A quartet of new releases from Another Timbre.
Michael Pisaro - fields have ears
Ah, so beautiful. Three pieces by Pisaro, two more recent works ("fields have ears" 1 & 4) bracketing a decade old composition, very well sequenced here.
"fields have ears 1", for piano (Philip Thomas) and tape is disarmingly simple, its subtlety and depth yielding to this listener only after repeated listens and absorption. There's the tape, very rich (not sure if there's more than one layered in), with bird and insect sounds up top, moving air in the middle and a heady, deep thrum beneath, redolent of distant highways or miles high airplanes. Between these sounds, the piano appears at intervals, the chords fairly bright sometimes, tinged with doubt or melancholy others, spaced irregularly, dabs of relatively vivid color against the complex welter of the soundscape. It's the spacing and shift in dynamics of the piano that's so winning, even heartbreaking at times, very much like a lone hiker's thoughts, questioning and intensely personal, radiated into the forest for lack of someone else to listen.
"fade", for piano (again, Thomas) dates from 2000. The music is a series of single notes, each slice the same note repeated (I think) between five and ten times, generally (not always) fading during the sequence, the notes ranging across the keyboard. At first, each segment floats alone, suspended between ample and varying lengths of silence but soon there's a wave where two or three exist simultaneously, not heard as "chords" (at least by me) but superimposed one-note patterns. That shift of larger forms, which occurs throughout, in a cycle of a few minutes, coexists wonderfully with the jewel-like effect of the individual series. It's very calm, very surface-of-water-like, with slight shimmers that gather in a kind of natural manner, almost random but somehow purposeful. Like something from Feldman's even more serene cousin.
Finally, "fields have ears 4", for four or more players, here by the Edges Ensemble plus Thomas, Patrick Farmer (natural objects), Sarah Hughes (zither) and Dominic Lash (double bass). It's extremely difficult not to envision a door being gently opened and closed, allowing one to momentarily hear this quiet flurry of activity, then not. These small bubbles of sound, emerge and quickly recede, like smoke signals. These musical puffs are delicate, the piano heard among the fluttering instruments in a semi-similar regard as it was in "fields have ears 1", single chords wafting through the lovely fog. Really a stunning piece of work, a new favorite of mine among Pisaro's increasingly impressive recorded catalog.
A great release.
John Cage - Four4
Realized, via percussion, by Simon Allen, Chris Burn, Lee Patterson and Mark Wastell.
In my fairly limited exposure (some 10 recordings, I think), I've come to greatly enjoy Cage's late number pieces. Indeed, I have a fond wish to hear as many as possible, listening side by side (or atop one another!) to at least begin to develop an appreciation of what's possible within them. The score is laid out in "time brackets", with symbols the musician has chosen to apply to his/her instrument. When the symbol occurs, the instrument is played. As Cage, observed, "Whenever there is no activity, simply listen, as listeners to the finished recording will, hearing the sounds wherever they are."
And silences occur, sitting like pools among the bouts of sonic activity which, in themselves, vary a great deal in volume and mode of attack. It actually gets quite vociferous at times, much more so than I'd come to expect out of these pieces but, upon reflection, there's no reason not to, not to break from the buoyant calm every so often. Tam-tams, a zither, bowed metals, soft chimes, other jangly things, sometimes sounding almost electronic...its a 74-minute stream, with stoppages, and it's lovely. I'm not sure what else to say except that it's a fine testimony to Cage's intuition on the chance distribution of those time brackets as well as this quartet's sensitive, yet forceful, rendition.
I found myself absolutely absorbed throughout--a wonderful recording.
Rhodri Davies/Lee Patterson/David Toop - Wunderkammern
A studio session from 2006. I'm not overly familiar with Toop's music but, from what I have heard over the year and from what I'd known of Davies' work, I expected a more serene set than what transpires here. Blame Lee Patterson, maybe! Not that it's loud and shrieking but it sometimes attains a volume/thickness level that one might associate with, say, a Muller/Voice Crack date. The colors brought to the date by the trio provide a fine, subtly vibrant mix, Toop here bringing along a steel guitar and flutes as well as laptop and percussion. In fact, the "Swiss" connection recurred to me several times over the course of the disc. While, at it's best, it nudges into AMM-ish territory (there's a humorously overt Rowe-ism on track four, something I read as a respectful nod), more often it strikes me as a very good but somehow not very differentiated event. A quite enjoyable recording then, if not an essential one.
Chris Cogburn/Bonnie Jones/Bhob Rainey - Arena Ladridos
Percussion, electronics and soprano, two live dates in Texas, April 2010.
I have something of a similar reaction to this as I did to "Wunderkammern", though from a different angle. Indeed, the first half or so of the initial track is pretty fantastic through and through, Jones working in areas, quasi tonal at times, that I haven't heard her investigate before. If I were to isolate an issue I have here, it's with Cogburn's contributions which occasionally, as at the turning point in that first track, seem a bit overbearing and misplaced. There were times, I must say, that I found myself wondering what a Jones/Rainey duo would offer, or a trio with Sean Meehan. The latter half of the 26 minute performance, then, is fine but somewhat more meandering, as though the trio were unable (unwilling?) to pick up that delicate thread. It also strikes me as something that might have been more workable, from the listener's standpoint, heard and viewed live. What one perceives as somewhat aimless at home might well have more of a tinge of serious searching in situ.
"Marfa", recorded there two days after the first piece, may not reach the clarity of those first minutes but works more consistently on the whole. Opening in a very subdued manner, once again the twining of Jones' electronics and Rainey's soprano is lovely and Cogburn shows more restraint as well, his faint bell tones especially nice. The ebb and flow is fine, the louder moments emerging naturally enough, Cogburn's bowed cymbals providing a delicious contrast to Jones' crackling output. A good piece and a good album overall, hinting at far stronger work now and then. Somehow, I hear more potential in this trio's approach than the previous one, more open doors as yet unentered.