Friday, December 31, 2010

Well, the postman has been by on this last day of 2010, bearing no musical packages and, as it happens, I don't have anything sitting around I've not heard, so I might as well get this out of the way. (I'll just note that the new batch of Cathnor's and Another Timbre's have yet to find their way here)

Continuing last year's trend, to these ears, the Wandelweiser crew once again created most of the music that stopped me in my tracks. Prior to a few weeks ago, I thought there'd be a virtual Pisaro sweep, but then I made the happy decision to fork over the ducats necessary to procure Frey's awesome 8-disc set and I've been able to listen to virtually nothing else since (disc 8 is on at the moment). It was recorded in 2001-02, so I'd append the caveat that Pisaro's was my favorite new music of the year. But so much wonderful music throughout, so happy to have (way belatedly) discovered this micro-world.

My 12 favorite releases of 2010 in rough order:

Jürg Frey - weites land, tiefe zeit, räume 1-8 (b-boim)
Michael Pisaro - a wave and waves (Cathnor)
Michael Pisaro - July Mountain (engraved glass)
Michael Pisaro - voyelles (winds measure)
Michael Pisaro - July Mountain (three versions) (Gravity Wave)
Antoine Beuger - keine fernen mehr (Wandelweiser)
Annette Krebs/Taku Unami - motubachii (Erstwhile)
Vanessa Rosetto - Mineral Orange (Kye)
Cage/Frey/Vriezen/Feldman/Ayres/Manion - s/t (Wandelweiser)
Michael Pisaro/Taku Sugimoto - 2 seconds/b minor/wave (Erstwhile)
Alvin Lucier/Nick Hennies - s/t (Quiet Design)
Terry Jennings/John Cage - Lost Daylight (Another Timbre)

Twelve more I liked very, very much (alpha order)

Activity Center - lohn & brot (Absinth)
Robert Ashley - Atalanta (Acts of God), vol. II
Marc Baron - une fois, chaque fois (Theme Park)
Olivia Block - The Whole (remix) (Type)
Chip Shop Music - You can shop around but you won't find any cheaper (Homefront)
Stephen Cornford/Samuel Rodgers - Zinc [extracts] (Consumer Waste)
Luc Ferrari - Les Arhythmatiques (Blue Chopsticks)
Jean-Luc Guionnet - Non-Organic Bias (Herbal International)
Julia Holter - Celebration (engraved glass)
Martin Kuchen/Ernesto Rodrigues/Guilherme Rodrigues/Santos, Carlos - Vinter (Creative Sources)
Eric La Casa - W2 (Herbal International)
Kevin Parks/Joe Foster - Acts Have Consequences (no label)

Among others that brought significant pleasure:

The Ames Room - In (Monotype)
AMM - Sounding Music (Matchless)
Thomas Ankersmit - Live in Utrecht (Ash International)
Mike Bullock/Andrew Lafkas - Ceremonies to Breathe Upon (Winds Measure)
Pedro Chambel - Utpote (Fractal Sources)
Cranc - Copper Fields (Organized Music from Thessaloniki)
Delicate sen - 20090829 (Copy for you records)
Roberto Fabbriciani/Robin Hayward - Nella Basilica (Another Timbre)
Ferran Fages - Lullaby for Lali (Etude)
Patrick Farmer/Dominic Lash - Bestiaries (Cathnor)
Matthias Forge/Olivier Toulemonde - Pie 'n' Mash (Another Timbre)
Anne Guthrie - Standing Sitting (engraved glass)
Nick Hennies - Lungs (Full Spectrum)
Nick Hennies - Psalms (Roeba)
Zbigniew Herbert/Robert Piotrowicz - Pan Cogito (Institutul Polansz
Jason Kahn - Timelines Los Angeles (Creative Sources)
Ernst Karel/Annette Krebs - Falter 1-5 (Cathnor)
Tomas Korber/Ralf Wehovsky - Walkuren am Dornenbaum (Entr'acte)
Martin Kuchen - The Lie & the Orphanage (Mathka)
Martin Kuchen/Keith Rowe/Seymour Wright - s/t (Another Timbre)
Graham Lambkin/Jason Lescalleet - Air Supply (Erstwhile)
Lethe - Catastrophe Point #5 (Intransitive)
Jonathan McHugh/Mark Wastell - Hydriotaphia (Confront)
Michael Pisaro - black, white, red, green, blue (Winds Measure)
Michael Pisaro - ricefall (2) (Gravity Wave)
Mike Shiflet - Llanos (Editions Shiflet)
Mike Shiflet/Daniel Menche - Stalemate (Sonoris)
Stasis Duo - s/t (l'Innomable)
Taku Sugimoto - Musical Composition Series 1&2 (Kid Ailack)

thanks to all.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jürg Frey - Weites Land, Tiefe Zeit: Räume 1-8 (B-Boim Records)

I'm finding that writing about this is even more difficult than the Beuger. You'd think, given eight CDs and about 320 minutes worth of material, all of it incredible, that there would be a good bit to say, but...

My overriding image was a visual one, I'm afraid. I though of eight details of walls as they appear in painters like Vermeer or Velazquez, these excerpted paintings arrayed in a kind of suite, one after another. They're distinct from each other, though subtly so, each essentially in grays or umbers though inflected with other tones. Within each piece, there's a ton of variation even if, at first glance, they read as solid images. Each painted wall, however matte its surface, reflects to a degree the room of which it's a part.

[I'd just posted the above image on facebook, with no explanation, and Michael Pisaro came in and posted this:

a "light fresco" by the artist Mauser, who provided the visual element for the original installations for which Frey created this music (though not this piece). Pretty damned close to my mental image, I must say! :-) ]

These works date from 2001-02 and were part of an installation with Mauser (who died in 2006). Apparently, it ran eight days, a different "Räume" each day, though the space was only open to the public for the 40-minute duration. Before that, Mauser would write text on the floor of the gallery in chalk, then erase it, the erasures being visible to the audience while they listened to Frey's music.

Frey cites field recordings, stones and metal plate sounds as sources for the material; I would have guessed the former, although processed and blurred beyond recognition. There's a sense of vastness, of air (cold night air, to me) in the pieces, perhaps the near negligible sounds of a small city at 3AM, no traffic, no pedestrians, just various hums and throbs from behind thick walls, vibrating, slightly, the breath escaping from one's mouth. Each disc is distinct, even as it occupies quasi-similar territory. It's as though the listener/recorder has visited a neighborhood on eight successive evenings, for the same time period, varying his location by a block or two each night. He stands, listens, absorbs, aware of fluctuations when they occur, content when they do not, abiding for 40 minutes, leaving. Some nights, almost nothing happens, but the air remains thick, pregnant.

I'm not sure what else to say. I've listened through four times as of now and can easily imagine doing so much more. I've yet to be even momentarily bored. Sometimes one hears a surprising glimmer of tonality (often, in fact) but it reads as an accidental resonance, as though a wind had struck a metallic crevasse at just the right angle to produce such a tone. More, there's simply an enormous sense of place, of the real world, however abstracted and indistinct. The works just ring true. As with the Beuger, that's rare enough to deserve a pause, a lengthy one.

A beautiful, deep work.

also available (still, I think) from erstdist

Friday, December 24, 2010

Antoine Beuger - keine feren mehr (Wandelweiser)

again the larkspur

heavenly blue in my garden

they, at least, unchanged

These lines, by Amy Lowell, are the sole adornment, in English and German, for this release and one is tempted to leave it at that. Once again, Richard has done a fine job writing about this music and it's tough to think of much to add.

Two discs, 17 tracks per disc, just whistling, never remotely pyrotechnic, always with substantial breath in the tone, emerging from the very audible hum of the room, subsiding back into it. Slow, hints of melody but, fundamentally, the kind of things you'd whistle to yourself when deeply thinking of matters, perhaps not even realizing you're whistling. It's so personal, in a way, yet you don't (at least I don't) have any uncomfortable feeling of eavesdropping. Beuger is a flutist and his intonation is precise even as its character is blurred. There are silences between and among the pieces but they don't come across as compositional effects at all, more as pauses while Beuger concentrates on what to "say" next. Maybe that's the thing: the sheer thoughtfulness expressed as music--just barely music, perhaps, but music. And generosity in sharing it.

It's very moving. In fact, it's an especially clear example of how this music (generally speaking, both Beuger's, the other Wandelweiser composers and, by extension, post-Cageian eai musicians as well) can achieve a level of profundity and serious emotion that is painfully absent elsewhere. This, Frey's "weites land, tiefe zeit" (of which more later) and much of Pisaro's recent work, among others, have reached this stratum, for which listeners should be extremely grateful. It doesn't happen so often.

Available stateside via erstdist

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bernhard Gál - Same Difference (Gromoga)

Even when I haven't been entirely convinced, I've always found Bernhard Gál's music (or installation recordings) fascinating as they seem to exist on a relatively unoccupied border between eai and more formal music. That isn't to say others don't wander similar boundaries, just not the particular ones he does; there's always something unique about his approach.

On "Same Difference", Gál post-assembles (the pieces date back as far as 2001) a suite that focuses on his love of "East Asian perspectives". There are five brief cuts serving as transitions between the longer ones, the five concentrating on spoken word (Chinese) and/or field recordings. The two longest tracks are "xuan zhuan", a haunting piece for singing wine glasses and bowed crotales and "uh-jeh-gal" for sheng, a mouth organ (Wu Wei), zheng, a kind of zither (Yeh Jiuan-Reng) and sound projection (Gál), a lovely, evocative work that wavers between traditional sounds and contemporary modes in a wonderfully unforced manner, dream-like yet touching earth now and then.

"e-musik" is a marvelous composition for solo acoustic guitar (Gál) wherein all strings are tuned pretty much to E's in different octaves. Here, the allusion to eastern musics is implicit, perhaps similar, in a sense, to the feeling one gets from Partch's kitharas. "vür fier" engages Franz Hautzinger (trumpet), Burkhard Stangl (guitar), Xu Fengxia (guzheng), Wu Wei (sheng) and Xun (Chinese ocarina) in a cross-cultural dynamic with a written score allowing for individual choices of iteration. It's a rocky but rich meeting, interesting sequences of odd sound combinations, a beautiful solo ocarina moment and rougher collisions--a very solid and nutritious 4 1/2 minutes. "Of Sound and Time" is a complex piece involving a rotating deployment of Chinese instruments in a live space as well as three musicians secreted in the audience, asked to make typical audience noises (coughs, cell phone rings, turning of program pages, etc.) during the performance. Again, the balance between (very) traditional approaches and a modern structure makes for a fine tension. "UTOO" enlists the Ensemble Noamnesia, an octet conducted by Rei Hotoda, and asks the musicians to play along with a recording made in a Berlin subway, seeking resonances and other affinities. It works quite well and subtly, the ensemble taking on the character of the place, masquerading as alternate brake tones, PA announcements, engine hums, etc.

Finally, "In fusion" returns to the solo form with Gál this time availing himself of a koudi (Chinese bamboo whistle) and the sound of water thrown onto sauna stones. Soft but intense squeezed out whistles infiltrate a prominent background hum with occasional explosions of steam and a metallic tapping as of hot water pipes. It's gorgeous, personal, mysterious.

Each piece here is vibrant and strong in a different way and, too, they work very well as a suite, politely deferential to a tradition foreign to Gál but also questioning enough as to his relationship to it and it's the the Western sound world. "Same Difference" is my favorite work among that I've heard from him thus far.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Three utterly unrelated releases....

Manfred Werder - 2007 (1) - (futow)

Baffling, in a number of ways. Apparently performed by a quartet of Japanese musicians (Takahiro Hirama, Kanichiro Oda, Takefumi Naoshima and, Mitsuteru Takeuchi), the score consists of the single line, in German and English, "ein tag ein kling a day a sound", the accompanying text covering several issues, concluding with the line, "Trace elements of a world".

What one hears, for some 67 minutes are field recordings, presumably at least four such given the number of participants, though whether overlaid or positioned one after another, I'm not sure. Perhaps if one experienced this in the middle of some space, the diverse recordings emanating from each side, the effect might be subtly disorienting. On a home system, though, one "simply" hears urban sounds, not very abrasive, wafting by. You do seem to be mobile, the alteration of the soundscape seeming to have more to do with your position within it than it's own changing. It's very pleasant, even comforting and lulling. I have to assume, if only due to the purported number of people involved, it's something I couldn't hear on my own, at a given time, but that's indeed what I do feel. Perhaps that's the composition's virtue, that only such a multi-layering can begin to approximate what our ears pick up.


Available in the US via erstdist

Tom Johnson - An Hour for Piano (Irritable Hedgehog)

I've had and enjoyed the original version, performed by Frederic Rzewski in 1979 (the work was composed in 1973) and issued on Lovely Music Ltd. for some time now. When I'd think of it, I'd idly wonder why (to the best of my knowledge) it hadn't become something of a standard work in the post-Minimalist repertoire. It's bright and even flashy while at the same time possessing a knotty structure that gives lie to it's surface sheen. Maybe that's the problem--it's really not as picturesque as it appears on initial hearing. This rendition by R. Andrew Lee, who teaches at Avila University in Missouri, approaches the work a shade or two more gently than Rzewski (not surprising, given the latter's forged steel attack), allowing the notes a fraction of a second to suspend in space, which in turn may allow the listener an extra glimpse into the underlying mechanics.

Johnson skirts the boundaries of a few adjacent territories, making the work frustrating on one level but more deeply satisfying on another. It has a strong patina of minimalism, but is never as rigorous as early Glass or Reich, nodding both to La Monte Young on the one hand and composers like Rzewski and even Christian Wolff on the other. Even when the kernel of a section repeats for several minutes, there's substantial variation just under the surface as well as, often, a noticeable emotional aspect, often of sadness or somberness. Johnson likes irritating his audience on occasion; here he does so subtly, aiming for listeners attuned to early Minimalism, enticing them in and serving something with a slightly different taste.

A fine piece of music, excellently performed by Lee.

irritable hedgehog

oier i.a. - izenbururik gabe/untitled (CDR)

All I can tell you about oier i.a. is clear from the disc's title: that he hails from Basque country. The music is some 42 minutes of, more or less, the same set of sounds, which are of an insectile character, though I doubt sourced from actual bugs (though, who knows?). There are several layers, including two or three types of buzzing right about in mosquito-in-your-ear range, as well as a good measure of vinyl-esque pops and crackles and a distant, metallic echoing tone. It doesn't alter very much over its course; it actually sounds objectively repetitive though the mixture of sounds is complex enough that I was never sure if this was the case. For all that, there's something enticing about it, as though you're being lured into some alien hive---dangerous looking but the walls are coated with sweet honey, so how bad could it be? The volume increases a little bit as it burrows on, that metallic tone morphing into something more organ-y and overt; just before you're about to fall into the stops.

contact for further info....

The foyer of the Presents Gallery on Washington St. in Brooklyn, just north of the Manhattan Bridge, served as the small, cold but perfectly fine setting for three (or four) pieces of music last evening that arose from Wandelweiser aesthetics. Two of the works were by former students of Michael Pisaro--Cat Lamb and Mark So--and one by Pisaro himself. And there was another one...

Cat Lamb's "nodes, various" (2010) began the evening, for three laptops (John P. Hastings, Michael V. Waller and G. Douglas Barrett (I didn't see the score but it presumably calls for performers with initials in their normally used monikers). They each produced quiet, very subtle drones that gently nudged and overlaid one another. It seemed to me that the often predominant one was mid-range with fainter high and low echoes, but that may have been a result of where I happened to be seated. The overlapping created a kind of sonic iridescence while at the same time having something of a chalky quality as though bits of each drone were being rubbed of and left on the other. Though they weren't pure signs, one could easily tilt one's head this was and that and significantly alter the relationships between them. Toward the conclusion a wonderful buzzing tone appeared for a minute or two before subsiding into a very low throb to end things. Nice work, though it perhaps went on longer than it needed to. Length, of course, seems almost de rigueur for the Wandelweiser (and, now, post-Wandelweiser) crew, generally a good thing but occasionally forced. To me it should take after good architecture: what's inside, the purpose of the building determines its size and shape.

Mark So's "Color of the sound waves [Ashbery series] (2007) was next, with Barry Chabala (laptop), Tucker Dulin (trombone) and Ben Owen (laptop) performing. It might be worth reproducing the text score:

[an open quiet room
[4 simple, sustaining sound sources spread out ont he edges of the room

each plays independently
making brief swells of sound lasting 3"-5" at a somewhat regular interval of 20"-40"
each swell barely emerging to audibility, then disappearing
free to coincide/overlap

occasionally, one may stop playing for a few minutes
occasionally, one may play a long (still extremely soft) swell lasting for a few minutes

each perhaps changing slightly in rhythm and/or sound quality over time

[slight, ephemeral features passing across the room
[duration: ca. 16'

Very, very quiet and lovely. Dulin played breath tones, single exhalations discreetly spaced out. Chabala, during the day, switched from his intended guitar to laptop, incorporating faint samples from the oeuvre of Don Van Vliet including, wisely, the snatch of field recording/eavesdropping heard at the end of "Hair Pie", with the distant barking dog and the opinions of the couple of kids passing by the studio, as well as part of "Well". What Owen was contributing, here as in the following piece, I could often not decipher! Which was fine, even appropriate, though sometimes I'd detect a tone I couldn't otherwise place and defaulted to crediting him. As the work begin, Barrett, who was seated adjacent to me, opened, rather noisily, a plastic bag and retrieved from it a container of yogurt and one of some granola-like substance, which he also opened with some amount of racket and consumed, washing it down with a pint of orange juice. For a minute or so, I confess to being slightly peeved at the rudeness but then, belatedly, rechecked the program and noticed that the work to be performed synchronously with the So composition was Adam Overton's "breakfast, lunch or dinner" (2009) and, correctly surmised that Barrett was enacting the first third of this piece. Excellent. The space wasn't without its exterior noise, including a slamming metal door from the next building down and, as it opened directly to the street, sidewalk chatter and automotive noises. I go back and forth as to whether I'd rather hear a composition like this in a pristine environment or not (it does, after all, request an "open , quiet room") but last night had no problem accommodating myself, allowing it to embed in the environment. Very enjoyable work--would love to hear more from So and, generally, am curious about what this next generation who've learned from Pisaro, Beuger, Frey, etc. will come up with.

The evening closed with Pisaro's "fields have ears (4)" (2010), with the previous trio augmented by Hastings on stones and dry leaf. The score calls for 17 sections of sound-making bracketed by 18 pillows of silence, the lengths of each ranging from 4 to 158 seconds. Within that framework, "the sounding sections should be just distinguishable from the silent sections". Moreover, each performer should avail him or herself of two kinds of sound, first deploying one, then the other over the course of the piece, though when to do so is up to them. There are further instructions but that's the gist of it. The work had a certain steady-state aspect as the quartet played, more or less, in unison during those "sounding sections", at least as far as I could tell. I happened to be seated facing Hastings, who began by softly rubbing a round stone some two inches in girth with a small dry leaf, a lovely sound. Some time into the piece, he laid the leaf down, picked up another stone and rubbed them, another delicious sound as anyone who's done the same knows (who hasn't?). Dulin again kept to breath tones, high up; what his shift was, I couldn't detect, nor, as mentioned above, could I often figure out what Owen was doing, not that either mattered. Chabala again, even more subtly, used Van Vliet as sonic material, beginning with a single tap, iterated (I forget the exact source), sidling over to the opening half-second or so of bass from "There Ain't No Santa Claus on the Evening Stage", formed into a mini-loop that imparted a shard of melody to the proceedings, though at low enough volume that you might think you were picking it up from the other side of the wall.

This was a far stricter piece, in a sense, than the So (pictured above, btw) and generated a different kind of meditative feeling, one involving clear, if varied, repetition. It was more difficult, in a way, not entirely allowing oneself total immersion as it triggered (at least in me) a counting reflex at first. I did manage to get past that, letting that sit in the background but it took some effort, which is great. The struggle to get there was worth it.

A fine evening, very thoughtful, thanks to all involved.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Julia Holter - celebration (Engraved Glass)

Few things better than hearing exciting music from a name entirely new to me. Holter is (or was) a student of Michael Pisaro and, while one can easily detect his influence, the best work here entirely bears her own stamp.

The first of three pieces, and the strongest, is a wonderful composition called "Bars in Afternoons" which, indeed, mixes site recordings from bars in Paris and Los Angeles, presumably in the afternoon, with Holter's piano (I'm guessing), weaving through the beginning and her singing at the end. The casual, ambient conversation has a luscious clarity to it, perhaps due to it's being offset against a more distant speaker through which later on, among others things, wafts Elton John. The piano is in mid-distance, almost taking on the role of one in a cocktail bar, except playing music that sounds like highly abstracted Satie. These three dimensions, the talk, the piped in music and the piano, create a very rich atmosphere, absolutely immersive. There's a brief smattering of birds, including gulls and one or two other intrusions of displaced sound. Eventually, some 12 minutes into the 15-minute piece, we arrive at the final section wherein Holter, almost as though taking "stage" in one of the bars, breaks out in forthright, multi-tracked song, a lovely, wistful number pleading, "Don't make me over." Something of a Lynchian moment, it works beautifully. One of the single best things I've heard this year.

"La Celebración" almost sounds as though recorded some warm night by hanging a mic from a window, muted bass throbs emanating from a neighbor's house, birds, airplanes, a freeway some distance away. About five minutes in, this nocturnal calm is interrupted by what I guess are firecrackers, though the sound is rather muffled and, had I not had the title as a clue, I might have guessed it was, I don't know, someone punching a large cardboard box. Soon, however, the streamers and fireworks make themselves known with clarity, bursting all across the soundscape. Then, back to calm. A nice enough piece, though there's something fragmentary about it, at least when compared to the prior track.

Lastly, there's a realization of Pisaro's "Harmony 17", with Holter on cello amidst the sounds of Union Station in Los Angeles. I've not seen the score but from what transpires here, it might be that the instrumentalist is asked to play very quietly for the first portion of the piece, more prominently in the middle section and quiet again toward the end. You can just hear the bowed cello near the beginning (unless I'm mistaking some regional hum for it, which is quite possible given Pisaro's penchant for lengthy silences to begin a piece), blending in with the airy sound of the large room. At seven minutes, the low arco tones become overt, though again (deliciously) sounding as though they could have emerged from engine vibrations, then recedes again. The entire piece dips out briefly about midway through its 34-minutes, resurfacing with cello upfront, still carrying that low drone. A naive young man strolls over, interested in what's occurring, claiming to be a bassist yet not recognizing the instrument Holter's playing. "That's, like a violin, right? Whoa, no, a violin is super-small, right?" Love it. And the work continues, the cello either extremely soft or not playing, then once again emerging, etc. the sounds of the station a constant, that initial soft hum reappearing.

A fine release, very happy to have heard it.

Jez riley French/Joana Silva/Luis Costa - sonata for clarinet & nodar (Engraved Glass)

An interesting take on the integration of field recording and traditional music, a step or two away from the Rebecca Joy Sharp/Simon Whetham release on Gruenrekorder I wrote up a little while back. Here, clarinetist Joana Silva plays a composition by Henri Rabaud, "Solo de Concours", while walking through a rural landscape, dutifully followed by French and Costa recording her embedding therein. The clarinet doesn't appear until some 11 minutes in, but then occupies center stage, though Silva pauses often, allowing the landscape its say and drifts off into the distance on occasion. For myself, this is a case where being there was doubtless far more enchanting than listening to a recording of the event. I wasn't particularly taken with the Rabaud piece itself, but can imagine deriving enjoyment from the physicality of the experience, walking though glades, over streams, up hills, etc. while, in "3D", focusing on either the clarinet or the ambiance or both. On disc, that specific magic potential doesn't quite translate; one feels, more than usual, that something's missing, although I have to say the chain-saw encounter captures one's attention...

engraved glass

It was probably late 1970. I was 16, had been getting more and more into the burgeoning prog rock of the period (Crimson and Soft Machine, in particular) and, I think, had just heard Zappa for the first time. Rolling Stone (which, for the benefit of youngsters, actually was a largely music-oriented publication at one time) did something that, I think, may have been unprecedented, at least for them: they published four reviews by different writers (one was Lester Bangs, don't recall the others) of Captain Beefheart's "Lick My Decals Off, Baby", all raves. This caught my attention.

To my eternal shame, the next time I found myself in Recordland, Poughkeepsie's main record shop, I saw the album but instead opted for, gulp, Mott the Hoople's second record, the one with Thunderbuck Ram on it. What a mistake. In any case, returned shortly thereafter and picked up Decals. Changed my musical listening life, that album.

To say I'd never heard anything like it would be an understatement, yet I loved it immediately, everything about it. Thinking back, perhaps what stood out most of all was the band's way with rhythms. I'd already acquired an abiding dislike of standard rock rhythms, one I have to this day. There's little more boring to me than the plodding rhythms heard in 99%+ of rock. Whatever virtues a song may otherwise have, this often kills it for me. With Beefheart, not only were the rhythms themselves intricate, baffling and entirely dislocating (to me, then) but they shifted multiple times, six, seven, eight, during the course of a single three minute piece. There were odd instrumental interjections--solo bass (oh, how I still love those Rockette Morton lines), guitar/marimba, etc.--abrupt squalls of noise, that odd caterwauling banshee sound that my naive ears likely couldn't even place as a soprano sax.

And the lyrics. If there was one thing that rivaled rhythmic puerility in my growing distaste for rock, it was lyrical banality. Safe to say that wasn't one of Van Vliet's problems. Neither tawdry "I love you" nor the vapid fantasies of the prog crew, it was that special kind of surrealism with roots deep into the everyday--ironic, often very funny, but as perceptive as hell, the product of someone who clearly spent his life looking at, listening to and thinking about things.

(I should mention that, to the extent I've read up on it--not exhaustively--I side with the faction that spreads the credit around the Magic band, particularly to John French and Bill Harkleroad. Where those lines should be precisely drawn, I've no good idea.)

I quickly picked up "Trout Mask Replica", an even greater ear-expanding experience in many ways. To this day, they're my two favorite rock albums (to the extent you want to term them, "rock"). I find them nicely paired, TMR perhaps more protean in terms of pure creativity, Decals more refined but not near the point of sanding off the edges. I've never tired of them over the years, often pulling out one or the other and settling into the bliss.

Listened to "Spotlight Kid" and "Clear Spot" as they appeared, enjoying them greatly, if a bit chagrined at the apparent veering toward straighter (relatively speaking) r&b, though these days I enjoy them just fine. Then the creative trough of "Bluejeans and Moonbeams" and "Unconditionally Guaranteed", the latter one of the single most depressing things I've ever heard. I know "Shiny Beast" is held in very high esteem by many--I find it inconsistent, only the title track really holding up to previous work. Enjoyed the last two records much more though, probably having to do with the band personnel and their own creative contributions, I don't know that it was possible to entirely recapture the magic of the earlier groups. Listening to a number of the archival issues that have surfaced over the last 10-15 years, from 1965-70 especially, I'm consistently astonished at the things this group was attempting and often accomplishing.

So, Van Vliet died yesterday, at 69, after a decades long battle with multiple sclerosis, not having recorded any music since 1982, though continuing to paint for a good while. I went to an exhibition of his paintings at the Knoedler Gallery here in NYC, I guess in the mid 90s and was impressed, mostly by the sheer humanity present in his works, the animal affinity, the truly, in the best sense, childlike quality of them.

Listening to Trout Mask and Decals this morning, on vinyl, they're as brilliant as ever. I've mentioned before that it through an interview with Van Vliet that I first cottoned on to Ornette, in early 1972, a crucial exposure for me. I'm not sure that there's another musician who was more fundamentally influential on me than Van Vliet.

Thanks for everything, Captain.

"If you've got ears, you've gotta listen."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A new batch from Gruenrekorder...

Andreas Bick - Fire and Frost Pattern (Gruenrekorder)

hmmm...that cover image looks oddly familiar......

As advertised, two compositions, one based in flames, one in ice. A variety of sound sources are employed, from field recordings (volcanoes, cracking lake ice, iceberg "sizzles") to what might be thought of as science lab phenomena (gas flame sin glass tubes, ignited alcohol in a bottle, snow falling on aluminum foil). The pieces are clearly assembled and strike me as having something of the character of your standard magnetic tape works of the 60s, i.e., more concerned with contrast between blocks of sound, timbre and texture than structure (I'm certainly being unfair both to those older composers and, likely, Bick). This can make for intriguing listening on one level but I come away, ultimately, unsated. I need more mystery, maybe.

Cédric Peyronnet - kdi dctb 146 [e] (Gruenrekorder)

A multi-layered field recording done in and around water sources in the Taurion Valley in western France. Water indeed predominates, backed up heartily by birds, closed out by boat engines. There's more air in play than in the Bick which gets a thankful nod of appreciation from me as well as a more natural ebb and flow, largely with regard to dynamics. But..that's pretty much it. It's pleasant; one would like to have been there, listening, lying on the banks but--and perhaps this is a problem with the genre in general--one would be able to choose what to concentrate on, to linger with as well as, I'm certain, actually hearing more. Not particularly Peyronnet's fault, but I'm beginning to think that unless one happens to be in tune with the aesthetic judgment of the recorder/assembler, one's left with the nagging feeling, in relatively straightforward examples like this, that one would rather have done it oneself than necessarily accept the choices made by the recorder.

(Various Artists) - Playing with Words (Gruenrekorder)

Admittedly, I found the prospect of a 2-CD set of avant vocal works to be daunting. Of the 41 artists represented here, I only recognized a handful of names and those (like Jaap Blonk, Paul Lansky, Pamela Z and Brandon Labelle) didn't exactly have my heart doing flip-flops. Still, I noted that the collection ended with a piece by Julien Ottavi, and I persevered. There were some highlights: Tomomi Adachi's "Oyone", a very rhythmic work for a set of singers, reminding me a bit of Partch; a fun piece by abAna (Bob Cobbing, Paul Burwell and David Toop); an intricate and rich field recording (with voices) by Cathy Lane; an enjoyable, Glassian work by Julian Weaver; a good, large room muffled crowd conversation by Charlotte White; a fine Kazakhstan-inspired vocal and violin song from Sianed Jones; an intriguing closing work by Ottavi. But you have to wade through a lot of dross to unearth these nuggets, a questionable venture.

There's also an accompanying DVD from the 2009 festival with six performances, the only non-aggravating one, for my taste, again courtesy Sianed Jones who delivers an outstanding, lengthier example of her vocal/violin stylings--really good. In fairness, Jaap Blonk fans, of which I am not one, will enjoy his outing as well.

Bettina Wenzel - Mumbai Diary (Gruenrekorder)

In which Wenzel deploys site recordings from Mumbai which are perfectly enjoyable, ranging from street sounds to musical ceremonies, but insists on threading them with her vocals which, generally speaking, are somewhere in Shelley Hirsch territory, admittedly not a destination I find very appealing. She's good at what she does, her vocal pyrotechnics impressive I guess (sometimes sounding eerily like a shenai) but the question lingers: why? Why place oneself so prominently into the mix? What have you really added? I could imagine something more along the lines of Pisaro's "Transparent City" where the composer's contributions are deferential to the recorded sounds, in this case, Wenzel's vocals being just another element in the mix. But here, it's far too much her, and what she does isn't all that interesting. Where's Ami Yoshida when you need her?


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Stephen Cornford/Samuel Rodgers - Zinc [extracts] (Consumer Waste)

A delightful jewel, this 3" collaboration between Cornford (piano feedback) and Rodgers (piano, objects). Three cuts, about three, seven and ten minutes, forming a very lovely and full suite, the feedback imparting a strong but not too obtrusive scrim in which the tingling and buzzing sounds created inside the piano by Rodgers become embedded, slip out, catch again further on. The elements are delicately distributed but are themselves quite vibrant and tangy, making for a wonderful yin/yang, tickling the ear while stopping just short of scraping it. Put it this way: without entering his particular melodic territory, it's the kind of music I could imagine Tilbury creating, high praise indeed. Get it while it lasts--at 100 copies it may not be for long.

consumer waste

Alfredo Costa Monteiro - Aura (Etude)

Actually something of a duo as the source sounds for "Aura" were performed by percussionist Pilar Subira, the results edited by Costa Monteiro so as to cut "the attack at the point where the impact disappears and the harmonics start, keeping only the natural resonance and decay of the sound." [Costa Monteiro's notes]

Given that, it's not surprising that what one hears is a sequence of hums resulting, often from bowed metal, at some times silvery and glistening, at others dark and foreboding. There are a couple of brief volume surges but by and large, we're talking quiet, rich, acoustic drones. At 51 minutes, it palls a bit if one is listening very attentively, but it works fine as a domestic aural tinge. Not my favorite work from Costa Monteiro by any means--I think I prefer when he balances between this kind of area and brutalism--but not bad.



I'm not really interested in reviewing it as such but just wanted to make a general comment about the current incarnation of AMM, especially when they perform without guests, as on this new release. That is: I find myself listening almost entirely to Tilbury. His presence and extraordinary musicality simply cause the music to wobble out of balance. AMM needs a Rowe to act as a counterweight; Prevost isn't enough and, unfortunately, gets relegated to a kind of background noise. At the end of the concert here, Tilbury is so ridiculously beautiful that almost any additional contribution is beside the point. I think only Rowe, by insisting on interjecting a kind of real world harshness into the proceedings, would provide an element that could actually enhance the music, give it an additional dimension.

Very curious to get reports of the pair's concert this weekend at Instants Chavirés.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Taku Sugimoto - Musical Composition Series 1 & 2 (Kid Ailack Enterprise)

Something of an overview of Sugimoto's activity in recent years, at least in the composed vein, containing recordings from 2006-2010. Issued in two double-disc packages, each containing a small insert bearing a photo (the lightsabers, I think, in Vol. 1, Sugimoto on a ladder touching a wall with the back of a brush, perhaps performing "for objects"? on the other), a single score and, most interestingly, an essay in which he wrestles with the implications of graphic scores, especially if one has chosen to perform them "silently".

for lightsabers - from 2008, with Masahiko Okura, Yoshio Otani, Manabu Suzuki, Toshiya Tsunoda and Taku Unami. I accede to having absolute zero experience with the titular items but I suppose they're able to emit sound of a sort. Dry hums, soft sizzles, low pulses--this is pretty much the vocabulary, quietly arrayed by Sugimoto over a 30-minute period. Quiet, but consistently active.

for objects - recorded on the same day as the above, with the same quintet plus Sugimoto, is quite sparse in a manner we'd come to expect. Small sounds, bangs, shuffles, taps, all embedded within an audible ambiance, including automobile engines outside. As with other ultra-spare work of his, I find it oddly affecting. It could almost be a random recording of some interior with minimal, non-intentionally musical activity occurring, but there's the slightest tinge of purpose, enough to impart meaning. Good piece.

three timbers - the third piece from that date, using all six musicians. Very much in a similar spirit as the preceding track, perhaps even sparer, though with a good deal of light rubbing (maybe this is the piece Sugimoto is performing in the photo mentioned above), as though with paintbrushes and hands, and scattered hand claps. Somehow, a tad less fascinating than "for objects", though I could hardly explain why.

a chair 2 - from 2007, for Moe Kamura (voice, guitar), Katsuaki Iida (poetry reading, percussion), Tetuzi Akiyama, Sugimoto, Unami (guitars). Still spartan, retaining the ambiance, but with spoken word, calmly recited, with the very rare sound of pure, plucked guitar. About halfway through, however, there's a unison sequence of female voice and strummed guitar that's shocking in its loveliness. It surfaces suddenly and just as abruptly disappears, the piece returning to its initial setting. A few minutes later, the voice and guitar return for a reprise to close out the composition. Very nice. I haven't heard Sugimoto's duo album with Kamura, Saritote, on which this piece is performed (along with its first and third editions) but would like very much to.

modes of thought - recorded six days later, with all but Iida. In a way, this picks up on the melodic fragment from "a chair 2", ringing guitar notes and simply but clearly sung vocals (in English) in tandem. The intonation wavers, intentionally, the initial prettiness giving way to a slightly queasy feeling. It runs only 11 or so minutes but strikes me as it could have been shorter, the (relatively) steady pacing beginning to drag a bit as it goes on. Still, it almost sounds like something Julie Tippetts might have done, which is intriguing.

notes and flageolets opens the second volume, from 2006, with five guitars: Barbara Romen, Gunter Schneider (a duo I'd not previously heard), Akiyama, Sugimoto and Unami. Interestingly, for such an "early" piece, the guitars are fairly present and tonal, though the single notes hang softly in the air, backgrounded by traffic. It's gorgeous--somehow, the notion of using five guitarists, presumably something to do with the subtly varied intonations and resonances of their respective instruments, causes the music to vibrate and glow more, I imagine, than it would have if performed by a single musician.

15 pieces for guitars, from 2007 features the same five musicians as on "modes of thought", with Kamura playing guitar but not singing and the number of players on a given piece varying from one to all five. The sections range from a few seconds to 10 minutes long and are generally quite tonal and attractive, the most so on either volume. Save for the odd kerplunk, the music is dreamy and soft. In the middle, there are three utterly lovely scalar pieces, wonderfully simple, first with Sugimoto solo, then with Unami, then Akiyama added for a trio--marvelous. There's a bit of an arc, perhaps, from the start, cresting on that trio of pieces, eventually subsiding with the 10-minute finale, single high plucks, separated by several seconds, over street noise. Very, very enjoyable.

The final disc of these volumes, dating from March of this year,is comprised of two versions of string quartet and guitar, Sugimoto accompanying the Segments String Quartet (Kazushige Kinoshita and Hiroki Chiba, violins, Yoko Ikeda, viola and Nankou Kumon, cello), each lasting about 20 minutes. On the first rendition, the quartet plays a single held tone, somewhat wavery and scratchy, changing sightly in volume from minute to minute, while Sugimoto, every seven or so seconds, plucks out one note, pretty close to the same one. The second track is, well, exactly the same. I take it for granted it's a different performance but wouldn't want to bet my house on it. Maybe the harmonics in the strings are a tad more pronounced or maybe my ears were just picking them up more accurately. Interesting gambit, in any case.

A fascinating collection, at all ends, and a required listen for anyone following the path of this very unusual and gifted musician.

available from erstdist

Mike Shiflet - Llanos (Editions Shiflet)

So dense and rich...Though divided into six tracks, I tend to hear "Llanos" as an enormous block of sound with a complex, sponge-like structure that allows for a huge amount of spatial/aural perceptive activity on the part of the listener, focusing in on any number of layers and plies. Throughout, within the noise, melodic patterns persist and repeat, simple, almost carillon in nature as though one's hearing a distant bell tower through a maze of engines, traffic, wind, rain etc. Humorously, and very effectively, the three-note, descending "theme" of the fourth track, "Sunbathers", is a dead ringer for the opening notes of "Einstein on the Beach"; I kept expecting to hear female voices counting, "1, 2, 3, 4...". As is the case with the Fages recording below, Shiflet does a fantastic job dovetailing melodic elements (often subtle) with noise, adding to it an undercurrent of sheer voltaic power that makes the music absolutely gripping. Wonderful release.

Editions Shiflet

also available via erstdist

Ferran Fages - Lullaby for Lali (Etude)

A lovely LP by the ever-surprising Fages (guitars, melodica, electronics, field recordings), in the company of Lali Barrière (guitaret, metallophone, electronics). The same piece occupies both sides, first acoustic, then electric. It's a really enchanting mixture of extended song form and extraneous sounds, the former via guitar, metallophone and melodica, expounding several gentle, quasi-melodies, pastoral and, yes, lullaby-ish, floating over and among bowed metal, arcane electronics and ambient recordings. A real joy if your taste, like mine, doesn't preclude objects of shining beauty.


Marc Spruit - Bits 'n Blocks (Soul Shine Through)

A brief (16 minute) CD containing two tracks of insect-inspired noise. Spruit seems to have taken a huge number of recordings and samples (from a no-input mixer, among other sources) and stitched them together in a rapid-fire cascade of tiny sounds, explosions, magnetic tape-type buzzes and countless other parcels whipping past your ears before you know it. Much like fast-flitting gnats, perhaps. Harsh, astringent, not as enveloping as I'd like to hear, something flat about the sound field, but very much in-your-face and intermittently exciting.

soul shine through

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Michael Pisaro/Taku Sugimoto - 2 seconds/ b minor/ waves (Erstwhile)

Short of Yuko Zama, I may have been trumpeting the hosannas about Michael Pisaro's music as much as anyone over the past couple of years so it's interesting, to me, that recent efforts have given me a little pause. Not so much, but some. The first two releases on Gravity Wave each had aspects that mildly gnawed at me, as does this one, the highly anticipated, long-range duo with Taku Sugimoto.

The pairing is an inspired idea, of course, given Sugimoto's music of the last six to eight years which, at times, out-wandelweisered Wandelweiser at least in terms of sparseness. Add to that the fact that, quite recently both he and Pisaro have allowed faint traces of melody and expansiveness into their playing and it would seem to be a perfect match. And it is quite wonderful in some ways. Those who have been pining for Sugimoto to take a baby step or two back to the realms so beautifully explored in "opposite" will be very pleased on that score alone while listeners who may have found Pisaro's compositions a tad too acerb (I'm not among them) will certainly appreciate the large amount of pure sonic gorgeousity on display here. Me, I find myself going back and forth, experiencing a certain degree of discomfort.

For those unaware, the deal for the recording was this: Pisaro sketched out three compositional ideas, each for a 20-minute duration and relayed them to Sugimoto. Knowing his scores, I'm sure that there were levels of complication that aren't necessarily directly perceived by the listener. The two musicians performed the works in isolation from each other and the results, à la MIMEO's "sight", were layered atop one another.

This works absolutely beautifully in the first piece, "2 seconds". I'm not at all sure what reins the title put on the performers--sometimes it seems a "2 second rule" of sorts is in effect but often not--but the (partially?) serendipitous effects of the sounds (ringing tones, wooden clicks (a metronome?), a door or drawer opening or closing, what sounds like a coffee grinder, etc.) all slide across and through each other, floating with a calm quasi-periodicity that's enchanting and stimulating. There's a kind of dust-motes-in-the-sunlight effect, quite wonderful. This piece ranks among my favorites in Pisaro's oeuvre.

The trouble begins on the second track, "b minor" which, oddly enough, is the one that'll cause Sugimoto nostalgics to drool. Two guitars, one assigned "melody" (Sugimoto, I believe), one "harmony" (Pisaro), I'm given to understand, though I've no idea what other rules are in effect. It's pretty. It's very pretty. And for four or five minutes, it floats rather well, serene and rosy. But all too soon, for my taste, it begins to cloy. That sense of miraculous discovery attained on the initial track, of being pleasantly surprised and/or irked by what wafts into you, is largely absent here. There's a hint, perhaps, in Pisaro's playing, of the Beefheart of "Peon" or "One Red Rose That I Mean" but splayed out. It's attractive enough but I'm not sure more than that; halfway through, I'm aching for some real-world reference, some grime. I don't necessarily experience that with much similarly scrubbed Wandelweiser material; perhaps it's the overripe rosiness here that creates that thirst.

The last piece, "wave", is problematic in a different way. It's composed of two elements (I think. As I know from experience, I often underestimate just how much is occurring in Pisaro's music): a steady, complex drone with an organ-like feel (Sugimoto) and "waves" of field recordings emerging and ebbing (Pisaro), said recordings sounding rather abstract, wind-sourced, I think, but I'm not sure. The former, the dronage, is utterly wonderful; I could listen to an hour of that in sheer bliss. But the site recordings strike me as intrusive and, often, awkward. as though they were something hastily tacked on to enhance the drone. There's an oil and water aspect to the combination, something I hadn't heard in other Pisaro works where two such sound worlds intersect (the "Transparent City" series, for instance). Intentional? Perhaps but it never quite clicked for me.

As with the Gravity Waves, don't get me wrong--this is a fine recording and that first track is entirely fantastic. It's just not the whole ball o' wax that one's first hearing of the participants and methodology might have led one to expect. Get it and decide for yourself, though.


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Some thoughts on Sunday evening's performance by Keith Rowe and Kjell Bjørgeengen at Experimental Intermedia.

Arriving for sound check around 3PM, the pair anticipated that there would be a number of monitors available but they were unsure about the amount, working condition, size, etc. There were a few in sight and scrounging around a back room uncovered a couple more, six in total. Some amount of time was devoted to orienting these monitors as well as the table upon which they would operate. Keith resisted Niblock's attempt to get them to set up more or less against the wall, preferring a more central position with the audience on all sides, perhaps with the monitors arrayed in a rough circle, facing outward. This arrangement looked awkward, however, especially given the bulky, rectangular nature of monitors (smaller, more lozenge-shaped ones might have handled this well). Ultimately, it was decided that the largest would be situated in the shallow, arched area on the main wall and the four medium sized ones would be placed atop the four speakers that generate XI's wonderful sound; two in the front (that is, behind the performers), two in the rear. The last, smallest monitor, was simply laid on the floor in front of the tables, at an angle, nicely offsetting the more rigid placement of the others. All monitors would show the same image.

It took a couple of hours to get all six functioning at once, largely due to erratic conditions encountered in the cables, but eventually the half-dozen monitors were flickering away. Then arose the question of seating, Phill suggesting the "normal" routine there (rows on two sides, the main one set facing the action), Keith immediately objecting, preferring that the seats be more or less randomly scattered about, the audience members encouraged to take it upon themselves to orient however they chose. Given that the visual element of the upcoming show (what would appear on the monitors, not what the two grizzled performers were doing) was central and that they were at widely spaced points in the room, this made sense to me. But there was a good bit of back and forth on this, a strong reluctance to cede such power to the audience! Keith won out, however, and soon chairs were strewn willy-nilly apart from an orderly bank near the entrance to accommodate latecomers.

Keith would later observe (paraphrasing), "Now you would think that when an audience member arrives and sees the chairs arranged in this fashion, he would say to himself, 'What signal does this send insofar as how the performers think we should approach this event?'" But, no....As they trooped in (and it was, happily, a full house), most dutifully turned the chairs toward the table topped with mixing boards, loop stations and such, relegating the meat of the performance to the background.

(While, normally, watching musicians in this area do what they do isn't a major focus of mine, of course this can sometimes be quite enjoyable. The previous evening, when Keith played at Littlefield with Oren Ambarchi and Crys Cole [a fine set and I'd really like to hear more Cole] and having spent a good portion of the afternoon listening to him wax lyrical on "touch" as conveyed through the fingers of Clifford Curzon playing Mozart's 23rd Piano Concerto, K. 488, I derived great pleasure in focusing on Keith's own fingers as, with enormous grace and delicacy, they caressed his guitar-neck, stone, coiled metal scouring pad and butter knife.)

Seated in the rear, toward the left, Anne Guthrie and I turned our seats away from the protagonists, directly facing the nearest monitor (which, I was later told, might have luckily broadcast the best picture). Billy Gomberg and Richard Kammerman soon did likewise. I spent the entire show, some 40-45 minutes, looking into that screen, attempting as much as possible to immerse myself there, a very rewarding strategy for the most part, eye strain aside.

Both Keith and Kjell were looped to each other, Keith taping a couple of light sensors to a small monitor on their table, the sensors translating the flickers thus perceived into (don't ask me how) digital signals that modified the sounds emanating from his assortment of devices (no guitar neck). In turn, the sounds he created were fed into Kjell's system, altering the video output. Sometimes the affiliation between changes in sound or video was clear, often not. The video was entirely abstract and often flicker-imbued, the sounds generally harsh and, I think, not otherwise identifiable as "Roweian". At the most intense, the black and white flickering generated phantom colors (purples and yellows, for the most part, for me). [On Friday, I'd gotten a taste of where Kjell was traveling when, with he and Keith at MOMA, he searched out Paul Sharits' 1966 video, "Ray Gun Virus", a full-color affair that was similarly immersive and hallucinatory]. More, partly due to the flicker and partly, I think, to a layering of multiple images (sometimes sourced from oscillators) patterns emerged and subsided: single and double helices, all manner of wave forms, globules that were texturally differentiated from the base patterns, etc. Absolutely fascinating to simply lose oneself in, not knowing or caring which patterns were there in the monitor and which existed solely on my retinae. (which perhaps gets to another underlying idea for this duo, Zizek's distinction between reality and the Real, but I suppose that's another story....)