Monday, August 31, 2009

Been thinking about this movie for several days, Ayneh (The Mirror), directed by Jafar Panahi (1999). [Spoilers to follow, be forewarned]

It has an interesting structure, something about which caused me to relate it to ares of music I generally concern myself with here.

The movie begins with a simple enough premise: a seven-year old girl, one arm in a cast, leaves her school in Tehran one afternoon and her mother doesn't come by to pick her up. All her friends have gone home and the remaining school personnel are somewhat indifferent to her plight, eventually foisting her on a man with a scooter, who also seems relatively unconcerned with the young girl's actual safety. One of the clear subtexts in the film is the miserable way women are treated in Iran, their issues often dismissed out of hand if not derided. The girl wanders through the streets of Tehran, trying to get strangers to bring her home, a location of which she has only a vague idea. One of the fascinating aspects of the movie thus far is that it was shot on the streets of Tehran as is, cinema verité style so the viewer gets an excellent idea of the everyday activity taking place there, the massive amount of traffic through which she and others dangerously thread their way included.

Fine, all well and good. One is rather touched at her ordeal and the film is well-shot enough to maintain interest.

About 40 minutes in, the girl has secured a ride on a bus she has been told will head in the direction of her home. She's lodged herself near the driver but the front of the bus is reserved for men--women must huddle in the rear. There's something of an argument going on between the driver and the person who put her there when, all of a sudden, the young actress, Mina Mohammed Khani, breaks character and has something of a tantrum, declaring, "I don't want to act anymore!", removes her hijab and the fake cast on her arm and angrily leaves the bus, seating herself on the steps of a nearby store. A camera pans toward the back of the bus where we see the film crew in a dither, the director ordering a female adviser to talk with Mina, to try to convince her to continue. Several people try to no avail, mina continuing to change into her own clothes, in a total snit.

Panicked discussion ensues among the crew. One of them realizes, however, that Mina hasn't removed her mic an that they're still able to pick up transmission. Realizing she's in the middle of Tehran, far from her home, in essentially the exact same situation as her character (hence, "The Mirror"), they make the rather amazing (casual? callous? negligent?) decision to continue to film her from the bus. So they do, following her going from person to person, place to place, trying to get home.

It's a pretty amazing shift as the viewer goes from more or less caring about her character to seriously caring about the welfare of this little girl, wandering through traffic, engaging not always kind strangers, getting into cars, etc. (though she does so with determination and pluck).

But it was the act of being willing to change gears mid-film that made me think of some (possibly weak) connection to certain areas of music. Going from a scripted form, though loosely so and incorporating much improvisation, to an entirely freely improvised one where the structure is outside the control of the director and forms on its own. I guess more than anything, it was that willingness, even if it was more or less forced by circumstance, to go with something outside oneself, to surrender to happenstance with the knowledge that, maybe it'll lead to something even better than you'd planned (which it certainly does, in this case). Something akin, say, to Rowe's use of radio in AMM, to be willing to "disrupt" a perfectly fine performance with an intrusion of the unknown that may or may not be appropriate, that may cause the concert to crash and burn or not.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it but, whatever, it was a unique kind of viewing experience for me. (I'm almost counting on being told the dozens of times this trope has been used before....) Perhaps it has to do more with decisions made in real-time, a rare enough occurrence in a film that (unlike, say, Godard) didn't begin the day with that in mind as a possibility.

Worth seeing for any number of reasons, anyway.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

First heard Garbarek on the late George Russell's "Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature", on which I believe he contributed some of the thematic material. Just prior to that, I guess, ECM had begun to release his work, that fine string of records culminating in "Witchi-Tai-To" (maybe "Dansere"? We'll see when we get there). But the earliest recording is from 1969, I think (released in 1971 by Flying Dutchman), the self-titled debut of his band, Esoteric Circle, with Terje Rypdal, Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen. Annoying, I can't locate a cover image of the LP which feature the sculptures of Gustav Vigeland (here are photos of same):

Great record, one of the best proto-fusion albums I know, holding its own with Tony Williams Lifetime or the early McLaughlin's. Rypdal is pretty incendiary, Garbarek is in Ayler/Coltrane mode, on tenor throughout, composing wonderful melodies, moving here, fierce there. It might be argued though, that it's Andersen who really holds things together--what a great tone he had (might still have?), really one of the most under-rated bassists from the time period.

I know there was a recent upsurge of interest few years back when ECM finally released the early Garbareks. Listeners who enjoyed those should certainly get their paws around this one.

Definitely a seminal record for me. Happy I could find a shot of the original vinyl, much pinker than the disc release, I think, and a great example of an archetypal early ECM cover (recorded in 1970). Wonderful record, strong combination of gorgeous, northern-tinged melodies with tough, imaginative free soloing, each member of the quartet on pretty equal footing. Beautiful miniatures by Andersen especially; what a fantastic bassist he was. Christensen, when all's said and done might be a trifle light for my taste, kind of a Scandinavian Barry Altschul, but he fits in well enough here. Garbarek could write killer riffs too, as in the wildly propulsive "Beast of Kommodo" [sic] which still rocks mightily and the surging title piece (which was used for many years as the opening theme for WKCR's evening jazz program). Then of course, there's "Blupp". Fine recording, well worth hearing if you haven't.

I think there was a period when many of the ECM covers were all text, right? Nice design, anyway. "Sart" is kind of Garbarek's reaction to electric Miles, bringing in Bobo Stenson on piano and e-piano. The title cut especially, with its viscous semi-funky bass and spacey soloing. It's interesting how different his first five ECM albums are from one another, each taking a fairly divergent path from its predecessors. Of this bunch, it might be my least favorite but has its virtues nonetheless. When the piece "Sart" wells up, like a big bubble bursting from the depths of a thick stew, it's powerful enough. The first part of "Fountain of Tears" (titles like that portending ill to come) does point a bit toward Tryptikon and Andersen's (again, brief) "Close Enough for Jazz" is moodily lovely. But there's an air of diffusion that subtracts from the overall effect of the record, imho.

Another fine cover. I go back and forth between this one and the following as my favorite. Pared down to a trio with Edward Vesala and excellent substitution for Christensen (especially in this sort of music), Garbarek pulls a Norwegian Ayler, investigating Scandinavian folk forms from a free jazz angle, and as raw as he ever got. The structures are "loose" again here in terms of a lack of defined heads, but there's a great tautness in general feel, everything seem stretched to the verge of snapping. It's not that it's loud and strident all them time (though there's a good deal of that), just that it all feels tense. In a very good way. Even the closing folk song, "Bruremarsj", which sounds essentially like a drinking song, carries a dark edge. Very fine record.

Pound for pound, I might have to consider this the strongest Garbarek release. He had the inspired idea to do covers drawn from the JCOA catalog, Carla Bley's great tune, "A.I.R." from Escalator and Don Cherry's equally beautiful "Desireless" from Relativity Suite, adding in Carlos Puebla's "Hasta Siempre" which Charlie Haden had used in his Liberation Music Orchestra and Jim Pepper's "Witchi-Tai-To". "A.I.R." is given an incredible run-through here, Garbarek on soprano, new bassist Palle Daniellson really driving the quartet (no more Rypdal, this is all acoustic), Stenson in fine Tyner mode. The sole original, Danielsson's "Kukka" is pleasant enough, though unexceptional, but serves as a nice lead-in to "Hasta Siempre" where Garbarek unleashes his inner Gato. The title track begins with the piano trio, working its way to a furious improv on the theme and final statement of same; still gives me a bit of chills, I must admit. "Desireless", on the JCOA recording, was always a real tease, a super-gorgeous melody that only lasts a little over a minute, iirc. Well, here it's stretched out a full 20+, sating this listener quite well. Fine, fine performance. With Holland's "Conference of the Birds", probably my favorite ECM jazz album.

nota bene: this is the first in this particular series that came out on Polydor, thus no longer imbued with that intoxicating German-pressing smell of the earlier ECMs. *sigh*

"Dansere", with the same quartet, recorded about two years later, is a nice enough record, but much of the fire is gone, replaced by the (if I may stereotype) Nordic iciness that, as far as I can tell, permeated his work from here on in. This is a big step toward "the ECM sound" (the slight preciousness of the album title and cover photo inch that way as well); the burr has been sanded off some, the melodies are folksier (as opposed to folk-song based) and there's a certain self-conscious ponderousness to much of it. Not nearly as weak as much of what the label would issue in coming years, but it's a sidestep in that direction. Stenson is more Jarrett, less Tyner. Listening's perfectly passable but somehow depressing, like these guys have in the interim become "professional jazz musicians" rather than just musicians. There's more than a whiff of Eberhard Weber over much of it...the pastels are coming...


I'm sure I liked "Dansere" pretty well at the time (1976) but this was the last Garbarek release I bought. Some of that doubtless had to do with my lack of a stereo for a couple of years ('77-'79--stolen from my apartment, couldn't afford a new one) but I'd already given up by and large on the label.

Too bad about Jan. Coulda been a contender.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Jeph Jerman round-up. Releases listed in reverse packaging size order. Cover images when available.

Jeph Jerman/Doug Theriault - all be right with you (tandjrec)

A 3" disc. As it lists recording dates from 1996 to 2009 and three locations, one can safely assume these 20 minutes have been assembled from various situations; once in a while it even sounds that way. Actually, the occasional shift in spatial resonance is one of the more attractive features here, close mic'ed to booming. Sounds like Theriault pretty much on guitar (probably processing?), Jerman on percussion. Very energetic throughout, inching more toward free improv than eai, the air aflutter with squeaks, clicks, taps, twangs 'n' bangs. Well constructed, not essential.

There's a site, tandjrec but it doesn't seem to be functioning at the moment.

Jeph Jerman - Vinyl (easy discs)

Described on the insert as simply, "collaged recordings of old vinyl records being played with cactus needles and dried agave leaves". It sounds like it and sounds fantastic. "Sere" was the term that first came to mind. The dryness, not as in sterility but as in lack of moisture and enhanced clarity, is all over this music. There's a true tactile aspect as the needles and leaves race across the tracks. You even seem to pick up faint ghosts of recorded music; I'm not sure if this is even possible or if I'm suffering audio hallucinations. Actually, the third of four tracks manages to evoke a more aqueous feeling, the sounds more rounded and reverberant. Beautiful recording, highly recommended.

Jeph Jerman/Tim Barnes/David Daniell/Sean Meehan - Live 07/22/04 (CDR)

The two tracks contain the names of the performers in differing sequences and combinations: "jeph/david/sean & tim" and "tim/sean/jeph & david". This is in the small sound end of the spectrum and far be it from me to have any interest in parsing out who's doing what. More than most, it's the kind of live recording that begs to have been heard in situ, all the location acoustics in play. Upping the volume on disc would seem to miss the point. It's lovely, though, in its quietude and care. Especially fine ending to the second of the two tracks, a gentle, rocking back and forth sequence. Wish I'd been there.

Jeph Jerman/Tom Cox - If/When (CDR)

Four tracks of relatively active, highly concentrated shuffling around of stuff. Small stuff mostly, I think, on surfaces with some amount of resonance. You get a sense of stirring often, as though Jerman and Cox have placed objects with varying degrees of solidity, including things that might melt during the process and items with slight bell-like properties, and have taken to mixing them with utensils of differing materials, sizes, densities. Very enjoyable; oddly, very relaxing.

Jeph Jerman - @stuk (CDR)

[Cover from Patrick Farmer's review at Bags. Mine is different, as I imagine all are]

Three cuts, the first dealing with Jeph's radiator, its own and all the surrounding sounds, the second with his electric meter. They're quite wonderful, forming very large, densely detailed spaces in which to wallow. Not sure what else there is to say, just that they're fine ear openers. At the beginning of the live piece, it's difficult to say what, if anything, Jeph is doing (aside from counseling about cellphones) and what noise the audience is making, but soon he sets to sliding metal objects across one another, dropping them atop each other and generally creating controlled metallic havoc, later on switching to stones or marbles, rolling them in hand (maybe in his mouth?), letting them drop.

One pauses at this point to wonder about qualitatively differentiating Jerman offerings. They all tend to strike these ears as pretty "good", sometimes more than that but they're so clearly an expression of Jeph's gestalt that, in a way, they're of equivalent "value". Anyway...

Jeph Jerman - Prayer.Tactus (semperflorens)
Then again, something like this does stand out a bit. "Prayer" has Jerman on a Tinguely machine (not sure which one as there are a few. Here's an example), Tibetan prayer wheels, burden busket ([sic] I assume, "burden basket"?) and drum. It's fantastic. You're plunged into an entirely other world: mechanical, rumbling, moaning, percolating, electronic, stone-age. "Tactus" (for stones, volcanoes, shortwave, wire and vlf [Very Low Frequency?])--did someone say "rumbling"? This is one huge set of low-level, speaker-threatening growls, as though Jerman had lowered a mic a mile or two into the maw of Mount St. Helens. Very impressive, also in a way very approachable. Eventually, it splays out into a combination of shortwave bleeps and gamelan-like sounds. Of the Jerman I've heard, this might be the one I'd offer to someone looking for a taste. Marvelous release.

Jeph Jerman/Daniel Mithas/Nick Phillips - Ones/Hands (Palsy)

As reconstructed with the help of Nick Phillips, this LP consists of recordings Jeph sent the pair, Ones (Mitha & Phillips), in 2004 which may or may not include some of their work with him in the 90s. They then added in bits of their own, mixed things together. This was issued by White Tapes in 2005 on disc but the LP version was remastered by Scott Colburn. Got it? Who cares, it's an amazing recording, just gorgeous all the way through, the Ones duos presumably responsible for the bulk of the non-Jerman sounding (that is, more tonal) portions, though I wouldn't bet much on it. Very nice mesh, the displaced guitar sounds alongside the rustling noise, lovely episodic, cinematic feel to each side. When the acoustic guitar emerges full-on, almost Robbie Basho style, toward the end of one piece, it's pretty magical. The other swells into an enormous drone of cymbals and ringing bowed metal. Both are pretty great. Have turntable, get this vinyl.

To the best of my knowledge, all of these are available from erstdist

Saturday, August 22, 2009

(Various) The Black Box (Flingco)

Just in time for your Halloween gift grab bag. A tombstone-shaped device with speaker, volume control and track selector, The Black Box corrals nine brief tracks from Annie Feldmeier Adams, Haptic, Cristal and Wrnlrd for your edification and/or dread. Did I say brief? Well, it depends. Each piece is a mere snippet, lasting several seconds, but placed on a loop so that you may play it for as long as you like or can tolerate. The two by Adams are spoken lines: the cheery, "Today I will not kill myself" and the positively exuberant, "I don't feel anything". The three by Haptic are enticing enough smears, the two each from Cristal and Wrnlrd (the latter apparently an obscure black metal outfit) are flashes of attractive noise. The tinny speaker imparts a rather nice extreme lo-fi aspect to the project and, I have to say, leaving the final cut, Haptic's "3", on for an extended period sounds pretty cool. A novelty item? Yep, but kinda fun....actually, what's really fun is leaving it on that track (batteries not included, btw), putting it back in its smartly designed box, muffling the sound somewhat, and leaving said box on the shelf of some unsuspecting person, like a spouse.

flingco sound

On (Sylvain Chauveau/Steven Hess) - Your Naked Ghost Comes Back at Night (Type)

I'm clearly not the best person to assess this as my knowledge of or interest in current "dark ambient" is minimal; not sure if the so-called "Isolationism" of the mid 90s applies, though that's my chief referent. Here, Chauveau (guitars) and Hess (drums, percussion, piano) created several hours of music which was shipped to Helge Sten for processing. Sten, I take it, is also known as Deathprod, a figure of some standing in the dark ambient world [also, as I was reminded by Steven, a member of Supersilent]. The result is seven bubbling, turgid, molten tracks that, yes, remind me of things I'd heard some 15 years back, though there's a depth of detail and range of sounds that was generally lacking then (in my experience). Pulses rather than beats and dollops of tonality render the music much less oppressive and blank than it might have otherwise been. Not exactly my cuppa by any means, but the last three tracks, where things are reduced to a nice, bleak simmer, work pretty well, sound good and hollow.


Fredy Studer - Voices (Unit Records)

Recorded between 2000 and 2005, released in 2008, "Voices" documents percussionist Studer's interactions with three vocalists, Lauren Newton, Saadet Türköz and Ami Yoshida. I don't think I'd heard much of Newton since her Vienna Art Orchestra days. Türköz is entirely new to me, of Chinese ancestry via Istanbul, her voice carrying a fine coarseness and drawing on Khazakh traditions. Yoshida, of course, is a known quantity. Newton in avant scat mode, as she is here on "Axis", sounds rather trite, like second hand Jeanne Lee, and tread perilously close to Galas on "Madcap" but when she sits back and relaxes, as on "Die Dinge", she's fine if not inspiring. Türköz is more rewarding, though I'd be interested in hearing her in more traditional settings; her voice seems so redolent of Central Asia and that can be a bit oil and water with Western art tropes. I sometimes found Studer's percussion, while always capable, somewhat rote in an efi sense, but with Türköz, on cuts like "Can", he fits well. Yoshida, on her own, is as striking as ever (her tracks were recorded in 2004) but Studer doesn't follow her lead, playing a kind of gross Prevost cymbol-bowing session on "Nakae". Overall, too grab bag and unfocused to recommend.

unit records

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Four new recordings from Wandelweiser.

Tom Johnson - Counting Keys (Edition Wandelweiser)

My reaction to Tom Johnson's music in the past has visited the extremes of hot and cold. I love "An Hour for Piano", really like most of "Rational Melodies" and am unreasonably fond of "Failing: A Very Difficult Piece for String Bass". On the other hand, on my short list of suggestions for interrogation soundtracks to reduce the most hardened mass murderer to a pile of mush, I'd place "The Chord Catalog". Perhaps this is impressive in and of itself. John McAlpine performs four works here that skirt the boundaries between math experiment and oddly lovely music. "Counting Keys" (1982), in five segments, utilizes fairly clear additive and modulative rules, iterating one kind of approach per segment, watching as the results expand, contract, cascade. The rote aspect never quite transcends its directives, though, and the end product, while attractive, remains somewhat dry. Desirous of writing a piece "consisting more of silence than sound", Johnson created "Organ and Silence for Piano" (2002), which does just that, though some of the sounded parts in the first couple of sections are a bit...pompous, as though defensive of their turf. It quiets down some and the methodology for generating note sequences is less overt throughout, though one still senses it's buried down there somewhere. But the ambiguity imparts a more poetic feel and, indeed, the silences are well used and come to have a real solidity.

As its title suggests, "Tilework for Piano" (2003) makes use of tiling properties, as imagined for musical notation. Now, admittedly, I'm a big fan of tiling and if I would have preferred something with a more Penrose feel, I do think that in this piece, Johnson does manage to transcend the topography of his construction, which involves laying triplets "alongside" each other, five of them in various groupings, repeated as many times as there are combinations. There's a playfulness, almost of a animal nature, to be heard, the notes skipping and prancing in clearly defined groups whose relationship to each other is constantly in flux. Sort of like Penrose tiles...."Block Design for Piano" (2005), my favorite on this recording, has an exceedingly complicated plan involving 330 6-note arpeggios but as McAlpine points out in his liner notes, these blueprints are all but inaudible, the listener instead somewhat enraptured by the haze of those rising figures, the harmonies quite gorgeous for all their rigorous base, a fine blossoming sense reached by irregularly (?) varying the lengths of the arpeggios from four to five to six notes. Quite beautiful.

Michael Pisaro - Hearing Metal 1 (Edition Wandelweiser)

The first Stockhausen I ever heard, back in college, was Microphonie and I've always remained partial to the general family of sounds elicited therein. So it's not surprising, all else aside, that I'm drawn to the music here, derived from the excitation, via bows and strokes of a 60" tam-tam much like that used by Stockhausen, sensitively played by Greg Stuart. The added flavor, as is Pisaro's wont, is the integration of sine tones pitched very close to the range of the tam-tam itself, becoming almost indistinguishable from it insofar as the sine throbs might well be mimicked by bowing action on the metal. One soon ceases to care as the music, infinitely complex when played at volume, envelops the listener. Pisaro describes "Sleeping Muse" as "something like a four-part chorale of bowed sounds" and merely reading about the approach might summon up drone-y, rather flaccid work but this is nothing of the kind. As rich, (relatively) tonal and flowing as the music is, the range of detail, the the endless swirls are entirely absorbing; one guesses that the sine tones are the spinal fluid here, imparting a kind of meaning to the arcing tones.

"The Endless Column" (the three pieces, by the way, are all titled after Brancusi sculptures) slows things done lusciously, a series of strokes (recorded individually, ordered randomly, one after another) swaddling a slowly rising sine tone which, again, is more felt than heard. The deliberateness of this piece is wonderful; one gets something of a prayer bell feeling but with the peals entirely dissembled. The final work, "Sculpture for the Blind", superimposes eight layers of bowing, again interwoven with sine tones, the durations of the bowing increasing over the ten minutes of the piece. The structure thus falls midway between the preceding two, combining the drone of "Sleeping Muse" with the slow pulse of "The Endless Column" as well as containing a fine, subtle grainy character that gives it a different coloration. Again, the focus one hears, on the part of both the composer and performer, keeps the music from drifting into gauze, not even close.

Wonderful recording, one of the best I've heard in recent months.

Antoine Beuger - two.too (for erwin-josef speckmann) (Edition Wandelweiser)

Two discs, the first an almost hour-long duet, "two", with Irene Kurka (soprano) and Jürg Frey (clarinet). The voice and clarinet alternate long, pure tones, Kurka very gradually singing the text: "as the full moon rises/the swan sings/in sleep/on the lake of the mind" (Kenneth Rexroth). The pair kind of seesaw back and forth, very calm and deliberate, reciting the words one at a time but repeating each many, many times, changing pitch with each advance in the poem. Beuger's concern for space is evident; it spools out slowly, like a thread in water. I find myself first rather entranced, then gradually bored, then fascinated again, going back and forth on an even slower pendulum than the performers. Ultimately, I found my attention wandering around the 40 minute mark.

But then there's "too". I had first listened to it without having read Richard's analysis of the piece (with the help of info from the composer). I would have realized after another listen or two, I think, that the underlying body of "too" was precisely the same recording just heard, but I never guessed that the "accompanying" duo of Rhodri Davies (Irish harp) and Ko Ishikawa (sho) had been lifted from a Hibari recording done in 2006 (one I don't own) and transplanted, the 20 minute track laid three times in succession over "two", just overlapping it on each end, tucking it in. Perhaps a closer examination of the recording dates may have hinted as much, but the two performances are so well integrated that the notion may never have crossed my mind. Technical details aside, the addition of Davies and Ishikawa absolutely open up the work. What was once intriguing if a bit arid now just blossoms. The Hibari recording also contained large amounts of space so there's never the slightest sense of overcrowding (indeed there remain, still, many moments when none of the four are creating sound). It may be due in substantial part to the affinity between the four voices, the harp providing a soft percussiveness that lovingly accents the smoother tones from voice, clarinet and mouth organ. There are times when the voice and sho are in almost perfect unison, others when the harp seems to be supplying just the right counterpoint. It's an inspired, not to say unusual choice, and Beuger aced it, an impressive decision. "too" becomes a rapturous experience, well more than the sum of its parts.

Stefan Thut/Manfred Werder - Im Sefinental (Editions Wandelweiser)

What to say about this release? How to possibly offer a qualitative opinion? To all aural appearances, we have two field recordings done in a glacial area of Germany, near rushing water, on the same day, each a bit over a half-hour long. You can hear some small sounds apart from the water: a plane far overhead, birds, perhaps wind rustling long grass, but the water is the backbone. Variations between the two works are minor (the second, by Werder, contains some very high-pitched squeaks that might be avian--there are crow caws at one point--and, I think, more buffeting of the mic by wind); maybe they were recorded at the same time from different vantages, opposite sides of the stream. Have they been enhanced or otherwise worked on? Hard to say; nothing that strikes me as obvious. So, one simply sits back and listens.

What sets them apart from any number of "mood enhancing" environmental recordings done since the 60s? There is a difference, I daresay, perhaps having to do with focus, depth of audio field, sustained concentration. That last probably makes the greatest impression, the willingness not to seek overt change. They each end with alarming abruptness. I enjoyed them. Hard to say exactly why except that, if nothing else, they strike me as honest.

Strong set of releases.


Available stateside from erstdist

Friday, August 14, 2009

Andrea Neumann/Ivan Palacký - Pappeltalks (Uceroz)

A fine, strong set of duos from 2006-07 with Neumann at the inside piano and Palacký on his amplified knitting machine, I take it a Dopleta 160 model. I've been curious about this the handful of times I'd previously come across his work--I guess this is it:

It does generate a wonderful range of sounds, buzzing to clattering and much between. Of course, that's of less import than the coordination between the two musicians and these talks are marvelously cohesive, sounding as one. You can, on occasion, pick out the resonance of the strummed piano wire but it weaves perfectly amongst the aural skeins of the Dopleta. Calm in pace but aboil with activity, these talks reveal new thematic connections on each listen. Both players give the sense of being very intent, very concentrated, paying great attention to where the music wants to go--harsh when it needs to be, sedate as well--maintaining a spacious but firm kind of control. The disc is also arranged quite well, the final Pappeltalk a kind of summation, a very rich 15 minutes worth of delicious granules, deep thrums and delicate plucked tones; very Roweian. Excellent work, get it.

Oh and I won't mention anything about the cover on the small chance that someone will be as surprised as I was.


Michiel de Haan/Marc Spruit - Schoonhoven, Hollands Licht (CDR)

Two new releases from the duo who brought us "Radical Improvisations" a couple years back. Schoonhoven, so named in honor of ZERO-movement artist Jan Schoonhoven (see below) comprises six tracks (seven listed on the sleeve, six showing in my player) from 2007-08. Not solely due to the guitar/turntable instrumentation, but the first things that leaps to mind are the Otomo/Tetreault duos from years past, for both the ferocity and the in-your-faceness of the music. It's very "hands-on", more toward the gestural noise end of things than "eai" as such. In many ways, it's a kind of music I've found myself veering away from, but this pair, here, really digs in with all four hands (possibly a couple of feet as well) and the resultant swarm of crashes, blips, whooshes, snatches of LPs, bangs 'n' beeps serves to create a convincingly plastic wall of bric-a-brac. Nicely done and, at about 1/2 hour, perfect length for work of this density.

Its companion release, Hollands Licht, as one might gather, attempts to make sonic reference to the uniquely limpid light of that area that has infused canvasses from Vermeer to Mondrian. A tall order, to be sure, and if there's any way to tell whether or not they succeeded, I'm unaware of it. The music, in many ways, is even harsher than on "Schoonhoven", the cuts more abrupt, the variations in microsecond attacks more severe. To the extent I hear it as pricklier, I'm not as fond of it as the prior disc, but those sharp, painful points, taken on their own, work just fine, though there are loopy moments as well and its 28 tracks in about 40 minutes pushes things a tad inasmuch as one tries to get a handle on the elaborate display. Still ok, though, noiseheads should get quite the kick playing this at volume.

Ordering info at their myspace page


Addendum: Miraculous apparition of rainbow image on the wall behind my computer, source unknown.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A few minutes ago, Richard mentions in an fb status update that he's whistling, "I Saw Her Again Last Night". Immediately, I'm transported back to my childhood bedroom, listening to WABC on the radio and reading Marvel comics. This has happened countless times.

I'm sure it's been researched (though a quick google on "music induced visual flashbacks" yielded nothing), but it's always striking to me how consistently this occurs, that linkage between a song and, in my case, reading comic books. Just let me hear, or even hear a reference to, a pop song from, say 1966 to '71 ("the Letter", "Hello, Goodbye", "Groovin'"), and what transpires in my head, in addition to a scarily note for note, word for word reproduction of said song, is an image from Hulk, Nick Fury or Doctor Strange. Not necessarily an actual image, but a range of inks, certain colors, even the smell of the comic. (I know olfactory sensations often carry the most powerful nostalgic associations). But the merest suggestion of one of these songs and there I am, lying on my bed, devouring the latest batch of Marvels, hastened back from Sandy's Breyer Patch where me and another fanatic would bedevil him into prematurely opening the stack of new arrivals, beseeching him to let us use his wirecutters to unveil that month's cache.

Guessing, I imagine it has to do with going through puberty, discovering things in the wider world, beginning to differentiate between "stuff" and "art", how important that would have been for someone that age. Jeez, you'd think a pop song might mentally connect me with some girlfriend, but nope, just comics. Geek in training.

Lately, it's been the colors as such, the inks. That period, in Marvel, was one of experimentation in many aspects but one that doesn't get mentioned often (not like I follow discussion on this, but I bet) is the coloring, the ink techniques. I didn't realize at the time that the artists, the Sterankos, Buscemas, Adams, etc. pretty much just did pencil drawings, leaving the inking and coloring to someone else. Little by little, I realized that I enjoyed those comics inked by Joe Sinnott more than others; his thick, sensuous line held far more appeal than the relative scratchiness of his cohorts. But the coloring began to get interesting too. The introduction of black matrices for shading was way cool; I remember it in some Adams-drawn things and the inker/colorist's name I recall is Tom Palmer--not sure if that's right. [Just checked--yep, that was he. Has a whole book on the subject: Tom Palmer: The Art of Inking Neal Adams] In addition to the black or gray-scale shading, there was an increased use of super-saturated colors, rich purples and dark greens that threatened to stain one's fingers. Those were what have been leaping to mind lately when "Hurdy-Gurdy Man", "Love Is Blue" or "Last Train to Clarksville" flits across my consciousness.

Curious how common this is. Gotta be.

'nuff said.

[Heh, just realized I posted on more or less this same subject in August of last year. Just shows to go. Obviously found no further corroboration of this connection in the interim!]

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A quintet from entr'acte, the first three on vinyl, the latter two on disc.

Jacques Beloeil - Bidules 1-9 (entr'acte)

Nine pieces for cheap Casio SK1 (LP). Almost despite myself, I found the first half of this album wackily enjoyable. It's like some modern-day, nerdy Keith Emerson trapped in his basement, obsessing over what can be wrung out of this tawdry keyboard, over the top baroque but fun. That's on the side labeled "Agreement". The other side, "Reaction", is a different bowl of tapioca, overtly Glassian in approach, albeit the relatively palatable Glass of "Einstein" and the Dances. With a rhythm track. And really overt. Elsewhere, it resembles early 80s Frith, Skeleton Crew, etc.; indeed, the sounds are almost identical on occasion (I know Frith used a Casio then, perhaps the same model). It's actually put together pretty well and, on one level, pleasurable enough. Necessary though? Hard to give it that.

Ian Middleton - Time Building (entr'acte)

(Not precisely sure that's the cover; think so)

In some ways, not in so different a territory than the Beloeil, though here the device of choice is a Korg analog synth. Also, to its disadvantage, there's not the slightest tinge of humor. Drone-y tracks, almost sitar-like in tone, quavering rapidly, with agitated burblings alongside. Way too woozy for my taste and there's not so much difference between the six tracks, all oozing along perilously close to astral realms. Think Daniel Lentz without the rigor.

Nokalypse - Repeated in an Indefinitely Alternating Series of Thoughts (entr'acte/Absurd)

Themistoklis Pantelopoulos adopting a somewhat annoying nom. Hopefully its not only his Hellenic derivation, but the comparison in a surface sense to Xenakis is hard to pass up. The Xenakis of Kraanerg and Persepolis, at least as evidenced here. The piece is a huge mass of swirling sounds, kind of organ-like in essential nature but I get the feeling they're often synthesized mutations from a large variety of sources, some of which might be natural. They're layered one atop the other, several dozen ply thick it seems, into a huge, messy lasagna of sound. It's not bad at all, actually, if (not surprisingly) lacking Xenakis' structural rigor and having, somewhere beneath it all, a rockish tinge (no rhythms, just a kind of guitar-chordy sound). Not bad, easily the best of the three LP releases here.

Marc Behrens - A Narrow Angle (entr'acte)

(a note: reviewers copies from this label arrive in generic sleeves; I'm never quite sure what, if anything, the actual sleeve design on the commercial release is. Only comes up as an issue here, where I like to have such an image. The one above accompanied an announcement of this disc at blog.cronica; no idea if it has anything to do with the Behrens disc, but I liked it)

Three pieces sourced from three different places: a games parlor, a Tokyo Metro station and a Taoist temple, the sounds altered radically and infused into quite solid constructions. The first is marvelously violent and careening--pachinko-like!--and, when played at volume, feels like being smacked around the room. In a good way. The Metro piece begins with a huge whoosh but soon settles in to an eerie reflection on the two standard tones emitted by the turnstiles, one granting access and a harsher one denying it. These are delicately played with, adapted, layered into a shimmering matrix that's both icy and enchanting. The temple track I found the most compelling, tending toward the quiet, with low booms and high whistles, but erupting once in a while, an unexpected bell peal in the relative silence. Really impressive and a fine release overall.

Simon Whetham - Fractures (entr'acte)

Based on field recordings made in Iceland, this has a very cinematic feel, though Whetham gives equal time to (what sound like) natural phenomena, often having a roaring aspect, and human activity, including snatches of conversation, footfalls and various engines. Much of it is quiet, barely there rustling and, as such, is very pleasant to listen to. However, it makes one appreciate the best work of people like Tsunoda who, somehow, manage to invest more into their mappings of the everyday. Still, 'Fractures' works very nicely and is well worth hearing by fans of the territory.


So, I went over to Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center last evening. A free, outdoor show scheduled to begin at 7PM, the main draw (for me) being a performance of Rhys Chatham's "A Crimson Grail" for 200 electric guitars, 16 basses and sock cymbal. I wasn't expecting anything fantastic; as much as I loved the Guitar Trio box last year--still do--my general take is that when guys like Chatham or Branca expand their palette to a gargantuan degree, muddiness sets in, in concept as much as sound.

The organizers of the event were clueless in several regards. I arrived quite early, around 5PM, armed with a book (Junot Diaz, Oscar Wao, which I had been resisting for a while but succumbed), food and water, scheduled to meet Carol around 6:30 at a designated spot (me, cell-less, having to revert to prehistoric methods of encounter). Of course, they weren't allowing people into the seats, which would have been simple and non-disruptive, so a couple hundred of us clustered around the entrance. At about 6, we were told, "Oh, the line is going to be around the other side of the park." Like they'd never done one of these events before. Not that it ended up mattering, but it's a little annoying being ushered from right at the entrance to about 600th on line. Still, fine, it was amusing though to listen to the bitching and moaning around me, much of it from a prominent local film critic who shall remain nameless....

But we got in and actually secured a couple of seats pretty much in the center of the audience area. The guitar seating was on three sides of the venue, ground level, front, left and right. There were four canopied podia, from which the conductors (David Daniell, Ned Sublette--fun to see him--, Jon King and one other I forget)would control their sections, they themselves taking cues from Chatham who, with the sock cymbal player (essentially a metronome) was on stage.

First up, though, was the Asphalt Orchestra. I was wondering what the deal was as no mics were on-stage, but the 15 or so piece band marched in along one of the side aisles, playing a rousing little number a la Dirty Dozen Brass Band and formed a line in the front. Ground level, with no mics, in front of 1000+ people. So maybe the first two rows could hear them clearly. Again, great planning. They did two pieces, departed and I bet half they crowd barely knew they were there.

OK, the Chatham. As a composition, it was severely clunky, lurching from one section to the next with little sense of any organic whole. It began very nicely with a controlled hum that expanded into a rich drone, the sounds gently flowing back and forth over the space, lovely effect. The next section also began intriguingly, a 16-note pattern that was also meted out to the four sections, I think four notes each but slightly irregularly, so the sequence softly ricocheted from one quarter to another, the initial bare bones "melody" being added to little by little with flourishes and fanfares. That was fine, but it went on way too long, the sock cymbal's relentless beat becoming very wearying and the essential elements of the section not all that fascinating to hold up for that long (20 minutes?)

The cymbal and the parts for the basses were two of the aspects that tended to drag down much of the music that night, lending a concrete-bound quality to music that should have soared. I understand there's a practical reason to have a timekeeping function for an ensemble that large but I don't think that was the answer (maybe, reduce the ensemble? Obviously....but no, can't do that...)

It was in two parts (Chatham said three but I couldn't distinguish the latter) and each ended with a kind of rave-up, the volume and pace increasing. They were the highlights of the set, but: 1) It wasn't anywhere near as loud as it needed to be. I don't know if they were under neighborhood restrictions (though I was told that only amps below a certain power level could be used--the guitarists brought their own) but these portions just begged for increased volume. and 2) This was odd--the first such section bore a striking resemblance to parts of the title track from Branca's "The Ascension". I mean, if I walked in at that point, otherwise unaware, that's what I would've thought was being played. And the finale, otherwise the work's highpoint, sounded as though explicitly derived from the same album's, "The Spectacular Commodity". How strange to have such overt (if subconscious?) references to music done in more or less the same vein almost 30 years ago. I gave Chatham perverse credit, though, for writing a central "melody" that was simply a C-Major scale. [edit: Maybe he's been listening to Taku :-)]

So, all in all, it was an underwhelming experience. As with Branca, in my experience Chatham's music works better the more pared down it is (including his two gong piece). Given overly abundant resources, things tend to billow out into conceptual murkiness and flaccitude (!).

Great conversation and Haitian food with Carol and Rick afterward, though! Made the evening more than worthwhile.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Burkhard Beins - Structural Drift (Edition Künstlerhäuser Worpswede)

Three works conceived during a residency at Künstlerhäuser Worpswede, solo but constructed from more than just percussive sources, including electronics. One of the qualities in Beins' music that I love is a kind of earthiness, a fine grit that has often been a key factor in keeping certain group performances from sliding into blandness as well as having the capability of forming a magnificent edifice on its own (Rowe/Beins). That's not entirely absent here, but I found myself having to accommodate a slightly different Beins, which turns out to be a good thing. The first track is more or less drone-centered (ebow in prominent usage, I assume), with a repeating pulse. I feel a kind of distance here, the sort of thing you pick up sometimes in recordings of installation pieces. A soft rumble underneath keeps matters on a rough enough keel and, after its 15 minutes, I do feel a sense of satisfaction, but I think I'd get vastly more out of it live, able to be more thoroughly enveloped.

The second drift, however, is something of a marvel. At the very beginning, we seem to have simply moved a step or two sideways, the ebow hum replaced by a more pointed organ-synth tone, the rumble by a harsher rattle. That synth sound is the first of two referents that struck me (intended by Beins or otherwise): the analog type of tones generated by Terry Riley in his Poppy Nogood days. I absolutely love that "flickering" effect where the tone shifts sound as though they're produced by some manual operation like flipping open and shut a gate; I could listen to that for hours. Very soon, darker rumblings and loose metal crashes intrude and we find ourselves in an entirely different landscape from the first piece and an extremely unusual and fascinating one. Sirens come and go, fire and rain arrive. Beins reverts briefly to the opening set of sounds before introducing the other element that strikes me as allusive (about 15 minutes into the 20-minute work), a three note, high chimes sequence recalling phrases in music like Feldman's "Why Patterns?". The effect is beautiful and eerie, that original synth tone subtly increasing in stridency, the clicks beneath seeming a bit more desperate. He carries that through to the conclusion, lingering in this lovely, alien field. Wonderful piece.

The final, brief drift is finely concentrated, a propeller sound blending disparate chunks into a lumpy whole before dropping out entirely in favor of high electronic flittings, a succinct bookend.

Well worth hearing. Should be available stateside soon via erstdist More info here

Christian Wolfarth - acoustic solo percussion - vol. 1 (hiddenbell)

As it happens, another solo percussion release graced my quarters around the same time as the Beins, though this is a very different affair. Among other things, it's a 45rpm, 7" (bright red) vinyl offering. The brevity of the two pieces presented (6 1/2 and 4 1/2 minutes) might work against it, I think; I would have preferred to hear each piece at much greater length. But these seem to have been prepared as focused investigations of carefully limned sound worlds, sticking to one area, seeing what can be gleaned. "Skyscraping" appears to be all metal-driven, a shimmering cloud of malleted, rubbed or bowed cymbals and gongs. It's not, generally speaking, an area that hasn't been visited many a time, but Wolfarth approaches it with care and an appreciation for the overall structure of the work that makes things cohere very well. Thinking it over, maybe 6 1/2 minutes is an appropriate time span, not allowing things to billow out of hand, letting the listener grasp the entire shape of the work. This is the kind of piece where it's all too easy to listen once and think, "OK, I've heard this sort of thing before" and miss out on the subtleties, the lovely ebb and flow, the sensuality of the tones. It grew on my each time I played it (especially at volume); good work. "Zirr" is a different animal entirely, rambunctious snares in an off-kilter, quasi-martial state of excitement with ringing cymbals underneath, a frantic, nervous piece. An interesting slice, though one with less inherent appeal to this listener than the previous work. As this release is "vol. 1", we'll presumably be hearing other episodes from Wolfarth's investigations in upcoming months. I'm curious.

Available via metamkine or maybe through Christian himself

Sunday, August 02, 2009

June and July paintings

Not working at the same pace as in May (two weeks in Spain and the new pup tend to put a damper on things like this--though I did take a sketchbook on the vacation and did about 20 ink drawings), but messing around a bit more, beginning to feel more comfortable with the medium again. Much like those musicians and labels accused of putting out too many things, I'll post all of 'em, ones I like and ones I don't. Admittedly, the real disasters end up in the trash, but there have been surprisingly few of those, at least in my eyes.

These are close to actual size (when clicked on) and in more or less chronological order. [Edit--some seem to reproduce larger; the t-shirts are 4 x 4 ", for instance; not sure why they appear that way)

Four red t-shirt studies.

Small rock thing--didn't much like it but did take a shine to the blue on burnt sienna at the bottom, so did a quick relatively rare (for me) abstraction.

Self-portrait in the tv screen.

Back to rocks....

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Music for the Balinese Shadow Play - Gendèr Wayang from Teges Kanyinan, Pliatan, Bali (Nonesuch)

I'm not sure if this was the first record of Balinese music I heard, but it's one of them. Actually, my first encounter with a piece of gamelan music was via the amazing Nonesuch sampler double LP, my initial exposure to all sorts of music from outside the US/Britain ambit.

This stuff is simply spectacular. Timeless, endlessly beautiful, heartbreaking even. One of my all-time favorite recordings though I'm entirely ill-equipped to say much of anything about it. I'm sure I'd have a gamelan expert saying that this ensemble, a quartet incidentally, was nothing special, a commercial gloss on the real thing. Whatever, do check it out. It's available as part of the ongoing CD-issue of Nonesuch material, with a new cover:


For some reason, I have that filed under "Gamelan". The names are given for the four members but there's no group name, no implied "leader". I put on the next one just now, The Ganelin Trio's " Nickelsdorf" (Leo, 1986) and, while it's ok of its kind (an extension of the Taylor/Lyons/Murray trio, I might say) it's the sort of thing I have a tough time revisiting; I'd rather hear Cecil.

Plus, I have those early Garbarek's waiting; been thinking of those for a few days, wondering how they'd sound.....

I can't remember what it was that induced me to buy this album back in '82. I'm sure I hadn't heard it on KCR and don't know, at the time, where I would have read about Ms. Galas--maybe Cadence or Coda? I wasn't then (and still am not) a fan of histrionic vocalization, male or female but Galas, at her best (and this is an example, imho) transcends that. Heh, this is one that really drove Linda nuts when I played it loud. A 12" 45rpm, two side long tracks. The title piece makes superlative use of multi-tracking, Galas sounding like a swarm of Baudelaire-reciting demons; fine tape and electronics work as well.

And then there's "Wild Women with Steak-Knives" ("for solo scream"). Of its kind, I can't think of anything more powerful. Pieces like this have always made it difficult for me to listen to the Shelley Hirsch's of the world. When Galas pins you to the wall and shouts, inches from your nose, "And I'm not talkin' about meatballs, I am talkin' about STEAK!", you hie yourself to the meat market. Holds up extremely well, happy to say.

Galas' brother Dmitri, a playwright, was an early victim of AIDS and she would go on to concentrate on AIDS-related themes, more effectively than anyone I've heard (see below). At the time of this recording, 1981, AIDS wasn't quite recognized as a single phenomenon, but some of the brutally sarcastic lyrics point that way:

I commend myself to a death beyond all hope of redemption
beyond the desire for forgetfulness
beyond the desire to feel things at every moment
But to never forget
to kill for the sake of killing,
and with a pure and most happy heart,
extol and redeem Disease.

Her second record (1984), self-titled, appeared on Metalanguage, the SF-based label that was also early home to Henry Kaiser & ROVA. It's more controlled in many ways and features more electronic processing, splitting of her voice via multiple mics and overlays. Two side-long works, "Panoptikon" and "Tragouthia Apo to Aima Exoun Fonos", the latter her first foray into Greek, I believe. Excellent record, maybe the least known of her good work? The outrage seethes but remains just below eruption level, very tense, the odd spatter of molten lead burning one's cheek.

I somehow missed her third album (Divine Punishment). This one I didn't have a strong memory of--never liked the cover, maybe that's it. She begins with the co-option of that spooky organ music you hear in every other crappy Gothic film (Berlioz, right?). But again, it hold up pretty well. Five pieces, a step towards song-form from the previous efforts, some of her effectively dark pianistics and spat vocals on cuts like 'Artemis'. And "Cris d'Aveugle" ain't bad either--bitter, bitter, bitter, with those lamma lamma sabacthani's, as corny as they sound on one level, still capable of producing a chill. Great mix of crone cries, innocent babe plaints, deep-throated sibyls and, for all I know, norns (look it up). I have to say, this play-through is turning out to be far more rewarding than I expected....

This one, the last vinyl I have of Galas (another 12" 45rpm), has always been a small favorite of mine, if only because of the presence of the single most powerful, most ruthless AIDS-related song I've ever heard, "Let's Not Chat About Despair". Worth quoting the lyrics in full, I think:

You who speak of crowd control, of karma, or the punishment of god.
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you fear the cages they are building in
Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas
While they’re giving ten to forty years to find a cure?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you pray each evening out of horror or of fear
To the savage God whose bloody hand
Commands you now to die alone?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you taste the presence of the living death
While the skeleton beneath your open window
Waits with arms outstretched?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you spend each night in waiting
For the devil’s little angels’ cries
To burn you in your sleep?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you wait for miracles in small hotels
With Seconal and Compazine
Or for a ticket to the house of death in Amsterdam?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you wait in prison for the dreadful day
The office of the butcher comes to carry you away?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you wait for saviors or the paradise to come
In laundry rooms, in toilets or in cadillacs?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Are you crucified beneath the life machines
With a shank inside your neck
And a head which blossoms like a basketball?
Let’s not chat about despair.
Do you tremble at the timid steps
Of crying, smiling faces who, in mourning,
Now have come to pay their last respects?
Let’s not chat about despair.
In Kentucky Harry buys a round of beer
To celebrate the death of Billy Smith, the queer,
Who’s mother still must hide her face in fear.
Let’s not chat about despair.
You who mix the words of torture, suicide, and death
With scotch and soda at the bar,
We’re all real decent people, aren’t we.
But there’s no time left for talk.
Let’s not chat about despair.

She has a band here and her direction is clearly rock-ward. Chilly rendition of "Let My People Go":

O Lord Jesus, do you think I've served my time?
The eight legs of the devil are crawling up my spine.


I kept up with Galas for a good while, though the recordings became somewhat less focused. She moved towards blues, which I largely enjoyed but didn't need to hear so often.

I saw her Plague Mass at St John the Divine in 1991, I guess. Quite the event. A full (very large) church, Galas took the stage in a topless evening gown, drenched in stage blood, put microphones to mouth and intoned, "Give me sodomy or give me death!".

Quite the evening.

A year or two ago, I received a rare live review assignment to cover her on the West Side at the Highline Ballroom, a swankish little night club. I wrote it up for Bagatellen (here) "Gloomy Monday" has stayed with me, I must say.