Saturday, July 31, 2010

Zbigniew Herbert/Robert Piotrowicz - Pan Cogito (Institutul Polonez)
Zbigniew Herbert was one of the most influential Polish poets of the 20th century though, I'm ashamed to say, his name was entirely new to me prior to receiving this fine 2-disc set. As I understand it (and I could be wrong), Institutul Polonez is a Romanian group devoted to Polish culture and enlisted Constantin Geambagu to translate Herbert's text, "Pan Cogito" into Romanian, where it was embedded into music by Robert Piotrowics and read by the Romanian actor Marcel Iureş (whom pop culture aficionados may have caught in the third installment of "Pirates of the Caribbean" as Capitaine Chevalle. Piotrowicz' music (mostly electronics and piano) is unfailingly engaging, whether abstract or more overtly melodic; it absolutely lulls you into a state of lush, mysterious beauty, perfectly mirroring the deep, sonorous voice of Iureş, possessing the same calm, intelligent urgency. I've no idea what's being said here, but I love the sound of it. Wonderful recording.

I'm actually not sure how best to procure a copy, should you want to (and you should). I can't find it listed on the Institutul Polonez site but perhaps you can find it through Piotrowicz' Musica Genera

Lasse Marc Riek - Harbour (Herbal International)

Probably just coincidence, but I seem to be encountering more and more field recordings containing the quality of insistency lately. Those insectile sound of Thomas Tilly were one recent example and this disc, apparently from docksides around Germany and Scandinavia is another. To be sure, there are subtler sounds in play, but the ones that leap out, here, are the brutal groans occasioned, I think, by the rubbing of large craft against wood pilings, boat whistles and the like. Perhaps we've (or, "I've") drifted along some continuum that's expected field recordings to concentrate on the small and thereby quiet, a needless constriction when you get down to it. Also, these are "unprocessed" which shouldn't pose a problem; were I sitting out on the piers, I'd likely enjoy it as much as the next person. But somehow, playing it back over my stereo, there seems to be a lack, an overtness that negates the sense of mystery one would have in situ and which might be recovered via some kind of creative processing. Hard to say. Or perhaps Riek and I simply have differing tastes with regard to sonic material we find interesting, likely more my problem than his. In any case, I found it tough to really immerse myself here, didn't smell the sea air.

Herbal International

Bill Baird - Silence! (Autobus)

A varied collection of work from Baird, an Austin-based artist who you might say, based on this release, generally stems from ambient minimalism. The opening track, "Slow Implosion", is a lovely, brooding piece featuring multi-layered French horn (Nathan Stein) and sounds akin to some work by Jon Hassell, though settling into an organ-y stretch that's a bit more glacially Glassian (!)--very nice. "Softly" has an overtly Badalamenti feel/ So it goes. One hears Fripp in "Cloud Breath" (again, quite attractive), more Glass (maybe a hint of Palestine) in "Surfing" (piano through delays) and then, well, Baird does a cover of the main theme from "Koyaanissqatsi". Yes he does. Gotta give him credit for balls and, truth to tell, he pulls it off about as well as one could, vocals and all. Some Eno here, Slavic overtones there (the eerily beautiful "Silence"). If the problem is an overabundance of influences, I have to say that Baird handles them very well; most everything here is a pleasurable listen. I want to hear more in his own voice, but perhaps the last track, "The Ringtail vs. Whiptail Trilogy", points the way--a field recording collage augmented with guitar. Ok, maybe a little Godspeed! sneaks in, but still, a very solid piece. Hope to hear more from Mr. Baird.


Friday, July 23, 2010

I just heard that Willem Breuker died, at 66.

I've written much of this before, but thought I'd do so again.

In late '77, I was working at Environ. We'd recently moved north on Broadway a couple of blocks from 476 to...535? I forget the exact number. It was on the second floor, a good-sized room. Looking at the schedule, I saw the Willem Breuker Kollektief had been booked. I only knew Breuker's name in connection with other European improvisers, a genre I was at the time not too keen on, being immersed in all things AACM and finding the plinkety-plonk end of things overly effete. So I kind of resigned myself to three evenings of the same and trudged wearily to the loft.

Well. The set they played, for all of about 25 people, was essentially the one documented on the BASF album, "The European Scene" (1975), beginning with Leo Cuypers' portentous chords on "Steaming". Unbelievable. I'd never heard that combination of tightness and freedom before, strung over one after another killer riff. I'd never seen that kind of humor in, obviously, serious music before. I don't think I'd ever heard that many strong players, one after another, in a band like that. Breuker, Van Norden, Raaymakers, Driessen, Van Manen, Hunnekink, Jan Woolf, Cuypers, Gorter, Verdurman. They absolutely blew my head off.

The second night, the crowd had doubled, many people having clearly been dragged over by first-nighters expounding on the event they'd witnessed. Robert Palmer was there, maybe the first evening too. There was quite the air of anticipation among the crowd. The houselights dimmed as the members of the Kollektief, in an unsteady line, slowly made their way, stumbling, toward the playing area. They bumped into one another, mumbled, grunted, stood around the instruments as though they were in alien territory. Some members lifted a saxophone or a trumpet, peered at it curiously, tapped on it, banged it on the floor. I think Jan Woolf crawled into the piano. This went on for about 15 minutes. I could see angered members of the audience casting evil glances at their friends--"This is what you said was so great?!?!" Eventually, on some discreet signal from Breuker, the ten members swiftly picked up their appropriate instruments and launched into a typical high precision riff and the game was on. I forget the set list, but I think it included selections that appeared on the '77 BVHaast release called..."On Tour"? I know "Potsdamer Stomp" was in there.

The third night, after an NYT review by Palmer, we had a full house, about 125 people. Another great set. They added on an event at NYU, playing at a Bartertown festival, wearing tuxedos.

Breuker himself, I always found a bit diffident and gruff. Other members of the band, notably Boy, Arjen and Jan were great, always enjoyed talking with them.

So, I became quite a big fan, scarfing up everything I could. Actually, I remember members of the Kollektief returning to Environ with boxes of LPs they'd found around town. I recall Rahsaan being a big favorite. I caught them every time they returned to NYC which was pretty much every two years for a while, often bringing friends who were otherwise uninterested int he music I listened to as WBK provided a fairly entertaining entryway.

They created some great music in roughly the decade 1975-85. I still think "In Holland" is one of the very best jazz recordings from the 80s and urge everyone to give it a shot.

Toward the late 80s, as Breuker steered the ensemble to more of a repertoire group, my interest began to wane and the last few things I heard, in the late 90s, were pretty awful, imho.

But I give huge thanks to him for some incredible experiences and a whole lot of wonderful music.

Thanks for everything, Mr. Breuker.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Martin Küchen - The Lie & the Orphanage (Mathka)

Martin was kind enough to send me an advance copy of this a couple of months back and ask that I write something about it, if so inclined, for the Mathka site, which I was and did. So I'll just repost that here. Suffice it to say that this is an outstanding recording, something everyone reading this should hear.


It could be a walrus. Some very large, ungainly, semi-aquatic creature expelling air through a hole layered with tissue and fat and hairs. But then multiple apertures open at once and the creature just spouts information, chaotic from one angle, streamlined from another. Effluvia momentarily expelled, the beast lies down and breathes in short, percolating gasps, quiet but insistent. The pressure builds, however, surging in near-regular waves, causing the organ-walls to quiver, liquid to shudder, wind-drying them, forcing them to grind to a stuttering halt. Gasping again, more desperate and asthmatic, the inhaler partially blocked by fibers, the meager air whistling as it's sucked in, exhaled. At last, the whole bubbling, churning, motoric organism shifts into gear, half-beast, half-machine, navigating through viscous fluid, eating, excreting, copulating as it makes its way from pool to pool.

These were my initial thoughts on hearing Martin Küchen's solo album, before seeing the cover image! I was pleased that my imagery at least resided in the proper class, mammalia. Küchen's work had always connoted something extremely organic to me, combined with a strong sense of ground, of dirt and well-trodden floors. On "The Lie & The Orphanage", he evokes both of those sensations in spades, grinding, wheezing, gutturally rumbling with extreme corporeality and determination, eliciting sounds that, even in this age of post-saxophonic exploration, are startlingly new. Much more importantly, they read as true, as deeply felt expostulations, all building to the astonishingly visceral, multi-tracked finale. Strong, vital work.


David Papapostolou - Sivom de la Droude (Authorized Version)

The perennial question--why some field recordings work (for me) and other don't. These do. I suppose these qualify as such, from the description in the sleeve: "Recorded in 09/2008 from inside a straight saxophone resting on its bell, or from a glass jar, placed in a garden, a car boot, a veranda, a window". One hears various, extremely quiet, ambient sounds: wind, obscure, soft crackles, faraway engines, airborne rumbles of indeterminate origin, people, all quite faint. Turning up the volume on one's stereo reveals much not heard at normal levels. But each of the four pieces flows, unforced, effortlessly maintaining interest and fascination. I love this one.

authorized version

Thomas Tilly-TÔ - Cables & Signs (Fissur)

And then there's this strange recording. Again, we're dealing with field recordings, here of the hydrophonic variety though were I not so informed, I don't think I'd ever have imagined the source being of an aquatic nature. Recorded in the moat of a castle in western France, what one hears for the most part is clicks--loud, regular, non-insectile-sounding clicks--and strident buzzes. Yes, there's the odd drip to be heard, some background rumble, but the main sound are these very non-organic series of clicks--imagine some plastic credit cards affixed to a bicycle wheel, being strummed by the spokes, the wheel being turned at an exceedingly regular, rapid pace. I take Tilly at his word in the notes that these are, in fact, natural sounds "produced by insects and aquatic plants", but I'd never have guessed it. Even when deeper buzzes appear, they sound less apian than Geiger. Strange world. All this said, how is the disc as a listening experience? Well, not as enjoyable as I'd expect, which is a weird thing to say if these are naturally occurring sounds--why should they be any less enjoyable than, say, wind? My sensory baggage, maybe, but even if I were hearing this in situ, I think I'd be trying to swat it away. But...there is something a bit compelling if you resist that urge, an alien kind of presence, just a discomforting one.


Distributed by metamkine

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The International Nothing - Less Action, Less Excitement, Less Everything (ftarri)

I saw this pair (Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke, clarinets) at Experimental Intermedia only a couple of weeks prior to this recording. I know at least one of the pieces here (they do play all composed music, btw) was played then ("Sleep!"), perhaps more. In any case, the overall feel of that evening and this recording is quite similar, albeit without the added spice of a naked fat guy. Very soft, a kind of agitated quiet where the reeds circle about each other in a fairly tight weave, tendrils escaping hear and there, always a burr in place. A couple of days later, I was walking down the street with a musician who shall remain nameless, mentioned that set and was told, "I hate that kind of stuff!" meaning: restrained, delicate, channeled. This music is certainly that but I find not a small amount of pleasure in that restraint, especially when it's combined with a subtle but tangible sensuousness as is the case with these fellows. There's an obvious joy being experienced by the clarinetists in rubbing together adjacent sonorities, bathing in the resultant overtones. Things are kept moderately tonal, though never sing-song-y, the plies of sound calmly allowed to waft over each other, to settle lightly. "Sleep!" closes the disc and is irresistibly drowsy. Good stuff.

Available from erstdist

Berlin-Buenos Aires Quintet - s/t (l'Innomable)

Recorded almost six years ago, the two Berliners (Andrea Neumann and Robin Hayward) journeying to Argentina to perform with Lucio Capece (I'm assuming he still lived there at the time, perhaps not), Sergio Merce and Gabriel Paiuk. I don' know that it was the case, but there's something of the tentativeness of first meetings in play here, a reticence that's all the more palpable with as many as five people. One improvisation, very quiet and spare for the most part (with the odd eruption), but tenuous enough so as to evaporate every so often. One of those sets where the more intently I listen, the less I enjoy it, but if I sort of just let it waft over me, half-conscious of it, it works just fine. Not sure if that's a recommendation or not; depends. (!)

Tomaž Grom/Seijiro Murayama - Nepretrganost (i'Innomable/Sploh)
Bass and percussion (Grom is new to me), in a set of five pieces that, as does a lot of music these days it seems to me, straddle the efi/eai divide, sometimes effectively, always ably, but occasionally a bit dry. Needless to say, extended technique is foregrounded, though one never quite loses the notion that Grom is wielding a string bass. The second track is a good study in contrasting rhythms and textures, a kind of subtle beat ricocheting between instruments and modes of attack. But track three, "Tri", is my favorite, a keening drone piece with great textural richness and forward momentum, beautifully played and conceived. Other cuts get overly scratchy/scrabbling for my taste though, of course, efi aficionados will find it right up their alley. A mixed bag, for me, but I'd be interested to hear more.

all l'Innomable discs available from erstdist

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Can't get enough of this. Phil Minton (with Veryan Weston on piano, I believe) singing "The Cutty Wren", an old English folk song.

Monday, July 12, 2010

While I was working at Environ in the late 70s, we had a deal with NMDS (New Music Distribution Service) enabling us to take LPs on consignment, attempt to sell them at the loft, garnering a couple bucks profit on each. So I made many a trip up to the NMDS brownstone at 6 West 95th St. I think Bley and Mantler lived there, though I never caught sight of them. The first floor was given over to the record distribution business, manned by two or three fellows at a time, including the late Taylor Storer and Kip Hanrahan. It was always an enjoyable visit, talking music with whoever was there, pawing through new arrivals, choosing what to take back. Hanrahan I recall being a bit diffident, but not unpleasant, often sporting a red-star beret, something I associated (wrongly?) with Mao.

That ended around 1980. Sometime in '81 or '82, I was making a routine visit to the J&R Jazz annex which, at the time, was located on Nassau St., a block behind City Hall park. Browsing through the new arrivals section, I came across "Coup de Tête" and said, "Hey! I recognize that guy." Picked it up. Talk about a breath of fresh air.

Several years before Zorn, Hanrahan was in full auteur mode (and with arguably better taste to boot) from the get go. Essentially, he'd use Latin music as his bedrock (Cuban more than anything else, but also Nuyorican, tango and others), melding it with musicians from the jazz loft scene (Chico Freeman, Carlos Ward, John Stubblefield) as well as some from the nascent downtown improv area (Arto Lindsay, George Cartwright), always with a heavy emphasis on bass/percussion interplay (here, Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Andy Gonzalez, later Steve Swallow, Jack Bruce, etc.) Plus, his lyrics were hyper-personal, raw and sometimes, on romantic pieces, told from the woman's point of view, the following a nice example, sung by Lisa Herman:

When I told you I screwed that other guy
I said it hurt
I wanted you to hurt me back
I wanted you to rape me
I wanted you to fuck me up the ass
I wanted you to hit me
When you could only sulk
I had more contempt for you than I ever thought I could have

Additionally, and crucially, Hanrahan had a decided romantic bent, leavening his mordancy with, on the first record, side-ending works by Marguerite Duras ("India Song") and Teo Macero (!) ("Heart on My Sleeve"). Merely having Teo Macero on the same record with, say, Arto Lindsay, was rather stunning.

There's a bit of a grab bag feel to "Coup de Tête"; one has the impression that Hanrahan perhaps thought this could be his only opportunity and threw in everything he could but enough of them are jewels that it's no big deal. Listened to today, the percussion just leaps out, incredibly vibrant and alive--Jerry Gonzalez, Daniel Ponce, Nicky Marrero, Orlando "Puntilla" Rios--these guys are just amazing. The songs are fine, unusually structured and lyrically arresting. fwiw, here's the AMG review I wrote some 10 years ago.

All told, though, "Desire Develops an Edge", the next release, is Hanrahan's finest. Issued originally on two discs, one an LP, one an EP, he expands on certain facets of "Coup de Tête", particularly the percussion and electric basses, adding substantial contributions from Jack Bruce (and how thrilling it was to see Bruce suddenly reappear in a vital context after, for me, some 14 years) and the great Haitian guitarist Elysee Pyronneau. One amazing piece after another, ranging from percussion and chant to rocking to, in songs like "Two (Still in Half-Life)", things really unique to Hanrahan. That piece, with its phenomenal intertwining of basses, wonderful lyrics ("no matter how softly we touch/we seem to bruise") and extraordinary tension and release when the cymbal rhythm kicks in, is one of my all-time favorite songs.

He followed this with "Vertical's Currency", a rather fine stab at something of a pop album, using a good deal of keyboards (Peter Scherer) for the first time, some more straight-forward melodic lines with the crooning Bruce. "Make Love 2" is indeed a song that, in a just world, would have been a pop hit. "Shadow Song", modeled on a theme of Mario Bauza, is a superbly swaggering large band number bearing, with delightful awkwardness, introspective, self-critical lyrics ("Why are these blues so attractive to my lovers/And arrogant to my friends?"). He's straddling a divide here, in dangerously slippery territory, but manages to pull it off.

Next, there's an odd entry in Hanrahan's discography, okay in and of itself but indicative of a disturbing trend that would proliferate in upcoming years. "A Few Short Notes from the End" is an EP, five songs, cobbled together from sessions of the prior few years--not bad but really with no reason for existing other than, I guess, to keep his name out there. There's a more rockish, far inferior version of "Two (Still in Half-Life)" and a few other nice pieces but it's pretty slight.

Around '88, Sting developed a guilty socio-musical conscience and initiated the Pangaea label, ostensibly to offer relatively creative fare. Steve Coleman's (pretty bad) "Sine Die" appeared here, as did Hanrahan's "Days and Nights of Blue Luck Inverted". It's a strange recording--far more romantic in overall tone than earlier ones, often to good effect as on the opening rendition of the rarely heard Ellington composition*, "Love Is Like a Cigarette", featuring a great vocal by the almost entirely unknown Clare Bathé (who, I discovered via You Tube, sang a bit with Lionel Hampton). But it's also, perhaps unsurprisingly given the label, far slicker than earlier efforts and, worse, occasionally settles into the kind of coolness, blandness even, that would come to infect a good bit of his 90s music (I wonder if Fernando Saunders, then just off the Lou Reed band, may have been a culprit). Again, not bad, just redolent of a "professional" air, a far cry from the percussion of "Coup de Tête" where the sound seemed lifted directly from the street.

That was the last vinyl of his I bought. The 90s output was intermittently good, often chaotic, usually a melange of sessions ranging over several years with little connectedness. Don Pullen would appear years after he died alongside pieces recorded contemporaneously in a song cycle derived from the Arabian Nights. The structures are rather dreamlike, but not as compelling as desired--one has the image of the auteur having spent too long locked up in his studio, trying to assemble the ultimate jazz/Latin/skronk fusion album, having missed other vital things having occurred in the meantime.

I should mention, in fairness, that Hanrahan's label, American Clave, issued a huge amount of spectacular music, including the first two Conjure recordings, Astor Piazzolla's first US recordings, Deep Rumba and more.

*You Tubing versions of this, I see it's by Jerome Kern. Have to check the LP at home...coulda sworn it was credited to Ellington there.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Annette Krebs/Taku Unami - motubachii (Erstwhile)

When this appeared (April?) I played it quite a bit, sometimes nothing but all day. It's a great recording, entirely unique in many respects, but I'll be damned if I could think of anything halfway intelligent to say about it. It just sat there, alive and glowing, an alien beauty that defied any attempt at penetration. After a few weeks, I put it aside, leaving it out on the stereo as a constant reminder that I needed to revisit and re-investigate.

Well, I've been doing so. Played it twice last night and, as I sit here typing, it's on the fifth go round today, early Sunday afternoon. And it's as beautifully impenetrable as ever to me. I could fall back on phrases like "internal logic" and, I admit, that's very tempting. It does sound very whole and self-contained, utterly consistent within whatever set of indecipherable rules was employed. Virtually every sound, sounds right, no matter how odd or (at first hearing) awkwardly placed it might be--tumbling drawers, a baby's bawl, an accordion waltz, snatches of German, abrasive, low buzzes--they all fit. Sometimes, I think the glue holding things together is the soft koto-like plucks that surface now and then, almost like fades between film scenes. In fact, I do tend to experience this music very visually, imagining a darkened stage with many props (perhaps influenced by the photo posted at IHM a while back of the drawer or box set-up), Krebs and Unami calmly moving from place to place, triggering an action here, avoiding doing so there but somehow not seeming random, each motion part of some arcane choreography.

Compelling. That's a word that springs to mind often. You know something is happening, something real but, like great poetry, it's impossible to pin down yet you're compelled to follow it, to try to understand. In the end, you do understand though, pace Wittgenstein, you're unable to speak about it. So you remain silent.

More or less.



Saturday, July 10, 2010

What a fine, fine recording. Why is it that something like this, quite mainstream even in its time (1972) still manages to sound fresher than 95% of avant jazz of the past 20-30 years? Hall is incredibly imaginative here, such pure notes, not a misstep to be found. And Carter compliments him perfectly. Neither opts for any flash, both hew to the melodies but not slavishly, both possess such gorgeous tone. And yes, Keith's a big fan of Hall.

Maybe it's my mood, or the fact that I've been listening to a lot of comparatively straighter jazz today, but this isn't doing it for my at the moment. Lee is fine and there's some nice proto-lower case contrabass clarinet playing by Braxton on "Crepuscule" but Hampel's getting in the way...Plus I just wanna play this incredible John Handy record...

One of the archetypal one-off masterpieces. For one thing, this still sounds to me like there's no way it could have been recorded in 1965. It's at least three or four years early. But what a record! Two side-long pieces, with performances by at least three musicians the heights of which I don't think any of them ever reached again: Handy, Michael White and Jerry Hahn. (btw, listen to Hahn near the end of "Spanish Lady" and you'll hear a lot of Zappa from five years hence). Like the Hall/Carter. everything is so fluid while also being amazingly imaginative. Handy's five minute unaccompanied solo beginning "If Only She Knew" was still a rare item at the time aside from Dolphy and leads into a series of them, anticipating AACM structures.

ok, enough vinyl for now...

Ah, this holds up wonderfully, what a great record. That nexus where you could hold a banner like that unironically, utilize Cuban revolutionary songs, unselfconsciously integrate them with inspired free playing. A short-lived period (the follow-up LMO recording, some 20 years later, was brutal) but this has to be one of the best examples of politically charged, creative jazz. Great cast, inspired selection of pre-existing music, though the recording falters a bit toward the end, getting too obvious (Circus '68 '69 and We Shall Overcome). But the whole first side and the classic Song for Che are priceless. The latter, imho, is one of the most beautiful, heart-rending melodies I've ever heard.

Really nice series of duets (first in a pair of releases) from 1976. Lovely piece by Haden, "Ellen David", performed with Jarrett, one of my favorite works ever with the latter, not dissimilar in feeling with some of the "Death and the Flower" sessions from '75. Good Ornette track, a beautiful with Alice Coltrane. The track with Motian sort of revisits an LMO approach, using excerpts from an Angolan revolutionary music album, effectively done. Very good recording overall, one that seems to escape notice.

btw, Artist's House, Ornette's label that issued a handful of very good recordings at this time, also made use of one of my least favorite LP packaging concepts--the interior sleeve opening. I suppose the thought was that you were protecting against the vinyl being accidentally flung from the sleeve as you waved it about excitedly, but in practice it was a really annoying (ok, mildly annoying) operation to extract the record. End of trivial rant.

From 1977. Good, not great duo with Hawes, I'd forgotten there was a booklet enclosed--nice Haden and Hawes discographies, therein. The two pieces by Hawes that lead off the album, "Irene" and "Rain Forest", are very attractive. Again, not great in most senses of the word, but a really nice little record. I guess there were two volumes on LP, re-released on a single CD.

I think I picked this up in Paris, actually, on my first visit there in '83. I guess Escoude was being touted as a new Django of sorts and all but one of the pieces here are Reinhardt compositions. Bu now, Haden had settled into a pretty much mainstream approach to things--still a great bassist but sans, imho, the depth and fire he had from, say, 1958 - 1972.

I'm sure, even when I bought this around '88. I did so knowing the likelihood that I'd be disappointed. Again, by no means bad, just....middle-aged? Professional? Too competent for its own good? Dunno. Gerri Allen was young then and maybe a little bit exciting, but the whole affair seems so reined-in, too precious. You get the feeling they could churn these out by the yard. OK version of "Lonely Woman" which, admittedly, is a melody I find almost impossible not to love, in any situation.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Cranc - Copper Fields (Organized Music from Thessaloniki/Absurd)

The languorous, gorgeous slow grind. Angharad Davies (violin), Rhodri Davies (electric harp) and Nikos Veliotis (cello) extrude 54 minutes of extraordinarily textured drone, the dryer, scraping strings countered by the thick throb of the harp. in two portions, roughly equal, the second reminding me a bit of early Branca guitar symphonies, a quasi-similar kind of resonance in play. Something about this particular style of dronage, on recording, nags at me a bit--I've a feeling to really appreciate I'd need live immersion. But as is, in this neck of the woods, it doesn't get much better.


Helena Gough - Mikroklimata (Entr'acte)

There seems to be a bit of resurgence--at least as far as what reaches these ears--of musicians looking to 60s electronic and tape collage pioneers for inspiration, Seth Nihil being a recent example. Gough is clearly, and effectively, exploring those climes here. I've written before how, generally speaking, I have certain problems with this area of music, being somewhat averse to a kind of sheen I hear in many of the sounds utilized, though I do my best to hear past that. The tumultuous nature of the structures tend to make the work a bit difficult (for me) to grasp as well, though I'd emphasize this is likely far me me than Gough. The second of four tracks here, "Cloister", manages to rise above all these concerns, possibly due to a relatively thoroughgoing drone and offpsringing tendrils, small sprouts shooting out, locating fascinating territory, lingering. Beautiful piece. The other tracks are fine, just dont' grab me as much--listeners with more of an affinity to the roots acknowledged herein will doubtless enjoy themselves greatly.


Cristal - Homegoing (Flingco Sound System)

There's ambient drone and then there's ambient drone. Unfortunately, this is the former. Cristal, from Virginia, is Jimmy Anthony, Greg Darden and Bobby Donne and they present fairly grainy, not unpleasant dronescapes, redolent with echoes and dollops of spaciness. The Eno of "Apollo" with the melodic material shorn off, perhaps. Far too mushy and invertebrate for my taste.


Julia Eckhardt et. al. - //2009// (Compost and Height)

It's not a new idea, that of the Exquisite Corpse, but it's often a fruitful one. In this case, Julia Eckhardt put together a piece (a very fine one, breathy and open, allowing for a good deal of inspection from many angles) and passed it along to Chiyoko Szlavnics, who was asked to, in some manner, react to it. There were a couple of constrictions: she had four weeks to do so and her creation, like Eckhardt's, should last seven minutes. Szlavnics' work was then passed along (presumably with no information other than the sound) to Mieke Lambrigts and then, in order, to Manfred Werder, Annette Krebs, Tim Parkinson (whose score is shown above--the cover of the booklet is simply white with "2009"), Olivier Toulemonde, Manu Helterbach, Aernoudt Jacbos and Ann Wellmer.

Gauging these specific reactions, given that, of course, the references aren't overt, if next to impossible but it's quite easy to simply listen to as a suite of sorts, picking up on the relatedness of any adjacent pieces (and echoes, perhaps, of earlier ones) in a more general sense. And much of the music is wonderful! Better, a number of the names were new to me so, for example, it was an extra pleasure hearing Mieke Lambrigts' contribution, "Teufelskreis", a fantastically subtle and mysterious sequence of low hums. Werder, perhaps obscurely, used information gleaned from her piece to create an unaltered field recording on a street in Brussels; it works.

Krebs, in Brussels, apparently (amazingly) recognizes that Werder's track stemmed from there and constructs an extremely complicated response (the booklet accompanying the cd, a very attractive one, includes commentary from several of the participants, scores or photos from others) that incorporates the Werder, guitar, taped conversation, Chinese song and much more. A great piece. Parkinson, somewhat inexplicably, offers a work for melodica and percussion, spare and quirky on the one hand (not dissimilar, in a way, to his piano composition that I've recently heard), slightly Partchian on the other. Toulemonde clear adopts the melodica sound as well as, obliquely, the percussion, blending them effectively with field recordings and his track is seamlessly continued by Holterbach, integrating lovely, high-pitched sounds, possibly rubbed wine glasses. Aernoudt Jacobs created a very attractive, rather prismatic score (perhaps from translating the previous piece graphically?) which sounds very different from Holterbach's, an intense but low-level electronic whir and rumble, segueing into eerie string-like sounds; very, very nice. Finally, Anne Wellmer records the ionosphere with a "long loop antenna", an utterly gorgeous series of crackles and low thrums.

An excellent set. Do hear it.

compost and height

The first recording of Alvin Lucier I ever owned was Vol. II of "Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas", the Lovely Music LP. Why Vol. II, I'm not sure except that it was probably sitting there in a bin, sometime in the early 80s. I'd heard "I Am Sitting In a Room" on radio but for some reason hadn't picked it up, perhaps simply due to not seeing it around. I'm sure I was intrigued by the title of this one, though. How could one not be? At the time, I found the music daunting, however. So spare and clean, sterile even, too much of a "science experiment" feel--let's see what happens when various mallet instruments are paired with sine waves attuned, as closely as possible, in pitch. I'd since returned to it and, not surprisingly, realized how much I'd been missing, both in the richness and chilly beauty of the piece itself and as an antecedent of much contemporary work I admired.

Nick Hennies, who has been working with more composed forms recently, provides us with an excellent recording of the piece. The structure is fairly simple--four sections, one each for marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel and vibraphone (though other instruments can be used), each accompanied by sine waves, beating out regular, unaccented rhythms which shift now and then. As closely as one may attempt to match the percussion and sines, inevitably there are differences which result in resonant beats in the air "between" the sound sources. One merely experiences this but, as in Lucier's best work, there's ineffably more going on than a sonic phenomenon. You get glimpses of poetry, of natural wonder--it can be inexplicably moving, like the appearance of melodic content in "I Am Sitting In a Room".

This is a gorgeous recording, beautifully realized by Hennies and a must-hear for anyone interested in Lucier's music.

Hennie's explores, in a way, adjacent worlds on his own "Lungs" (Full Spectrum), for pieces for percussion, two of which also employ voice. Similar to some of Lucier's approaches, he investigates the "resonant frequencies" of the drum skins, the interaction of their excitation by touch or sound waves (voice). It's very subtle, very patient music, Hennies allowing a given element to hang in space and evanesce, waiting a bit to introduce the next one. The two longer cuts, especially, are very rich tracts, the title piece a wonderful stew of low, silky drones and surface clatter, the latter like thousands of spores released from the former, building into a massive and dense sound world. "Second Skin with Lings", listed as using only "live drums" is remarkable as well, the skins rubbed and rolled with great care and subtlety, maintaining a constant presence but feeling quite atmospheric and elemental; difficult to describe but a very unique sound. Solid, excellent disc.

quiet design

full spectrum

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Stasis Duo - s/t (l'Innomable)

One of the interesting things here, in the recording's structure, is that it begins in a kind of controlled fury, a roiling electric static field that, over the course of just a few minutes, hurtles toward something of an explosive short circuit. From then on, over the course of the next seven tracks (about 35 minutes), the sound dwindles down to almost nil, almost like remnants, sputters or faint sparks still active in the darkness. Ultimately, an alive sizzle has emerged, a pooling of ionized gas on the floor, just beginning to well up into potent form, when the sound ceases.

Fine record, very good to hear from this pair (Adam Sussman and Matt Earle, btw) once again. Get it.

Does l'Innomable no longer have a site? In any case, available from erstdist

Erik M - Lux Payllettes (Entr'acte)

It commences with a lion's roar, presumably of MGM vintage, and soon segues into a fractured version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". Erik M has fashioned a work largely comprised of movie cliches (I'm making the assumption on the French portions, which make up a large chunk herein, that they're roughly equivalent as to their place in the Gallic psyche as things like Judy Garland are in the US), from gunshots to "Round Midnight" to disco beats, to John Wayne with snatches of conversation throughout. So it's a collage and, to these ears, has many of the pluses and minuses I tend to associate with that form. Superficially exciting with tons of contrasting and clashing textures and shapes but, at the end, I'm left feeling undernourished. There are any number of very attractive sequence here, for example the talk, street noise and slow, funk-jazz beat combination that occurs around the 14-minute mark ("If you please, doctor"). It's all very well done, quite cohesive and fans of Erik M. should be well-pleased. Personally, I've always enjoyed his work more when he was part of an ensemble (with Voice Crack, say) and still tend to feel that way. For others, this will be all they require.


Palagrachio - Looking for a Looking For (Uceroz)

Palagrachio is Peter Graham (piano, harmonium) and Ivan Palacky (amplified knitting machine). Once again, as with Palacky earlier release, there's an interactive cover in play (created by the design group < href=>Hubero Kororo); this time, I was aware of the impending stain and took great enjoyment watching it spread into the image above. Two tracks, Graham on piano on the first, beginning with tonal trills, Palacky plying that knitting machine which takes on a very steam-punk character, percolating bumpily beneath the sonorous keyboard, a lovely mix. There's a fine expansiveness, almost luxuriousness in play here, though never losing the edge, always bearing a tinge of acidity. They don't linger overlong, moving into various areas over the piece's 33 minutes, retaining an overall mood of agitated beauty, Graham working the piano's interior (and elsewhere), Palacky--well, I've little notion of how he extracts what he does (though check this out)--but the subsidence into small clicks, squeaks and whirs is marvelous.

About midway through the second piece, the harmonium billows forth in an incredibly rich kind of fanfare, engulfing the listener, the clattering knitting machine borne aloft. There's an odd disjuncture about five minutes from the end, but it's a wonderful trip, a very unique commingling of sound with a fine structure beneath.


Saturday, July 03, 2010

Olivia Block/Kyle Bruckmann - Teem (either/OAR)

Four pieces, which I hear as a suite of sorts, recorded and rearranged by Block (field recordings, piano, reed organ, mixing) and Bruckmann (oboe, English horn, suona, accordion, field recordings, editing & mixing). Trying to parse out who was responsible for what is a fool's errand, even in sections where one of the pair is much more prominent than the other. I know Block's work far better than Bruckmann's, so I tend (unfairly, I'm sure) to hear "Teem" more in context of her oeuvre and there are certain strands of continuity. One is the up-front-ness of many of the approaches, the saturated sound, here redolent of double-reeds (and, I assume, the reed organ), a keening swirl over the clatter and rustle of taped noise, chorale-like here, strident there. Played at volume, the overtones set one's inner ear abuzz (the opening of part II could clear many a room!). The second and third sections, the two longest, sub-divide into contrasting portions, the howl of the reeds, for example, giving way to obscurely-sourced but spacious field recordings (one guesses highly post-processed, but one could be wrong). On that track, the second, I found the jumping a bit rocky and couldn't quite corral the parts into a cohesive whole, even as the massed reeds re-emerged a couple of times--not they needed to be or were intended as such, but the third track works so well that I wanted to hear more of the "same". On that one, there's a huge welling up of field recordings (I'm thinking Block's handiwork here, but who knows?), a spatially dense and rich fabric into which gasping reed organ is interwoven. Again, about midway through, the gears shift--indeed the gears seem to be grinding, harsh screeches against electronics (processed accordion?), once more multiplying plies into an exceedingly complex weave but here it's one that bears some poetic affinity (to me, at least) to the music that we'd heard just before. The sound is simply amazing, the piece very powerful. The concluding section indeed has something of a denouement feel to it, a soft, pulsating set of reed tones, again multi-layered, rich and detailed.

A fine recording, as fascinating as it is occasionally troublesome to decipher.

Ernst Karel - Heard Laboratories (and/OAR)

Like the title says. I imagine we've all been in situations where the sound environment is so overtly full and rich that we pause and linger, absorbing the waves, wallowing in the mass of sound. I recall, long before I had any notion of "field recordings", leaning against the engine housing of the Block Island ferry, imbibing the deep, complex thrum, losing myself to the vibrations felt through the metal. Generally, at least in discs that have happened my way, musicians tend toward subtler territory, sounds that tinge the aural space instead of saturating it. Not Karel.

The recordings here are unprocessed, taped in various scientific and medical laboratories at Harvard, though I suspect they're often layered atop one another (perhaps not!). I'm not sure what to say otherwise, except maybe to describe them as possessing roughly the kind of hums and buzzes one encounters in such environments, augmented with the bangs and clinks occasioned by human activity and the odd voice. It's just there, much as it would be if you were sitting in the room. I'll say, however, that I enjoy it immensely, love sitting here, in my room, vicariously experiencing the sonic nature of those spaces a couple hundred miles away. As in all fine projects of this general nature, Karel coaxes the listener into perceptions and awareness (s)he wold likely never have otherwise experienced, always a very valuable thing.


Cage.Frey.Vriezen.Feldman.Ayres.Johnson Manion (Edition Wandelweiser)

An absolutely delightful recording, beautifully selected and performed by Dante Boon. The gently spiky "Etude 2" from Cage's "Etudes Australes" opens Disc 1, providing a fine introduction and contrast to Jurg Frey's gorgeous, and fetchingly titled "Sam Lazaro Bros", a soft set of elegant chords, arrayed in an almost stately manner, those with delicious irregularity, somewhat reminiscent of Satie's "Ogives". It hangs in midair, raindrops on a thin vine, very beautiful. Five very brief, almost baroque (and quite fun) pieces by Samuel Vriezen lead into Feldman's "Last Pieces" (1959), four short compositions. The third, "Very Slow. Soft. Durations are Free." is a deep, almost static work, superbly played by Boon, clearly pointing toward the composer's mature music.

"Two Pieces for Piano" (1935) by Cage are next, both vivacious and surging, followed by four more examples of pianistic brevity, this time by Richard Ayres; they're dreamy, frilly and perhaps a bit slight but fit in well as mini-bonbons before Cage's "One" (1987). It's almost as though Boon took the Frey piece and stretched it out even further, each cluster drifting up, the space between them palpable; fantastic performance. But there's more! And we're still on Disc 1. Tom Johnson, who can be as musically geeky as they come, manages to overcome that tendency (as he often does) in "Tilework for Piano" (2003) "in which a fifteen-beat phrase can be covered by a simple rhythmical three-note pattern that appears at five different speeds." And you can actually hear that if you listen closely, though more likely you'll just be entranced by the dance of tilings as they're overlaid in increasingly complex ways while still retaining enough clarity that one isn't entirely lost. Lovely piece. 34 seconds of trilling Vriezen closes out the first disc.

As excellent as the offerings have been on Disc 1, the real jewel in this set is Michael Manion's "Music for Solo Piano" (2006), 34 minutes of bliss. It's disarmingly simple, just a slow sequence of soft chords, often repeated (or almost repeated--Boon's a master of the subtle variation in pressure or duration) but chosen with exquisite care. The shifts take on a real dramatic quality, the small variations within the chords forming ghost melodies. The music floats through the room, chord by chord, through one door out the other, alien and beautiful. A great work of music, I've had it on almost constant rotation for days.

Eva-Maria Houben - Works for Piano (Edition Wandelweiser)

Two more sets of spare, slightly somber music for piano by Houben (also performing), who I've previously not heard to the best of my knowledge. Though tonal, her work isn't easy, imposing fairly severe listening demands due to length and iteration. The opening piece, "Klavier" (2003), for instance, spends its first 15 minutes in a kind of slow seesaw between simultaneously struck very low and very high notes/chords that vary only slightly and a mid-range one that alters some what more often. It's hypnotic, after a fashion, and oen comes to appreciate the contrasts and progressions, even if the latter is more in one's head than the music. After about 15 minutes, the second half turns even darker, the heavy chords predominant, trudging toward its conclusion. It's very moving, though, resolute like a martyr trodding toward the pyre. "Drei Chorale (penser à Satie)" (2007) feels substantially lighter despite consisting of sets of four descending chords in its first half (which, I must say, don't strike me as being preoccupied with Satie). Again, about a third of the way through, Houben switches gears, reducing the chords from four to three, in a low-high-low arc, then to sets of five in the final third. The calmness, even stateliness, is very effective and does give the strong effect of thinking, considering. On "Senza Espressione" (2007), however, the the paired scale-like lines, often one descending, one ascending, while attractive and nicely spaced, feel a bit too much like an exercise, not attaining that delicious balance between simplicity and depth as in, say, the aforementioned "Ogives".

Disc Two is largely given over to the 46 minutes of "Und Entfernt Sich Wieder - Singend" (2005) (And Swimming Away Again - Singing), mostly resonant low key, struck in brief patterns, allowed to hang in space. Here I do get something of a Satie feel, but the Satie of the mystic, Rosicrucian period. There are slight moments of respite where Houben moves higher on the keyboard and introduces a regular cadence but, for the most part, it's like staring down into a dark pool of water deep in a well, seeing the occasional soft, black ripple. On the one hand, it's quite effective and, again, moving, but it's a huge amount to try and grasp, spartan as it is. I've a feeling I'll come back to it in the future, each listen providing more shape and color, like gradually adjusting one's eyes to the dark. The recording closes with "Three Lullabies" (2007), the most overtly beautiful pieces here and, I mus say, my favorites. Gorgeous sequences of paired chords here, single rays of light there, floating and somewhat eerie, with just enough sourness to impart a troubled dream.

A fine recording; I want to hear more from Ms. Houben.

Tim Parkinson - Piano Piece Piano Piece (Edition Wandelweiser)

Richard did a very good write-up of this release recently, one that to an extent captures my opinion of it, though I think I'm a tad less charitable. It took several listens, on my part, to get into it at all; I first hear little but random strings of notes, random, moreover, in a particularly "classical" way that didn't sit so well with me. Especially coming during the period I was greatly enjoying much of the music above. Little by little, however, the first of the two pieces here ("Piano Piece (2006)") began to ingratiate itself to my ears. The initial scalar runs were a bit off-putting, overly dainty, but took shape retrospectively when the ensuing dark, mordant notes appeared. This seems to be the best way (for me) to listen, to hear the sections, insofar as I can differentiate them, in contrast to those immediately before and after, sort of holding them in my aural hands, weighing them, noticing the different shadings, hues, etc. I'm not sure it reached the same degree of profundity as the Frey, Cage, Manion or Houben works but, as Richard pointed out, there's a certain uniqueness in play that is very winning and, moreover, makes me think there might be levels I'm not yet privy to.

Still, I couldn't worm my way nearly as much into "Piano Piece (2007)". In the notes to it, Parkinson writes, "To work, for a period of time, until that work and time is over." Enticing, but the work so portrayed seems to me too akin to the sort of thin I do during most weekdays, that is, rather mundane bookkeeping. Here, the randomness doesn't, to me, happen upon many areas of fascination or beauty. There are moments, to be sure, and had those been collected in a ten-minute piece as opposed to strung out here and there over 35, perhaps it would have worked for me. As is, I found myself losing patience, unable to get into sync with Parkinsons's vision. As above, even more so perhaps, I leave open the strong possibility that this is more my problem than his. I do get the sense of a keen intellect in action here. As with Houben, I'm very curious to hear more and, eventually, to hear what I've been missing.

Edition Wandelweiser

available stateside from erstdist

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Barry Chabala gave a solo performance last evening in a room in St. Mark's Church, Manhattan. Although he'd mentioned to me some of the selections beforehand, the concert was presented as a single, uninterrupted set, so it wasn't until afterward that I was able to get a picture of the structure.

Throughout, field recordings were heard, beginning with one by James Connell made in NYC, that included subways, Yankee fans, "Take Five" and other archetypal New York sounds. I knew that a couple of Michael Pisaro's "Transparent Cities" works were to be part of the program and was momentarily confused, both by the NYC-nature of the sounds (Pisaro's recordings having been done in and around LA) and the rather loud, harsh single notes limned by Chabala which stood out quite a bit, much more so than the sine tones in Pisaro's original recording. So there was a bit of misunderstanding on my part.

As well, it turned out that Chabala was interpolating parts of Pisaro's "Mind is Moving" during the entire evening, further "muddying" the waters. In any case, when he moved into the "Transparent Cities" pieces (nos 8 & 21), things settled more into the vein I'd expected, though again, his guitar, whether softly plucked or excited by an e-bow, remained somewhat more prominent than the sine waves one had become used to in the Wandelweiser releases. But the integration with the taped sounds felt true and slid for the first time--very, very nice.

As Pisaro uses considerable spans of silence in many of his works, one never was quite sure that a piece had ended. But Chabala soon segued into an area clearly different with Pisaro's "sleep, river, bells, chords" (solo guitar version) which essentially consisted of 12 or so (I glanced at the score but don't recall precisely) four-note rising arpeggios, each (I think) different and each payed rather clearly, with some vibrato, by Chabala over a varying series of field recordings. Even better, the 8 o'clock bells that tolled in St. Mark's church appeared just before a quasi-similar peal emerged from the guitar.

Finally, "Mind Is Moving" emerged again as it had through the evening, now played over a tape by Chabala that included a particularly lovely rain section and the sounds of his two sons, talking.

It was a lot to take in in one gulp and may have benefited a bit by either breaking up the pieces or providing a road map giving the listeners at least a glimmer of the forthcoming structure, but there were beautiful moments strewn through and the very nature of the slow, steady pace caused one to concentrate mightily and really appreciate the sounds, their contrasts and affinities in texture and spatial array. A fine evening.