Wednesday, July 04, 2012

OK, despite having an abnormally altitudinous stack of discs begging for attention, I've decided to spend this 4th of July (possibly my most detested holiday) listening to and commenting on the twelve selections that Simon Reynell has uploaded, details masked, for the aural perusal of listeners and writers. Due to the extreme busy-ness of the last few weeks, I'd only gotten around to listening to the first four but I now see commentary popping up all over the place (which I've avoided reading for the most part), so I thought I'd take advantage of the time.

I take it most readers know what I'm referring to but, if not, Simon has loaded 12 pieces, each between 10 and 20 minutes long, without other information (referring to it as The Anonymous Zone, hoping at least in part to counter the inherent hierarchical categorizing that occurs when one knows in advance to whom one is listening. It's an old complaint and an essentially unavoidable issue but let's see how it goes. I think (we'll see) I'll refrain from making any guesses about identity, mostly because I'd likely look pretty silly. [a warning I obviously failed to heed] I'll be listening on my Macbook Pro speakers, btw, please bear that in mind.

#1) The piece begins with some fairly furious inside piano strumming augmented by a thinner rattling sound, something like dried peas in a plastic cup. Hard to say if the percussive sounds (later more metallic) are being produced by someone other than the pianist, though I suspect so. When the former returns to the keyboard, it's in a fairly tonal approach, with references to gamelan. I know I said I wouldn't guess, but it reminds me very much of Sophie Agnel, a similar basic Rzewskian romanticism that I find very compelling. It's expansive, thunderous, even heroic, the kind of thing that puts off many an eai fan, but not me. The storming portion, some 8 minutes in, roiling piano accompanied by shattering glass, is fantastic, something that could come off as grandiose but, for me, doesn't. There's the inevitable subsidence and part of me wishes the musicians had found another way to conclude--it's fine, just very expected, the maelstrom morphing into droplets, dreamy. A lovely work altogether, like it a lot.

#2) Foggy, ghostly sounds, very much have the impression of objects emerging from mist, thin, metallic grindings, echoey. No so unlike parts of the Fergus Kelly disc I wrote about yesterday. Sibilant sounds pear, whispers, still spooky. The whispering gains prominence, ceases as the rubbing expands, acquires more depth. It's been very much of a piece thus far, 10 minutes in, progressing slowly but steadily. I'm not sure I'm finding it substantial enough to really maintain interest; when the whispering voice returns, now speaking quietly, it's a little too pat, the surrounding sounds becoming a bit more "ambient" seeming when thus contrasted. Not bad, but it gets a bit fuzzy as it goes on; I'd prefer a harder edge, somehow. The choices made are often too comfortable.

#3) When I was in college, I used to tap the stone sill of the art studio window with my paintbrushes, realizing that by varying the point at which they made contact, the pitch of the tap would change, emitting an oddly liquid sound. That was my first impression here where a similar acoustic pitch shifting is taking place, though assuredly via different means. It almost sounds like a pennywhistle of some kind, filled with small, dry, circular objects being excited by the maneuvering of a slide. the casualness of the sound sequence, its naturalness, reminds me of Max Eastley's contraptions, or a little of wind-up toy period Taku Unami. Very spacious, very unaffected. that a trumpet, somehow muted? The music has become more intentional, something bowed. Still, it's managing to sound remarkably "unmanaged", that is, free in a very fine, natural sense. I'm beginning to think Birgit Ulher. The buzz. Multiple buzzes. I enjoyed this, can easily imagine sitting in close proximity, itchily luxuriating inside the hive.

#4) Complex layering of thin laminae of electronics, like sheets of mica. Having more trouble with this than the previous tracks. One of those works that sets up initial conditions that, for all their thorniness, don't quite hold my fascination, where the white noise doesn't reveal so much new information as it progresses. Later on in the 10-minute piece, it mutates into something more expansive, air entering a little bit, bangs in a larger acoustic space, more flutter, fewer needles. But it's just as this section is settling in that the track ends, so I'd have to suspend any judgement.

#5) Percussion, first scrabbling about quietly, soon introducing fairly deep gongs. Active; my first impression is a bit too active, but that can depend on how it's embedded, what it leads to, what reflects back on it. Ah, has it been a piano all along? Seems so. As this becomes apparent (to these ears, anyway), the music acquires greater breadth and depth, harsh string plucks against low tolling, attractive though not yet absorbing. Perhaps some e-bowing going on. I have the impression of a much longer piece (this said 10 minutes into its 15) and that things will develop intriguingly if given the space. As is, it's getting there, for me, implicit narratives emerging. Beginning to think of Magda Mayas. The clang/hum combination near the end is wonderful! Aggh...want to hear more!

#6) The exquisite low hum (apologies to Mantler/Rudd). Barely there, lovely. his is one where I'm afraid my laptop speakers may be falling woefully short, though perhaps it would be difficult to tell in any case. The hum sounds electronic as near as I can determine, but were I told it was Radu, I wouldn't blink. It floats beautifully, bobs just a bit. Subsidiary rumblings enter, more agitated, quavering and the volume level rises (10 minutes in out of 16), lending an enormous sense of drama, foreboding. Really beautiful. The ringing tones that, I imagine, have always been there, reveal more and more detail, swirling. Right up my alley. Loved it, whoever it is.

Halfway there--breaking for lunch!!

ah...roast chicken and risotto with peas and shiitake...ok, back to work!

#7) Fascinating opening, a quiet surge (strings? a chamber ensemble?) leading to church bells and children's laughter and play, in and out. The strings become more fully formed, vary form tonal to wavering chords, recalling Bryars to an extent. A witch to traffic sounds seems a bit random, perhaps intentionally disrupting the nostalgic mood established earlier--hmm, more problematic as the ensemble, with reeds and a drumset, intrude for some impolite interjections. It's a language that leaves me somewhat cold, though I'll wait to hear the whole...back around to near the start, though with some can-can music and tape manipulation...the collage nature that's come to the fore doesn't do a lot for me; there's a haphazardness and imposition of the creator of the piece that feels too "hands-on" and directive, without a cohesive, underlying idea.

#8) Very odd. Sloshy water forms a backdrop for two deep piano notes, soon expanded to chords and one expects a kind of pastoral, pleasant work but it quickly fragments. Harsher electronics pepper the landscape, a low horn, sharp twangs, gulls. As in the prior work, there's something of a collage effect though more fluid and subtly disturbing. The piano keeps calling you back into its embrace but other sounds push you away. Was thinking Lucio Capece at some points. There *does* appear to be some overarching form, though an amorphous and eely one, very dreamlike and difficult to grasp. Fascinating piece, I like it very much, love to know who's involved. ok, maybe could have done without the glimmer of "Caravan" toward the end, but still, even that, in this context, is pleasantly inexplicable. Who?

#9) Nice contrast at the outset between the intense electronics, piercing one's tympanum, and the fluttery sounds alongside, like someone shaking out a large book, though they reveal their own electronic character soon enough. This one left me a bit cold, perhaps the one I enjoyed least thus far. Something too routine about it, ultimately too flat and, as it were, "artificial" sounding, perhaps an odd criticism of an electronics work. But it didn't engage me very much at all

#10) :-) that water again....quite a bit more intense than that heard in #8, morphing into springy electronics and faux (?) birds. Broad swaths, the series of sounds appearing in layers, interweaving several at a time, rising and falling in different intervals; a solid strategy though perhaps somewhat played out by now? There's perhaps something of the "normal" in the overall structure, in the fluctuation of the dynamics, the apposition of sonic colors. Yet, given that, it's done quite ably. I'm thinking it's the kind of thing (often the case, more so in some instances than others) that I'd get far more out of experiencing it live, especially if I was in the midst of numerous speakers. There is a bit of a Xenakis type of feel here at points, very physical. There are nuggets buried in here I enjoy a lot; be curious to hear more along this trajectory.

#11) A solo piano work, I think, though I guess there's some modification going on, maybe e-bowing? The music is gentle, a little dreamy, small flickers of notes cast off from a light-tinged drone-cloud. It's quite pleasant if a bit static; not sure if the inherent pleasures or thoughts evoke entirely justify the stasis, though I can see, in the proper mood, drifting along here. That hum, however produced, has something of a numbing effect, some musical sodium pentathol. A difficult piece to judge \; if it turned out to be a portion of an hour long work, with other aspects, i wouldn't be surprised. As is, a nice enough slice, though fragile to the point of insubstantiality.

#12) Lastly, some intense reed and/or brass work embedded in situ (sounds like one or the other at various times, though more like brass int he second half). Again thinking of Lucio. A raw metal tube with valves, scoured with air and spittle. Dogs responding. Why is there, to me, something about an acoustic performance like this, just as noisy and abstract as any other, that has some inherent edge, something extra, that makes me far more apt to be absorbed that a "similar" work using electronics, which might have to strive a bit harder to gain my full appreciation? Dunno, but I find it's often the case. I could listen to this quite happily for a long time, again could also imagine myself sitting int he room, appreciating the interaction with that space and beyond, getting up and walking around, standing outside, listening to it being muffled by walls, etc. Love the breath intakes while circular breathing. You feel virtually inside the horn much of the time. Ambulance on the way at the end. :-) Great stuff, love it.

Thanks, Simon!

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