Sunday, September 02, 2012

Christian Wolff/Keith Rowe - s/t (ErstLive)

Unlike the event covered in my previous entry, I was in attendance here and highly anticipating the concert. I'd only seen Wolff once before, several years earlier at the Westbeth Artist Center where he and student musicians performed some of his recent work. As has often been the case when listening to Wolff's music on recordings, I felt this odd paradox, that the music simultaneously seemed quite simple, even linear, but was extremely difficult for me to fully grasp. It was like seeing a not terribly complex algebraic equation, knowing there was something that didn't make sense but being unable to pin it down; moreover that the equation somehow worked. Or when something seems slightly out of focus and you wipe your eyes, clean your glasses but still the image wavers. In any case I of course knew of his long-term involvement with AMM (since 1968) and his collaboration with Rowe providing music for the Merce Cunningham Dance company as well as Rowe's fascination with Wolff's music, especially his piece, "Edges" which he'd performed numerous times.

Still, this was an improvised setting and I wasn't at all certain what would eventuate.

Sitting there listening, I had some misgivings about Wolff's contributions. While Rowe went about matters in a fashion I'd long since been accustomized to, Wolff was playing things that almost sounded naive, approaches I admit to thinking were things I'd expect from someone venturing into free improvisation for the first time. Things I might do--not a ringing endorsement! Obviously this wasn't the case nor could it be, but it was tough for me, at the moment, to shift this view and try to get the entirety of what was occurring, This frequently happens (to me) seeing Rowe live--there's just so much going on, much of which is hidden (if in plain sight) but little by little, I got myself into the rhythm of the performance and, even if I couldn't explicate why, found that at its conclusion, I felt quite satisfied. Still, I was very anxious to hear a recording and listen to the music many more times.

...and it's a thoughtful, quiet, probing amble. While it's very easy to distinguish the pair for the most part and while there are still, should I choose to listen that way, aspects of Wolff's playing that are both a bit grab bag (in the sense of doing a little of this, a little of that) and perhaps naive, I can also listen to it as a kind of childlike fascination with the sounds, a refreshingly uncynical take on duo improvisation; I sometimes think that perhaps he does, in fact, approach it (or try to) as though he's doing it for the first time. [I should mention Joe Panzner's outstanding mixing job as well; I'm sure the music sounds in many ways better, more differentiated here than it did at the Stone]

Both musicians are calm, Rowe tending toward the soft and scrunchy, sparse and flitting, also rather varied--I sometimes picture a bed of objects, detritus, deposited over many years, one's eyes (ears) traveling from item to item, perceiving the underlying earth only in retrospect. Wolff meanders gently as well, picking up his mouth organ, settling at the piano (including a surprisingly ringing, single-note, repetitive figure), cradling his electric guitar, all in addition to multiple percussive and electronic episodes. The 47 minutes scoot by quickly; I'm always surprised when it ends. And, as with all fine, complex improvisation, I do indeed hear new angles, new relationships, upon each listen. Until several minutes before the end, there's a feeling of duality, of two acquaintances thinking of different things in the same space. It's not unpleasant at all, more an acceptance of two people who always have much on their minds and it's very, very beautiful in that respect. But more so, even, when the music suddenly, finally, imperceptibly coalesces into a living thing distinct from its creators.

A fine meeting, brimming with intelligence and mutual appreciation.


1 comment:

Michael Pisaro said...

"It was like seeing a not terribly complex algebraic equation, knowing there was something that didn't make sense but being unable to pin it down; moreover that the equation somehow worked."

That's a nice comment Brian. I like how well it describes one of the things I love about both this duo and Christian Wolff's music.

I think I may like this recording more than most people (although generally people _do_ like it very much). There's something about the almost casual feeling of it, the way both Rowe and Wolff are happy to move to the next thing - or to wait for an idea that's interesting enough to play, that really touches me. They appear to be completely comfortable to fall back into almost nothing, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I have a lot of respect for that, because I know how hard it is to put it into practice in this kind of situation - but most of all because it demonstrates so much trust in the other musician and in the people listening.