Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ernst Karel - Swiss Mountain Transport System (Gruenrekorder)

As far as untreated field recordings go--now yer talkin'. It obviously helps if your ear is attuned to especially wonderful groups of sounds as Karel's was during some hiking expeditions in Switzerland that involved the usage of various modes of transportation--gondolas, funiculars, etc.--that have as one of their salient qualities the generation of rich and spectacular sonics. He recorded them extensively and extracted the nine pieces presented here without any manipulation. What can one say? I've thought about qualitative issues in this regard for quite a while now and the best I can come up with, short of technical excellence in the recording, is that saying "yea" or "nay" on a given example involves more a general overlapping of taste between the documentor and the listener than anything else. Person X will find one group of sounds inherently fascinating while I, even trying my best to get into non-discriminatory, post-Cagean mode, may not. Karel found these sets of sounds delicious and I heartily agree with him. Were I on one of these gondolas, I'd likely be paying as much attention to the aural atmosphere as the visual one and I'm very glad Karel got them down. Your mileage may vary but I found these clunks, whirs, bells, chatter, wheezes and rumbles a great joy of which to partake. Check it out.


Simon Whetham - Mall Muzak (Unfathomless)

I guess the Mall in Broadmead, Bristol is somewhat less exotic and spectacular than alpine funiculars, but Whetham squeezes what he can out of the locale. I take it that there are treatments applied and, at any rate, there seems to be a good deal of layering. The result is a soundscape that doesn't sound particularly mall-ish, perhaps a good thing, but also becomes somewhat amorphous over its 50 minutes. The ambiances and resonances of the large spaces seem to predominate, creating a rich blur that, as attractive as it is in some ways, to these ears, could use a bit of roughness, some nodes strewn in, some more etched quality. As I mentioned above, this is an entirely personal reaction (what isn't?) but the sounds as displayed on "Mall Muzak" don't rivet me the way those gondolas did (to use only the recent example). It's fine, not an unpleasant listen, but somehow less fascinating.


Craig Shepard - On Foot (Wandelweiser)

Hmmm....I'm wonder if we can sneak this one into a field recording slot as well...field composing, at the very least. Shepard, in 2005, set himself the task of hiking 250 miles across Switzerland, composing a new piece each day (performing it as well, in some public setting). Six of these works are collected here, performed by various Wandelweiser-involved folk.

The music has an aura of folk song to it, however attenuated, heard clearly in Christian Wolff's melodica rendition of "Crêt de la Neuve, le 20 juillet 2005" with it's gentle ups and downs, similarly the second brief track with Katie Porter on clarinet. Each sounds as though it could be an extract from a larger piece...or someone simply tootling abstractly, but beautifully, in the countryside. With the third piece, "Vallore, le 23 juillet 2005", performed by a quartet of Antoine Beuger (flute), Jürg Frey (clarinet), Marcus Kaiser (cello) and Tobias Liebezeit (percussion), the music spreads out, long thin tones piercing an imagined mountain air. A gorgeous piece that, oddly, reminds me of some of the finer, quieter Braxton music from the late 60s.

The foursome splits for the final three tracks, Frey solo on a lovely, quite melodic song, tinged with sadness. next, in extraordinary piece played by Beuger, the limpid, life-ful, soft tones hanging in the room; all the pieces were recorded in work spaces of the musicians and one can hear the life beyond the walls, very beautiful. Finally, a lengthy (27 minute) composition performed by Kaiser and Liebezeit, one that has the clearest Wandelweiser ring to it. Resonant metal is struck every so often, with ample silence between. At the same moment, the cello is bowed at a pitch as equal as possibly to that of the metal, so much so that it's often difficult to discern, more of a grainy presence beneath the dull peal; again one hears exterior sounds as well. The fact of the struck metal lends the piece something of a ritual character but not woozy in the least, entirely focused.

A seriously wonderful recording; can't wait to hear more from Mr. Shepard.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Kim Cascone - the knotted constellation (Monotype)

A cascade of Cascone (c'mon, you know that's hard to resist). Field recordings and contributory gauze from other individuals forming a kind of sound that's at a remove from that heard in areas I more typically traverse. I hear more of an association with the classic tape manipulators like Raaijmakers, for example, than Tsunoda. The sounds--and there are zillions of them--sound chiseled, often crystalline, each buzz, rattle 'n' hum distinct. For the listener, this sets up a certain kind of distinction, something like Rothko vs. Hoffmann, an aspect that strikes me as somehow fundamental (it may not matter so much to others). The sounds carry greater independent weight, are less easy to integrate into the whole so that when one hears, for instance, what sounds like the croaking of a decent sized monkey some ten minutes in (I could be entirely wrong on this classification!), one hears it as more apart from its sound bed than one is used to, This isn't a bad thing, of course, and is in my opinion to Cascone's credit that it feels challenging, as though asaying, "OK, deal with this." You can't relax in your comfort zone as easily as you can elsewhere. It's not all harshness by any means; bells and water abound, each again having that etched, photo-realist quality. It's only 33 or so minutes, but it's as chock-full o' nutty sounds as anything you're likely to hear this year.

Scanner/David Rothenberg - You Can't Get There from Here (Monotype)

Jolting flashback to the mid 90s when Scanner was one of the cooler things around, the notion of intercepting live phone transmissions and integrating them into improvised electronica seeming pretty damned awesome. Well, that didn't last (for this listener) but here's Scanner (Robin Rimbaud) again with David Rothenberg (bass clarinet, clarinet, laptop). no eavesdropping in sight. My immediate referent on the first track, a laid back, coolly funky one, was the fine mid 80s collaboration between Hector Zazou and Bony Bikaye. It's pleasant but lacks that same fire. Unfortunately, that's about as good as it gets, the remainder toned down to a druggy flux, replete with whispered (presumably sampled) vocals, a woozy, gurgling bed of electronics and meandering clarinets. Suave but not my cuppa.

Eugene T. Robinson/Philippe Petit - The Crying of Lot 69 (Monotype)

Heh...excellent cover. And I liked the disc as well, an extended text with accompaniment created by Eugene S. Robinson, a writer with whom I was unfamiliar who seems to specialize in 21st century noir (Bouncer Lit?) though here there's an at least superficially obvious connection to Pynchon, and Philippe Petit, who wields electronics, recordings, guitar, etc. Rhys Chatham makes a notable, Cherry-like appearance on trumpet on the first track, btw. Robinson's voice travels from the coolly disinterested to the verge of hysterical breakdown, narrating an ambiguous series of hazy vignettes involving...well, it's never quite clear but there are antagonisms, questionings, rough stuff. Petit's setting, which might loosely be described as "dark ambient" appropriately allows the voice to remain front and center, accenting the dialog instead of demanding attention, leaving an effective and disturbing "story", Lynchian in its dystopic, oneiric aspect. Very good of its kind.

Trophies - Become Objects of Daily Use (Monotype)

Trophies is Alessandro Bosetti (voice, electronics), Kenta Nagai (guitar) and Tony Buck (drums) but fall easily in line with recent work of Bosetti's. Veteran readers know I've had my share of problems with his work and, sad to say, they continue here. As in prior releases he reads text in repeated fragments over a loosely rockish backdrop that, again, uncomfortably recalls Scott Johnson's late-80s work in the "John Somebody" mode. The iterated vocals, often tracked sound for sound by electronics (which I find seriously tiresome) wear thin quite quickly and the accompaniment, while handsome enough, also reminds me of the busy work that, for example, the Cline brothers produced in that ill-fated Hemphill band from around the same period as the Johnson. The same approach is followed on all eight tracks (expanding a bit into a quasi-Carnatic area on the final one, but too late).


Patrick Farmer/Kostis Kilymis/Sarah Hughes/Stephen Cornford - No Islands (Another Timbre)

Maybe it's because I'm writing this at the tail end of two weeks + of constant concert going and my music-listening brain is a bit frazzled, but it's difficult for me to figure out what to write about this release, other than to say I like it a lot. The quartet (electronics, turntables, chorded zither and amplified piano) occupy the kind of quiet-yet-scurrying territory that's not so uncommon but do so exceptionally well, breathing air and vitality into an area that often gets overcrowded. They perform two improvisations and then Cage's "four6", the latter in a bird-heavy environment and beautifully paced. The entire recording bristles with intelligence and care--I'll leave it at that. An excellent job--listen.

Dominic Lash/Patrick Farmer/Sarah Hughes - Droplets (Another Timbre)

"Droplets" is even better, containing an improvisation, two versions of a piece by Taylan Susamm ("For Maaike Schoorel") and Eva-Maria Houben's "Nachtstuck". The first realization of the Susam work involves soft, rushing sounds that seem wind-driven though I take it that's not the case. They kind of zip by, almost like sped up versions of car sounds (though maintaining a deep pitch), interspersed with silences. The second take features each musician's instrument as a recognizable element filling more or less the same "portions" of the score with sound. In both instances, a lovely, somber mood is generated. This is, I believe, my first exposure to Susam's music; would like to hear more.

The improvisation, titled "Elusion", is just wonderful. From the initial airplane hum to the steely rustles like metal shavings being disturbed, through delicious low tones and on. Really every moment seems vital here. I saw Dom a few times in the last couple of weeks performing Pisaro's music and was, as always, very impressed; perhaps I focus on him unfairly here, but his playing sounds great, really gluing things together. I guess you could say there's a "wandelweiser" feel in play--it's quiet, spacious and rather linear--but there's also something very flexible here, a certain give and pull that's very enticing. Hard to describe! But great.

Houben's 33+ minute piece (an extract) is performed outdoors, through the rain, by Lash. The downpour is there from the get go, the deep arco drones welling up from the wet in almost stately fashion, like a slow, slow marche funebre, before transforming into sets of scale-like patterns interspersed among others. I'm not sure how I would have felt about the piece sans precipitation; perhaps other plein air sounds would have sufficed. But the rain really does sound fantastic and swathes the bass wonderfully. Whatever, it's lovely to listen to, as is the entire disc. Highly recommended.

James Saunders - Divisions that could be autonomous but that comprise the whole (Another Timbre)

Six pieces that, in a way, occupy a similar space; again there's more than a whiff o' Wandelweiser in terms of quiet, singularity of purpose (within each work) and space. So we have a piece for 10 players sliding coffee cups on different surfaces (a very nice, engrossing work) and one at the end with cup on brick. Radios, bowed wood and metal, etc., thread among traditional instruments but the mood is soft sandpaper and dry rustling. Even the piano tolling in "Part of it may also be something else" sounds unanchored, as do the harmonica and melodica...beautifully so. I went back and forth as to whether I thought matters, overall were too gossamer or just right, coming down on the latter more often than not. In fact, something about the music reminded me, in effect anyway, of how I find Christian Wolff's music so eely and difficult to grasp. I'm fairly certain there's far more to the music than I'm able to get at this moment and I'm doing it a disservice; I hope to get back to it in the future. In the meantime, people should hear this.

Tierce - Caisson (Another Timbre)

Jez riley French (field recordings, zither, etc.), Ivan Palacky (knitting machine) and Daniel Jones (turntable, electronics). One piece, about 58 minutes long and an enjoyable if not always riveting one. That's perhaps unfair as "riveting" is unlikely to be what this trio was aiming for; one has more a sense of deriving enjoyment from an unforced kind of meandering (meant in a good, ambling way), the elements introduced leisurely, with ample space. You don't get the sense an arc of any kind was intended, more of a "walk". It densifies about 15 minutes in, storms for a bit before splaying out for most of the remainder. Not sure what it is that I find a wee bit lacking--perhaps wanting more grit. But it's fine, a nice web of titters and tones, hums and speckles. A perfectly good stroll.

Anett Németh - A Pauper's Guide to John Cage (Another Timbre)

This recording grew on me quite a bit over repeated listens, possibly having to do simply with state of mind. What I initially found a bit arid "filled in" very much over time. Two pieces, the title track for piano, clarinet, objects, field recordings and electronic was composed along Cagean lines, using chance procedures to determine elemental aspects, all items save piano treated electronically to some extent. But that piano, sporadic though its contributions are, serves as a supple spine and gives the music--soft but essentially mellifluous--a very attractive, sinuous character, like a small pool of water expanding on irregular ground. The second track is smoother, enjoyable in a post-"Obscure Music" kind of way (it's for "manipulated recordings" and electronics), moving along slowly, the hollow tones oozing amongst the field recordings. Pretty nice though, again, some added grit mat have been welcome. Good job, though, and add Ms. Németh to the list of people whose work I'll be curious about in the future.

All in all, a really fine new batch from Another Timbre. Congrats, Simon.

another timbre

Sunday, September 18, 2011

As a kind of addendum to AMPLIFY:stones, we had two evenings of three sets apiece at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn, featuring various combinations of Taku Unami, Taku Sugimoto, Moe Kamura, Takahiro Kawaguchi, Radu Malfatti and Annette Krebs.

Friday's first set was another festival highlight for me: Malfatti/Sugimoto. Not that anything was particularly unexpected--Radu kept to his exquisite low, soft tones augmented by the occasional finger tap on his bell or mute, etc. while Sugimoto held an e-bow almost motionless above his strings, generating a hum that had to have been inaudible beyond ten feet or so. But it was just perfect, a fine example of commitment tied to execution. Indeed, the Malfatti experience: hearing him in a number of situations and talking a good deal with him, was an enormous and special pleasure. Kawaguchi was up next, solo, standing behind a table strewn with small objects, some of a mechanical nature. He constructed a mini-environment, first grappling with a small motor from which a metal rod protruded, that rod becoming a magnet (two magnets?) with a polarity that served to repel a magnetized disc while keeping it floating alongside the rod, rotating against it and generating a drone. If that makes sense. In any case, fun to watch. He had a bag of what seemed to be the innards of egg timers, which he wound and set on the table, perhaps 30 of them, plunked a wine bottle amongst them, arranged small flashlights and occupied himself with similar activities, many of which I'm doubtless forgetting. It paled after a bit, for this viewer/listener. He ended by simply leaning back against a wall and waiting, hands folded across chest, for about ten minutes, listening to a buzz. Lastly, Krebs/Unami in which, true to the form he'd established over the previous two weeks, Taku constructed a set, this time a mock music performance with mic stands (rolled paper serving as mics), amps (cardboard boxes), etc. He brought out a long broom, "wired" it to a speaker and conscripted David Kirby to wield it, which Mr. Kirby, lavishly attired in a dark magenta three-piece suit, did admirably. A box served as a drum set for Cat Lamb and bass (push broom) duties fell to Kjell Bjorgeengen, each similarly plucked out of their chairs. Unami joined the audience to witness their performance. Krebs, all the while, was generating fairly minimal noises, including samples of a slightly drunken friend (in German) as well as winding cellophane tape around herself and the set. It was....funny, more or less enjoyable, uncomfortable, unusual.

The final evening began with the duo Saritote (Moe Kamura and Taku Sugimoto) who played what were easily the most tuneful, "straightest" music of the festival, very lovely miniatures, often only a few seconds long. The melodies were spare and clear as was Kamura's pitch-perfect voice, very fragile and quite beautiful. At one point they played Satie's "Vexations", Sugimoto playing the melody at first single-note, then chorded, after which Kamura would sing her own obbligato to the line; lovely, a very crystalline, fine set. Unami and Kawaguchi were up next (splash zone in effect) and, well, constructed another fairly elaborate scene involving a tall ladder, chairs, the inevitable cardboard boxes, chairs, twine, garbage bags, candles, flashlights, fans, etc. all arrayed over about 40 feet of space from stage-center to a far wall. Taku cowled himself as he'd don at Stone, moaned a bit, answered a cell call. When they were well-satisfied, Unami switched on a sound-generating device for some loud thrumming and they left the room briefly, Kawaguchi returning a few minuted later to shut matters down. It's the type of thing that could be really awful but they pretty much manage, somehow, to pull it off. Not my favorite sort of thing, but....Finally, 35 or so sets after it had begun, Krebs/Sugimoto closed the curtain on this edition of AMPLIFY, playing a fine set in which Krebs' sampled voice (a male reading a poetic text) played against Taku speaking, in Japanese, describing his initial meeting with Annette some 13-14 years ago, each also contributing small sounds from their instruments. It worked gorgeously for a good 15-20 minutes, meandered a bit, came back together and, appropriately ended with the pair sitting in silence for a good while.


The festival, day in, day out, was one of the stronger ones I've ever attended, almost every event offering at least something of value, many sets turning out to be spectacular. Its arc, from the opening hints of Wandeweiser, through the Rowe and Unami phases, the Malfatti waves, back to Pisaro, ultimately the Japanese crew, provided a layered continuity that was invaluable. Hats off to Jon (and David Kirby for the amazing sound system) for another job exceedingly well done.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Been busy between returning to work and spending all evenings at AMPLIFY, but I guess I should post a few words about the three evenings of (mostly) Michael Pisaro's work. Going from memory here, not notes.

On Tuesday, we had the pleasure of hearing Michael in duo with Radu Malfatti, performing the latter's "Claude Lorrain 2" and his own "Ascending Series 6". I was admittedly disappointed to learn that Radu's title referred not to the painter but rather to the street containing the site in which the piece was first performed (Claude Lorrain Strasse in Vienna) and the "2" to how many musicians were performing the present version. Nonetheless, I attempted to picture some of Lorrain's landscapes (one illustrated above) during the pppp set, none too successfully. I was mighty tired (worse the next day) and details drift together, but both compositions were quiet, spacious and lovely. As evidenced elsewhere in the fest, Malfatti's control was breathtaking, his soft, low tones as pure as water and his extracurricular activities (tapping, scraping and otherwise accosting his instrument or mute) were precise.

The next day's activities began with "A cloud drifting over the plain", a quartet + tape set with Pisaro (piano), Barry Chabala (guitar), Greg Stuart (percussion) and Dominic Lash (bass). [I pause to mention that it's now Sunday morning as I'm typing this and, as no notes were taken, I'm relying on an increasingly hazy memory of events, so I won't go into much detail from hereon in unless I'm relatively sure the described events actually occurred!]. They played over a tape--was this the one with Nick Hennies playing a piece of Radu's for four bass drums? In any case, the activity was somewhat denser than I expected, Pisaro apparently providing the lead in that sense, the others picking up on that. As was the case throughout the evening, I found myself drawn to Lash's extraordinarily sensitive work. Every pluck or bowing seemed to embody grace and purpose. This was even more the case on the subsequent piece, a melding of two "mind is moving" compositions, IV and IX, with Pisaro on guitar and Lash. As is often the case with his work, the spacing and placement were beautifully considered. That's just the half of it, though, with the performer bearing a huge weight in terms of execution and Lash came through in stunning fashion. Hard to describe otherwise; those who know Michael's work will have a fair idea of how it played out, the gentle notes, the silences. Experiencing it live is a different beast. Finally, "fields have ears (6)" was rendered by Barry, playing to tape (maybe this was the Radu piece?) and was notable for several segments of surprising, vaguely rockish modalities. Very vaguely but offering a whiff! It too was lovely and had an intriguing plan beneath, having to do with overlaid (imaginary) garden plots determining the distribution of sounds, but more than that I can't say.

The following evening was composed of two rather amazing pieces. First up was "A transparent gate with ten panels", with a structure modeled on Ghiberti's "Gates of Paradise" in Florence. The work is in ten 10-minute sections, for solo percussionist (Greg Stuart) with tape and, I have to say, 100 minutes have never passed so quickly. The live performer plays a different instrument (sometimes two) in each section, said instrument being small percussion (brass bells, hollow wooden blocks, a triangle, etc.) that are struck or bowed, sparingly and softly for the most part. Seven small iPod speakers were arrayed against the wall on either side of Stuart. From these issued accompaniment by the same items but arranged so as to overlap the live segments in brick-laying fashion. So the piece began with Stuart tapping on the triangle. Five minutes in, triangle sounds began appearing from the speakers, spatially distinct. Somewhat before he moved to the next portion, sounds from the instrument he was about to play would appear on the tape. These would fade in and out as the piece continued, offering a reference back to the prior sound and a preview of the upcoming one. As in much of Pisaro's music, not an excessively cluttered concept, but a clear and lovely one that engenders more complication than you expect. As said, time seemed to pass quite quickly, a subjective "fact" confirmed in conversation with several other listeners. The last segment used grains of rice falling to the floor, landing on sheet of tin foil, an incredibly sensuous and gorgeous sound. A great piece, superbly realized by Stuart.

The evening, and AMPLIFY:stones proper (the Stone portion) concluded with one of my favorite Pisaro works, "asleep, street, pipes, tones", performed by the composer and Katie Porter (bass clarinet). I've written elsewhere about it so won't go on at length; suffice it to say that it retains, to these ears, its mesmerizing quality, its almost heart-wrenching, brief allusions to "traditional" melody (some of those two or three not bass clarinet figures just kill me) and its constant sense of surprise, new elements being introduced quite late during its 64 minutes. A great work.

ok, will attempt to write up the last couple of nights at Issue project later on today....

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Michael Pisaro/Greg Stuart - Hearing Metal 2

Giving a blow by blow account of Pisaro's music is becoming increasingly absurd. The pieces really demand to be considered as a totality (even as some more recent works are more segmented than in years past) and their vastness, both in simple length and, more, in their enormous depth, make normal descriptors seem hopelessly futile.


"Hearing Metal 2" is gorgeous. Its first section wavers in episodes that feel like shutters opening and closing over a camera's lens, a camera mounted in a moving vehicle sometimes, the scene flitting by, blurred. But then it also opens, on occasion, into an area with an organ being played, one with a very "churchy" tonality. There are some oddly loopy moog-like swirls, water, other things. It's disorienting and, first time through, a bit baffling. The combinations of sounds (sine waves threading through the weave) are wonderful, no question; the structure is more difficult to perceive short of the simple fact of the episodes (I haven't seen the score and, I've little doubt, much would be revealed therein).

At around 17 minutes, birds and wind appear. This serves as a brief interlude to the second section, quite a different creature than the first. (It's also where Stuart's contribution is foregrounded--I'm not sure at all what, if any, he playing he did in part 1. btw, both he and Pisaro are credited on the front of the disc so I'm doing the same here; to my ears, the equivalency seems entirely justified.) After a silent start, the sound wells up and is immediately ultra-complex. The first time I listened, my immediate point of reference was Xenakis' great "Bohor", which turns out to be a favorite piece of Pisaro's as well. A similar kind of massive, dense, infinitely detailed throb, a deep churning that possesses an almost geologic character. The sandworms of Dune might make such a noise during their burrowing.

It's an extraordinary block; in fact, I find myself visualizing the piece as a variation on Newman's inverted obelisk: several layers of fractured shards on top, irregular on the whole but well-formed individually, drifting onto this immense, dense slab which, in turn, balances on a tiny point, whose tip bears the entire weight of the piece--the brief return of birdsong at the conclusion.

If I have a qualm it's that I find the structure a bit unsettling, don't quite grasp it save for the image described above which I think is more in my head than anywhere else. But that central section is so rich--I take for granted that Stuart bears much of the responsibility for this--that it obviates any carping. A wonderful disc.

Michael Pisaro/Greg Stuart - Hearing Metal 3 (Gravity Wave)

In some ways, I find this a more difficult go--not on the surface but trying to parse out the structure beyond the rather monolithic block that's readily perceived. Part of me hears the work as an extended version of, say, an old Art Ensemble piece (I know Michael grew up listening to the AACM!) wherein there's a long quiet percussive build via malleted cymbals and other drony devices (see the beginning of "Ohnedaruth" on Phase One) that eventually explode into the theme or collective improv, etc. Here, the first 23 minutes have something of that aspect, a dense matrix of ringing tones generated, I take it, by bowed and struck metals. I'm sure it's more complicated than that, knowing his earlier work, and even so, it's quite enticing and endlessly listenable. At the 23-minute mark, however, Stuart breaks into what I think can be fairly heard as a trap set mini-explosion, as though Don Moye had just entered the building. Somewhat prior, Pisaro had begun generating very organ-y sounding sine tones and these persist in this section, continuing and complexifying (?) as Stuart switches to cymbals, again sounding very much in a kind of avant-jazz tradition. It then kind of "fans out", sublimating between brushed drums, softer cymbals, half-buried sines and I imagine much more. One gets the sense of spray, of vapor.

It quiets down to a gentle patter, skittering for the last several minutes; very lovely.

"Hearing Metal 3" feels very much of that arc--quiet/loud/quiet--but there are many strands threading their way through it and, five or six listens in, I think I'm still only getting glimmers of what's actually there.

Needless to say, both releases are automatic gets for anyone at all interested in Pisaro's music. Me, I'm getting ready to go out this evening and see him in duo with Radu Malfatti. Should be smokin'. :-)

Gravity Wave

Distributed by erstdist

Monday, September 12, 2011

Not to leave out mention of other shows, including a superb duo improv from Keith and Radu, but last evening's solo Rowe performance is, at the moment, blotting out all else.

You knew it had the potential to be exceptional, occurring on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 (and the 38th of 9/11/73 as well) in NYC. One of his prime topics of musical conversation over the previous week had been Dvorak's "Piano Quintet" (a recording with Clifford Curzon at the piano) and he had dropped a hint or two that it might figure in his set. As it happened, that was the "theme", threading its way through the performance, its romantic, evocative melodies beset by all manner of reality-reminders, Rowe-generated and otherwise.

He later explained that the Dvorak, for him, was about memories, specifically cherished memories from long ago, how wonderful things were then. Not hard to make a connection with US self-image vs. the past ten years. The set was as harsh, overall, as anything I've heard from him, in a similar emotional range as the duo with Burkhard Beins (ErstLive 001). He made frequent use of the scrubbing coils on guitar strings as well as his trusty nail file, allowing the Dvorak to filter up (and linger for a good while) before burying it in carnage, back and forth. The other principal element was radio and he managed, in typical fashion, a couple of extraordinarily serendipitous captures, including EMF's "Unbelievable" (the chorus, "You're unbelievable" was almost too apropos!) and a talk radio program during a 9/11 conspiratorial discussion.

Better still...The Stone, as many know, is on the ground floor on the corner of Avenue C and 2nd St and the sounds of the outside world stream into the space with little loss of volume. Not too much of a bother during a standard free jazz squall perhaps but something quieter practitioners need take not of, if only to ignore and subsume into their work. About midway through Keith's set, a voice was heard (female, I'd guess middle-aged, possibly latina, quite likely inebriated) saying, "No! No! No! NO! NO! NO!! NO!" etc. Excellent enough in context, but when Don, who was manning the door, went out to ask her to please be quiet, that there was a performance going on, she exploded, "Fuck you! Fuck your performance! Fuck you!" and continued in that vein for a minute or two. The analogy between this and US attitude toward the world, especially in the last decade, was all too delicious.

The Dvorak continued to do battle with the drones, the violence, the rudeness, the narcissism, the absurd sense of self-worth and obliviousness, eventually fading away.

Just a powerful, deep, harrowing presentation. I trust it will appear on ErstLive one day soon.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Been a bit recalcitrant but also very busy, so a few more brief notes.

Two night back Keith and Toshi played what was, at the time, my favorite set of the festival. They hadn't played together in a few years and Keith's style had diverged significantly in that time from what I think of as his "Rothko" approach to his "Twombly" one which might be less conducive to Toshi's way which has been fairly consistent. Nonetheless, at the start it was as though they picked up right where they'd left off, creating rich drones, not lacking an edge. I figured that, sooner or later, Keith would disrupt things and he did, about 15 minuted in, interjecting some harsh squalls, and, for the midsection of the set, roiling the waters quite a bit, beautifully offset by Toshi's response, which deepened the tones a bit while maintaining the flow. All of this led up to a pristine last ten or so minutes, utterly gorgeous, where the strains thinned out into a steady, icy calm. Very, very satisfying.

Last night was the first set of Keith with Radu Malfatti, performing Radu's "Nariyamu" and Cardew's "Solo with Accompaniment". It was amusing, earlier on, watching the pair rehearse "Nariyamu", rehearsal, for Keith, being an activity rarely indulged. There's some looseness in the composition but Malfatti does require a certain pitch at points throughout, something that Rowe's set-up acts actively against. But the performance was magnificent. The gossamer strands--sets of three or four tones, sparsely arrayed, interspersed with small sets of clicks--managed to evoke a kind of enormity, of vastness. Malfatti's control verges on the supernatural, just amazing to hear. My individual highlight of the festival so far. The Cardew was also very fine, Rowe at more liberty to make noise and Malfatti also (relatively) expanding a bit.

all for now...apologies for the brevity. Rowe/Malfatti improv tonight & Toshi solo.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Briefly, wanted to comment on last evening's Rowe/Unami set.

Keith, during his stay here, had been referencing Philip Ball's "The Music Instinct" (a book coming at the love and desire for music from an evolutionary and neurobiological standpoint) quite a bit, particularly a passage where Ball posits that music is not acoustic, that it's constructed in the listener's mind. It wasn't entirely surprising, therefore, especially considering Unami's performance the previous night, that Rowe utilized the speech function of his Kindle and sent the introductory portion of the book through the house PA at Stone, the computerized voice adding an extra later of oddness by its frequent mispronunciations and routine mis-inflections of the text. He accompanied this by sparse scrabblings at his guitar neck and "writing" on a stone, as well as the odd, short radio capture.

In the meantime, Unami once again began constructing box towers this time a bit more stable by virtue of tucking in the ends and taping them. He did this in the same intent manner as he had before, eventually building an edifice that took up most of the left of the stage area and appeared vaguely threatening toward Rowe. With the text continuing, talking about aspects of music and pattern recognition, inevitably one began applying the words to Unami's activity, forming connections that seemed as apropos as they were clearly accidental. Quite marvelous.

After 40 or so minutes, Unami threaded some twine behind and betwixt his boxes, carrying the ends himself this time toward the entrance to The Stone at the rear of the audience space, exiting the room. From somewhere out on the street he slowly pulled the string, causing the towers to slowly topple. Again, there was something wonderful about seeing these structures shudder and move "by themselves", the cardboard squeaking against each other. They fell, one after another, the last narrowly missing Rowe's table, resulting in a delightfully bulky, awkward pile which, via continued tugs, continued to throb a bit, as though in death throes. Unami opened and closed the door several times, accentuating the scene, a dark tolling, perhaps, as Rowe slowly faded out the voice at a point the electronic reader was describing how the mind sorts and melds two melodic lines, such as violin and piano, into a structure that can be heard individually or dually.

It was a wonderful experience, very invigorating, one that will linger in this mind for quite some time.

Again, my camera was useless but Yuko posted some fine pics here, including some from the previous set of English (Joe Foster and Bonnie Jones) with Toshi Nakamura, which was fine (and utiltized David Kirby's sound system to great advantage, especially the sub-woofer) but not nearly as memorable.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Last evening's first set was the "trio" of Richard Kamerman, David Barnes and Graham Stephenson, arrayed in three successive duos (DB/GS, RK/DB, RK/GS). The music was fairly cohesive throughout the personnel shifts and, like a fair amount of what has transpired so far in the AMPLIFY:stones festival, had its strong and beautiful points even if they were dispersed among shakier passages. It tended toward the quiet, though Barnes made louder, ruder sounds on occasion. Stephenson played trumpet throughout, positioning the bell right atop the mic but almost always playing very, very softly with fine control, sometimes evoking bird chirps. Kamerman used his motorized devices arrayed on a snare drum (I should say, I was blocked from much of the visual activity, so I may misrepresent something), allowing them to putter about, sometimes falling over. Barnes was perhaps more subdued than expected, using a small mixer (?), percolating alongside. Each of the three improvs had its moments, the first ending with noticeable calm and beauty, kind of tumbling to a conclusion, the last effectively humorously with a dropped item from Kamerman and synchronous stoppage from Stephenson. Very engaging, overall; hoping they manage to get together more often.

In the course of a festival of this length, naturally enough much of the music will fit into a fairly "standard" (if still excellent) area of improv and, naturally, other sets, if they choose to stray, will stand out. Taku Unami has, I think it's fair to say, ventured the furthest from the pack thus far.

Before entering the performance area, one saw no particular equipment, just a table with a couple of small cloth sacks. Unami came in and began setting up, an action which, one quickly realized, would be the essence of the piece. He calmly but with concentration began constructing an assemblage, pulling out (eventually) ten or twelve cardboard boxes which had been lying flt against a wall, opening them to form rectangular tubes (the end flaps left untucked). He stacked these two or three high on a few tables, looping lengths of twine around them, introducing a standing floor fan (turned off and on periodically) amidst these columns, as well as, ultimately, several tape measures, a black garbage bag or two and adhesive tape.

At two points, inevitably, the structure toppled. Unami was unfazed and continued his construction. Having spent the previous few days in Rowe's company, I automatically thought of the venture as a rumination on failure, building up only to have things fall apart. After 40 or so minutes, he seemed to have things in place, at least as much as possible, having added a couple of small flexi-lamps to the assemblage. He wound the twine behind and among the three cardboard towers (9/11 allusions were, I guess, obvious, though I admit it never occurred to me during the set) and gave the ends to two first row audience members. He walked to the rear of the Stone (I should mention that, soundwise, the main elements had been his footfalls, the whir and click of the fan, pulled tape and the falling of boxes) and asked that the light be turned off. This made for a fairly dramatic scene, very attractive. Keith and I had the same thought at that moment: it would be wonderful if Unami simply walked out of the venue, leaving the room dark, the ends of the twine in the hands of the audience members. Unfortunately (in the sense that this denouement was pretty much inevitable), this didn't happen. Instead after looking at the tableau for several minutes, he asked that, when he gave the countdown, the twine-holders pull sharply on their cords. He counted off, "3-2-1-0" and the boxes, fan, tapes, twine, garbage bags all came a-tumbling down. Unami, oddly, tapped out a kind of bossa nova rhythm on what sounded like a wood block he may have been holding, repeating it three times, then walked up to the scene of destruction, put on his shirt and the event was over.

There was, as Keith pointed out, something very George Brecht/Fluxus about the performance and certainly it wasn't without precedent by any means. Still and all, it was fascinating for me to watch Unami go about his business, very intent, with no sense of art-school cuteness, very absorbed in what he was doing at the same time as every so often chatting with audience members, not taking himself overly seriously. As I said, parsing it, I may have preferred some other choices on his part but it remained an invigorating, rich work. Tonight he plays in duo with Rowe. Who knows?

(my photo uploader isn't cooperating today, not that I took anything particularly worthwhile. But Yuko Zama did and you can see her excellent photos here

Monday, September 05, 2011

Jason Lescalleet led off playing solo last night, speaking to the audience beforehand very movingly, describing how this weekend encompassed both the anniversary of his father's death (if you haven't heard Jason's "The Pilgrim", please do so) and the occasion of his son's moving out of the house. He began the set with a low buzz that sounded like a miniature mic had been inserted in the abdomen of a bumblebee; it slowly increased in both volume and complexity before beautifully shattering into complex shards well up there in decibel level. For the remainder, he veered back and forth from quieter passages, with low rumblings from his loosely strung tapes, to piercingly loud ones, at the edge of aural pain (likely past it for some), extremely sharp-edged. It was unsettling, sometimes disjointed, but largely effective. Towards the end, he built up a very dense drone within which I could swear I was hearing some deeply buried gospel-y piano. Sure enough, several minutes later, the dronage began to evaporate and the song loop--I've no idea what; my first impression was something along the lines of Leon Russell, but that's apparently not the case--came to the for, resolutely, iterating until it faded out minutes later. A lovely and moving summing up.

The highly anticipated duo of Christian Wolff and Keith Rowe was next, only the second time they'd played in that formation, though they've often worked with the Merce Cunningham troupe as part of a trio with Takehisa Kosugi. Wolff had an electric guitar lying flat on the table with sundry small instruments and made use of the piano as well. They began, at leas on Rowe's part, by playing Wolff's "Stones", with Wolff apparently playing bits and pieces of other compositions of his throughout. To the listener, however, it felt like an improvisation and, to these ears, some of Wolff's contributions seemed perfunctory or routine although, listened to from a different angle, there was an appealing awkwardness that one doesn't encounter often in this area (I easily defer to Wolff, assuming there were ore ideas percolating there than I'm aware of). Hard to say, except that it was discomforting. Given that Rowe had been talking much of the last few days (and had mentioned in an article written this week by Kurt Gottschalk in New York City Jazz Record) about failure and how he hoped his audience understood how much more valuable a failed performance is than a "wow" one, well, they might have succeeded by thereby any case, however unfortunately, they succeeded brilliantly in the last ten or so minutes, Rowe maintaining the varying hum he'd been using almost throughout (in addition to some gorgeously modulated radio) and Wolff ceasing the wandering from item to item, resting his left arm on his guitar and being content with whatever hum that generated. Crystalline and beautiful. Very happy to have witnessed this meeting.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

A few very quick thoughts about the first three nights of AMPLIFY:stones. I had to miss the opening set, Antoine Beuger's "approcher s'éloigner s'absenter", though I heard glowing reports about it. The first Pisaro piece (can't recall the title, but it was from 2005), played by Barry Chabala, Dominic Lash and Ben Owen, was calm and spare in the manner we'd come to expect, beautifully executed. The very recent "hinwandeln, augen zu" (hope I'm attributing the title correctly) was gorgeous, with the much fuller sound that's been evident in recent recordings on Gravity Wave. Owen contributed some wonderful textures midway between a watery gurgling and a more abrasive tack, soft but rich. There was even a kind of allusion to a descending rockish cadence for the guitar at one point. The sound was consistent, flowing form one member to the other, very peaceful but with roiling beneath. I trust it will see release sometime--I'm quite sure there's more to discover within than one listen yields.

Two more "traditional" improv sets on Friday, Bonnie Jones and Maria Chavez opening. I thought the performance was a bit inconsistent, achieving some strong surges, then dissipating and meandering a bit, utilizing a not unfamiliar array of harsh electronics and vinyl turntablism. To the extent I could discern the contributions, which wasn't that hard, I found Jones' work more incisive and to the point. Again, though, this is a new pairing and I'm curious to hear more. David Kirby, using mostly cassettes (six or eight sources, I think), augmented by a software IPad app he wrote to simulate certain Moog sounds, provided a rough, rollicking set of full-on burbling noise. Again, there were very strong initial statements that I think could have been elaborated on to better effect and occasionally the thread would get lost, but there were enough "saves" to make it worthwhile. Kirby too, is relatively new at this game and it was exciting to glimpse the potential.

Saturday's opening set by Vanessa Rossetto (viola, electronics) and Graham Lambkin (electronics, objects in cardboard box), was wonderful and strange. That box, clearly a nod toward "With Hidden Noise" was a fine...what's the word I want? not "symbol" but perhaps evocation or embodiment of the magic aspect of this music, Lambkin manipulating various things (stones were involved) obscured from one's view. Rossetto provided the glue via viola dronage as well as contributing her own roughage. There was a real sense of surprise and lack of knowing where things would go but their steps were largely unfailing. A possible ending was reached when Lambkin tore apart the box, but things lingered and a luscious kind of exhalation sound amidst drones was achieved, the music slowly, very slowly, fading and ending perfectly.

Olivia Block performed entirely on piano, all acoustic, the first time I've heard her doing such and apparently a new direction for her. She structures things somewhat beforehand (not entirely improvised, in other words) and devoted almost all her time here to inside the piano, beginning by thrashing about at the strings forcefully, then investigating dynamic peaks and valleys. Overall, I found the quieter areas far more successful as she showed her fine, fine touch when eliciting the most delicate sounds from the gentle stroking of the strings and, even better, a grainier attack where the roughness was fascinatingly offset by the quietude. The few occasions where she introduced single keyboard notes were gorgeous, offering a brief tonic to the otherwise more percussive music, with very much of a Tilbury feel. Again, despite a few meanderings (including staying with the louder beating of the strings with mallets for longer than necessary), the set ended beautifully, in a soft lushness, perfectly timed.

So, a lot of exciting, intriguing, not always successful but often enough music!

Tonight, Lescalleet and Rowe/Wolff--could be amazing.