Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Graham Lambkin/Jason Lescalleet - Air Supply (Erstwhile)

Once again, I'm confronted with a release I enjoy very much but find very difficult to parse, to explain exactly why I like it. There's something insidious about it, some underlying itch that's almost belied by the surface smoothness which, if not quite as placid as the musical reference made by the album title, is certainly not hard to listen to cursorily. With a couple of brief, harsh exceptions, there's nothing particularly noisy or aggressive about the music, but there does seem to be a sense of lurking disquiet.

The album is bracketed by two longer tracks, the first mixing medium level hums with recordings of wind--not smooth wind but the buffeting kind, offering padded jabs at one's eardrums. It subsides further from there in the next cut, "Layman's Lament", muffled moans wisping over dark stone, metal or glass clanging off to the side, threatening, birds. "Color Drop" includes a melodic fragment that sounds eerily familiar; a lovely, cloudy piece humorously ended with some dour dialog about VHS tapes. There follows something of a triptych, three shortish pieces, "69ºF", "68ºF" and "67ºF", the first two quite similar (possibly much the same set of sounds altered?), the last introduced by a 15-second squawk of lava-like noise, but then deflating languorously like a wheezing, punctured dirigible. Very nice....

"Air Pressure" begins with what sounds like more explosions, though wrapped in enough padding to render them muted and implosive, offset by further wheezing, the deflationary spiral continuing. The title track has circled around to the territory covered in the opener, but from another angle, bleaker, less submerged tonality, more arid, the dangerous hints beginning to be glimpsed beneath the translucent surface of drone. I should mention that, although no specific instrumentation is listed, the sounds appear to have been generated almost entirely via electronics and site recordings, with the odd voice; save for perhaps that bit in the third track, I couldn't detect any of Lambkin's sampling or, for that matter Lescalleet's tape loops, at least overtly. I could, of course, be entirely wrong about this.

"Air Supply" is oddly unsettling, gripping without offering much in the way of handholds. Lambkin and Lescalleet manage to find an absorbing space between hitherto unnoticed cracks. Glad they found it.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stephen Flato/Vanessa Rossetto - Hwaet (Abrash/Music Appreciation)

"hwaet"* (an Old English term that literally means "what" but more generally was used as "Listen!" or "Hear me!") was compiled by this pair over a period of a few years and, as such, it's tempting to hear the disc as a suite of sorts, with an overarching structure. It begins with hardscrabble, dirty electronics, not so different from that heard in, for example, the area frequented by Bonnie Jones or Joe Foster, rapid-fire popping and harsh static. But the music opens doors after that, lets in air, expands. Rossetto's viola surfaces now and then, a welcome and oddly warm element. There's a lovely ebb and flow, a really fine balance of dynamics and textures, up to what strikes me as the disc's climax, the sixth (of seven) cut, "miwoyn". It's a small masterpiece of site recordings, sine waves, low drones and who knows what else, all gorgeously spaced and layered, creating an exceptionally vital and rich sound world. It closes with something of a return to the territory explored on the first track though expanded, airier, more confident. A fine recording, get it.

*I think "Hwaet" might be the name the duo goes by in addition to the album title, for accuracy's sake.

Vanessa Rossetto - Mineral Orange (Kye)

Rossetto's new solo LP is even better. I'm afraid any description won't sufficiently get across the goings on here, but I'll say that the potential shown in her works from a couple of years back, like "whoreson in the wilderness" has been fully realized. The viola has become one element of many (though a crucial one), embedded in a breathing, detail-filled sound world wherein each episode is both surprising and, in retrospect, absolutely appropriate. The opening low engine sounds bleed into an outdoor environment with soft chatter, the viola, a string orchestra tuning up (? I think?), more traffic, hisses, an ice cream truck (?), etc. all at great density combined with lucid clarity. It's like an unusually cohesive dream. Things always shift, though, sidling over to adjacent or distant areas, the ensuing track more electronics-oriented at first, giving way to masses of birds over a gentle, metallic hum and nearby clatter. At the end, a very simple, heartfelt melody on piano is heard, only just briefly, a glimpse through a window while biking by.

That orchestra (multi-tracked viola?) pops up again on the third cut, embedded in watery sounds, hums, zippers being zippered, clinks--so much more. But I do the music a disservice in only delineating the sequence of elements--everything hangs together wonderfully, filling the sonic page and then some, billowing outward. I've listened to it some 15 times as of this writing and I continue to hear new relationships, continue to be surprised, loving it more and more. Marvelous work.

One of my favorite releases of the year. Have turntable, get this record.

music appreciation

both available from erstdist

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I wouldn't be surprised if more than half of the releases that come my way contain field recordings to one extent or another, sometimes just as one element among many, often processed, sometimes pure and making up the entire sound world. As I've said before, it seems extra tough to quantify these things except to use a kind of photographic aesthetic, including that of the snapshot. Why do Eggleston or Winogrand stand out, for instance (why indeed?). In any case, here are two fine disc, one which uses said recordings as an element among many, the other just awash in them, each quite different, each quite good.

Fergus Kelly - Long Range (Room Temperature)

Kelly (who I believe is a bassist at heart) uses a kind of kitchen sunk approach while constructing dense, grimy sonic episodes. One track, for instance, lists "bone, alarm bell, bowed spring, rubber mallets, frame drum, cymbal, coffee whisk, inside piano, bowed telephone bell, bass, processing). At its best, as on the first and last tracks here, there's a very strong cinematic feel, a kind of implied narrative for which the listener can easily supply his/her own story details, Kelly's growling construction rolling through streets clogged with children and worried mommies. He generally utilizes a very wide range of pitches and densities, creating a space that's full, dark and somber while retaining a crispness and airiness that's very enticing. Really well done work, give a listen.

room temperature

Eric La Casa - W2 (Herbal International)

I am, unfortunately, only minimally familiar with La Casa's previous work, so I have little direct idea how this set fits in though given that the recordings selected here were apparently amassed over some period of time, I wouldn't be surprised if this isn't more or less representative. Whatever the case, they're marvelous and present, at least in part, the other extreme, where the field recordings are all that is the case, however much they've been processed, layered, etc. (which I'm assuming is often the case here, though I could be wrong).

Two discs, one of water sounds, one of wind. Why they sound so fantastic is, as I said above, rather like figuring out why an Eggleston snapshot is similarly so. The choices made, obviously--picking this set of sounds as opposed to that one, the sculpting involved, the ability to focus the observer on one or several foci (the amazing, metallic resonances in "Les pierres de seuil, part 5" on the water disc, for example). The sheer drama of the moment (or contrived moment), what La Cassa, in his notes, refers to as the "sound story". The wind disc immediately offers sounds that seem more wind-caused than purely aeolian. But so, so full and...windy. And, I must say, an awful lot of drama. The arc and tension of these pieces may betray the compositional actions taken but they're so finely limned, one doesn't care. Describing them seems fruitless--something about the wind tracks is very special, maybe their sheer presence and seemingly endless variation within the form. Difficult to say; they seem to sum up the gist of an entire slice of the world, maybe the way Eggleston's teenage employee pushing a shopping cart manages to sum up his.

Among the best of this area that I've heard.

herbal international

Asmus Tietchens - Abraum (1000 Füssler)

The subject of these field recordings is a subway tunnel under construction in Hamburg, nearby the harbor. As Tiechens points out, many of the sounds he expected to encounter by virtue of the proximity to water didn't manifest, at least not directly. Instead, he was confronted with metallic jangling, tapping and rustling, creating it's own erose flow. Whatever the case, the resultant captures make for wonderful and absorbing listening here, with no small amount of mystery and tension. There's a general similarity to the four tracks but, of course, adjusting one's aural focus reveals all sorts of differences and grains. Tsunoda is still my touchstone in this area but if Tietchens' work doesn't quite attain that plateau, it's richer than most and worth checking out.

Costa Gröhn - 2+1 (1000 Füssler)

A 3", 15 minute disc from Gröhn, who I don't believe I've previously heard. I note in his bio that he's "pastor at the St. Johannis Church in Hamburg", I daresay a position unique in this area of music? He uses processed field recording with, at least on the last of three cuts here, vinyl samples attached. The first is fairly standard, interspersing crickets and the like with feedback-y hums and the odd disembodied voice, well realized, with perhaps more than a nod toward Ferrari. The second is easily the highlight, a mysterious brew of rumbles, empty vinyl, fire and sonar-like blips, rich, unexpected and evocative. Unfortunately, the last piece uses a (intentionally?) banal drum track over those blips with a recording that sounds like a restaurant interior, all to no particular effect.

1000 Füssler

Skarabee - Tlön (fbox records)

Skarabee (and Tusk below) is Stuart Chalmers, an English musician hitherto unknown to me, a situation happily remedied with these two discs. Each have a homemade quality that's very appealing--one imagines a fellow sitting around, following his muse without so much regard for the external world. As Skarabee, Chalmers uses electronics, contact mics, object and karimba [sic] (I've always known the instrument as "kalimba" and, in fact, prefer "mbira" but see that karimba is also used). I'm a sucker for the karimba and love how it sounds integrated with more abstract fare as on the first track here. Elsewhere, Chalmers tend to use rhythmic elements, often rapid or looped, varying from scratchy to smoother. The pieces have something of a jewel-like quality and can come close to being over-precious, but there's enough grit and friction to keep them interesting. Still, would like to hear him in conjunction with others, to force things outward somewhat. A good recording, though, worth hearing.

Tusk - Bug (CDR)

As Tusk, all the sounds derive from a Bugbrand Weevil, described as a "small 2 oscillator device with touch pads". As heard here, its output ranges from tiny squeaks to harsh blats, always with something of a "bleat" abiding below. The ten tracks here have more or less geologic titles and often provide a rough match to the sounds heard--"volcanic" is loud and explosive while "dust" is hardly there. I'm not quite convinced that the Weevil has sufficient range to bear an entire release on its shoulders--there's something same-y about its sound as heard here--though perhaps if Chalmers gave it more breathing room, it might fare better. Apart from a couple of tracks, the activity level here is fairly intense and comes across as frenetic rather than thoughtful. When he pulls in the reins a bit, as on "sand", detail emerges and fascination accrues. As with "Tlön", I'd be interested in hearing this manifestation of Chalmers in concert with others.

fbox records

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Man, did I feel like an idiot.

I'd first seen, and loved, the work of film projection artists Sandra Gibson and Luis Recorder in the untitled release on SOS Editions with music by Olivia Block a couple of years ago, then again at Experimental Intermedia this past February. Through both these experiences, as well as last night until informed otherwise after the event, I'd assumed that somewhere buried deep beneath the abstract, phantasmal black and white imagery, there lurked film, film of objects and/or actions that was being somehow manipulated well past the point of recognizability. On the disc, I thought the source might be footage shot through the windshield of a car driving at night through heavy rain, for example.

Watching the performance at the International House in Philadelphia last evening, I again suspected something of the sort and, actually was on occasion a little closer to the truth. The screen was dark for the first several minutes, Olivia's rich, somber drone filling the space. One gradually came to perceive a border within the screen's frame, slightly to the left of center, a darker portion with a sharp, vertical edge. "Behind" this corner, ectoplasmic shapes began to form, ghostly images for which one could easily supply anthropomorphic interpretations, especially when an tentacular "hand" slipped around that corner. Gibson and Recoder have often (at least in what work I've seen), made use of interior frames which the viewer initially accepts as the working area, only to have that exploded later on. Here, the images gradually strengthened and enlarged, bending, shifting, illuminating, shading, pulsating, lapping onto the surrounding walls either directly or via light reflection.

Over the course of 45-50 minutes, the general "type" of image shifted three or four times, occasionally giving the impression of scanning electron microscope footage of, perhaps, lung fibers or other bodily elements. Olivia's music (electronics and inside piano) shifted as well, by and large retaining an ongoing throb but breaking off into harsher moments as well. The collaboration is a work-in-progress and one could perceive both elements of great beauty (and potential for much, much more) as well as the odd misfire or meandering. As it happened, the set-up didn't allow for a great amount of direct knowledge on the part of the participants to the immediate contributions of each other; Olivia had to glance up at the screen (making her own manipulations more difficult) while, in the booth, Gibson and Recoder couldn't clearly hear the music, picking up mostly the bass vibrations. One imagines this issue could be remedied in the future, venue details permitting. This begged the question though--how, if indeed they were, were Recoder and Gibson interacting in real time if they were simply projecting a film?

There was a Q&A after the event and, eventually, as it were, I saw the light and felt like a dolt. For the most part, the videographers were not, in fact, projecting film, but filtering the actual projector light through various glass objects (and, I think, their hands; there were moments when the projected, amorphous forms made motions which I had, in fact, thought reminiscent of hand and wrist movements). That this was entirely invisible to me either says something about the dearth of my perceptual sense or their immense craft, or both! Olivia told me later that it wasn't until the XI event that she realized that this is what they were doing, so I felt a little better, but not much; I should have cottoned onto this myself. This, of course, went a long way toward explaining the couple's contributions of an improvisatory nature as, obviously, they could and did adapt to Olivia's music (to the extent they could hear it) as well as she to their images. It also seemed to offer a clear way of improvising, not so much different from the routine musician-to-musician method, an even more orthodox or organic form than that practiced by Nakamura/Roisz or Rowe/Bjørgeengen where digital information is passed directly between devices. Of course, it would run into the same type of decisions/problems that beset any improviser, including to what degree, if at all, to echo (directly or obliquely) what one has seen/heard, taking into account the space, the use of silence (not yet an issue, so far in what I've experienced with this trio), etc. (I pause to note that, at least quasi-similar to post-Cageian listening to silence, looking at a "blank" wall or projection screen reveals a ceaseless display of activity, of the motion of air between one's eye and the surface, of the infinitely subtle play of light on that surface, and so on).

Of course, this knowledge caused me to go back, in my head, and reinterpret what had just transpired. I'd love to see/hear it again armed with this awareness, but going from memory, I'd still say there were moments that jelled quite beautifully and others that lagged, which is probably as it should be for a collaboration at this stage. On the whole, it was fascinating and invigorating both for what has been achieved thus far and, more, for the doors it opened with regard to future work along this line.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ingar Zach - M.O.S. (Sofa)

Maybe it's the influence of Jason Kahn, but I seem to be hearing more improvised percussion discs that deal explicitly with rhythm, notably Jon Mueller's recent "The Whole". Zach has always had this propensity and, on the fine "M.O.S." he unleashes it without reservation. Using a gran cassa, a large, horizontally oriented bass drum, as a resonator along with his tried and true sruti box and drone commander (an electronic device, I take it), he establishes a rapid, consistent tempo, fading in an out of dronier passages. Though the beat is steady, the nature of the percussion used makes the actually sounds cloudier and more indeterminate, providing a really attractive balance between the regular and the hazy. Over 37 minutes, Zach effortlessly maintains interest, deftly varying texture and pitch while keeping the general tenor of things in a sonically juicy area. Very enjoyable.

Xavier Charles - Invisible (Sofa)

Solo clarinet, three tracks. The first ("Rouge") is an exercise in breath and guttural technique, nothing so unusual on that front but Charles handles it well, keeping a forward propulsion, gradually getting more and more garrulous before abrupting ceasing; good, tough piece. "Jaune" begins with birds and park sounds--faint voices, water maybe, calm traffic, softly rumbling engines. About seven minutes in (out of 23), it's as though we hear the clunking sounds of Charles setting up (perhaps we do) and are then treated to a fine section of held, subdued multiphonics, well integrated into the environment; fine work. "Orange", also recorded with ambient sounds in evidence, is more stop-start and frenetic, recalling early Braxton experiments along similar lines. Still, Charles manages to wring something new out of the "tradition", exposing some lovely facets.

Both of these discs contain solid work and are worth hearing, perhaps more for the adventurous free jazz fan than the eai aficionado.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Jason Kahn/Z'ev - Intervals (Monotype)

In 1982, I attended a performance of Glenn Branca's Symphony No. 2 at St. Mark's Church in the East Village, which concert was eventually released as the the official recording. At the time (I wish still), Branca was largely using home-made guitars, banks of 2 x 4's strung with guitar wire, arranged in a semi-circle. In the middle of the performing space was an enormous bass drum, positioned almost horizontally, at about a ten degree tilt. As the Lights dimmed, out strode an imposing, shaven-head figure clad in tight, black pants, heavy black boots, no shirt but two thick, leather straps crossing his chest, carrying what could only be described as clubs. Z'ev. He proceeded to pound the drum ritualistically, intensely, for several minutes before the rest of the ensemble entered. Later, he returned with heavy chains attached to gauntlets on his wrists. At the opposite end of the chains were affixed various large pieces of metal: basins, pots, sheets. He whirled them about in an amazing display of sheer stamina, resulting in a hellish and absorbing clamor.

I guess he's mellowed since then...In the company of Jason Kahn (two live performances from 2009), he still, to the extent one can differentiate his contributions (difficult) confronts metallic objects but in a much more considered fashion, clearly caring about the interaction with his compadre. Kahn, for his part, once again (as in the earlier reviewed disc with Muller and Wolfarth on Mikroton) happily subverts expectations. Here and there one hears his trademarked, rapid fire, precise hand percussion but generally, the pair work in looser territory, eliciting a wonderful array of pitches and textures, implying rhythm but never quite getting there. Z'ev engages in quite a bit of rubbing, the rough moans effectively offsetting Kahn's quick, bell-like strokes. The second cut contains more kernels of intense activity but still embedded in kind of stasis, the short, low rhythmic figures toward the end summoning forth a ritual feeling that took me back to that Branca show...

Good recording, well worth hearing for fans of either musician.

Michael Vorfeld - Flugangst (Monotype)

I was amused when I discovered that the title of this recording translates, in English, to "Fear of Flying". Something about that concept resonated with the array of bowed metals on display here as though Vorfeld, playing solo, had perilously taken to the air. The music is bustling, the details rich enough, the attacks varied; it's all fine but I find the requisite amount of drive to be lacking. It's simply too much akin to any number of quasi-similar efforts and Vorfeld doesn't possess, to these ears, the degree of rigor that, say, is evident in an Eddie Prevost or Sean Meehan. Not bad but not essential.

Neurobot - Pętla Bohumína (Monotype)

Neurobot is Jacob Staniszewski (home computer, Korg Polysix), Artur Loxdrowski (laptop, Tascam 4-track) and Dominik Kowalczyk (laptop), augmented by Maciek Siwnkiewicz (turntables) on one cut. This recording is from 2001 and I suppose a reasonable comparison would be to the work of Voice Crack from around the same period. Very dense, burbling electronics with a rough, homemade feel, generally a pulse of sorts in play, the odd radio capture bleeding through. The good thing is that the music as just as raucously enjoyable as Voice Crack could be, maybe even more so. This is a case where the underlying tonal and rhythmic elements, which subtly refer to rock forms, actually enhance the abstract noise, providing the kind of glue that doesn't feel like a concession but as a natural outgrowth (or, more accurately, root system). There are missteps (the flying saucer dialogue in "What Do We Need to Know?" is rather hokey, for instance and the sample grunts, taunts, etc. in the final cut are, while humorous--"Get the fuck outta my foyer!"--a little much) but overall this is an enjoyable effort, a rough and tumble joyride worth taking.

Wonder what they're up to these days?

Jakub Mikolajczyk, Monotype's head honcho, was also kind enough to send along a label sampler consisting of 18 tracks, among them very fine ones from Lasse Marhaug/Mark Wastell, Alfredo Costa Monteiro, Gauguet/Hautzinger/Lehn, Komora A, Mirt, Michel Doneda and Hot Club (which I believe includes our own Dan Warburton)


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Syndromes - Temporary Perspectives (Organized Music from Thessaloniki)

Syndromes is Kostis Kilymis, wielding field recordings, mics, computers, lloopp, guitars, etc., on four tough, thorny and generally quite absorbing tracks compiled between 2006 and 2009. There's a ton of stuff going on at many points; if anything the perception is more of musique concrete than eai or field recordings as such. "Less Surface Noise" might be technically true to its title but there's a lot of fine noise occurring, giving the general feel of being inside a large, tiled room with much indeterminate but vaguely threatening activity taking place: wet sliding, dull clangs, groaning metals. "Part 2 (My Voice)" is far sparser and harsher--contact mic crackles, sines, wind; not quite as successful as its predecessor but, in the context of the disc serving well as a textural change and bridge to "Much Remains to be Broken", a rich layering of adjacent sine tones segueing into some fine, clothy wind buffeting. "Improvised After the Fact" closes the recording with something of a return to the more open, mysterious world of the opening cut, outdoors now however, with hisses, keening, nearby rumbles and distant engines, very tantalizing. A good job, solid and well-realized.

organized music from Thessaloniki

Off-cells - 60/40 (l'Innomable)

What an odd recording. Richard posted a lengthy and fine review of this a month ago, noting many things that would have passed me by, like the ratio of the track times, which certainly lends credence to the possible highly-post performance structuring that may have taken place. I'll just concern myself with the music as heard which is...odd and enjoyable. The personnel is Takahiro Kawaguchi (objects), Utah Kawasaki (analog synth), Taku Unami (guitar) and Seijiro Murayama (percussion). The whole thing carries something of an Unami "feel" to it, the soft disjunctures, the subtle sense of play, the isolate, clear sounds. As Richard points out, there's little impression of intentional interplay here and one wouldn't be surprised to learn there was a score involved (though I've no reason to think so). Events occur in the same space, abut or slide past each other, dissipate. It's fairly quiet, though not too, reasonably active, though never remotely crowded, more or less calm though not without nervous energy. There's a certain alien mechanicalness as well--many of the sounds are iterated with an unhurried, insectile aspect. Just as one gets used to it, something happens like Murayama exploding into a free jazzish "solo" or Unami picking out clear, Jim Hall-like tones; it's somewhat disquieting.

I don't know quite what to make of it all. If you sit back and just let it wash over you, it's fine and gently prickly. As soon as you try to decipher what's going on, it evanesces a bit and loses form. Frustrating, but I bet it's one I come back to and find that it yields more over the years. People should hear it.


Sunday, November 07, 2010

Hammeriver - Hammeriver (Mikroton)

You know those classic Coltrane (John or Alice), Sanders, etc. albums where some wonderful modal tune often led off with a billowy, colorful introduction, tempo-less and wandering, all bells and flutes and ululations? The tension would build and, eventually, there'd be a great bass line, the drums would kick in and then Trane or Pharoah would erupt? Well, Hammeriver,a septet made up of Clare Cooper (harp), Chris Abrahams (piano), Christof Kurzmann (lloopp), Tobias Delius (clarinet, tenor sax), Clayton Thomas (bass), Werner Dafeldecker (bass) and Tony Buck (drums), seems to have chosen to concentrate on just that first part, a series of intros, if you will. Indeed the first cut, "Second Stabbing", is subtitled "Ohnedaruth", Coltrane's "mystical" name (unfortunately no reference is made to the great Art Ensemble work by the same name) and the presence of harpist Cooper almost automatically invokes Alice Coltrane. This makes for an odd listening experience--pretty enjoyable on the one hand, unsatisfying on the other. If the listener wishes to sit back and simply let the music wash over him, the bath is warm and comfortable. If one seeks deeper challenges, it's better to look elsewhere.

Jason Kahn/Gunter Muller/Christian Wolfarth - Limmat (Mikroton)

As much as one tries not to, it's virtually impossible, often, to read the names of the participants on a given release and not have any preconceptions about the likely contents. Happily, one's expectations are occasionally confounded. Here, there's far less of the, for lack of a better term, rhythmic burble I was anticipating, the kind of smooth-edged improv that's poured out of the Swiss scene for several years. The music is far sparser, raspier and...gaseous than I anticipated. There's a bit of a rhythmic undercurrent in parts, some soft drones, but in general, it's an interesting, prickly soundscape where many of the elements are high-pitched and tingly, flitting about rather than flowing gently downriver. Good recording.


Tomas Korber/Gert-Jan Prins - RI 1.5442 (Cavity)

Speaking of expectations, one might be forgiven for anticipating an aural sandpapering when Korber and Prins are involved but, again happily, one's preconceptions are undermined. We hear, instead, an intense but relatively low level and subtle fabric of static, bumps and hisses, flitting by with great rapidity, over periodic, faraway moans, like a lathe being operated in the next building. The venting of pressure are less like explosions than exhalations, quite controlled. Within this restraint, what keeps the listener's interest is the sheer amount of varying detail throughout. Without anything like a grab bag feeling, the pair manages to move from one texture to another, usually with several plies in place at a given time, always enticing. The last 20-odd minutes of the 74-minute disc settle into a steady state of quiet ratcheting, soft crickets, before fading to a very extended period of silence. Not earthshaking, but an impressive document.

All three discs available via erstdist

Saturday, November 06, 2010

4 LP releases

Joe Colley - Disasters of Self (CIP)

A handsomely produced 3-LP box set with photo inserts. My experience with Colley's music is relatively minimal though I've tended to enjoy what I've heard both live and on disc. So perhaps, had I known more, I wouldn't have been so surprised at the fairly controlled and subdued nature of much of the music contained herein. Each piece feels self-contained, circumscribing a given area while allowing for transgressions of same. Field recordings emerge from rough (though quiet) electronics (as on Side 1), with a naturalness that's rather moving. Some tracks are crackly, some brooding (the opener of Side 3 is especially fine in that regard); there are locked grooves, something I've never quite understood the attraction of. And yet, overall, I find the work here only moderately satisfying; nothing uninteresting at some level, but not so much that really makes a strong impression, apart from that healthy commitment to single ideas in a given track. I get the idea that maybe seeing it live, at increased volume (or, more accurately, in the midst of the sound) would make a difference. As is, it's fine, moderately enjoyable, but that's all.


Ubeboet - Archival (Moving Furniture)

Ubeboet (M.A. Tolosa out of Madrid) offers three gentle, drone-backed works incorporating field recordings, not an uncommon territory these days but handled here with grace and subtlety, establishing a fine, dark mood. Side 1, "orange", is restrained and subterranean sounding, like taking a walk through an old water/sewer system, dull metallic echoes, watery reflections on dank, mossy walls. "melm" is fa spacier, probably to its disadvantage as its airiness doesn't quite find purchase and meanders into Eno-esque climes. The LP closes with "northern rain", in which a lovely, somewhat mournful and simple six-note melody (source unknown, sounds a little like altered strings) is embedded in, yes, rain and other sounds. Here, Ubeboet outdoes Eno at his own game, very lovely.


Alfredo Costa Monteiro - Cinq Bruissements (No Fun Productions)

From 2006, in which our stalwart hero continues his assault on that most abused of instruments, the accordion. I would have guessed that the title had something to do with bruising, but in fact "bruissement" means "rustling", a modest enough term for what transpires here. The essential accordion-nature is never too far from the surface actually, even if it's being bowed, struck or otherwise manhandled. As in many of his past releases, Costa Monteiro's basic, deep musicality permeates the material no matter how brutal it may seem. It's harsh, unrelenting, tough and very good. Even with all the extended technique, perhaps the most successful track is the most straightforward, the final one, where deep drones abut, tangle and lie atop one another, this one smooth, that one guttural, this steady, that wavering. A wonderful piece, again brimming with the sheer musicality that makes Costa Monteiro on eof the most engaging musicians around. A fine recording.

No Fun

Jon Mueller - The Whole (Type)

You gotta give Mueller credit. Faced with the dilemma of what to do these days with a solo percussion project, he plunges straight into the rhythm, never looking back, bringing in all manner of influences, succeeding in making the music his own. The album is bracketed by two short pieces for hammered dulcimer, lovely, almost stately works with, in addition, a threatening rumble beneath. The remainder of side one is occupied by "Hearts", with a non-stop, propulsive drum rhythm interwoven with Mueller's processed voice (chanting, long tones, sounding to me as referring to Native American song, though I could be wrong) and jangly, tambura-like lines. One might compare it to some of Jason Kahn's work, though there's an earthiness at play, a visceral joy in the chant that one doesn't usually hear in Kahn. "Hands" leaps directly and forthrightly into a martial rhythm, the kind one might associate with marching bands, leavened with a repeated two-note dulcimer figure and talking drum (?). This then explodes into an even larger sequence of bass drum and splattering cymbals, evoking some triumphal cavalcade, pompous and fun at the same time. On this track, Mueller might just overstep a wee bit. But the dulcimer/drum cut that ends things is a joy.

If you're lucky, along with the vinyl you may find a CD containing Olivia Block's remix of "The Whole". Noe, inveterate readers well know my admiration for Block's work but, I have to say, her re-translation of Mueller's piece outdoes the original. She retains the essential rhythmic impetus and shards of the dulcimer (though the notes have been rearranged and separated in space) but truly concocts a piece of her own and a gorgeous one. Fantastic as the drums and dulcimer well in the final few minutes. You can see a video of a wonderful in-store performance of Block doing another remix version (less overt percussion) here


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

As I've written before, the music of Michael Pisaro has been my single favorite "discovery" (late though it was) of the last few years. So I think it's interesting, good even, that each of these three recent releases of his work causes me problems of one sort or another. We don't need complacency!

"ricefall (2)" is one of two recordings inaugurating the Gravity Wave label which will be dedicated to Pisaro's work. It's an elaboration on and an expansion of "ricefall (1)", which was scored for 16 musicians with an 18 minutes duration (16 one-minute events bracketed by single minutes of silence). Percussionist Greg Stuart asked for, and received, a quadrupling of the score--64 events over the course of 72 minutes (with a minute of silence before and after each 16-minute section). The score is fairly transparent, indicating the surface upon which to drop the rice grains and the approximate intensity/volume to be used. Stepping back, there's an overall arc that rises then eventually evens out.

Upon simply hearing the title of the work, I was expecting a very quiet piece; part of me was doubtless recalling seeing Sean Meehan dropping individual grains of rice on his snare some years back. I was unprepared for the sheer intensity of the attack in the very first section, a deluge of sharp, tinging strikes, as though a violent, if small-grained, hailstorm suddenly began pelting my window. More often than not, the minute to minute transitions are subtle but detectable. Indeed, it's a great deal of fun to sit and watch the CD timer change and attempt to pick out what combination of surfaces and intensity was now being heard. While the general soundscape remains self-similar, there's a helluva lot of other stuff happening. Sometimes, as in minute 13, I swear I heard pianos somewhere back beyond the curtain of falling rice. I might guess that the grains were, in that minute, falling on some especially resonant metal, but I'm not at all sure. I also have to commend Stuart for maintaining an astonishing evenness in each subsection; you know he's taking handfuls of grain and dropping or hurling them downward but, even in the densest portions, there's a remarkable consistency of texture (within which, of course, there's much variation).

That being said, all these fascinating attributes aside, I have some trouble wrapping my ears around "rainfall (2)" as a whole. Unlike, say, a late Feldman work where one can simultaneously appreciate the beauty of adjacent chords, recollect more distant neighbors and, almost by osmosis, come to sense and appreciate the large scale structure, here I could never get beyond the immediacy of the attacks and the transitions from one to another, hearing it as four sets of sixteen distinct, if slightly overlapping events. I found myself enjoying it as acoustic phenomena but wanting to hear more of an integration into the whole than I was able to perceive. That extra dimension present in so much of Pisaro's work was imperceptible to me. I entirely allow that this could be just me and that, some time from now, I'll smack myself in the forehead and exclaim, "Of course, you idiot!"

Whatever, the case, it's entirely worth hearing.

With "july mountain (three versions)", my problem is more subtle, perhaps even trivial. The original release, issued several months ago on Jez riley French's Engraved Glass label, is my favorite disc of the year thus far, an extraordinarily beautiful piece of music. That same recording leads things off here and it hasn't lost a bit of its power and beauty. Incidentally, that extra dimension I mentioned above is present, for me, in spades on this piece; the whole thing has a marvelous trajectory, something that, after it's over, you can sit back an really grasp the enormity of. The second track is something of a revelation--it's simply the percussion portion of the original, sans the field recordings. The revelatory aspect of it, to me and I daresay to many, is how much of "july mountain" is percussion. I know that I, to the extent I analyzed it, thought that far more of the sounds were generated in the field, by wind, faraway engines, water, what-have-you. It's a testament to Greg Stuart's immense ability on all things percussive that he was able to blend so seamlessly, so chameleon-like. It's also a pleasure just to listen to on its own, very fascinating, many rubbed surfaces, deep hums from some unknown source, tons more.

The third track is a realization using a mix of field recordings by Pisaro, Stuart, French, Greg Headley and Travis Weller. It's lovely, somewhat different than the first rendition--more birds, dog barks, maybe more insistent engines--but totally in sync with the idea and a joy to hear.

So what's my problem? Only this: The Engraved Glass edition had, for me, a special, stand-alone, jewel-like quality to it. It was a perfect little gem, really flawless and something I liked to think of "in isolation". Combined with two other tracks, as fine as those are, I feel that something ineffable has been lost, or at least that the luster of the piece grows dimmer. It's a quibble, no matter really. Everyone in hearing distance should get this disc (and the previous one) to further experience Pisaro's unique and wonderful sound world. I'm very anxious to hear more from Gravity Wave and am very enthused that the label exists.

Gravity Wave
Distributed by erst dist

My experience, by and large, with Pisaro's music has led me to expect a certain clarity and pristine quality. It also seems to me that it feels more natural with acoustic instruments or very "pure" electric ones like sine waves or, at most, e-bowed guitar. Such preconceptions, of course, are nonsense and, given his growing popularity (at least in this small corner of the world) one can expect musicians to have at his compositions from many an angle. Miguel Prado, out of A Caruña in Galicia, Spain, takes on a piece previously known as "within (3)" and indeed makes it his own. enough so that Pisaro now refers to two separate but related works, "within"'s 3.1 and 3.2. The original was written for classical guitar and consisted of lightly struck single tones that were held for 10 seconds, repeated a varying number of times. I haven't heard that work (I don't think?) but can pretty clearly imagine it.

Prado uses held tones but imbues them with a healthy dose of fuzz, eschewing tidiness for a certain amount of grit 'n' grease. I realize I make this comparison all too often, but there's something of Fripp from the period circa "Evening Star" in the sound. As the electric guitar allows for much longer periods of aural decay, it was decided to layer the tones rather than letting one dissipate before initiating the next. Between these two elements--the fuzzy guitar and the lack of silences (or near-silences; there are extended silent breaks between sections) the work, to my ears, loses some essential Pisaro-ness. It's fine, and enjoyable to hear, with plenty of luscious moments, but lacks the kind of specialness I've come to expect. One listens to the tones fluctuate and interact with one another and derives some pleasure from that, but the subtle sense of structure one expects isn't quite perceivable--you get the sense of pleasant meandering as opposed to ecstatic rigor. Now, to be sure, I may well be over-pigeonholing Pisaro's music and he may have welcomed this expansion into a more drone-like sphere. But one of the qualities I've come most to enjoy in Pisaro's work is a kind of edge-of-one's-seat suspense in an odd sense: each moment is often so beautiful, you are almost afraid to hear the next one, fretting that the spell might be broken. That it's often not is to the credit of both composer and interpreter and it's quite thrilling to experience. That rare sense is missing, for me, here.

Limited edition of 100 and, caveats aside,decidedly worth hearing for admirers of Pisaro's work