Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hal McGee (compiler) - Dictaphonia, Vols 1 - 6 (HalTapes)

What can one say? Six volumes of recordings by dozens upon dozens of individuals, all of whom, if I'm not mistaken, sent Mr. McGee their contributions on microcassette, phoned them in or otherwise got the stuff there. Is there quality control in effect? Hard to say! Unsurprisingly, the offerings vary wildly in attack (not to mention listenability). At the nether end, there's a kind of homespun Chadbourne, extreme lo-fi effect where "weird" (ok, obnoxious) is substituted for interesting. On the other hand, sprinkled here and there, are some genuinely lovely and/or strong pieces. I'm not at all sure that matters in the scheme of things as I get the impression the intent is just to listen to the stream, allowing oneself to be intrigued or bothered by whatever shows up next.

There are a handful of recognizable names (not too many, to me) in play. On first listen I was intentionally not following the listing, so I had no idea who was performing. On volume one, my ears perked up on track 21 and, sure enough, it was Jeph Jerman. Yet, amidst a welter of detritus, there was also a piece called "Spring" by Violet out of Bethesda, Maryland that was pretty great. Who or what is Violet? I have no idea. [duh, now I do-Jeff Surak--I only wrote up a release of his a few months ago...]

Volume 2 continues with essentially more of the same. Not so surprisingly, some of the more successful pieces are those who put the weirdness to the side (at least a little bit) and just play. So Richard Orlando’s lovely “Farrington Street Blues” (on a dobro?) and Mark McGee’s “Capoeira Blitz Squad”, presumably on a berimbau (that these are recorded over phone wires doesn’t do a lot for positive instrumental attribution!), stand out as just enjoyable pieces of music. Also a very nice closing banjo work by Pony Payroll. I take it this is he

Not much stuck out on Volume 3, sorry--well, a kinda nice thing by Raw Mummy out of Nagasaki for a straw and water. Similar with Vol. 4, though containing amusing/enjoyable work by Enstruction and Kathy Burkett (a staticky rumination on a small dog).

Vol. 5 opens with a wonderful, humorous song by Don Campau, "Don't Dick With My Dictaphone", a lovely acoustic guitar number, reminiscent of Fahey. This volume, for one reason or another, is reasonably strong. Along with the usual bunch of oddities, there are quite a few solid, interesting pieces, including those by William Wesley & the Tiny Sockets, Rajun Cajun and Mi. T.-CON.

Vol. 9 (the next one sent me) is notable to readers of this blog for the inclusion of works by Kieth Rowe and Mattin. I'm biased, of course, but it's interesting to me how, while occupying a quasi-similar contextual space, Keith's work seems to me to contain so much more that the average contribution here. It's static, faint radio voices, hums, etc. but has enormous depth. (btw, Richard offered that this piece may be the same as one that circulated a few years back?). It's a fantastic piece, though. Mattin's "For Hal McGee" is a semi-interesting, self-referential song about contributing to this comp, charming in its own way. "Hal, what do you think of this? Good quality music? Well, this is definitely not AMM but maybe it will be released on the Erstwhile music label. That will be a bit of a shock." hee-hee. Much of the rest of this volume is fairly good as well--if you're only going to get one, it's this.

Hal also sent a disc by Don Campau, he of the non-dicking with the Dictaphone, titled "The River is My Body". The first, half-hour piece in some ways incorporates many of the traits found on the compilations--lo-fi, staticky taped sounds, disembodied voices--but it's done so with far more sense of space and sound placement, varied with bits of guitar and other "musical" elements, less sophomoric humor. Campau creates a very enjoyable, idiosyncratic sound world, always shifting, always holding interest (he interpolates, if not the exact recording something similar, the German code sequence heard in AMM's Hamburg show from '84), well constructed. The second one [I belatedly realized--not that's it's obvious from the packaging!--that this is a split disc of Campau and McGee] is a bit more disjointed and clunky, much less "musical" content, more noise (including Hal on the phone), but not bad.

Hal McGee
Don Campau

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Seth Nehil - Furl (Sonoris)

My experience with Nehil's work is, typically, an interestingly rocky one. Often on first blush, I feel at something of a remove, sense a remoteness in it that's slightly off-putting. On subsequent listens, however, mini-worlds appear that are arresting and enticing, even as they're nestled into an environment that gives me pause.

It was much that way with "Furl". The elements that I foregrounded on my initial pass were ones I'm not so keen on, certain post-serial gestures I associate with 60s electronic tape work (the backwards rushing crescendi, a kind of two-step cadence of a falling heavy object--hard to describe that one, but it sticks out--, etc.) and an approach to vocals on one track that leaves me cold. I imagine because I, at least, find a point of reference to composers like Koenig, Riijmaakers, etc. that I find similar highs and lows with Nehil's music. When it clicks, as on "hiss", which is out and out gorgeous, all muted, quavery bell tones emerging from clouds (sometimes downy, other times acidic), everything's well with the world. When, on the following track, "swarm", vocal interjections appear, even as they're embedded in some wonderful, resonant clangs and thwacks, they inevitably carry connotations of archness that give me pause. "whoosh" returns to some fine electro-acoustic sloshing and, well, whooshing, again feeling something like an updating of classic 60s work in the field (the surges, the echoes, the shape of many of the sounds) while the concluding "rattle" is a nest of nettles, dull bangs and harsh whines interspersed with vocalized "bloops", not as satisfying to these ears.

At its best, to these ears, "Furl" is pretty spectacular. I'd rather Nehil not have veered into areas I find less promising but others may consider exactly appropriate. In any case, fans of the aforementioned electro-acoustic music should give this one a go.

Yannick Dauby - Overflows (Sonoris)

"Overflow" is one piece, apparently consisting entirely of layered field recordings from around Taiwan. It moves from place to place, climate to climate, but has the feel of one great, surging mass of sound. Crowds segue into thunderstorms into motors into different crowds into wind into insects into birds, into silence, multi-plied, texturally rich, amorphous. It's rather a pleasure to immerse oneself in, especially at volume, though after it's over, I didn't feel much in the way of resonance; not too much stuck. Well done, on the one hand, but perhaps lacking the sense of poetr I want to hear in field recording work.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Briefly, two "unofficial" releases on Copy For Your Records, both very good and worth your while.

Delicate Sen - 20090829, Betalevel, Los Angeles, CA

Anne Guthrie (french horn), Billy Gomberg (synthesizer) and Richard Kamerman (motors, objects, electronics) with another very fine effort. As before, on their self-titled disc from last year, there's a simple deliciousness in this combination of sounds, especially the slightly forlorn quality of the horn. But more, it's in the pacing, the willingness to turn toward calmer, even soothing areas when that makes sense and the feeling of completeness, of a full set of music that lingers exactly as long as it has to, in this case about 1/2 hour.

Tandem Electrics - 20091118 @ Mike Rosen's, Oberlin OH

Kamerman with Reed Evan Rosenberg (electronics). Only similar to the previous disc in how well it scans how ably it tiles the audio space. The elements are harsher, though not without ameliorating portions, concentrating on buzzes, whines, rumbles, scrapes. But as in their earlier releases, the ply is satisfyingly thick, the ideas smoothly flowing. It actually ends with a surprising veer into quasi-Fennesz territory. Again, a short (less that 22 minutes), very satisfying performance, well worth hearing.

Interested listeners can contact Richard Kamerman at: orders@cfyrecords.com. He'll be happy to bake you copies.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Michael T. Bullock/Andrew Lafkas - Ceremonies to Breath Upon (winds measure)

Almost 3/4 of an hour of two basses, played arco, in a large, resonant space. As they say, you had me at hello. The place was the Gassholder Building in Troy, New York, what seems to be a two story octagonal structure with a domed roof and one can only imagine the additional richness that would have been in play were one there to witness the performance, but this disc does a fine job capturing it, and a delightful concert it is. The overwhelming sense I receive is one of restraint, of allowing the room to have its say instead of attempting to fill it. Bullock and Lafkas play at moderate volume but with unfailing delicacy and respect for the space. The pace is always slow and stretched, the sounds straddling the tonal, never getting too comfortable on one side or the other, the textures varied within a spectrum that keeps largely to traditional technique. Little by little, the tones grow deeper, growlier, eventually entering sub-aqueous territory, providing quite a thrilling, even dramatic close as they drift off, exterior sounds entering. Wonderful concert, wish I'd been.

winds measure

Mawja - Live One (Chloe)

Mawja (Mazen Kerbaj, cornet, objects/Michael Bullock, bass, feedback/Vic Rawlings, cello,surface electronics) released a fine disc on Al Maslakh a while back. This set of two performances from Chicago and Washington DC is also from 2005 and is also quite a good one. Quiet rough and tumble might be one way to describe their music, Bullock doing yeoman's work staffing the lower end of things, keeping it bubbling and booming, Kerbaj on the breathy and softly strident front and Rawlings injecting roughage via plucks and scrapes. Quite active without becoming clogged or over-busy, low-key on the surface but with rambunctiousness to spare, the tracks, once again, are ones I would have loved to be in the room for. Good, intelligent improv.


Sunday, June 06, 2010

Ernst Karel/Annette Krebs - Falter 1-5 (Cathnor)

It's very heartening, right on the heels of "Acts Have Consequences", to encounter another release that's in the same ballpark a far as essential quality and indescribability go (I should mention that "motubachii" is right there as well, a recording I still can't figure out what to say about), though this was recorded in 2006 and, I believe, contains substantial post-production work, presumably by Karel. Whatever the case, "Falter 1-5" is one absorbing, excellent work.

A bunch of us were talking about Krebs' music last week in Philly and the term that kept popping into my head was, "coltish"--that wonderful combination of awkwardness and just-rightness. In her own work, this can force the listener into wider accommodations than he/she might normally be used to, which is a very good thing, if not always the easiest matter. While I assume that Karel's contributions make up a good half of the raw sound element here, I'm also guessing he molded the entire proceeding, encasing Krebs' coltishness inside another layer of form, a translucent one, a very fascinating idea.

One of the core strata that weaves its way through these five pieces is the "electricalness" of them. Current is everywhere, controlled here, erupting in sizzles there. One expects to receive a mild electric shock when retrieving the disc from the player. Otherwise...rather tough to define. The mix of various components is very well balanced: gritty/smooth, loud/soft, harsh/oozing. But essentially, everything feels grounded and real-world somehow; it's far from field-recording, but almost gives the sensation of sounds encountered in situ. That's a compliment, a big one.

Patrick Farmer/Dominic Lash - Bestiaries (Cathnor)

This is an engagingly tough nut to crack, one I don't think I've entirely decoded but have enjoyed the attempt. All acoustic (percussion and bass). It's not the sounds themselves that present difficulty--the pair tends toward the quietly groaning and rustling, all played carefully and with no small amount of beauty--it's more the overall structure of the three pieces, which strikes me as having a tenuous, fibrous aspect, where the connections seem enticingly tentative, wispy. Lash contributes some really great, low growling tones, as though bowing a tightly held, 1/4" thick bass string and Farmer is restrained yet oddly busy throughout.

There are fits and starts, notably in the second track, though listened to from a certain angle, I can almost accommodate myself to them and hear them as not stuttering or meandering at all. These glimmers, for me, are ephemeral however; I go back and forth between enjoyment and frustration for maybe a third of the disc. I have to think that, ultimately, this is a good thing, even if I can't quite perceive it, in its entirety, right now.

fwiw, the entire last track (the three sections seem arbitrary and the disc plays as a single piece) is overtly fantastic. The thing is, I get a feeling the rest of it is greater than I'm able to discern at this point. I totally expect to revisit this sometime and be astonished at what I had failed to hear earlier.

Fine, challenging (at least for this codger) work.


available this side of the pond at erstdist

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Kevin Parks/Joe Foster - Acts Have Consequences (no label)

It doesn't occur that often but it's often the case when it does, and I wonder about it--that a given recording immediately, in its first few moments, sounds great. You somehow have the confidence that the whole shebang is going to be solid, at the least. When sounds begin appearing on "The Leery Light of Dawn" (all eight track titles, I believe, are derived from texts by either Borges or Vollmann), they're not at all atypical in one sense, but there's a rightness about them, a feeling that all major components are balanced in an unusually precise and fascinating way. It moves like a living thing. As one progresses, there's also a refreshingly huge breadth of sound sources, many of them welcoming, not so severe. But unlike similarly ingratiating sounds encountered elsewhere, there's a sense of these having been earned, of having been revisited after a lengthy and intensive trip to sparer, serer climes. There's also a fantastic, almost liquidly transparent feeling of depth in play here, by which I mean that the sounds are clear and, generally, well-spaced, implying a kind of simplicity, but their relationships, both in temporal proximity and with events occurring minutes before or after, strikes me as quite complex, enough that it's real hard to get a firm grasp on much of the music here; you know you've heard something wonderful but you can't quite figure out why.

More concretely, there's a larger portion of overt guitar in play than one might have expected, including a passage or two that are hard not to read as homages to Rowe. You can pick up Foster's trumpet now and again as well. These episodes of familiarity go a long way toward making the music hear reasonably approachable, though the pair, of course, includes ample swathes of harshness, meta-logical intrusions, etc.

Try as I might, I can't find a stretch of sound here that's less than enjoyable. I've a feeling there's more to be written about "Acts Have Consequences", but it will take many more listens. On the other hand, this is the kind of release I'm confident will get many more listens, for years to come, revealing greater and greater depths of its inner workings. One of the best improvised releases I've heard in quite some time. Get it.

To the best of my knowledge, available only via erstdist