Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Moniek Darge - Crete Soundies (Kye)

What an odd recording. Three pieces, each right about 20 minutes long, each apparently recorded in Crete though the liner notes impart scarce little information on specifics. For example, the first work, "Magnesia", seems to have been done in "Levka Ori, [where] the white mountains of Crete are made audible". Well, you do hear crickets, goat bells 'n' bleats and perhaps other ambient sounds, but predominantly, there's the singing/chanting of (again, presumably) Darge and several friends softly accompanied by (again guessing) electronics or a reed organ-type device. In this instance, I found said vocalizing excessively woozy and not so much in the spirit, so far as one could tell, of the place. It overrode rather than integrated with the area sounds. The notes to the second piece, "Anemos" inform us that "Magnesia" was a name given to the site by Darge and company. OK. They also reference wind and, yes, rushing air is the major element heard. Voices appear here as well but, unlike the first track, there's a decided air of mystery. I take it they're speaking, and sometimes singing, in Cretan and perhaps if I understood the language there would be far less mystery, but as is, you receive a fine sense of place and ritual, the howling wind serving to isolate and somehow darken the proceedings. Nice.

But the final cut, "East Crete", created by Darge in collaboration with Francoise Vanhecke, trumps them all. The cloistered nature of the prior works opens up into true space and life. Crickets again, in waves, engines, voices of old and young, recorded pop, air, water, everything. One assumes a good deal of construction went into the piece but it sounds entirely convincing as a particularly alive and fascinating environment; the listener resides there. Absolutely wonderful and worth the price of entry.

I don't believe Kye has a site, but the recording is available from erstdist

Max Eastley - Installation Recordings (1973-2008) (Paradigm)

Normally, I tend to have an issue with CD recordings of installations--one automatically loses the experience of the sounds in situ which, more often than not, is an essential aspect of the work. I suppose that might apply on this 2-disc set but, if so, damned if the sounds aren't still pretty great. If I do have a problem it's one that could only have been overcome by releasing 25-30 discs and that is the brevity of the 35 tracks here, from one to seven minutes. In many a case, I'd have gladly languished in the company of a given sonic environment for far longer.

Happily, these turn out to be quibbles. In fact the discs are arranged so that the installations, varying chronologically and quantitatively in nature, bleed into one another. What they have in common is processes set in motion then rarely if at all interfered with by human hand. Nature's hand is another matter as wind, motors, water, etc. all contribute their motive power. Sometimes the results sound wonderfully random, sometimes iterative, akin to minimalist music, streamlined here, chaotic there, interior or on mountainsides. Always with a strong sense of atmosphere, of air. When objects bang and clang in the Serpentine Gallery installation, they truly inhabit a full, breathing space. Oh, there are the odd moments when the wind interacts with Eastley's metal to create a woozy, chime-y effect, but even those are more pleasant than annoying, maybe reminiscent of Laraaji on zither, though when the same gusts play the aeolian flutes, it's divine.

I'd still like to hear these works in situ and at greater length but, as is, it's a very enjoyable, rewarding sampler.



simon reynell said...

I love the Max Eastley double cd. For me the editing of the pieces works very well; although I'm sure I too could have "languished" longer in some of the soundscapes, on the other hand I really like the pacing that Clive Graham's structuring has given it.
Gorgeous music by an under-appreciated artist.

Barry Chabala said...

thanks for saving me some money here brian. i HATE recordings like this no matter how nice the excerpts are. i love jason kahn, for example, and still some of his recordings make me crazy - full of excerpts, no development. i want to hear how you got to that place and where you go from there, not just a freeze frame of a moment.

Brian Olewnick said...

It's a tough problem. For me, the joys of the Eastley outweigh the annoyances, but I can see how the excerpts might be unsatisfying.

Jon said...

yeah, I was pretty underwhelmed by this. I also find the brief excerpt form unsatisfying, but in this case, I also didn't think the majority of the snippets were especially compelling. if he is in fact underappreciated as Simon says, it's at least partly because his work doesn't seem to translate very well to record.

and there are plenty of conflicts of interest in our little world, but Simon, you've been talking about this one a lot and should probably mention your connection to it.

simon reynell said...

boring boring, but there's not a 'conflict of interest', Jon.

Clive Graham, who runs Paradigm and put the cds together, asked if he could use some extracts from recordings made for a film about Max Eastley's work that I made 20 years ago. I said yes, but wasn't involved in the production of the cd's in any way. The extracts amount to a small fraction of the music on the discs, and them being included doesn't affect my judgment about or enjoyment of the discs. I have nothing to gain from the cd doing well, but think that a lot of people will enjoy this one if they give it a chance. (Jon's the only person I know of who has judged it negatively so far, and there are others who rate it their favourite release of the year to date)
End of story...

simon reynell said...

Barry, I agree that discs of chopped up excerpts of an improv set (let alone a composed piece) are unsatisfying; I too want to hear how the music developed from a to b to c. But with pure field recordings, or recordings of installations etc, the situation is different, because there was no structuring hand developing the original sounds from a to b.
Sometimes this can be lovely, but often I struggle with discs of unedited field recordings precisely because after a while I crave some sort of development / structuring. They are - as you say - like prolonged freeze frames of a moment/process, and I find that I don't want to 'languish' for too long in any particular unstructured soundscape, however gorgeous.
I think the reason I like the Eastley disc so much is that Clive Graham's editing of the recordings provides that minimal structure / development that wouldn't be present if - as Brian put it - the material had been released across 25-30 discs of unedited recordings. You should try it.

Jon said...

I wasn't saying you had anything to gain, Simon, just thought it odd you hadn't mentioned that, as you're both credited and thanked on there.

I should also mention that I find the Darge disc reviewed here fascinating, and agree that the last track is superb.

crow said...

I think I understand Barry's take on Kahn's brevity and stasis, but diverge on the response- I find his stuff very satisfying as is.

I recall my friend Brian O. making similar comments in his reviews of Kahn's 2005-2006 period [I recall this as I was reviewing some of the same stuff at the time]- essentially saying "I wish the pieces were longer and developed more".
To me, an odd take, and one that probably hinders my enjoyment of some music as well. I mean, does the work realize the musician's intentions? Not- I wish it sounded like what I have in my head.
Kahn intentionally truncates his pieces and presents them without beginning or end. Imo, of course.

The edited snippets thing is another matter, I wouldn't buy into that.

Barry Chabala said...

i know, jesse and i understand his intention with the shorter pieces, just sometimes id like to hear more about the tracks. the one that kills me the most is 'songs for nicolas ross' - 26 short pieces of some really wonderful atmospheres. compared to his longer form pieces, this one frustrates me. same with a lot of film soundtrack work. the short snippets just turn me off.

Michael Pisaro said...

Nice discussion here.

I love the Darge and haven't heard the Eastley (though it sounds interesting to me).

But I did want to chime in on a point Simon made (taking off from Barry) about structure and development. I'm also no fan of excerpts (the dreaded orchestral excerpts records of my youth kept me from listening to Beethoven for several years). However I do think it's possible to hear both form and development in "unedited" field recordings. Duration creates structure - and often I find that it is structure that evades the formal clichés of music made in more traditional ways. I think the same principle could apply to recordings of installations if they're done in the right way.

I don't mean to be overly contentious - it's just that this is an issue I've thought a lot about - and continue to find interesting.

simon reynell said...

Yeah, Michael, but ironically your work would be one of the examples I'd cite of how much better I like composed as opposed to unedited field recordings. Works such as Transparent Cities, July Mountain and Fields Have Ears – which I've been listening to a lot recently - work so well for me precisely because you do something with your field recordings, transforming them, even if it's sometimes done in very subtle or gentle ways.

Sure, you can hear structures emerging from unedited field recordings over time, but I don't seem to have the patience to keep listening over extended periods in the hope that this happens (I'm nearly 55 and the rest of life feels too short; I've said elsewhere that perhaps I'm a hyperactive listener as compared to some others in this corner of music).

I very much agree with you in liking structures that evade “the formal clichés of music made in more traditional ways” - hence my continuing obsession with a lot of Cage's music that uses chance-derived structures for just this reason. But even there Cage is always framing or setting the terms within which the aleatoric elements are set in play, and he usually does it with great skill. For me there's still a crucial role for composers like yourself who work with the raw materials of sound / recordings. I know from experience that I'm much more likely to want to listen repeatedly to a disc of your or Cage's music than a recording I make by placing a couple of microphones in my garden or Sheffield city centre or wherever. The latter is only likely to really engage my ears for 5 or 10 minutes.

Michael Pisaro said...

Thanks for the excellent response Simon. I think we agree - we want the feeling that someone has at least "considered" the structure, even if, as in much of Cage's (and my own and many others) the hands aren't on the reins at every second. I must admit however that I'm probably someone who would happily hear 5 minutes of your garden (especially if you recorded it yourself). :-)

Richard Pinnell said...

Just regarding the excerpt issue...

Barry, surely you didn't need Brian to save you some money, as the title of the disc Installation Recordings 1973-2006 means that the music can only be excerpts?

Obviously an installation, as we have all come to understand it, is something left in one place to do whatever it does (In these cases create sound as much as anything) for a long time, often many days, certainly usually longer than the length of a CD. So even if the two discs were dedicated to just a couple of the installations then they would still be excerpts, potentially quite small excerpts. If recordings of live concerts are never particularly good documents of the live experience, recordings of installations can only be even worse.

So then, finding out any "development" in the music will only ever be a snapshot. How representative a snapshot then will depend on your personal preferences and the music itself. Some of the pieces on this album certainly felt too short to me, but others sounded just right, and a few even overstayed their welcome.

Yannis Calotychos said...

τα κόκαλα είναι βράχος
η σάρκα είναι χώμα
οι φλέβες είναι ποτάμια
η αναπνοή είναι σαν άνεμος που φυσά μέσα στην κοιλάδα

bones are rocks
flesh is earth
veins are rivers
breath is the wind blowing in the valley

This is what Moniek Darge and company repeats throughout the length of the 2nd track.

Fantastic blog Brian (easily my favorite), I have been reading it all the way back to entries on Art Ensemble and Jan Garbarek.

Keep it up.
Yannis (also know as bedouin on ihm)

Brian Olewnick said...

thanks for the translation and the kind words, Yannis, much appreciated.

and/OAR said...

I just want to say I love the Eastley release. It's right up my alley and I accept it for what it is. I don't need something to "develop" in order to enjoy it. I can equally and deeply appreciate a Chabala work (the Confront disc is very nice) alongside an hour long field recording of a cow chewing it's cud (i.e. the Ann Siden CD on Firework Edition). The Darge release has already been on my want list and I plan to track it down. Viva la diversity.

Clive Graham said...

Here is some background information on the recordings for the Eastley CD.
One has to see the reality of dragging small, battery powered reel to reel recorders up hillsides in stormy weather and using inadequately shielded microphones. It meant that a lot of the collected recordings were of variable quality. Then add to this the fact that Max was recording these sounds from various positions, for his own personal playback rather than for a future digital revolution. Also bear in mind that the tapes were spliced and edited for various purposes over the ensuing years, and finally add 35 years of poor storage conditions. Sure there were some longer runs I could have used, but certainly not many. As for the pieces used for film - these were nearly all very short takes with lots of interruptions from the recordist seeking the perfect 30 second take. The older gallery recordings certainly could have been about 15 to 20 mins (the length of a 5" spool at 7.5ips), but after the switch is thrown there are only slight variations in texture. If there had been the luxury of lengthy excerpts it would have been nice to include half hour pieces that become more immersive, but for this project I wanted to display the variety of Eastley's work and to stop the pieces before they became immersive, and even to stop them before what precedes the immersive bit (the abyss, or boring bit). I think Zoltan Jeney is the master of these emotional phases.

Brian Olewnick said...

Thanks for the explication, Clive.

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