Jon Rose - Rosin (ReR)
Another thing that occurs every so often is that a release will wend itself to my mailbox which, upon opening, elicits a WTF?!? response from your reviewer. This is a pretty good example of that phenomenon. I'd never received anything from ReR before, am not aware of knowing anyone there. I'm pretty sure I've never written up anything from Rose, only typing his name in passing as a sideman on this project or that (The President, I think, and Chadbourne's "Country Music from Southeastern Australia") and even those had to have been written 15 years ago. Further, I should say that nothing I've heard from Rose on radio or elsewhere over my adult life has ever particularly moved me. Yet here it is and here I am, so I shall dutifully attempt to at least describe the production (and quite a production it is) and offer my commentary for what it's worth.
This is a 4-disc set, in a book-sized case, honoring Rose's 60th birthday. Three of the discs are music, one a data disc (using QuickTime). There's a booklet elaborately illustrated with photos, replete with descriptions of the music and appreciative essays from Bob Ostertag, Kersten Glandien, David Harrington and Richard Barrett. Oh, and there's also a small plastic packet, autographed and numbered, containing some curled up strands from, one presumes, Rose's violin bow. Fetishism, anyone?
The discs contain groups of related work, not just a random selection. Disc One begins with 13 extracts from Rose's Pannikin project, a multimedia event featuring various musicians from Australia's DIY underbelly, including a brass bands, a hummer/whistler, a cocktail pianist, a virtuoso whip master, a chainsaw orchestra and a dingo. Rose seems to usually fit himself into the action, though not always. It's wacky. There's a kind of Breukerish sensibility here and, depending on one's tolerance for same, the sounds can come across as enjoyably weird and whimsical or trivially aggravating. I wavered between these two poles, save for the wonderful song by the Ntaria Aboriginal Ladies Choir, though I wish Rose hadn't intervened musically. "Internal Combustion" is described as a "multimedia violin concerto", performed with Robin Fox and Ensemble United Berlin. The music is actually pretty much in line with my mental mage of Rose's work--spiky in that combination of Boulezian and prog rock sense, as one may have heard in some 80s Zappa. I'm not a fan but listeners attuned to that world may well enjoy this; it's very capably and precisely performed. A radio piece, "Syd and George" combines recorded conversation with a string quartet (all parts played by Rose). Oh, George is a lyrebird. As with the aboriginal choir piece, this would have been far more rewarding without the accompaniment; Syd and his friend are quite entertaining enough. The disc concludes with an excellent track in which Rose's violin, contact mic'd from the inside, is laid face down on the ground in the rain. Fantastic sounds.
The second disc begins with extracts from a work in honor of Charles Ives, "Charlie's Whiskers" (2004), for strings, solo fiddle, piano, saw, interactive bow and live sampling. At its best, it has a giddy, kind of John Oswald feel, the strings sliding and slithering in an odd, greasily electronic fashion. Not surprisingly, the Ives of "Battle Cry of Freedom" is emphasized, though not nearly as insanely hilarious as the old bird himself, but overall the set works well, Ivan Siller's fiddle in the fifth section a notable highlight. "Talking Back to the Media", as I understand it, uses random, live radio (and other media?) snatches as source material for an ensemble to react to, or against, all of the action live-edited by Rose. Notable musicians involved in this undertaking are Chris Abrahams, Martin Ng and Clayton Thomas, among others. There's enough variety to carry the work a good distance with, often, a rich, burbling stew manifesting, though the 36 minutes presented here (carved out of 55) begins to pall a bit in its hyperactivity--it's not exactly a close listening session; Rose in in little danger of being co-opted by Wandelweiser. Immersed in a room surrounded by it, I can see the attraction, though "Rainforest" it's not. And, lastly in Round Two, what's an avant Australian disc without a cut devoted to the native warblings of a front-end hoe excavator? "Digger Music" documents such, once again accompanied by Rose's frenetic violin stylings. They're a bit better integrated here and one can, in fact, imagine a duet of sorts, a humorous enough image. Oh wait, there's a bonus track. "Bonus track"? I fail to understand the rationale of not listing it in the booklet instead, a little secretly, doing so on an insert. Ah, well. "Bird Verb" is for solo tenor violin, an instrument possessing an extraordinary sound; I'm glad they appended it as it's my favorite specifically Rose-centered work on the set, with fine dark, entwining drones and harmonics.
"Sphere", which leads off Disc Three, is tough to describe. It involves balls, though in what manner, I'm not sure (here's one approach that I don't think is utilized on this particular piece). There's a choir singing "Latin texts of misanthropic sentiment", a harpsichord-sounding instrument, violin and much tape manipulation. Again, it's sonically entertaining for a bit though too much on the audio hijinx side of things for my taste. Others will differ. Now, it's hard to imagine going far wrong bowing wire fences. I kind of wish an exterior recording had been provided, Rose and Hollis Taylor having their way with a miles long instrument (this is done on the video disc). Instead, we have a piece played on a home construction (five wires, one barbed, four regulation) devised at the request of Kronos' David Harrington (for stage play). "Garage Fence" finds the pair sawing and tapping way, producing cool sound after cool sound. Again, given my druthers, I'd've preferred more listening, more awareness of their surroundings (a garage!) but, on its own terms, it's quite enjoyable, occasionally generating a fine, massive buzz. Imagine a more, um, barbarous version of Frith's first guitar solos album...The tenor violin returns in non-bonus track garb for "Hyper", a nine-part suite of miniatures, using a MIDI controller bow. Probably the least enjoyable section of the set, skittery and aimlessly effects-driven, a pallid mixture of 60s tape sounds and Zorn circa "Book of Heads". The final audio disc closes with "Palimps", a quartet of pieces utilizing a K-Bow which sounds like a drastic updating of Laurie Anderson's tape bow, capable of generating all sorts of non-violinoid sounds. I'm not entirely convinced--again, much of it, whatever the source, sounds akin to a good deal of "classical" electronic music one has heard since the 70s, but the matrix Rose constructs often contains impressive space and apparent distance between elements; again, something I'd like to hear in situ, in a 3D environment. Oh, did I say, "closes"? Nope, another bonus track. sigh. "Pursuit Mix" for recycled "junk" powered by bicycles. Works very well though, like an ancient, wheezing calliope on wheels. Nice piece.
The QuickTIme disc contains 13 videos and one sound file, the latter being a humorous performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Rose interpolating his own playing into a mashed up recording of same, complete with enthusiastic audience applause. The others visually document several of the projects encountered earlier, some of which were rewarding to actually see, including three fence events (though one wishes to have heard these sounds in the open space oneself; I think much is lost) and a number of the bicycle-propelled devices which often have a Partchian charm in addition to producing compelling if droll sounds. His, for my ears, generally overactive approach is clearly seen and heard on a 1982 video wherein he lustily attacks his 19-string, mutant cello but, on the other hand, it serves him quite well in a refreshing solo violin performance in front of the Sydney Opera House which concludes with admonishments against this activity from a security guard, Rose arguing whilst playing, telling the guard, "Only one minute left...50 seconds..." down to the piece's conclusion. "You're not allowed to play music in front of the Sydney Opera House." :-)
Obviously, this is a no brainer for fans of Rose. I'm glad to have heard/seen it as, even though at the end of the day it doesn't really overlap with my main areas of interest, it opened up aspects of his work of which I was unaware and, even for me, there are a few nuggets buried within that made the excursion worthwhile. Would like to hear a piece written for him by, say, Antoine Beuger and contemplate the resultant tension.