Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Martin Küchen - Hellstorm (Mathka)

I wrote an advance text for this so needn't go into it again, will just provide you the link: Mathka

But I just wanted to bring this to people's attention, a really excellent recording and perhaps something of a surprise to those familiar with Küchen's work. Do check it out...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Jim Haynes - Kamchatka (Contour Editions) Admittedly, I can't heard the word, "Kamchatka", without thinking of the phrase, "Kamchatka to Irkutsk"...and, humorously enough, I just now read Haynes' liners and he refers to the same board game. :-) He does actually intend the two works here as a kind of imaginary portrait of the area, found on the northeast rim of the Asian continent, opposite Alaska and Western Canada, a relatively barren mass with some volcanic activity. The first piece, "lilith", seems to have been constructed from odd sounds foraged from short wave radios, noise from between bandwidths, unusual emanations, etc. I sense some acoustic contributions as well, along the lines of rubbed and scratched objects, but I could be mistaken. The atmosphere is bleak and obscure; Richard Garet, in his notes on the Contour Editions website references Tarkovsky's "Stalker" and if the aesthetic weight doesn't come quite so close to that masterwork, the tone is not dissimilar. On the one hand, it has a rough-hewn, steady state feel but never settles into any kind of easy haze. On the other, though, it doesn't quite sustain the level of tension to carry its full 25 or so minutes, leaving this listener intrigued but unsated.

"rocks, hills, plains" doesn't stray too far from the first piece except that it's lined with layers of soft, moody drones, though they're "behind" a series of blunted crackles, and barely-there whines. I end up feeling about the same--moderately interesting and stimulating, but lack the edge and tautness its elements seem to imply. Perhaps the film performance of which it was originally part would have supplied the missing piece. Contour Editions
Michal Rataj- Spectral Shapes (audiotong) I gather there's a whole passel of composers working in what is often called "acousmatics" (a term I first heard in relation to the music of Gottfried Michael Koenig, if I recall correctly) which technically refers to music emitted via loudspeakers but, for me, has come to indicate work that can trace a direct lineage to people like Koenig and Dik Raaijmakers. My problem, such as it is, arises when the kind of power and imagination present in the work of those two (for example) fails to appear in a contemporary variant, the fall-off tends to be rather steep.

Michal Rataj, who I've not heard before, engages very much in that vernacular, which pull this listener straight back to the mid 60s and early 70s--the ringing, brassy whooshes, the backward gasps, the held, chiming interior piano chords funneled through one filter or another; it's a language that feels insular, regardless of how smoothly enunciated. A work for flute and electronics sounds very much like something one may have heard in 1978 from, say, Anthony Davis and James Newton, with far fancier technology. And the exposition here is very good, there's really no finding fault with it; it's something that would doubtless delight the academic musical world for which this is the lingua franca. I don't mean to sound harsh. Doubtless this will engage many a listener but it leaves me cold, a technical tour de force in which I rarely discern a reason for being that moves me. When Raaijmakers was working, there was, at the very least, a palpable sense of excitement at new discoveries, a feeling of danger. In the decade when these pieces were composed, it was more a matter of opening a "drawer", dusting off an approach and applying it. However artfully managed (and, again, I should stress that Rataj appears to be extremely competent in this area), that frisson of adrenaline is tough to recapture. audiotong

Monday, September 03, 2012

Laurie Spiegel - The Expanding Universe (Unseen Worlds)

I remember, around 1973, being quite enthralled by a release form Roger Powell called, um, "Cosmic Furnace". All electronic keyboards, I think, very propulsively spacey, for lack of a better term. Produced by Todd Rundgren, I think. I'd heard Terry Riley's "A Rainbow in Curved Air" and, to my innocent ears, it seemed to fit right in. Well, it's candy-coatedness soon, I'm happy to say, wore thin; in recent years I've dredged it up on You Tube for some enjoyable nostalgia. Now I'm wondering how aware he may have been of Laurie Spiegel's work which is, I hasten to add, much better. Unseen Worlds has resurrected another set of classic work, from 1974-76, some of which had been released on Philo in 1980 but much of it, if I'm not mistaken, previously unissued.

It's a bubbly, fun ride as Spiegel's round, exuberant synth tones cascade in endless washes of cross-rhythms, motoric like a psychedelicized Bach, bleating and splatting merrily. Sometimes a track like "Drums", which contains tonalities that sound like a ramped-up Mazda Marimba and rhythms out of West Africa, stands apart and is a welcome tonic, an exhilarating work, but by and large, the pieces splay out languidly, quite pleasant if somewhat...hmmm...I think the passage of time, during which we've heard quasi-similar music used, say, as a soundtrack for a PBS Nova telecast, has caused some difficulty in hearing Spiegel's work afresh. It's really very good in its own world and I'd strongly urge those with an interest here to pick up this set but personally, a kind of sameness creeps in, a blissed-out sense od easily achieved joy that I can only appreciate in smaller doses.

Your mileage may vary substantially. I can easily see many people losing themselves entirely here.

Unseen Worlds

Streifenjunko - Sval torv (Sofa)

A double LP from the Norwegian duo of Espen Reinertsen (tenor saxophone) and Eivind Lønning (trumpet) who readers may recall from the quintet Koboku Senju (cover image by Kjell Bjørgeengen, btw). As with that ensemble, the music here seems to be at least semi-composed and doesn't shy away from pleasing tonalities and odd, if non-insistent rhythms. Indeed, the tonal range is one of the chief attractions here, the pair using extended techniques throughout though generally refraining from treading in what would generally be considered the harsher realms of same. I find my reaction to be similar here as it was to Koboku Senju: I'd fairly often find myself lulled into an enjoyable kind of haze but, after all was said and done, I'd like to have been jostled a bit more, challenged. Still, an entirely listenable project, music that could be just the thing for a contemplative evening.


Vanessa Rossetto- Exotic Exit (Kye)

Bazooka-pink vinyl (first 100 copies, anyway), label pink with an orange tinge bearing silver block lettering, this is a scrumptious object indeed, imbued with another several slabs of what seems to be an unending stream of choice music from our favorite Austin-based violist/assemblagist (?). Three tracks, fairly short but each delectable though, like much fine music in this area, difficult to put one's finger on as to why it tastes so good...

If there's any viola to be found it's well camouflaged. Instead we're treated to very densely confected but really very airy pieces, compiled,it seems, largely from taped and electronic sounds. The first, "exotic exit", the words spoken by an accented woman apparently giving pronunciation lessons involving the "ex" phoneme, layers birds, whistling metals, faraway vocal-like intonations, all and more entwined in an impossible-to-decipher cord, yet it floats on air. It's kind of a steady-state work--just goes until it's done, but it's awfully sweet. "348315" (presumedly a cousin to the 307898 faux sticker on the front of the album) is the winning ticket announced shortly after the piece has begun, and soon mutates into a huge (but again, light) eddy, filled with striations, having something of a tinge of Terry Riley circa "Mescalin Mix" but far more variegated. As with the first track, it aims at a point in space and arrives there, no fuss (but much complexity).

Side B's "de trop" expands the palette immediately into more vibrant areas, also more violent ones. As with the previous work, there's a kind of throb in effect, in swirling iteration, but the tones atop it are more metallic and ringing and, as well, it's as though someone heaved a back hoe full of trash into the mixer for a good spell, a wonderful sound. Again the levels proliferate--birds return, multiple layers of taps and scrapes, woolly reverberances. Sheaves of "I'm so tired"'s arrive, melting into another repetitive pattern, muted bells this time, that forms a spine beneath tons of raging wind-like noise,gentle clicks providing a marvelous sense of plastic space within the storm. A huge, surging machine is developed and it rampages for a few moments until the plug is pulled and it begins to lurch sideways, only to careen into a hyper-rich organ chord...well, you get the picture. It's an inspiring balancing act, listening to Rossetto keep this near kitchen-sink approach spinning, but she certainly does. It continues to spin, acquiring a dreamy feel, voices emerging and receding, the organ returning, splendiferous, tossed on a busy highway at the very end.

A supremely rich, hugely enjoyable recording, possibly the best yet from Rossetto. Listen.


Available from Erst Dist

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.


Saturday, September 01, 2012

Antoine Beuger - s'approcher s'éloigner s'absenter (ErstLive)

The score for this piece, written for three players (here, Barry Chabala, guitar; Dominic Lash, double bass; Ben Owen electronics), is 30 pages long, each page made up of an implied nine-square grid, three rows (one per player) of up to three actions per row. The number of "filled" spaces varies from two to nine. The spaces contain either "S", "D" or are blank. Beuger codes "S" as "a sound similar to a sound you are hearing/you heard (or played) before" and "D" as "a sound different from a sound you are hearing/you heard (or played) before". Sounds should be both "very quiet" and "not really short to very long". Players may enter freely and the number and sequence of score pages is up to the ensemble. As with much of his music, and that of the Wandelweiser composers generally, Beuger constructs a latticework upon which the musicians hang their sounds, the frame seemingly all but insubstantial yet, of course, imparting its structure and ideas to those sounds, ideally the composer and performer contributing equally.

This recording documents the opening concert at the two-week long AMPLIFY:stones festival that took place at The Stone in New York during the first half of September, 2011 and was also the sole event missed by yours truly due to a simultaneous book release party for a dear friend. A year ago today, as I type. I soon heard tell of the special excellence of this particular set so I'm quite glad to finally have been able to hear it and have little difficulty placing myself in the space, of imagining how the music would have gently filled that crowded room. Of course, what Beuger provides is the webbing; it's up to the performers to introduce the drops of dew, the struggling prey, the spider. I recall Rowe, at the Musique Action festival in Vandoeuvre in 2002 noting that, in his opinion, performances of Treatise were too often approached with excessive deference, as though the score wasn't robust enough to deal with some buffeting or even rudeness (hence John White's contributions that day). It seems to me that many of the scores I've seen from members of the Wandelweiser collective can contain similar perils, that low volume can too routinely conflate with excessive genteelness. The current trio negotiates that potentially sticky terrain extraordinarily well and, in doing so, make this an invigorating, altogether wonderful release.

My own (doubtless off) translation of the title might be, "one approaches, recedes, evanesces". Owen, when I've seen him perform, is especially adept at the latter, often contributing so subtly that it's only when he halts sound production completely that you realize he's been responsible for some superfine tinge or tickle. He's in that mode often here, though he notably "approaches" about midway through the 51 minutes, indeed playing something different, as a rapid, regular series of (relatively) loud clicks disrupts things in a welcome manner, welcome in the sense of acknowledging other sets of possible sounds, of voicing his freedom and bending the surrounding music to accommodate this, too. Chabala and Lash occasionally emerge distinctly as well with a ringing tone here, a deep, raspily bowed one there. But these moments are only of subsidiary import--the flow is the thing, the same but different wash that occupied the space there. It's as wondrous as it is difficult to describe, a kind of tension, of flexion that keeps the listener transfixed; I have to think it goes back to the unconscious appreciation that there is a structure there, a substrata gluing things together even as it's next to impossible to accurately discern, a structure as light and as possessed of tensile strength as that web.

It's hard to think of "s'approcher s'éloigner s'absenter" as anything but a whole, but I must mention an exquisitely gorgeous sequence just near the end, at about the 48 minute mark where Owen sets up a calm, regular rhythm, Chabala plays a rising arpeggio with a slightly plaintive twist at the end and Lash bows a rich, dark line--a thrilling moment in a great piece of work.