely inaudible. It was a wonderful effect.

In the atrium were hung several white automobiles with "explosions" of light bulbs issuing from them. This was the intro to the exhibition by Cai Guo-Qiang, but the effect was more like an elaborate auto showroom. I'm not sure which part of which cave I've been hiding in, but his name only rang the vaguest of bells with me and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. The initial rooms featured several large "drawings" made with gunpowder as a primamry ingredient. Some were quite attractive, studies for large scale projects, the nature of which I didn't yet understand. Venturing further in, several video monitors made it apparent that Cai had been involved in performances involving pyrotechnics of all sorts. The videos from the early and mid 90s had a nice raw, guerrilla-like aspect to them; you had the impression that they hadn't all been officially sanctioned.

At one point there were dual projections on a single wall, side by side. On the left were more of the raw events of the kind viewed previously. On the right was footage from the 2008 Olympics ceremonies. Now, I had heard about the spectacular nature of these displays but I retain an aversion to the whole Olympics deal, specifically the nationalistic aspects of it, and I'd watched almost none, none of the ceremonial parts certainly. So I sat there thinking, "Hmm...Nice juxtaposition between the harsh, dark "outlaw" things Cai's doing and the slick, kitsch-filled Olympic crap."

Oh, wait. It's the same guy. D'oh. I'm not sure exactly to what extent Cai was responsible for the Olympics stuff, but the range of his work started to come into focus. There's some beauty there but, perhaps as his fame increased, there's middle-brow shallowness as well. (The 29 footsteps of a giant in the sky was very cool.) It's irritating, really, especially when combined in a single work like Head On:

Visually, nothing if not spectacular, you kind of want to apply your own reading, even if it ends up coming close to the artist's which is, essentially, illustrating communitarian group-think, insofar as it can achieve great cohesion and beauty (the arc) but eventually crashes hard into reality. OK, not an earth-shaking pronouncement, agree or disagree. It's a shade or two too explicit.

Many of the works benefited by not peering too closely at their explicit meaning. The black fireworks, one example pictured above, are an example. I found them quite beautiful and evocative on their own, kind of like ink stains on the sky, before being informed of their nuclear aspect, a point made well but perhaps with too much of a sledgehammer, in the manifestation of a black and grey mushroom cloud in Hiroshima.

The gunpowder works also, as lovely as a given image might be, couldn't shake off a gimmicky aura. I imagine other artists have utilized a similar approach. I know that Dali did some engravings of a religious nature worked from plates onwhich nail-filled granades had been exploded, back in the late 50s. More to the point, Cage's smoked paper drawing are quite beautiful; the viewer doesn't particularly notice the smoke in lieu of the entirety of the image. With Cai, once attuned to the process, it interferes with the totality of the work, at least for me. I flickered back and forth between having a quick liking of a work, followed by diminished enjoyment the longer I looked.

But, I have been thinking about it for the last few days, so I do think there's something in there, often.

otoh, it didn't hold a candle, so to speak, to the horse in the Tito Bustillo cave:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lee Patterson - Seven Vignettes (Shadazz)

Seven fine works having as their common thread the enhancement of small sounds, the unearthing of forests of detail from sources that most would consider arid. Struck matches, decaying spring boings, burning hazelnuts (! especially amazing!), butane lighters, blown-upon pine cones and more. My reference point for explorations like these, more so here as several involve combustion, is always Xenakis' awesome "Concret ph" which amplified the pings and pops encountered in burning coal if one listened closely enough. These approach that rarefied atmosphere, more than once. The range of sounds, their sheer, often alien beauty, the textural shifts within a given piece--all are handled extremely well, each track standing solidly as a full (though potentially borderless) work. The last piece, "Plateau #1", is almost symphonic in character, a gorgeous welling-up, subsidence and re-emergence of a sound-field at once hollow and agitated but with a subtle richness like a patina on an old sheet of bronze. Wonderful piece and a beautiful recording overall.

Richard's excellent and more detailed review may be read here

Ordering info: (I think erstdist has it as well)


Leaving tonight for a two week vacation in Northern Spain, tootling around from San Sebastian to Bilbao to Llanes to Gijon. May or may not have connectivity en route, so see everyone back here around the 27th.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Ruby Ruby Ruby - The Shadow of Your Smile (Zarek)

This generated a little bit of noise over at IHM and I'm afraid I fall into the camp that when all is said and done wonders, "Why?". Ten standards--one is tempted to say "warhorses"--associated with Billie Holiday, ably sung by Margareth Kammerer (also on guitar), backed by Derek Shirley (bass) and Steve Heather (drums), with occasional contributions from Michael Thieke, Axel Dorner, Tobias Delius (tenor sax) and Tom Meadowcroft (organ). I'm not sure it would have worked had they chosen to entirely deconstruct the songs but here they choose to play it virtually straight. Aside from some interesting accents, on a couple of the tracks, from the organ and Thieke's clarinet (easily my favorite moments on the disc, along with the slightly odd treatments of "All of Me" and "How High the Moon") it sounds like nothing so much as what, I suppose, one might encounter in a Berlin bar featuring a mainstream trio. It's fine, it's decently sung and played (nothing incredible, though Kammerer effectively captures some of Holiday's grit and rawness on pieces like "God Bless the Child") but one wonders at the rationale. And how could you not include "Strange Fruit"? More a curiosity than anything else; it's ok, really, and Dorner's solo on the "hidden" track, "Misty", is rather lovely but overall...well, I can't imagine listening to it often, but I guess it does its job well enough, and is even fetching at times. Still....

Snake Figures Arkestra - Cooks and Devils (Zarek)

Ignaz Schick (turntables, objects, organ pipes, bows, electronics) & Marcel Turkowsky (modified walkmen, realia [sic] objects, memory box, tapes). A 3" disc and a fine one, almost 20 minutes of swirling, squeaking, whistling, wheezing, banging density, imaginatively colored, well paced and texturally inventive. Nice industrial edge to much of it, very grimy feel, all to the good. Why Arkestra? No idea, but this one's the all-around, non-qualified pick of this particular Zarekian litter.

Perlonex/Charlemagne Palestine - It Ain't Necessarily So (Zarek)

Whoo boy. I suppose I could simply opine that the sections where Palestine doesn't sing are fine, excellent really but the ones in which he does, which make up a substantial portion of the 90 or so minutes here, are anything but. Perlonex (Ignaz Schick/tube sine wave generator, looper, objects, turntable; Jorg Maria Zeger/various guitars, stomp boxes; Burkhard Beins/selected percussion, objects, small electrics) accompany Palestine (grand piano, vocals, cognac glass) in three improvisations that seem to be based very loosely around the chord changes of the Gershwin tune, even when the vocals are absent. On the first piece, the piano is played quite sparingly and works especially well with Beins' buzzing percussion. The music builds, swelling wonderfully, Palestine beginning to attack the keyboard in his patented fashion. It's very exciting and I was thinking, "Wow, this is pretty great stuff." And then.

And then, about a half hour in, ol' Charlemagne starts to sing. Remember Roswell Rudd's brief but hilarious vocal forays on Escalator Over the Hill? Well, that's what hit me first, a similarly gnarled, bluesy voice, humorous in its smallness. Humorous in another context, that is. kind of brings things to a shuddering halt. Palestine scats (if that's the appropriate term) nonsense syllables to the song's melody, sounding quite the constipated old guy. The voice wafts in and out for the remainder of the first track (all of disc one), growing more, er, strenuous, as time goes on.

The second track begins with fine solo piano of the "strumming" kind, then a rich percussive interlude before Palestine rejoins; again, a fantastic opening, some 20 minutes worth. Yes, and then the singing starts up again, this time with new lyrics. Not better ones. Rhyming "wait" with "Kuwait". That's not the worst. When he fades away, the music is brilliant, taking on an extremely harsh and sinister tone, not dissimilar in character from the 2005 Rowe/Beins set, powerful stuff. There follows a 10 minute encore which sports Palestinian babbling while also lacking in general interest otherwise.

So. I'd have to give this a very qualified thumbs up, simply because most of the instrumental material is as good as the vocals are horrendous (though, I imagine, some will quite enjoy them). But don't say I didn't warn you.

Not sure if Zarek is maintaining an active website, but these are available stateside from erstdist

Ap'strophe - Objects Sense Objectes (etude)

Ferran Fages (acoustic guitar), Dimitra Lararidou Chatzigoga (zither). The beauty of the plucked and buzzing string. Sometimes, the music recalls Partch's kithara, both in timbre and in the open, airy freedom he brought to the instrument. There's a certain amount of electronics employed in terms of feedback and, I think, string agitators of one sort or another, generally with effectiveness as on the lengthy "6", a novella of bumps, plinks, dropped objects and hums that grow thin here and there but holds one's attention more than not. Fages always has a tonal core no matter how far afield he floats and seems to have found a like soul in Chatzigoga; there's a warmth present throughout. A smidgen of fringe-Fahey creeps into the especially lovely last track, "12", as guitar notes are bent, allowed to hang, buffeted by jangling zither strings. Good recording, relaxing like strange wind-chimes on the one hand but with a gentle knottiness that lurks beneath the surface.


Juan José Calarco - Dársena Interna (Mystery Sea)

Babelfish yields "internal dock" for the title, which struck me as unwieldy and likely to benefit from a more idiomatic translation until I read Calarco's own description: "an almost abandoned docks area in the Buenos Aires harbour still untouched, preserving the weary and somehow blackened beauty of what seems immutable; the river at night as a presence that dyes the air". And yes, in one form or another, pier-side aural images dominate and are distributed quite well, with more directness than, say, Tsunoda, but with a great appreciation of texture, varying from mechanical to natural (water in various guises) to something indeterminate. I can't say it hits with the same force as the best of someone like Tsunoda, but it's thoroughly satisfying from beginning to end, making Calarco someone I'm definitely interested in hearing from again. He establishes a real sense of evocative, complex place.

mystery sea

Sunday, June 07, 2009

So, I've been listening to this recording quite a bit lately, gradually allowing it to seep into cerebral crevices previously staked out by Ciccolini. Those had been my reference point for so long, unfairly to be sure, but as I think I mentioned previously, on those occasions when I heard other interpretations I almost inevitably found them to clipped and un-nuanced. Doubtless, my sample size was minimal. When I was discussing this a couple weeks back with Chris Cochrane, he mentioned that it was Ciccolini who had the reputation for rushing things! I'd been referred to de Leeuw's take numerous times in the past, I think as far back as early zorn-list days, and finally got around to listening.

First of all, let me say that it's ridiculously great and everyone in the world should own a copy, but that goes for the Ciccolini as well. De Leeuw has a small advantage as far as the specific release goes as he confined himself, on these recordings made in 1977, to earlier pieces wherein cluster some of Satie's most sublime achievements (though I'm dying to hear what he does with the later Nocturnes), so every single piece (33 in all) of this 2-disc set is just so beautiful, so perfectly composed.

Of course, de Leeuw's approach is taking things slowly, not as glacially as others apparently, but substantially more so than Ciccolini. On the more overtly melodic works like the Gnossiennes (what a lovely word!) the result is a more languid, steamier atmosphere. The structure hasn't changed so much, just been pulled like taffy and allowed to sit in the sun a while. Though on such familiar warhorses as the Gymnopedies, the severe time extension can still cause one to reconsider the pieces; the second and third are especially sublime. Which approach one prefers might vary from day to day. One thing, though, the subtlety of tempo variation and touch that I cited in Ciccolini earlier is much less present in de Leeuw, at least to my ears. His dynamic range seems more constrained and he often takes things at a consistent, if slower, pace.

But on more static compositions like "Prelude de 'La Porte Héroïque du Ciel'", the "Danse Gothiques", or the Ogives, de Leeuw fashions something entirely different. The chords just hang there--sometimes he virtually brings things to a complete stop--shimmering in space, the "melodies" broken down into gorgeous fragments; in these pieces the connection to Feldman is clear. De Leeuw limns out the chordal choices made by Satie in a manner that causes one to shiver in delight. They sound inevitable and utterly unexpected at the same time. He tones down some of the fortissimo decisions made by Ciccolini, as in the "Danses Gothiques", where some passages I was used to hearing as strident crescendi are transformed into soft pulses that, far from losing their power, have it enhanced. The Ogives, which I'd often found overly static in the hands of Ciccolini, positively blossom here.

Sometimes, though, I prefer Ciccolini's clipped phrasing. In the "Sonneries de la Rose-Croix", he gives the initial repeated chords a kind of staccato cadence that suggests gremlins creeping around behind gothic columns while de Leeuw takes matters at a stately pace that, while very attractive, loses that extra dimension, that tinge of suspense and foreboding.

But this set is just so uniformly beautiful, it's impossible to quibble. De Leeuw unearthed multiple aspects of Satie's music that, even after some 32 years of frequent, attentive and entirely appreciative listening, I hadn't known were there. Desert island status, for me.

Saturday, June 06, 2009


Francois Carrier/Michel Lambert - Nada ....Carrier (alto and soprano, Nepali flute, objects) and Lambert (drums, objects). When Carrier's on saxes, it reminds me very much of the Braxton/Roach duets from the late 70s, when on flute, the Cherry/Blackwell sessions. Either way, competently and agreeably played, but nothing not heard before. 20 shortish tracks, not so differentiated. OK of its type.

Sylvain Chauveau - Touching Down Lightly....Lightly indeed. Lovely solo piano piece, somewhat out of Feldman but not so much as to be distracting. Soft throughout, notes allowed to hang, occasional gentle repetitions, notes spiced with just enough sourness to avoid any overly sugary content. Echoes of Tilbury as well. Very enjoyable recording.

....Rhodri Davies/Stéphane Rives/Ernesto Rodrigues/Guilherme Rodrigues/Carlos Santos - Twrf Neus Ciglau...
Perhaps close to what one would expect: scratchy, thin drones punctuated by the rubbing of friction-filled surfaces, much air and space. It is all that, but also injects a kind of mystery--maybe it's the deep tolling that occasionally rises from the cello or a bit more emotive summoning from Rives. So, familiar yes, but fine integration of sounds and well paced, with verdant hills and valleys as well as the odd cwm.

...Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra (GIO) - Poetics...A 20-member ensemble, aside from the Rodrigues' (who, I take it, are guesting here) all names unfamiliar to me. Save for an electric guitar, all instruments are acoustic and include bazouki and shakuhachi in addition to standard axes. Muddy, meandering, little sense of space, sounding very much like any GUO-inspired large band you'd care to name, Aileen Campbell's voice sometimes evoking Centipede. Uninteresting, overall.

...Daniel Meyer Grønvold/Håvard Volden - s/t...Guitar/electronics duo (each on both). Brief disc, two tracks about 5 and 24 minutes, the first a really attractive set of hum and scrabble, perfectly balanced. The longer track might meander a bit more as it seeks to incorporate more elements, including pure and rich guitar strumming, but its structure essentially grips and things feel right at the end. Good recording, well worth hearing, especially for fans of Ielasi, Guerra, etc.

...João Lucas - Abstract Mechanics...Lucas (piano, accordion, electronics) and Miguel Mira (cell0) accompany Andresa Soares's improvised dance. Though prickly, the music has an underlying romanticism that forms a kind of connective tissue between the jumpy piano, the skittering cello and electronics/field recordings. Oddly unique sounding, though; can't quite come up with a reasonable comparison; sometimes Muhal at his warmest. Or a spikier Blue 'Gene' Tyranny. Hell, there's a section that reminds me of "1983....(A Merman I Should Turn to Be)". I gradually got into this a good bit, but it's a curveball to be sure. Proceed with caution.

...Millefleurs - Millefleurs...An all voice twelvetet (dodecatet?) out of Switzerland if I'm not mistaken, though the entire dozen never appears, no more than six at a time, I think. Small sounds, but all those we've heard hundreds of times before, smooches and clicks and yips, etc. Soft choral singing now and then, as on "passiflora incarnata", which is pleasant, if not bracing. Admittedly, free(ish) singing isn't my strong suit, but nothing here captured my attention at all.

....Matt Milton/David Thomas/Ryan Jewell/Patrick Farmer - Bear Ground...Violin/Viola/Snare drum and Drum, respectively, plus objects, breath, bamboo...Excellent soft, scratchy improv with tinges of melodicism. The second of three tracks loses its way somewhat, but the other two are models of imaginative concision within a fairly narrow sonic palette. A lot of "sliding" sounds, of objects being stroked across surfaces, very lovely. Good stuff!

..Quatre Têtes - Figuren...An unusual grouping of four heads: Susann Wehrli (flutes, melodica), Priska Waiss (trombone, alphorn), Gabriela Friedli (piano) and Claudia Ulla Binder (piano). Hard not to get a sense of Swiss rolling hills here (well, there is an alphorn), the fairly gentle undulations provided by the dual pianos and the round sounds of flutes and low horns. Generally pleasant enough, though with several missteps ("Penelope") where things wander off-track and stay there. Too slack structurally and a mite too busy for my taste, but fans of things that appear on Intakt might enjoy it.

...Ernesto Rodrigues/Guilherme Rodrigues/Carlos Santos/Andrew Drury - Eterno Retorno...Viola/cello/electronics/percussion, respectively. At its best, a churning, scratchy mass, like being in some kind of hay-vortex. The density level varies, gradually thinning out, but the quality remains consistent, the instruments achieving a fine cohesion, the activity maybe a tad busier than my eai-self is comfortable with, but always moving forward. Nice improv record, about halfway between eai and efi, which would make it about ec/di.

...Speak Easy - Backchats...Thomas Lehn (analog synth), Ute Wassermann (voice, whistles), Phil Minton (voice), Martin Blume (drums, percussion). I think there was less doubt in my head about how this was going to sound than any of the fourteen. Much sputtering and gurgling. And that's just the drums. Thank you, I'm here all week. I like Lehn and I carry a soft spot for Minton, but I just don't have the patience for all this chatter. Again, for listeners who've enjoyed similar work from these folk in the past or from the likes of David Moss, this will be right up their alley.

...Swiss Improvisers Orchestra - Zwitzerland...A nonet, in fact, horns, strings, piano, drums. The horns are rather loose and rolling, the rhythm section jumpy and angular, the pieces lurching along on the scant fuel of timbral color in what has long since become a standard sequence of marches, free squawls, quasi-bop, etc. Capably played, not very interesting.

...Robert Van Heuman - Stranger...Well, I liked the cover going in and the music didn't disappoint. Entirely new to me, von Heuman serves up strong electro-acoustic music out of the Raaijmakers and Koenig tradition (he's managing director at STEIM). I'm not normally taken with many of the sounds that emanate from ARPs and Korgs but von Heuman wrings out fresh juices from them here. Oh, it get loopy and blippy now and then, but still sounds ok. Two long tracks bracket a series of eight short ones, the latter a soundtrack for the radioplay "No Man's Land", a portrait of Dust Bowl Oklahoma, an interesting dislocation. Strong work, happy to have "found" Mr. van Heuman.

...Whistle Pig Saloon - s/t...Van Heuman is also half of this duo, along with guitarist John Ferguson. Equal parts STEIM-y electro-acousticism and raunchy guitar noise, the latter sometimes reminding me of Kaiser in his Synclavier period. Itchier than 'Stranger', it might find more favor among post-Zorn enthusiasts. Some good work (the piece "Hogg blog" stood out for me), but a bit too much in that hyperactive sprawl zone for my taste.

In summation, I'd recommend:

Sylvain Chaveau - Touching Down Lightly
Davies/Rives/Rodrigues/Rodrigues/Santos - Twrf Neus Ciglau
Grønvold/Volden - s/t
João Lucas - Abstract Mechanics
Milton/Thomas/Jewell Farmer - Bear Ground
Robert Van Heuman - Stranger

Not a bad batting average, actually.


Creative Sources

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Mattin is ending his NYC residency, heading off soon to Sweden. His final show here was the tail end of an 11-stop tour with Tim Goldie (known as " ", for now), performing under the name, Deflag Haemorrage/Haien Kontra. As one could easily anticipate, Mattin wasn't about to let his audience off easy.

[The evening began with a set of songs by Pink Reason, the nom de guerre of Kevin de Broux, playing acoustic guitar--well mixed by Mattin over Issue Project Room's multiple speakers--and singing. The guitar was quite good, a kind of Fahey aspect in that what you first thought was one simple, if attractive, repeated sequence turned out to have two or three hidden layers, often quite beautiful. The singing itself was ok, not outstanding, the lyrics trite to the point I was wondering if they were intentionally so. I decided not.]

Speaking with Mattin prior to the set, I asked about the previous night's show in Philly at the Rotunda. He was annoyed about the seating arrangement there--basically, that there were seats. This inhibited what they would have liked to do, vis a vis audience terrorism. So, it came as no surprise when the 25 spectators (I use the term loosely) were told to fold up their chairs and assume an erect position. Mattin and Goldie had set up computers on pedestals, facing each other at a distance of about 15 feet, Goldie's having a mirrored top. Mattin then ventured into the sparse crowd and pushed six or seven people, one by one, so that they were positioned more or less between the pcs (I successfully dodged this maneuver). A high, buzzing, whistling tone emerged, flitting merrily amongst the overhead speakers.

Goldie (I'll refrain from calling him " " for this report, though he made frequent use of fingered quotation marks throughout the set) then emerged from near the entrance, a camouflage jacket pulled up over his head, wearing some kind of black mask and thrusting his arms straightforward, zombie-style, careening through the assembled gathering, muttering, yelling and generally writhing as though undergoing torture, presumably via the sound system. OK. I'm sorry, but this is just silly. Nothing shocking, nothing scary, nothing that shifts one's perspective, awakens latent sensibilities. All you can do is smirk, and feel a bit dopey for doing so, but what are the options? If that's the point (as with a good bit of the rest of the evening), it's easily enough achieved. Yes, you feel self-conscious as an audience member. Conceivably you might want to join in; some did, as I'll mention. But, for this observer, it's akin to being asked to sing along in some awful Kumbaya situation; the feeling of embarrassment is similar, more in the sense that, out of courtesy, you don't want to scowl in the person's face and leave.

Interspersed among activities such as these, there was a healthy chunk of raw music/noise and, though I feel a bit silly for saying so given the context, it was excellent: brutal while retaining subtlety, finely textured and with enough subsonics to set my jeans a-flutter. But it seemed almost beside the point.

Mattin took a mic at one juncture, walking about, allowing the wire to wrap around audience members and mic stands, causing one of the latter, extended to about ten feet tall, to fall on a trajectory that had my right eye as a target before my softball reflexes kicked in and stopped it. Loy Fankbonner, to his credit, provoked right back, plopping on a chair right next to Mattin, who now brusquely pushed him off it then engaged in a physical shoving match, one vs. three, against our friends Anne, Billy and Richard; he lost. All the while, Goldie continued to lurch around the space, moan, sing, crawl, whatever; not intriguing.

When Mattin returned to his computer, Loy continued to agitate, bringing a cell-cam right up to Mattin's face, shining it's bright light. He'd later ask Anne to get on a nearby bicycle and ride through the proceedings, which she valiantly did. Loy got into things, I imagine, in a manner that the pair was hoping would be a general reaction. Well, no. One would have to, at the very least, feel somehow compelled to do so, not to have it thrust upon one, though presumably Mattin thinks such actions are necessary to shock us out of our complacency, our voyeurism, our spectacle-craving. One obvious answer is, don't perform then. There's a bit too much having it both ways otherwise.

Then again, sometimes a gambit works. Mattin eventually crouched, looking into the back of Goldie's pc, where he observed and commented on audience activity. "Richard is laughing. Loy is getting a beer. Brian is hiding" In my defense, I was merely seeking a wall against which to lean so my back wouldn't kill me, at the same time providing somewhat more cover from the various thrown objects with eyeball-piercing potential, which included a violin bow. This worked, in a way, the self-consciousness it provoked seeming, to me, less silly, more capable of providing some self-reflection.

They took things out with some serious noise, quite good. Even if, in context, it had the sense of a bone tossed to the crowd for putting up with things.

The above written in one shot, not really thinking it through, doubtless omitting much. Glad I went as it at least inspired some thoughts. I don't think Mattin is near solving his quandary yet and wish him luck with it, quixotic though the quest may be. As long as he insists on vending his wares in performance spaces, there will be this rub. Better, perhaps, to just venture into the public space and see what happens, if anyone cares, allowing those who do to set their own parameters.