Saturday, February 26, 2011

Miguel Prado - Comedy Apories (Heresy)

Richard has already beaten me to the punch on this one and made many excellent points, so I'll try to confine myself to a couple of issues.

To recap, "Comedy Apories" is a composition that refers directly to a general mode of operation (to grossly simplify) that has been part and parcel of the Wandelweiser group of composers for the last couple of decades. Prado makes this explicit in his notes:"...isolated events, arranged in time as a 'Wandelweiser Detournement [diversion]'". He chose as his material another kind of multi-layered allusion: laughter, that of the canned variety. He takes the scoffing laughter many experimental artists know too well and transmutes it to the awful, phony sounding laughter of the situation comedy. As Richard mentions, this is quite the loaded sound.

The recording is silent for the first five minutes, the initial peals, loud and unpleasant, coming as something of a shock. This sole element, the same two-second grab continues to appear, bracketed by irregular, relatively lengthy periods of silence (which, of course, is another element) over the course of some 37 minutes.

The choice of the laughter recording is the salient thing, naturally, and is (for this listener) almost impossible to hear without bringing along all its connotations, predominantly negative (as opposed to natural laughter. Interestingly, I received this disc just after playing that Scott Johnson track made up of sampled giggles--a very different feel there.) Try as I might--and I did--it's very difficult to hear these sounds in an abstract, Cageian manner and, I suspect, Prado would like us not to do so. But that's just the thing: once the idea is understood and more or less appreciated, does the performance bear further listening? In a random excellent Wandelweiser work, say a Pisaro piece, there's great care taken in what I'd call the poetics of the composition. The duration of the silences is arrived at intuitively, with a sense of shape, of cadence, of weight. As well, the sounds introduced, even to the extent left up to the performer, are (usually) inherently interesting, either on their own or in relation to the context in which they appear or, in a particularly successful piece, both, leading to a very complex cross-referential interplay between sound and structure. These "poetics" are quite subjective and one's enjoyment perhaps depends on the affinities one shares with the judgment of the composer.

In "Comedy Apories", I'm left with two problems after the initial appreciation of the idea, which I do indeed appreciate, even to the extent that it's a gentle poke at these aesthetics. Firstly, as mentioned, the sound, while actually rather complex in and of itself, by virtue of simply repeating (I sometimes thought I detected adjustments in dynamics and contrast, but I'm not sure) becomes heard as rote after a brief while, leaving only the spacing as an object of real interest. Second, for me that spacing came across as rather arbitrary, somehow not evocative of anything else. I use that term, "evocative", hesitantly knowing I may be assigning values to a group of composers which they reject but I often can't but help picking up a certain emotional quality in the music, as in the Frey piece I heard the other night. Often it's quite attenuated but I still sense those wisps.

All of which isn't to say that this isn't a valuable and intriguing work--it is. It's just not one I'd find it necessary to listen to often again as I do with music by those to whom it refers. The idea is fine, though, and that's enough. I just don't know that more will be revealed on further actual listening as opposed to rumination. I could, of course, be wrong.

Heresy, via Taumaturgia

Jeph Jerman - Arrastre (no label/Autumn)

Actually three recordings, one each on CD, LP and cassette, all sourced from metal pot lids, those lids being excited by wooden dowels among other things. The general effect is similar to that of Tibetan singing bowls: thick, ringing tones that pulsate and shimmer. Jerman creates several-seep plies of these tones, often supplemented by jangly undercurrents, as though the metal is being softly stroked by a brush of long, thin wires. The sound is very strong, really fills the room. The throbs on the relatively quiet second track on the CD even recall the glockenspiel portion of Reich's "Drumming", quite beautifully. At other times, as on track 4, you almost hear a trumpet, softly playing over an organ. Pretty amazing work.

The LP contains three tracks along the same lines. Admittedly, it can be hard to take in so much material that has such a strong surface similarity, though that's a function of my ears' lack, my brain's difficulty with discriminating at a deep enough level, or at least remembering it after the fact. Individual aspects tend to blur, which isn't such a bad thing here, perhaps.

As I've mentioned before, my sole cassette player resides in my car and, though the speakers aren't so terrible, they're not something I'd want to use for any real evaluation. I did, however, just play the tape there whilst doing various food errands and can say that it fits in comfortably with the music from the CD and LP, ringing tones with brushed accents.

If you've only a CD player and enjoy Jerman's music at all, it's definitely one to pick up, a very fine effort.

Jeph Jerman - Roadwork (Lunhare)

Compiled in 2010 from some 25 years of site recordings across the US from New York to Arizona, kind of a 45-minute road trip. From the title, I take it that the sounds all emerge from areas nearby roads (or trains) and there's a decidedly urban feel to the compendium--dense hums of engines and tires on asphalt, subways, airplanes, that pervasive background industrial throb. There's no arc, just a series of "scenes". Not sure if there's much in the way of overlaying recordings from different places/times; the sections sound to me self-sufficient, even as the blended very smoothly from one to the next. I'm also not sure what else can be said about it. I enjoyed it, yes, much the same as I might have enjoyed traversing the same points and listening myself although (and this is a fault of mine) I'm just as likely to retain memories of what I've heard on this disc as I am on random listening episodes, which is to say, not so much. That's too bad, really. If nothing else, offerings like this cause me to think about that problem more deeply.


All also available from erstdist

Friday, February 25, 2011

I visited the Presents Gallery in Brooklyn for the second time last evening (now with benches!), once again for a performance centering around the Wandelweiser aesthetic (part of a series being curated by John P. Hastings). On this occasion, the night was programmed by Jason Brogan who presented works by Eva-Maria Houben, Jürg Frey and himself (the latter incorporating a text by Beckett). I'm assuming that at least two commonalities among the pieces were a reason for their inclusion: first, each had a kind of "call and response" aspect in that the sounds made by the two instrumentalists (and the speaker in one) virtually never overlapped and were equally apportioned, in a regular sequence. Second, the musical material, sparse though it was, always retained a melodic, even emotive character.

Houben's "rufe" (2010) was performed by Brogan (acoustic guitar) and Nathan Koci (accordion). Each musician, alternately, played between (as I recall) two and five notes, very quietly, followed by relatively brief--no more than ten seconds--silences. Then the other would play. Back and forth. The fragments were clear and clean and almost seemed carved out of some larger melody, kind of analogous to solarizing a b&w photo to an extreme degree, reducing it to a few marks of black on white yet still retaining some essence of the image. Another picture that came to mind was a sidelong view of a badminton match in hyper-slow motion, each swat occupying generally similar terrain but varying slightly from one another, as did these selections of notes. As he did again on the final piece, Koci often drew forth his sounds from very soft to...slightly less soft; there must be a term for this apart from crescendo as that seems entirely inappropriate to music this quiet. Doing so, he imparted a subtle but welcome romantic tinge to the music. And at about 15 minutes, the piece was of perfect duration.

This was followed by Frey's "Exact Dimension without Insistence" (1999), again with Brogan on guitar and Koci, who switched to cornet with mute. As with the Houben work, we heard each musician in discreet segments. Brogan's contributions, if I'm not mistaken, were single notes, low and soft, while Koci, more often than not, played a plaintive two note phrase, twice on each pass, though I think there was a three-note passage near the beginning and, at the conclusion, this sequence was played four times instead of twice. [the score--I believe complete--can be seen here in a photo by Yuko Zama from the Rowe/Malfatti sessions in Vienna this last November where they recorded the same composition. You can make out the timed sequences though the trombone part appears to be three of the same notes, not what I heard yesterday. Perhaps there's more to the score or some liberties were taken.] The silences between these essentially identical portions varied a good bit, sometimes upwards of a minute and, in a way, became the substance of the piece, the frames that acquired interest in and of themselves. Yet that poignant melodic fragment, often augmented by Koci's blurring of its edges, and the single, doleful guitar note, almost a death knell, at the same time lent quite a bit of emotional weight to the work, a surprising amount given the "paucity" of material. The music also had an openness that, to my ears, welcomed the ambient sounds, most noticeably the clicking arising from the heat pipes and the soft roar of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway a half-block distant. Lovely work.

Finally, we had Brogan's, "two instruments" (2010), melded with a reading of Samuel Beckett's "Enough" (1965) by Jessie Marino. Once more, the structure was simple, elegant and discrete. Marino read the piece one paragraph at a time (very well, in a steady, calm voice). When she finished a section, the pair (Koci back on accordion) played an eight-note pattern, a single note at a time, alternating. This was the one instance where there was the slightest overlap as Brogan allowed his note to sustain and Koci, often, began his while the guitar tone still lingered. Back and forth. Again, the effect was quietly beautiful; I was, oddly, reminded of a very pared down Harry Partch, like "The Letter" reduced to its essence. The text (which I'd not previously encountered) is rather more narrative, and even romantic, than your standard Beckett, recounting a love affair from the woman's vantage, a relationship beset by troubles and oddities but lined with love and friendship. It was tempting to hear the music as commenting on the story and on one or two occasions the sequence seemed to decidedly nod that way, the notes forming a clear, sad melody (Koci smiled wryly during one such, perhaps thinking they'd veered too near the obvious, but it was touching).

Three fine, thoughtful works, then. The site would only hold about 20 with any degree of comfort--there were about a dozen yesterday--but more folk should check out the series.

Presents Gallery

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Manabu Suzuki - Kantoku Collection (slub)

So odd...and often quite good. Yet another name new to me, Suzuki presents seven tracks, each involving small electronics generally used in a manner their designers didn't intend. The pieces, totaling 70 minutes, seem to have had their lengths arbitrarily cut off at multiple of five minutes (10, 10, 10, 15, 10, 5) save for the last which sneaks in a 9:30.

Before reading about the first track, "ELS26", I'd been enjoying its liquid, almost squelchy aspect, vibrant sputters of noise out of one speaker, lower, more muted bubblings from the other. So I was amused to see that one of the channels was a "voltage signal generated by the electrolysis of water". It's quite wonderful and absorbing, the duel sources fluttering and burbling away with abandon. But the second track, using the same source though routed differently, results in the kind of gloopy tones redolent of early synths, one of those sound-worlds that grates on this listener. The elements shift--a clock-like ticking intrudes, some sandy swatches--but the focus of the prior piece isn't quite attained. An oscillator connected to a photosensor picking up TV images, an automatic MIDI output (four short piano notes, each on an individual course, arrayed in an irregular pattern in relation to each other, resulting in an ever-changing series of relationships--nice) amplified beat signals ab Doppler effects thereon. The beat signal pieces are reminiscent of Lucier's work with nearly identical waveforms, resulting in quasi-similar patterns, here low, abuzz and effective.

Most oddly, an perhaps most enjoyably, for the last cut, "CHS72", Suzuki placed 64 magnetometers beneath the 64 squares on a chess board, each connected to a different MIDI sound. He then played a game of chess, possibly with one of the Takus (the session was recorded by Unami and produced by Sugimoto). Several of the sources are vocal (Japanese) so one hears a disconnected series of words and sounds, some repeated, others touched on but once. It's silly, charming and much fun.

available from erstdist

(I don't think Slub yet has a site...)

Ferran Fages/Robin Hayward/Nikos Veliotis - Tables and Stairs (Organized Music from Thessaloniki)

Fages chose sine waves for this live date so, unsurprisingly, the results lie clearly in drone territory. Richard happened to just write on drones, touching a bit on what attracts (or not) the listener. The sensibilities of the musicians involved, of course, would seem to be the key thing. In a recent back and forth on facebook, Gil Sansón mentioned a qualm to the effect that it was a bit too easy to fall back on the drone in improv as opposed to dealing with constructing other kinds of improvisatory modules. I take his point yet I confess, I often find something inherently attractive about the area as long as--my criteria--the strands comprising the dronage are detail-filled enough on their own, allowing me to "zoom in" and have (at least) the same level of pleasure derived from appreciating the work on the whole. I need some granularity.

In that respect, "Tables and Stairs" delivers handsomely. The mix of the three voices is instantly winning, the bristle of Veliotis' cello serving as a fine counterweight to the, generally, smooth character of the others (though Hayward, naturally, can veer from the pristine to the porcine in a trice). While it begins softly, the music edges upward in volume and internal perturbation enough that halfway through, one's speakers are a-quiver. At 31 minutes, it also avoids a cardinal sin of drones--it lasts precisely the right length of time, sustaining attention and fascination throughout. Good job.

Organized Music from Thessaloniki

also available from erstdist

Jason Kahn - Beautiful Ghost Wave (Herbal International)

I've doubtless simply been missing one or more plies of Kahnian activity in the past couple of years, but recent examples of his work that I've heard show a decided step away from what I'd come to think of as his sound-world: insistent (one might say, obsessive) percussion-centered rhythms augmented by pitch-shifting devices. Along with the recent disc on balloon & needle, this one finds him more positioned in the broken electronics school, albeit with a fairly steady substratum that may indeed refer back to his earlier concerns.

Kahn, in his notes, mentions the piece having "a sense of forward movement" and indeed it does, pretty much hurtling through its length in a welter of acid-drenched electronics, scouring one's ears as it does so. It's very rapid. When it relaxes, it's with a sense of re-coiling, amassing energy for a further assault. But as with the drones above, there's always a level of detail that keeps me absorbed; I always have the sense that there's parts I'm not hearing, that remain to be discovered. That's a good thing.

Given my druthers, I'd opt for something with a tad more space, more concern with sound placement, but as an example of this sub-genre, you could do far worse than these lovely phantom undulations... :-)

Herbal International

this too, procurable from erstdist

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Revenant - Zeltini (Unfathomless)

Revenant (I can't help but think of some especially powerful and frightening figures from Doom) on this occasion, November 2008 in Latvia, consisted of Maksims Shentelevs, Eamon Sprod, John Grzinich, kaspars Kalninsh and Felicity Mangan (though Grzinich writes: "‘revenant’ is an ongoing project with open membership"). No instrumentation is mentioned and, further, there's a notation on the sleeve stating, "Final piece edited from 4 synchronized binaural recordings".

Perhaps it's the cover imagery, maybe the former-SSR setting, but it's quite tempting to hear this dark, brooding music as inhabiting a Stalker-like environment. There's an oppressiveness, a dank aspect wherein one thinks of cold, clammy surfaces, algae-covered wall, ancient heavy machinery. The two overriding sounds areas are a blurred, metallic kind of drone, as though there's a sputtering engine at work somewhere down the dark corridor and the clanking of light metal objects, linked like chains, skittering across the foreground. Small rhythms emerge: soft-mallet taps with a vaguely gamelan feel, as though at least one of the devices lying around still functions. Some faint voices then, rather surprisingly, a jew's harp, strumming away in a loose rhythm, verging on a melodic fragment, a hapless fellow traveler in the sewers. This continues for the final 10+ minutes of the work, some increasingly violent clatter alongside, until the sounds skid to a conclusion among the chirps of mechanical beetles and sloshing water.

The work is almost static, in a sense, minor events drifting in and out of focus; again, one thinks of the lengthy water-covered floor shot of Tarkovsky, though the focus here isn't quite so sharp.


Kikuchi Yukinori/Tim Olive - Difference and Repetition (testone)

Seven tracks of fairly harsh, knifing electronics that, at its best, provides some...enjoyable lacerations. The brief opening track, for instance, ends with piercing keens, like metal scraped with metal, but very high, extremely sharp. the second offers respite, with (enticingly) awkward, low rumbles. Yukinori, who I don't believe I've previously heard, and Olive work together seamlessly enough; no instrumentation is provided (I assume a combination of laptop and open electronics) but the music comes across as of a piece in any case. My preference is on those marginally quieter cuts, 2, 4 & 6 here, where the pair stretches things well, allows the crackles 'n' hums some space and gives more of an impression of letting things ambulate on their own rather than directly controlling them--quite probably not what was actually happening, but that's the sense I get. On the others--to these ears, it's a tough trick to pull off. Duos like English and Tandem Electrics can handle it (usually) but that tightrope between awkwardness and awkwardness is a tricky one. On the last piece, however, they do (inadvertently?) edge close to what I might have guessed was some extreme Keiji Haino. All in all, a good tough recording, this one, and certainly worth a hearing for fans of the above-mentioned.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I had every intention, before re-listening to this, to write something about how a given recording can, at one point in one's mature life, strike one as spectacular and entirely cool only to be heard with chagrin ten or twenty years later. In my head, Johnson had taken this rather interesting idea and embedded it in fussy, post-fusion pyrotechnics.

But I'll be damned if this doesn't still sound pretty ok!

Not sure how well known or remembered nowadays but it made a decent enough splash at the time, released in 1986 on the Nonesuch subdivision, Icon, produced by Yale Evelev. Johnson had taken found conversation, the initial snatch consisting of a young woman saying, "You know who's in New York? Remember that guy...J-John Somebody? He was a, he was sort of a". Johnson then breaks down the phrase into both rhythmic and melodic cells and fashions an intricate and, yes, often overblown electric guitar accompaniment (assisted by Bill Ruyle on percussion and current SNL bandleader Lenny Pickett on reeds). The piece has a wonderful buoyancy, though, that allows it, at least in part, to transcend the fussiness, as though this gambit was so entirely new (I'm not sure that it wasn't) as to obviate any concern about the quality of actual music to which it was wed.

Johnson pushes the limits a bit with "Involuntary Songs" (lovely title) consisting of tape-scraps of female laughter, organized in quasi-Reichian fashion so as to give more the impression of burps than tee-hees. Still, it's rather fun; nothing too substantial but a piece that would make a perfectly enjoyable cable TV soundtrack. Faint praise, yes, but something. Part two of the piece nods to the Ramayana Monkey Chant in, necessarily, humorous fashion though the guitar becomes almost unbearably overwrought before the "John Somebody" theme returns. The concluding "No Memory" comes across as Mantler circa "Hapless Child" on an off-day when he couldn't restrain Rypdal.

But, I have to confess, reasonable fun most of the time. I picked up his soundtrack to the fine Paul Schrader film, "Patty Hearst" in CD era but that's the last I've heard of his work as near as I can remember (maybe something at a BOAC fest?). I see him around often in the audience at various downtown gigs; no idea what he's up to though.

Heh, didn't realize this had been re-released, with additional material, on Tzadik, also bearing an updated cover image:

Closing out the J's with one that, in my collection, stands out rather oddly, not the sort of thing I normally bought and, in fact, I've no idea how I came upon this or why I picked it up.

And, truth to tell, it's not very good, just exceedingly bland. Eight standards, played in decent cocktail lounge style, Jones unfortunately using a Fender Rhodes on several tracks. I don't know Jones' work very well at all though I know I've heard some far better things than this. For all I know, there are Jones fans who hold this album in high esteem, but I can't hear it. Recorded in 1977, it's entirely time-warped already. Jimmy Smith's drums especially sounded eerily like electric organ rhythm stops.

(Guessing perhaps I bought it because I'd recently gotten the amazing Ellington/Brown collaboration, "This One's for Blanton". If so, Ray done me wrong...)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The New Music Distribution Service, in the 70s, used to send out a wonderful mail-order catalog, a handsome set of stapled 8 1/2 x 11" pages, grouped by label, with b&w photos of the album covers and a brief description for each. I think it was in one of those, announcing the availability of this recording, wherein the diminutive Leroy Jenkins was referred to as: "Pound for pound, the greatest living violinist". Always brought a chuckle. He's always been, without doubt, my favorite jazz violinist.

I believe this is the first recording under Jenkins' name (1975), not yet released to disc to the best of my knowledge. In truth, it's an unwieldy creature. The ensemble is impressive, eighteen musicians including Braxton, Kalaparusha, Redman, Leo Smith, Holland, cooper, Sirone. But the structure is odd to the point of messiness. Part 1, Side one of the LP, is some 16 minutes of heads and group solos. With the exception of a lovely pastoral section midway through and an elegiac concluding passage, the written parts are blocky, constrained and altogether uninteresting. And the improvisations aren't much better. One has the impression that Jenkins was a bit overwhelmed by the scale of the endeavor and simply strung together five or six sequences, most of them not so inspired. I should note, however, that the final portion, with Smith soloing over (I think) Diedre Murray is outstanding.

Side B is even odder: following the conclusion of Part 1 (with some nice mesette work by Redman and a contrabass clarinet/tuba (Bill Davis) workout, there's a string of eighteen solos, each lasting about 30 seconds. Sometimes, you get the impression the player has consciously striven to engage with what came just before, more often, they seem unrelated, despite some overlapping. Not to say there aren't nice little nubbins of improv there--there are a few: Roger Blank's and Jerome Cooper's balifon breaks, Becky Friend's flute, Murray and Jenkins' concluding solo stand out. But overall, it's an unsatisfying construct, very awkward.

You know, I'd never before noticed the "Le Roy" on the cover....

September, 1975, originally released on Survival Records (since reissued to disk by Knitting Factory) with liner notes by...Stanley Crouch. And good ones at that. Young 'uns may find it difficult to believe, but there was a time when Crouch was a pretty damned good writer, and not half-bad drummer either. In any case, a wonderful recording, full of those "winds of life", Jenkins soaring, Ali in a crisp, Roach-like mode, very much into the melodic aspects of his drums. Excellent when running full bore but even better when, as on the title track, Jenkins veers into the most plaintive blues playing the post-Coltrane avant garde ever knew.

iirc, the first release on the Tomato label was Glass' "Einstein on the Beach" (I could be wrong) and their catalog went on to include Cage, Partch, Sam Rivers, Townes van Zandt and others. The art design (and sometimes actual illustrations) were by Milton Glaser, yielding covers that were always quite handsome. This one's from 1979, with a quintet of Jenkins, Cyrille, Anthony Davis, George Lewis and Teitelbaum on Side A, a quartet (the same, minus Teitelbaum on Side B.

Post Revolutionary Ensemble, Jenkins seemed to flit back and forth between two unpromising poles: the bland, creaky jazz rock of Sting! [sic] and the kind of stiff, modern classical compositions that evoked the most arid music of Muhal and Mitchell. "Space Minds" is a mixed bag, pointing down that latter, dismal path but still retaining some fire and including one glorious piece.

Side A is a six-part suite that's less clunky than "For Players Only" and is deftly performed, though still a ways from primo RE work. I get the impression he followed Anthony Davis' work very closely, or perhaps vice versa, as I think the first Episteme album came out about a year after this. Some nice passages, including the final one that portends more to come, but a lack of thoroughgoing purpose, at least to my ears.

The second side, with four individual pieces works far better. "Dancing on a Melody" recalls Jenkins' acerbically bluesy RE lines, he and Lewis wafting above piano and drums like leaves in the wind. "The Clown" (unfortunate title) tumbles along with vigor, Lewis again in good form while "Kick Back Stomp" does nothing of the kind, instead loosely ambling hither and yon, never quite making a statement of one sort or another. But that's all swiftly forgotten when we reach, "Through the Ages, Jehovah". One melodic line, that's all, repeated a few times over three minutes, but what an incredibly beautiful line it is. Only tinged with the gospel implied by the title, it's really pure Jenkins at his best, recalling "New York" from "People's Republic". Heartbreaking;y gorgeous, stated simply

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

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.

Another Timbre

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Jason Kahn - Dotolim (balloon & needle)

A Kahn composition realized by himself (analog synth, short wave radio), Ryu Hankil (speaker and piezo vibration), Park Seungjun (amp with spring reverb), Jin Sangtae (hard disk drives), Choi Joonyong (opened cd players) and Hong Chulki (turntables), recorded in Seoul in November of last year. My first impression, knowing that it's Kahn's work (see score below) was how unrhythmic it was, at least overtly. Perhaps my experience has been skewed but almost everything I've previous heard of his has either a strong pulse or at least a subtle throb. Here, the results are by and large more dense than what I've heard before from the five, fine Korean improvisers, but otherwise entirely in keeping with their previous output.

As can be clearly seen, the piece runs 70 minutes, divided into 5-minute portions, during which between three and six musicians are always playing (closer inspection reveals between about minutes 55 and 56 where perhaps only two are in operation). Each player is given four or five "blocks" of time during which he, I assume, reads the trademark Kahnian illustrations and interprets them as he will. The two levels in each individual's line suggest dynamics.

And it sounds mighty swell. As I said, it's very dense, unremittingly harsh and insectile, sometimes sounding like squadron of dental drills. Through this, the sextet does a fantastic job of crafting sounds that manage to be quite distinguishable from each other, a metallo-electric forest made up of distinctive species, more often than not sounding quite delicious in apposition and integration with each other. This is particularly noticeable when a relatively quiet section follows a noisier one (minutes 25-35, for example). As the volume levels up around the 45-minute mark, you even begin to get very vaguely tonal undercurrents, almost as though conjured up via sympathetic vibrations between two or three ultra-dissonant sources.

The first time through, I found it perhaps a bit overlong but subsequent listens revealed much more fascinating detail and space, especially in the louder sections, that offered a hyper-rich strata of furious activity I found quite easy to luxuriate in and enjoy the skin-pricks.

A fine recording, by all means get it.

balloon & needle
available via erstdist

Wade Matthews - Early Summer (con-v)

And here I was anticipating a soundtrack to the great Ozu film....but no, Matthews instead fashions 10 brief pieces by virtue of playing two laptops simultaneously, one laden with field recordings, the other for "synthesis". This improvisational approach lends a certain liveliness to the outcomes sometimes missing in "standard" usage of such recordings and, when it works, it works rather well. The first track is a good example of that, low hums and hisses leading to a spatially removed forest of clatter, frog croaks, vaguely watery clanks, etc. The first three or four cuts define the territory and have a nice variety; they may not challenge very much but offer an enjoyable experience. On the fifth track, "Se habla..pero no esta peritido hablar", some loop-y, synth like sounds (and sirens) intervene, pushing matters to too clear an area for my taste, though perhaps that was Matthews' point, to re-immerse the listener in the real, implicitly political world. Whatever the intention, it throws things a bit off-kilter for me, and the subsequent material, while solid enough, loses some of the glisten 'n' crackle I heard earlier on. Matthews made the conscious decision to present ten tracks, roughly four minutes each, but I think I'd rather have heard a full-length piece, listening to him navigate a larger structure. Maybe next time. As is, "Early Summer" is largely enjoyable and worth hearing, I just get the impression there's untapped resources somewhere.


The Automatics Group - Auto 17 (Touch)

OK, this is an odd one. A while back, I'd written on a release, on entr'acte, by Theo Burt that incorporated very elegant and beautiful video with "simple" electronics sounds, producing a quite mesmerizing experience, something I re-experienced live at the Diapason Gallery in the spring of 2010, when an installation of his work was concurrent with Keith Rowe's performances there.

The Automatics Group, based in York, is Burt and Peter Worth. Here, in 26 tracks ranging only some 23 minutes over the course of two sides of an LP ("Side C" is available digitally and apparently there's also an iPhone movie), they present "raw output from 49 configuration of an EMS VCS 3 synthesizer". On the surface, that's all there is. Each cut is, more or less, a loop, iterated for a minute or so, the sound varying from gravelly/scratchy ti smoothly synthed with numerous stops between. I say "on the surface" because it's all too easy to gloss over teh sounds as bland and uninteresting which, on one level, they are. It's a bit like the video installation with out the video, in the sense. Listened to closely, though, at volume, reveals additional strata--subsonic hums as well as separate layers that are easy enough to overlook on first blush.

Even so, the brevity of the pieces makes it difficult for this listener to really wallow in the sounds which, themselves are cold and alien enough as to require a bit of getting past in and of themselves. I can't help but think that video accompaniment is somehow essential (perhaps that iPhone movie...). In that earlier project, the video and sounds were so gracefully aligned that the result far exceeded what either, on its own, was likely to evoke; the sounds became a music of geometry. This observer, perhaps evincing his own lack, still needs something of that order.