A bunch of vinyl (and one CD) from the ever-intriguing God Records....
Morton Feldman - For Bunita Marcus (God)
So, this is something of an event, though unfortunately afflicted by a bit of bad timing as the piece's dedicatee has in recent months made public allegations about abuse at the hands of the composer. Still, one attempts to listen with open ears. On a personal level, for what it's worth, it's the first time I've ever heard Feldman's music on LP having come to it myself near the beginning of the CD era when, in fact, after his death, there was a boom in the number of releases of his music, partly as the CD format better fitted his longer works. Here, in a performance by Lenio Liatsou, "For Bunita Marcus" takes up three sides of the 2LP set, the fourth left blank. Moreover, it's one of my favorite pieces of music, period and the subject of one of my very favorite recordings, that done by John Tilbury on his London Hall set. So, how to listen afresh?
First, I should say that this is a beautiful recording, something that any fan of the piece, or of Feldman, should hear. Even if I were capable, in my memory, of doing side by side comparisons with other interpretations I've heard (I think I have five or six), which I'm not, I don't know that it would be worthwhile. I can say that, as a general impression, Liatsou has a somewhat more clipped approach than, say, Tilbury, and perhaps takes the music a little faster (I haven't timed the piece and n timings are included). This is something I might have thought I'd object to but I find that this approach works perfectly well here, perhaps due in part to the kind of sound she evokes from the piano which, for me, is very bell-like, almost a subtle carillon effect which, knowing Feldman's love of high register percussion like celestas, seems entirely appropriate. This occurs particularly in the more rapid, higher-pitched clusters with perhaps the consequence that there's less of the extremely subtle variation of duration that one hears in Tilbury. While I might prefer the latter, there's truly nothing to complain about, it's a gorgeous rendition and a fine addition to the canon. Do I mind, just a little, having to get up and flip or switch platters twice during the piece? Yes, but it's a small price to pay. The sleeve also contains an excellent explanatory essay of the work by Sebastian Claren, including remarks from the composer I'd never before read. Mandatory listening for all admirers of the music.
Alvin Lucier - Memory Space (God)
Two renditions realized by Gareth Davis (bass clarinet) and Rutger Zuydervelt (field recordings, processing).
I've always found the Lucier piece to be particularly fascinating and, of course, capable of generating an enormous variety of realizations. He asks the performers (any number, any instruments) to visit an environments, "record" the sounds they hear using any means from notes to audio recordings to simply using their memory and then, at some later date, to recreate that environment at a different location. That's it. In my experiences of the piece, it often seem to act (as , I think, intended by the composer) to free the instrumentalists, at least a bit, from certain natural ruts and vernaculars, balancing between their recollections and their "normal" modes of playing. The sides here were initiated in Ostrava and Krakow. The choice of instrumentation, on the surface, seems odd: bass clarinet and field recordings. Davis was part of the Dutch group, Maze, who recorded this work for Unsounds last year, though on that occasion he was in a sextet, his presence not as pronounced as here. I find I tend to listen to this recording one of two ways. First, if consciously thinking of the Lucier instructions, I find the bass clarinet too, well, bass clarinet-y, too up front as a known instrument and less integrated or disguised, if you will, as a memory trace. I'm also curious about Zuydervelt's usage of field recordings or, even, the idea of using them in the first place. I take it they're not from the original site visit; if that's the case, it's an interesting problem how to use sounds captured at one location to "represent" another. On the other hand, listening purely as two sets of sound explorations, I enjoy both sides a good bit. The duo mentions on the God site the issue of "the very attempt to avoid narrative providing one." and that strikes me as being borne out here. There's certainly something of a "ride" in effect, a bumpy, event-filled and occasionally exciting one.
Worth hearing, especially for fans of Lucier eager to experience the wide range of interpretive variations his music generates.
Bernhard Gander - Take Death! (God)
Sometimes, gentle reader, it's all I can do to get past a cover. Or a title. :-)
I will say that the music, composed by Gander and performed by the Ensemble Modern (not to be confused with the French Ensemble Moderne) plus Patrick Pulsinger on live electronics, was not what I expected given the album sleeve (trust me, the inside cover image is worse). The ensemble is about twenty string and, for this composition, percussion is featured prominently; much of the piece is rhythmically oriented, the brass firing off Pendereckian volleys amidst the propulsive banging from all quarters. But--and it's a big "but" for me--the music sounds more bombastic than anything else. I was reminded of Zappa's forays into the field here, Xenakis there (but without the rigor), more effect than substance. The low reeds growl and sputter, the brass offer expressionist shouts (perhaps I've watched too much Fritz Lang lately), the piano leaps frantically in its upper registers--all "dramatic", I guess, but...overwrought would be the term that comes to mind. Though I detect no overt allusions to death metal or the like, regular, rockish rhythms percolate up from the depths every so often, not to any real benefit. I get the impression all is as Gander wants; the piece sounds very well played, the breaks all crisp, the ensemble sounding robust. I just don't get very excited about the resultant music. As well, it kind of languishes where it began which, of course, might be its point.
The final track is a remix by Kajkut (see below) which up-fronts the rhythm (jungle-y, circa 1995), machine-like, and manages to inject some life, albeit mechanical, into the proceedings. All to the good. I'll take a pass.
Kallabris/Lepanik - ...on what there is... (God)
An odd, spacey collection of eighteen short songs, recorded over a ten year period, from Kallabris (Michael Anacker) and Robert Lepenik, most recently heard by yours truly as part of The Striggles. They are, loosely speaking, songs, with fairly regular lyrics and voices merging and receding--though what the sources of these are, I've no idea--if not typical song structure. The pieces are often found swimming in a tonal, electronic haze, dipping in and out of rhythmic sequences, all of them gentle and percolating; even the most abstract portions carry at least a hint of pulse and are easily digestible. You hear vestiges of Jon Hassell, late 80s Eno, Fennesz. There's an odd nod to West Indian/lounge-y music on "I Don't Like Gentlemen" that includes some nice Haitian-sounding guitar work and a warped horn section to close out Side A, leading to an interesting, short and spare electro-percussive piece on the flip side, "Patsche" that recalls those old Hector Zazou/Bony Bikaye collaborations. Some more driving rock rhythms rear their heads on this side, sending the music into more obvious pop territory, though still slightly warped, including the very catchy, penultimate "Friendly Mouse". Not my cuppa, but engagingly wrought and, I'm guessing, of some appeal to those more pop and dance inclined than I.
Gerd Kühr - Revue instruments et électronique (God)
One of the things I've loved about God Records over the past couple of years has been exposing me to composers of whom I've never heard. It's not that I always enjoy the music--sometimes I do, sometimes not--but I greatly appreciate increasing my working knowledge, meager though that may be, about what's going on in various corners of the new music world. Gerd Kühr is a case in point. Born in 1952, he appears to be a pretty well established figure on the Austrian scene, having worked with Hans Werner Henze among many others, his music having been performed and recorded with some regularity. I've no idea how representative this work is of his oeuvre (it was recorded in 2005), but "Revue instruments et électronique", performed by the 21-piece Klangforum Wien, spatially separated into smaller clusters for this piece, under the direction of Emilio Pomárico (with recorded sound from Kühr) strikes me as an interesting mixture of Neo-Romanticism (in its at least partial embrace of various more or less traditional tonalities) and electro-acoustic or acousmatic music, although the presence of the electronics here is quite subdued, never as flashy as is often the case with, say, the IRCAM school. The language used won't strike most listeners as uncommon and includes extended, quavering, harmonic bowed passages, explosions of percussion, gurgles of low reeds and billowy, chittering warbles from high ones. More importantly, there's an underlying sense of cohesion, an organic quality that makes the progressions as believable as they are unexpected, never feeling random, despite the wide variation in colors, rhythms and periods of stasis. There's a melodic line near the conclusion, mostly strings, that reminds me just a teeny bit of Ornette Coleman's writing in "Skies of America". A very strong, exciting piece, well worth hearing for anyone with interests in this direction. I'm very glad to have made Kühr's musical acquaintance.
Francisco López - untitled #295 (God)
I've never remotely kept up with López' immense output, having heard/owned perhaps a half dozen of his releases and experienced his music live only a couple of times. Most of these occasions have involved assaultive levels of noise (not to mention blindfolds) so, while I imagine he's previously issued things not unlike this, "#295" came as something of a surprise to this listener. It's extremely quiet, made up entirely of, if I'm not mistaken, sounds sourced from turntables, both vinyl and the machines themselves. But it's not the usual series of scratches and whines. Yes, there are pops and scratches but they're fairly discreet, always lurking somewhere below, only occasionally rising to the surface. More prominent, although still at a low level, is a soft, deep rumble, presumably from the rotating platter (with something of a wobble) as well as, soon enough, various layers of lightly grinding whirs. The pops gradually become more active, forming rapid, quasi-regular patterns. Once achieved, this level of activity remains in play throughout and the listener simply sits back and enjoys the seemingly infinite sets of popping patterns, your brain determining how to array the sounds into what sequences. A thoughtful effort, concise and focussed, though it will test the patience of many listeners.
Kajkyt - II (God)
I received this as a CD, although it's also available as a double LP or cassette(s). It came in a small box with several photo cards and a booklet containing lyrics in...well, I'm not sure. It looks vaguely Cyrillic, though if you follow along, the words can be matched up to the vocals, whatever their meaning. I'd heard a previous LP on God under Kajkyt's given name, Slobodon Kajkut, titled "The Art of Living Dies" and I'd enjoyed it a good bit. After a solo voice intonation, very solemn, the "band" (not being informed otherwise, I'm guessing it's all Kajkut) launches into a grimy, lurching track that recalls nothing so much as Caspar Brötzmann's Massaker. Which I like a lot. And so it goes, one slow, deep track after another, sometimes filled with sludgy guitar, often propelled (if that's the word) by lonesome, sodden drumming and dub-like bass lines, every so often paring things down to isolated essentials, once in a while (as on the fifth track) slipping in some subtly complicated rhythmic notions when you're not looking. Right up my alley, I love it. Kajkut's vocals forgo any angst, remaining smooth, rich and quiet, conveying no particular emotion except, maybe, a kind of devotive attitude, perhaps with a tinge of the forlorn. I get a big kick from it. Quibbling, I think the album might have been shortened from its hour plus to around 40 minutes for more impact, but that's a small matter. Check it out, it's big fun.