Sunday, May 29, 2011

Paul Vogel - Godwit Songs (Munitions Family)

A cassette release (though I heard it on disc) of highly abstract electronics that bear, at best, only a passing resemblance to the song of the godwit--at least that's the assumption I'm making, though perhaps it's a singularly eai-oriented bird...In any case, it's very good: two tracks, the first being more aggressive and "noisy", beginning with some gentle, metallic pops before they're overwhelmed by harsh, contact-mic-ish scratches, severe whines and more. It never gets too dense--much more reminiscent of Sachiko M than most toiling in this area. Very solid, although things get more godwit-like on the second track, which I find all the more successful. It's really just as active but much quieter, yet within the compressed dynamic range, there's an enormous amount of space and differentiation; an entirely convincing sound-world is created, one that might well refer to the avian, amphibian and insectile life one observes with one's ear to the ground. Lovely.

Munitions Family

Michael Johnsen/Pascal Battus - Bitche Session (Organized Music from Thessaloniki)

Not bitching as such but, rather, recorded at a place called Bitch in Nantes, this is a cassette recording of pretty uncompromisingly harsh electronics (Johnsen-electronics, saw, Battus-magnetic pick-ups). Also a cassette release, also heard by yours truly on disc, also very noisy but there the comparison with the Vogel ends. It's very active, more percussive than you might guess given the instrumentation, full of squawks and screeches and, ultimately, unsatisfying to me. That blurry, subjective line between interesting and uninteresting noise gets crossed here, for me; I don't pick up as much consideration as I like--perhaps the pair is unconcerned with that or is choosing to operated in a more Mattin-oriented manner. Don't know, but as uncompromising as the music undoubtedly is, it also failed to grip me. Curious to figure out why the difference in personal appeal between this and Godwit Songs. Your mileage may vary.

Organized Music from Thessaloniki

Jonas Kocher - Solo (Insubordinations)

Solo accordion, that is, a form I'm admittedly partial to and Kocher, who I don't think I've previously heard (someone will prove me wrong, no doubt) [and, indeed, Richard, did--sorry about that] delivers admirably. What comes through more than anything else is a deep love of the instrument and the huge variety of sounds of which it's capable. A live set, Kocher is very patient, using a great deal of space, his choice of sounds running much of the gamut from virtually inaudible to full-throated squeeze-boxiana. The set sounds only loosely organized, as though Kocher is taking some delight in discovering the sounds as he happens on them, worrying less about the overall structure which nonetheless coalesces very nicely and naturally. There's an especially beautiful high drone portion about 20 minutes in that I could have happily listened to for a long time. Difficult to describe otherwise; not as extreme as Costa Monteiro on the same instrument but well to the left of Klucevsek et. al. A fine recording--don't let it slip under your radar.


Kevin Drumm/Jérôme Noetinger/Robert Piotrowicz - Wrestling (Bocian)

One of two handsomely produced 45s issued by the Polish label Bocian, this one features two excerpts from a 2005 live show by what I guess one could call a power trio. Now, I'm not as big a fan of Drumm as many though I've no doubt this assemblage is quite capable of producing a healthy blast of noise, but they seem not so well served by these brief snippets. Artur Nowak, who recorded the event, mentioned how great the entire show was and it well may have been. Here, we get two parcels of ear-rending sound, mere peepholes into the concert. One can imagine its entirety, I suppose, and the samples are tasty morsels of the kind, but...I guess I have to question the strategy in such a release. It may have been a matter of this or nothing, though, and fans of the three musicians will doubtless consider it worth the expense. It does have its (short) moments.

Tomasz Krakowiak - AP (Bocian)

Krakowiak's 45 works far better with regard to this medium and, to these ears, is a stronger set of music. Two pieces lasting 4'59" with Krakowiak on cymbals and microphone. By description, it sounds like nothing unusual: one with stroking of the surface (with the mics? not sure), generating keening overtones and unaccompanied by low-end rumbling from some other source, the other a more delicate version of same, the deeper tones taking on a very poignant quality as though commenting on their higher-pitched neighbors. But the particulars of the pieces are somehow unique and very, very rich. I imagine there are countless rubbed or bowed metal recordings about--this is one of the better ones I've heard. Ok, I admit, I would have liked to have heard this music at greater length, but still.....

Bocian Records

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Jürg Frey - "Metal, Stone, Skin, Foliage, Air" (l'Innomable)

It's been a good year, thus far, for great recordings. Rowe/Malfatti, two amazing Pisaros and now this one.

Frey's piece, superbly performed by Nick Hennies, dates from 1996-2001. I think this may generally be the case, although I don't know Frey's oeuvre intimately enough, but his work tends to be more overtly active than many other Wandelweiserians. "Metal, Stone, Skin, Foliage, Air" is set forth in clear, readily delineated sequences yet manages to breath in a very natural manner, not to come off as didactic in any way. As with other work I've heard from him, there's an undercurrent of narrative that's as beautiful as it is extremely subtle. As with much wonderful contemporary composed music (especially that emerging from the Wandelweiser group), while experiencing it, any lines between the written structure and the acoustic, physiological effects produced by the instrumentalist(s) performing it are blurred; it's very difficult (for me, anyway) to parse out both while listening, something I can only do in retrospect.

Depending how one wishes to break it down, MSSFA is in 9-11 sections. I take it they're precisely time, though the breaks seem to fall on 10-second marks rather than whole minutes. Given general Wandelweiser aesthetics, it's a bit of a shock when the piece begins in full force with a light, steady, medium tempo rhythm is heard on what sounds like a glockenspiel or celesta, though the wavering pitch has me wondering whether it might be a home-constructed metallophone of some kind. Immediately, one hears the dual nature of the music: the structure (here, at first, simply the rhythm) and the larger effects of the sound, in this case a wealth of gorgeous overtones. I'm not sure if there was overdubbing employed of if it's possible that overtones from a single source can result in the kind of scalar sequences one perceives here; whatever, the case, it quickly draws you into the world. At 7:20, we shift to a different set of metal, though still in the same family, with differing overtones. The rhythm remains the same, constant. This portion also lasts for 7:20, giving one the initial view that we'd encounter a series of these equally timed portions. Wrong.

At 14:40, a haze of cymbalry occurs, though again there are high, ringing overtones that sound as though they could be from other sources. In any case, the explicit rhythm has ceased but the continuation of a metal sound acts as a bridge. Mirroring the first two sections, though not strictly duplicating them, at 19:30 the palette shifts, remaining in the brushed metal area (tam-tam?) but lowering the overall pitch, shifting the overtones. So, we've had four sections and, again, have a limited view of the overall structure, a view that once more is subverted when, at 24:20, the stones are introduced, maintaining the non-explicit rhythm (though there's something of a pattern in the sense of iterated circular movement as they're rubbed on what seems to be a metallic surface, perhaps a bowl. I should say, I think these are stones. So, in this transition, Frey has kept the general attack, changed the source.

At 29:10, there's the clearest break in the composition, what turns out to be the conclusion of the first half of the work. A light, tapping rhythm, more rapid than at the piece's beginning, is heard on a snare drum and it's metal side (again, guessing). It alternates in steady beats of 20/16 for a while, before morphing into 8s and 12s. Sonically simpler than the previously heard sounds, it's something of a palate cleanser, refocusing us on rhythm (in a fascinating way) while still holding on to vestiges of overtones in the delightful apposition and eventual mix of these two "dry" sounds. This is followed, at 34:10, by what I hear as a kind of fulcrum upon which the piece swivels, again branching out into unexpected (but right-feeling) directions, a rich, wonderful bass drum section, very low and resonant, the initial touch all but unheard, the rhythm found in the throbs.

The second half of MSSFA is even richer, phenomenologically more awe-inspiring than the first. Not to belabor the reader more than I've already done with all this descriptiveness, but for the final four sections, Frey introduces air (recordings of wind sounds? again, it's mysterious) and foliage and also, I think, combines them with previous sources, resulting in some terrifically complex sets of sounds; that is, complex when concentrated on but fairly simple in outline. Again, that dichotomy is utterly delicious as one mentally flits back and forth between appreciating the overall structure, the various substructures, the pure beauty of the sounds, their poetic distribution, the varied durations and rhythms--all of these elements combined in an unfussy manner so that one may either appreciate the whole or the parts, ideally not bothering to distinguish between them, just experiencing the work. I'll just add that the concluding section possesses an otherworldly beauty that's exceedingly rare.

A great, great recording. Thanks to Frey and Hennies.



available from erstdist

Writer/musician/DJ/other-stuffer Kurt Gottschalk recently published a collection of short stories, "Little Apples", an often subtly interlocking set of brief, NYC-based pieces. They're quite good. He asked seventeen artists for images of apples, one of which precedes each story. One of those is by yours truly.

The stories are funny, quirky, sad, resonant. Read it.

Here's the book's facebook page

You can order/download it at lulu

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Five releases that feature Ernesto Rodrigues, recorded between 1999 and 2010 in various settings. Rodrigues has been heard on many, many discs, enough that I wouldn't presume to use these examples of anything definitive regarding a partial career arc, but in very general terms, they might be seen as limning some parts of a pathway. He's always, from what I've heard anyway, trod a line between (for lack of better shorthand) efi and eai, gradually casting aside some of the busier aspects of the former, but never entirely jettisoning that particular approach to group interplay.

His duo from 1999 with Jorge Valente (synthesizer and computer) finds the pair (Rodrigues on violin, prepared violin, signal processor) in very scratchy, skittery mode on one piece, loopy and bloopy on another, spacy here, harsh there, less, as I hear it, expansive in exploration of areas than unfocussed. Within this, there's still a good measure of call and response, in solid efi fashion, less of a concern with the space. Now, to my ears, this makes things not so interesting, but especially at the time of its release, I could imagine it being door-opening to someone coming out of the (say) Wachsmann/Turner environment.

Skipping ahead a few years to 2005, tp the extent this could be considered representative (a dubious assertion, perhaps), one hears large strides having been made. No doubt some of this is due to his compadres here: aside from son Guilherme (cello), there are Angharad Davies (viola), Alessandro Bossetti (soprano saxophone and Masafumi Ezaki (trumpet), forming an attractive strings/winds quintet. It has its scratchy and overcrowded moments, to be sure, but there's a far greater sense of space, of sounds unfurling. They get into a very nice, sandpapery drone area about midway through, the pops of the strings contributing an especially fine layer. At about 33 minutes, it also lasts for just the right duration--a good recording all around.

Another brief set (less than 27 minutes), from 2006, finds Rodrigues in the company of Gust Burns (piano), Vic Rawlings (Cello, electronics, loudspeakers) and David Hirvonen (electric guitar, electronics). Through most of the performnce, we're in scratchy drone territory, pretty restrained though somehow I feel it's less focused than I'd like to hear. Several minutes from the end, the music takes an abrupt turn into a harsher area, a nice tonic for what transpired earlier. In this instance, I may have liked to have heard more, further development, although that "coda" can also be understood as a tantalizing path, trod on for a little bit, opening to some glimpsed landscape but closed for now.

"Erosions" is a 2010 date with Rodrigues' viola accompanied by Wade Matthews' electronics and field recordings and Neil Davidson's rumbling acoustic guitar. Interestingly, I have the sense that, although the sounds here are quite full and active, the music is informed by quieter, more contemplative approaches heard or taken in the interim which have imparted a rich, breathing quality to the work, a sense of pacing and breathing that wasn't as prominent earlier (again, going from a meager number of samples but also of what I know of Rodrigues' prior catalog). I wasn't crazy about a previous Davidson solo effort but he fits in just fine here. In fact, the trio gels really nicely, creating a churning sound-world, with hints of drone, that results in one of the better recordings I've encountered from Rodrigues, well worth hearing.

Finally, from a bit later in the same year, we have "Suspensão",an double disc octet date with Rodrigues (viola,harp, metronomes, objects), Guilherme Rodrigues (cello), Gil Gonçalves (tuba), Nuno Torres (alto sax), Abdul Moimeme (prepared electric guitars, objects), Armando Pereira (toy piano, accordion), Carlos Santos (electronics, piezo elements) and José Oliveira (percussion). In some ways, it recapitulates the journey of the previous decade, a bit over-busy here but well integrated and spaced there (no mean feat with eight players). The second and fourth of the four lengthy pieces here work excellently, really establishing a true-sounding space (the accordion helping out greatly). The other two, perhaps intentionally, harken back to the busier, scratchier approaches of prior years.

Since first encountering the music of the Iberian improvisers, I guess more than ten years ago now, I've been impressed by the territory they (speaking generally) carved out for themselves, distinct in a number of ways from the improv being practiced elsewhere. As they, inevitably, began to mingle more and more with other European, Asian and American musicians, the music widened in many respects, perhaps lost some idiosyncrasy in others. But here, as elsewhere, it's heartening not to hear complacency, to continue to hear the searching, often along that difficult, slippery and occasionally very rewarding path between efi and eai.

Creative Sources

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Roberto Mallo/Miguel Prado/Ryu Hankil - Sannakji (Manual/Taumaturgia)

Mallo (alto sax, amplifier), Prado (plastic tapes, bags excited with motors) and Hankil (speakers with Piezo vibrations) craft a really nice, quiet, intense session here. The first of the two long tracks especially is abuzz with insectile sounds, sputters, faint whines, kind of like a small pool of water alive with bugs, gases, currents--low key but always very active. Space eases in as the piece progresses, the gases dissipating a bit, the crawlies burrowing under. It's a very fine subset of sounds, rather unique in some ways and quite bewitching, well arrayed.

The second track begins similarly, a delightful spread of ticking sounds especially, but expands out a good bit into a wider palette, particularly the amplified sax of Mallo, a high, dry tone, and some fairly loud electronic interruptions. It's somewhat more disjunctive that the earlier piece but that's likely a good thing--it may not feel quite as whole or "successful" but it shows the trio not resting once they've accomplished something, instead fanning out for other game. A fine job, an excellent listen and nice to see the Galician/Korean connection.

available from erstdist

No Hermanos Carrasco - Mímesis Intemperie (l'Innomable)

In which the brothers Carrasco (Edén, saxophone, hoses, bell, idea, production) and Nicolás (violin, objects, production mix) place themselves in two different environments, outdoors, and play discreetly. The first seems to be in or near an amusement park (aside from the cover image, there's nothing quite like the screams of children on roller coasters), the second (following a couple minutes of silence on disc) at some remove from concentrated activity, the sounds of birds, ducks and wind dominating those of motors and sirens. In each, rap and rock bass lines percolate through the mix on occasion, blurred, from a distance. Also in each, the Carrascos play fairly unobtrusively, sometimes making recognizable sounds on saxophone and violin, other times leaving it to the listener to guess if it's them or the environs.

Overall, I wasn't so struck by the outcome (Richard enjoyed it much more than I did, however). I found the instrumental playing, actually, a bit more self-conscious than I wanted to hear--the violin work on the second track, for instance), where it sounds overly imitative of birdsong. Not always--sometimes things blend finely, but often enough that it bothered me. I did find the pieces more successful when I stopped really listening for detail and just allowed all sounds to, as best I could, achieve equilibrium, more easily done in the amusement park track than the following one.

Nice idea and, possibly, one that could be more easily sunken into were one present at the time, ideally a distance away from the brothers, so as to let their sounds come and go more smoothly amongst the others.


Available from erstdist

Jamie Drouin/Lance Austin Olsen - Absence & Forgiveness (Infrequency)

One of those all too rare experiences when an entirely lovely recording drops in from out of the blue, or Canada in this case. Though not much info is provided, both appear to be utilizing electronics of some sort and the three pieces are live improvisations. They share an extreme delicacy and quiet, combining faint sine-like tones with various other small sounds, buzzes, clicks, etc., all spread out, gently pricking the space, weaving this way and that. By description, it doesn't sound all that different from any number of efforts in recent years, but something about this one stands apart--the sensibilities involved are unique and, I get the feeling, simply more intelligent than many, making subtle choices that you don't come across often. You think you have things pegged then, on the second track, they don't so much as veer off as take an adjacent path that was there all along but untrod, introducing brief, low flutters and tiny snatches of spoken word, coloring the field in an unexpected but, retrospectively, absolutely appropriate manner.

The final track seems to bring in all these elements, but again, very low key, very subtly. Something about it just gels even more than the first two, feels even more a natural extension of one's room space. Really good, better than I'm able to delineate here.

It'd be a shame if this one gets overlooked. Do yourselves a favor and check it out.


Thursday, May 05, 2011

Zeitkratzer - Zeitkratzer Plays PRES (Bôłt)

In which our indefatigable avant cover band takes on electro-acoustic works from the 60s and 70s by Polish composers, and wonderfully so. I should say, at the outset, that I'm entirely unfamiliar with the five composers represented here (Eugeniusz Rudnik, Elzbieta Sikora, Krzysztof Knittel, Denis Eberhard and Boihdan Mazurek)--my loss--so I've no idea how close or distant these realizations are frm the originals, but I'm guessing it doesn't matter too much.

It's a live recording and seems to have been done in one shot as there are a few seconds of ambient sound between tracks. Indeed, in his excellent liner notes, Michael Libera mentions this importance of Zeitkratzer member Ralf Meinz (credited with "sound") who apparently greatly augmented the product of this chamber ensemble on the fly, resulting in a true electro-acoustic work, once removed. Group leader Reinhold Friedl was given some thirty hours of music to study and from which to extract pieces to render. Those chosen, assuming the recreations are fairly accurate, tend more toward the minimalist/drone-y than one might expect from music of this area, though he points out that Polish electro-acoustic music had a very different character from German or French of the period.

In any case, the results are delightful, whispery, brushy swathes of sound, flurries of pizzicato on Sikora's "View from the Window" (an amazing sound), the deep, impressive thrums of Knittel's "Low Music" (a highlight here), the super-complex tingly drone of Eberhard's "Icon (for tape)", my other highlight and something I'd very much like to hear in its original form.

A fine recording, my favorite work yet from Zeitkratzer.

(Various) PRES Revisited (Józef Patkowski in Memoriam) (Bôłt)

An interesting notion: Disc 1 contains seven works by four Polish composers, more or less in the electro-acoustic area while Disc 2 consists of live interpretations of each piece (plus a group improvisation) performed at Cafe Oto in London by (in part or whole) Phil Durrant (violin), Mikołaj Pałosz (cello), Eddie Prevost (percussion), Maciej Sledziecki (electric guitar) and John Tilbury (piano). The set is dedicated to Józef Patkowski (1929-2005), who founded the Polish Radio Experimental Studio in 1957, remaining in charge there until 1985.

Again, the composers chosen, aside from Penderecki, are new to me and I've no idea how representative these works are, if they are at all. Bogusław Schaeffer's "Antiphonia" reminds me of quasi-similar vocal work by Penderecki (though who influenced who, I don't know), with clouds of voices intoning in harsh harmonies, ably (and, to my ears, more interestingly) reinterpreted by Phil Durrant on solo violin. [I noticed in the course of writing this, that Schaeffer's music was used by David Lynch in the soundtrack for "Inland Empire".] His "Assemblage" is an itchy piece constructed largely from pizzicato violin fragments (an 8-string device he designed himself) and prepared piano. As interpreted by Sledziecki, it's a little "No Birds"-Frithian, but not bad. "Collage", by Rudnik, fits more cleanly into other tape collage work of the era, an excellent, bumpy piece incorporating tape scraps rescued from the trash bin and some wonderfully fluttering, deep electronics. It's rendering by Pałosz and Sledziecki is ok, if a bit over-dependent on fuzzy guitar. I'd never heard Penderecki's "Psalmus" (1961) before, for electronics (possibly with vocal material as a source?) but it's of a piece with parts of his "St. Luke's Passion", eerie and haunting. Tilbuty's solo version on prepared piano is as gorgeous as one would expect but also sends him into an area subtly but distinctively different from his more frequent Cage/Feldman sensitivity--for Tilbury nuts, like yours truly, reason enough to get this set.

Mazurek's moody "Episodes", featuring flutes and (strings, is an extremely lovely, dark piece and is given a rich reading by Durrant, Prevost and Pałosz while his "Esperienza" is a powerful engine of explosives and drones; the quintet performance is lively and rich, featuring a wonderfully spiky Tilbury "solo". Rudnik's "Dixi" closes out Disc 1, all thin slivers of electronics, like dozens of aeolian pipes, coalescing and dispersing. Appropriately, it's interpretation is given over to Pałosz who produces an extraordinarily dense, harrowing and intricate reading, in many respects outdoing the original, no mean feat.

Disc 2 closes with an extended "Homage to Boguslav Schaeffer's Symphony". Not knowing the original, I can only listen as though to an improv (which this essentially seems to be) and say that it's an enjoyable enough one, if nothing to much out of the ordinary (though, again, lovely Tilbury)

The set includes an extremely informative booklet, with much info on the composers and their work. Again, an excellent job.

Bohdan Mazurek - Sentinel Hypothesis (Bôłt)

Well, now I know at least a little about Mazurek via this double disc set documenting work from 1967-1989. I'm loathe to write very much about it as I feel especially ill-equipped to comment on this area of music, one which I'm reasonably ignorant of, especially in bulk form like this. Individual pieces from different composers, as above, seem more graspable and, if you will, compartmentalizable. Much of Mazurek's work, as presented here, falls into what I hear as a genre of electronic music that I have difficulty differentiating among--taped electronic sounds arranged in collage fashion, a tendency toward the usage of histrionic voices, things that often hit me as dated and effects-driven. I'm sure I'm missing a good deal, not hearing these works in all their fullness.

Here, a good bit of Mazurek's music feels similarly. There are exceptions--"Canti", is quietly subtle and quite beautiful, made up of "low, vibrating string of [a] harp, noisy crowd in a room, woman's voice, processed whisper...". "Sinfonia Rustica" is odd in another way, an enjoyable bed of natural sounds with a strangely jazzy oboe occasionally keening atop. Others are half and half, like "Daisy Story" (1977-79), which meanders around for much of its 19+ minutes, then launches into a kind of minimalist explosion, though one that's more purely mechanical than rhythmic in a human sense a la Reich.

So while much of Mazurek's music doesn't particularly excite me, I can easily imagine listeners more devoted to this area finding a huge amount to enjoy here. As with the other Bôłt releases, the packaging is excellent and the liner notes very comprehensive. I'm quite happy to have received at least a little bit of exposure to the world of PRES and the Polish experimental scene in general.


Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Cornelius Cardew - The Great Learning (Bôłt)

So we have, at last, a full recording of the Cardew piece, something that had previously only been available in fragments going back to an early issuance on Deutsche Grammophone. This one was performed during July 2010 by about 60 people, musicians and non-musicians alike (in adherence to the composer's instructions), most of them Polish and, fwiw, no names that I recognized.

A question immediately surfaces, however: Aside from documentation, of what value is a recording of a work like "The Great Learning" which, as near as I can determine, is a resolutely participatory piece? Even in live situations (and I know a performance organized by Nick Hennies is upcoming in Austin), I would think that the obvious thing to do would be to allow for extra seats, instruments and scores, encouraging audience members not to merely sit and listen but to actively engage with the work. Being at such an occasion and simply listening would strike me as missing the point. [Nick, in a facebook back and forth on Cliff Allen's page, gave reasons why inviting anyone who attends to sit in might not be such a good idea; the score is more complicated than I realized] Yet here are these four discs, some 270 minutes of sound, sitting in my room--what else to do with them?

So, with some reluctance, I sit here and try both to imagine myself amongst the crowd and at the same time, evaluate the music. Now, I fully admit, that I'd be uncomfortable participating in a performance of "The Great Learning", particularly the intoned, vocal sections. Chairman Mao, who was directly responsible for the deaths (largely by starvation but directly as well) for untold millions of people (between 40 and 70 million by most estimates) isn't someone I hold in very high esteem, whatever other worthwhile qualities he may have had. [As Nick points out below, I was greatly mistaken about this--for some reason, I always associated this text with Mao, not Confucius---my mistake] This may well color my appreciation of the sounds heard here as, almost inevitably, I vastly prefer the instrumental passages to the vocal ones. Not that these are "great" or terribly fascinating to listen to, but at their best (ok, yes, the percussion sections) one picks up on the communal excitement and sense of interpersonal unity that one assumes was one of Cardew's goals. Sometimes, as in Paragraph 2, with the drums and long-held voices, both combine quite effectively and one gets the sense of the kind of potential that's here. The more drawn out and indecipherable the words the better, as far as I'm concerned, so Paragraph 3 (which reminds me very much of parts of Centipede's "Septober Energy"; curious if Tippett drew inspiration from this work), all putty-like and elastic, functions well. All sections have their merits; I found Paragraphs 1 & 7 the most rewarding musically, 4, the least, fwiw.

Personally, I'm glad to have this document and I imagine anyone with a serious interest in Cardew will feel the same. But it's best considered as a part of his oeuvre, perhaps not so much as a recoding one intends to listen to as often, say, as the piano pieces or the better readings of "Treatise".


Sunday, May 01, 2011

Mark Wastell/Lasse Marhaug - Kiss of Acid (Monotype)

There's something about scraped or otherwise abused resonant metal that generates a sound of extreme complexity, the surface irregularities serving to carom the sounds within the basic structural regularity of the material, setting up a delicious, fractal yin/yang. By the same token, I imagine it's irresistible for those with a liking for electronic sound modification to use such metallic source material as a basis for further exploration and that's what Marhaug has done with Wastell's strokes here, the latter recorded in 2004, the augmentation done over the following year.

At first, Marhaug respects the quiet, shimmering tones of the tam-tam, layering the gentle billows atop one another, very much retaining the character of the source before hinting at mischief to come with an abrupt shard of noise. The second, longer section begins conservatively enough but gradually veers away from obvious sourcing, Marhaug adapting the sounds to his own ends, retaining all of the richness and complexity but extending the palette into other realms before retreating back into metallic clouds. It's simple on the one hand, but especially when played at volume reveals an enveloping mass of detail that's very entrancing. Good job.

As further inducement (or deterrent), the handsomely produced package includes wry liners from our own Alastair Wilson....

Lionel Marchetti - une saison (Monotype)

A two-disc set containing four previously released tracks, dating from 1993-2000. I was familiar with only one, "Portrait d'un glacier (Alpes 2173m) which appeared on Ground Fault about a decade ago and which I enjoyed very much then and still do today. It's the one work here that eschews vocalizations and, imho, is all the more powerful because of it.

Marchetti's pieces are always very complex, intricately constructed from widely disparate sources, weaving a dense dreamworld that, to my ears, is sometimes very convincing, but sometimes carries an artificial feeling that gnaws at me. The three works aside from the glaciated one all include the vocals of Hélène Bettencourt, operating in a moaning kind of manner all too reminiscent of the Shelley Hirsch's of the world, something it takes me some amount of concentration to get past. Still, Marchetti does manage to transcend this at times, notably in "L'oeil retourné" which builds wonderfully to an icy, clean plain. It's rocky, tough sledding for much of the music though ultimately worthwhile; one can sit back and marvel and the sheer ingenuity of the construction even if one isn't always moved by the outcome.

The release includes a booklet containing a fine essay by Michael Chion which also concentrates on the glacier piece which, imho, is the true gem here.

Alessandro Bosetti - Royals (Monotyoe)

I admit that, after very much enjoying his work with Phosphor and several earlier recordings, much of Bosetti's recent work, a good deal of which has involved vocals, has left me cold. This one, unfortunately, continues that lineage.

It's very odd, sounding like an updating (with more advanced technology) of the work Nicolas Collins or maybe Scott Johnson was doing in the late 80s. There's a text, more or less self-referential, spoken on the first piece by Fernanda Farah, whose voice is (I take it via computer) echoed on a piano in strict unison; most of the vocals are treated this way, I think--electronically iterated in real-time by various instruments. There's something almost archaic about this; I guess it was mildly interesting the first time one encountered it (Richard Teitelbaum?), but it seems somewhat pointless now. The music and rhythms also have that kind of 80s post-minimalist feel, a bit sterile, almost drum-machine-esque. When the explicitness of the vocals and rhythms dissolves, as it does later in that first track, the results are much more enveloping and inviting, while still possessing somewhat the quality, inherently and in fact sonically, of ice cubes swirling in a crystal glass. When he brings out his soprano, the piece begins to sound a bit Braxton-y, in a good way, maybe a sidewise elaboration of the Ghost Trance work, the undercurrent of voices used effectively. But then it returns to the structure used at the beginning and pales...

"Life Expectations" continues the use of vocals triggering music, apparently rearranged found conversation in this case a la Scott Johnson. When the leaden rhythm appears, again one can't help thinking 80s post-fusion; very hard to get past. "Dead Man" uses text by W.G. Sebald, in French, alternating with a kind of mocking razz from what sound like kazoos mixed with other instruments. Again, a piano precisely echoes the words, an effect that has grown tiresome.

So, I don't get it overall but it's well-crafted and I imagine has its audience.

Intriguing cover art by Kati Heck...