Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jeph Jerman/Tim Barnes - Matterings (Erstwhile)

I recall seeing Barnes and Jerman perform in trio with Sean Meehan at ErstQuake 3 in 2006 in New York, Jerman also in duo with Greg Davis and Barnes with Mattin and possibly others. Jerman's music than, and in most subsequent recordings and videos I've experienced, was extremely personal and generally quiet, using items he'd selected and brought from his southwest desert home area: sticks, feathers, pine cones, stones, bones and more. Barnes, that day (a riotous set with Mattin) and elsewhere was always more unpredictable, ranging from the near silence of the trio to loud, even rockish ventures (which landed him gigs with Wilco, among others.

Still, my expectations for this recording lay along the quieter line of things and pretty much an absence of electronics. Wrong on both counts. "Mammatus", opening the disc, features amidst a semi-distant, loose metallic clatter, the spark and fading hum of, what, a lead being pulled? It has an initial presence, then a subsequent echo, the pair floating atop a very deep, recessed kind of gulping sound. When repeated, at first with no set pulse, gradually assuming one, you get a displaced sense of dub, before the incoming rains (form mammatus clouds?) douse the proceedings...or maybe set it ablaze. Always interesting, at least to these ears, how rainfall and flames can sound very much alike on recordings. "Relic Density" expands the apparent space greatly, a swarm of hazy tones high and low supporting a kind of wooden flutter, as if from some splintered bamboo pole rapidly waved. But sine-like tones infiltrate, scouring the area clean, setting things up for more electronics, pulsating at various speeds, evidencing various textures. Birds and insects watch with faint curiosity. When the track gets into short wave squiggle territory in its final minutes, it loses me a bit, the one piece here that I think strays a little off course.

"In Situ" is 22 minutes of amazing work. From the soft buzzing of flies and obscure rumbles emerge a widening cascade of chimes, thin and crystalline, played by hand not wind in a fast rhythm, very closely pitched and loosely gathered so they routinely strike one another (flies darting between) like some insect gamelan. The mic feels as though its inside the chime-forest, picking up whistling feedback and pitch-bending, that nether rumble becoming more strident--it's all extremely intense and even harrowing. Matters abruptly shift to a static-strewn, windy desert scenario, mic distortion coursing through radar hums, then radio, roughly lumbering to its conclusion. Something wonderful about its two partedness, the gleam and the dirt. "Talus" is a short, strong piece occupied by small stones clicking, dry, sliding passes over metal and low, resounding booms--steady state, excellent duration. In some ways, this is closest to what I expected coming in, really choice. Finally, "Bight", leaping in with dial tones and related hums. This track includes contributions from Rachel Short (french horn, voice) and Jackie Royce (bassoon, voice) which, if I'm picking them up correctly, are woven into the dronelike mix early on producing a tough, complex sound. Despite its drone nature, this might be the densest, orneriest track, filled with detail that demands attention, like the rolling metal balls on glass (?) and the ply upon ply of thrums (processed voices and/or horns?) that enter continuously. It settles into a kind of pit containing some massive old, rotating machine, swirling, throbbing, grinding, maybe pulverizing rock. It sputters out then...crickets.

A really fine recording, happily and utterly contra my expectations.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Éric La Casa/Taku Unami - Parazoan Mapping (Erstwhile)

(caveat: I was included in the "thanks" for this album, but that was only for doing a small part to facilitate La Casa's trip to Japan for the recording)

So difficult to think of things to say about this release short of simple descriptives. Less "field" than "situational" recordings, I think, some difference there though hard to pinpoint. You might start with the fact that there are fifteen tracks, rather unusual in this neck of the woods, leading one down a snapshot analogy path, which might not be all that far from the deal. But the three main photos on the sleeve, by Éric Coisel, featuring abandoned car hulks in various states of takeover by plants and animals (recalling very much the paintings of John Salt) and a bicycle in the beginning stage of blanketing by beach sand, argue for a more overtly meaning-laden reading. At the same time, the one in the CD tray of a golfer strolling atop a green is almost a cipher, hardly even a snapshot.

I wrote the above then had some communication from La Casa, filling me in somewhat on what actually occurred, saving me the embarrassment of many a wrong guess. In a nutshell, some of the sound sources are from machines with additional controls designed by Unami, more or less household devices but programmed to generate sound in various patterns, many of them rhythm-oriented. These are combined with "naturally occurring" machines in their own habitats as well as human activity sounds, both of which were processed by Unami and La Casa into sequences, again with a kind of rhythm at their core, though not always an obvious one. All this goes to develop some kind of an understand of machine/human relationships. This description may not be entirely accurate but it's much closer than my ears alone would have gotten me.

I'd been confounded early on as to where the balance lay between existing machine sounds and those initiated by the duo. Clearly, things were being turned off and on (the sharp ka-chunks of the switches sometimes prominent), relatively small engines, like those for vacuum cleaners or washing machines, revving up and dying down, the listener hearing both the whir of the engines and, often, affiliated clicks and knocks. Too, these were set within larger spaces so that, as on the first track, you hear cars, birds, etc. You have the impression of a language being spoken though the grammar is alien and obscure. You also get a sense of struggle on the part of the equipment, a constant striving, failing, striving again, failing again. It's rarely aggressive, although the opening rat-a-tat of the second cut will grab your attention as will the buzz-saws on the penultimate track. More often, knowing what I know now, I have the image of larger, modified, somewhat misshapen Roombas trying desperately to interact with their creators. Humans answer back to an extent, in (what I read as) processed kendo classes (plus one with balls of some kind), the wooden taps of a knife slicing vegetables, door hinges squeaking. Track six contains what seems to be spliced switch sounds of varying origin, sequenced in a kind of rhythm that's not really apparent until you squint your ears looking at it, very fascinating, set against an open background with muffled voices and traffic. I'm confident I'm missing a ton here and will peel back layers over time and repeated listens. It's less about aural pleasure, I think, than ideas though once in a while, both combine beautifully. My personal favorite is Track 13, comprised of a mysterious, soft swishing sound that I sometimes hear as a paintbrush scouring a small wooden box though it may well consist of hyper-thin slices of sounds from totally unrelated incidents, rapidly sequenced--a fantastic few minutes, in any case.

"Parazoan Mapping" is quite unique, unlike anything you're likely to encounter elsewhere. Perhaps willfully obscure, you nonetheless have the impression of a huge amount of thought having gone into its production, any obscurity being a necessary byproduct. Bold work, something to return to often, I think. Mandatory listening.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Graham Lambkin/Michael Pisaro - Schwarze Riesenfalter (Erstwhile)

Very odd fluctuations in listening experience with this album over the last few weeks. Initially, I was absolutely entranced by the pure sonic richness and dark beauty of the music, the wonderful, if logically difficult to grasp, integration of the piano and field recordings. More and more, however, I found myself being captured by the sheer strangeness of it, a kind of eerie otherness, the shifting of realities that, for me, had very much to do with (faulty) memory. I've since gone back and forth between those poles with this very moving and disturbing work.

There's a lot of symmetry in play here, beginning with the pair of reflected cover images, front and back. As has been seen before in his collaborations with Jason Lescalleet, Lambkin enjoys playing around with track durations for various, often oblique, purposes. Here the five tracks last 4:30, 17:17, 5:26, 17:17 and 4:30; It wouldn't surprise me if the lengths themselves held some significance. Tracks 1 and 5 are essentially solo piano (one can discern a good amount of ambient sound) while tracks 2 and 4 are largely field recordings and other manipulations, the second ("Aufflattern die Fledermäuse") ending with several minutes of piano, the fourth ("Zebrochene Münder") both beginning and ending with same, throwing in a needed asymmetrical touch. The central piece, "Ein eiseger Wind", exists in a separate space, dreamy and drony. The titles are image-extensions from ideas in poems by Albert Giraud which were used as texts for Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire" (The album title is an exact extraction from one). Reading up a bit on it, I learned that Schoenberg was somewhat obsessed with numerology so perhaps the track durations are a nod in that direction. Musically (having refreshed my memory by watching a performance on video) I can't hear much of a connection but maybe it's in there, beyond my ability to parse out.

In fact, probably led on by the German title and track names, my initial correlation was to Schumann and German lieder. Not that I am at all well-versed in the area (I'm not!) but the dark, even mordant Romanticism (like a painting by Böcklin) had me half-expecting to hear Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau well up from the depths. "Leuchtfeuer" ("Beacon") opens with six pairs of extremely low piano chords, each held 9-10 seconds, quite funebral, only gradually working its way to a less murky light, though an inky undercurrent remains, and the nether reaches, quavering, are reached again now and then. You can hear odd sounds in the background, kind of wood on wood slaps and, at one point what sounds like a faucet turned on and off. This is jarring in and of itself, not allowing the listener to dwell simply in the apparent drama but opening a wider door into the surrounding world, one seemingly unaffected by the sense of heaviness and loss, very workaday, including the final sound, metal tossed on wood. The transition from this umbral dream-state is brought almost horrifically to the fore with the incredibly annoying sound of a cellphone on buzz, an element that has the added benefit of causing household consternation if played at sufficient volume. I've assumed, not that it matters, that it's been Pisaro on piano and Lambkin on residual sounds, which come into their own on the second cut. I did momentarily have the mischievous thought that they might have surreptitiously switched roles for this release but...naah. The cell buzzes twelve times (well, twelve and a quarter), maybe echoing those initial pairs of piano chords? A harsher version of the clatter that ended the first track leads to some sampled wooden flute that I swear I've heard before (a shakuhachi recording? Don Cherry?) and things then tumble headlong into a dense mass of overlaid tape sounds; I thought one sounded like an unholy grafting of a baby's babble and a cat in heat before I realized it must come from one of those "cats saying no" videos--that, arguably, makes it worse. Low, Tuvan drones, through which the piano appears like a wraith, pensive single notes that morph into electric piano variations on the same, with helicopter-y flutter. Beautiful, creepy.

"Ein eisiger Wind" ("An Icy Wind") both lives up to its title and stands apart, a kind of nodal point at the end of an ellipse, all soft, electric drones, light and sandy to thrumming, low and dull, with periodic washes of possible shore waves. The painfully titled "Zebrochene Münder" ("Broken Mouths") starts with piano, slow, hands near the upper and lower extremes, agitated but perhaps stuck in dream-motion, unable to move quickly. The music moves back to the real world, so to speak, shuffling sounds, general hum, Lambkin's voice, distorted, birds and beeps, everything displaced, blurred/sharp. Are those flamenco castanets? But no, they falter into just "taps", confusing. It's a truly amazing sound world created here, moving with rapidity from one element to another (or, rather, several elements, to several others) but seamlessly, with dream-logic firmly in place. When you hear frolickers at a park or the beach, you also get subterranean bellows from some behemoth threatening to arise from beneath; those black butterflies clearly portend death. The piano, more processional now, almost stately in its dirge, reappears, leading directly to the closing "Unkönig", back down into darkness, though dappled with patches of light. Such deep, lovely chords here, so sad and true, offering momentary resolution before the inevitable downward trek.

Oh yes.


Friday, March 27, 2015

John Wall/Alex Rodgers - Work 2011-2014 (Entr'acte)

Wall's music sounds like no other. In fairness, I should say Wall and Rodger's as the latter is responsible not only for the texts herein but also a good portion of the "computer generated sounds", but to the extent that the work occupies at least an adjacent sound-world to those which Wall has produced since 1995's "Alterstill" (the first I heard his music), it's recognizably his product. He helpfully diagrams the sequences on this release:

00:00 to 01:44 "bill and coo" (AR computer/voice) with some sound manipulation by JW
01:45 to 03:10 Construction 50 (JW) computer
03:19 to 06:28 "angular cluster 1" (JW) computer (AR) voice
06:31 to 08:31 "pitfalls" (JW) computer (AR) voice
08:38 to 09:50 Construction 54 (JW) computer (AR) voice/computer.
09:51 to 11:29 "pomp" (AR) voice/computer.
11:30 to 13:07 Edited improvisation (JW) computer (AR) voice
13:08 to 15:47 Untitled (JW) computer (AR) voice
15:50 to 17:19 "the same“ (JW) computer (AR) text to speech programme.
17:20 to 19:12 "nutters" (JW) computer (AR) voice
19:12 to 20:16 Construction 56 (JW) computer
20:26 to 22:16 "Were I was going" (JW) computer (AR) treated voice
22:22 to 24:02 "Fall away" (JW) computer (AR) voice/computer
24:07 to 26:23 "rdondo" (JW) computer (AR) voice/computer
26:18 to 27:36 "angular cluster 2" (JW) computer (AR) voice

Like many of his previous offerings, "Work 2011-2014" is short but it's a brevity born of concision and severe economy, packed with an extraordinarily dense assemblage of slivers of information, needle-sharp, scything through the dark, Beckettian text often spoken in a slurred, bitter manner. I have this image of a razor-edged knife weaving through large hunks of meat. Tiny knives though, so even even there are thousands of them, they have very little mass, leaving a ton of "air" in which the events can take place. It's very strange and pretty much unique to Wall's sound, as far as I know, instantly recognizable. Wall is legendary for taking massive amounts of time to work on minute slices of sound; I take it this is a result and it's a bracing one.

Rodgers' words command equal weight, however. He uses software to alter his voice constantly, enough that it rarely sounds very much the same on several levels, including apparent distance (blurred, far away and indistinct to mic-bumping closeness), pitch and other, more unusual variations including a disturbing, moist kind of lisp ("Were I was going"). The text is gutter-level angry, occasionally imagistic and not above (I suspect) combining words for the sheer deliciousness of their sound like "marzipan supremacists" or the concluding phrase, "angular cluster". There's an extract printed inside the sleeve, only a sentence of which, as near as I can determine, is used in the recording. To get a sense, it ends:

Head on school desk tongue where you're in saying, trying to say i've revolved for years but cannot not be sort of attractive at the meeting place. There is no one ghost all spectatres in endless lossed warm frame. Wished on peak roseate possibility. Squandered thereafter.

Wall's sounds are always overtly electronic, no attempt at masking. How he manages to render them utterly different from your normal computer-induced activity, I've no idea but to these ears, they sound absolutely fresh, sparkling in an alien way. I don't recall him doing it in earlier work but on occasion, he allows a small dollop of repetition to creep in, for at most several seconds and often less than that, perhaps offering a momentary foothold for the listener, only to quickly snatch it away. Rodgers uses iteration more straightforwardly in the subsection, "the same", with fine bitterness. Refreshingly, there's no arc. It's episodic but with each chapter bearing similar heft, moving the listener from room to room in a very large, troubled building, no entrance or exit.

A tremendous, sinewy-tough piece of work, one of my favorite speech/music recordings in a long time, maybe ever.


And check out Wall's own page for further good stuff.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Jaap Blonk - August Ananke (Kontrans)

Like many a listener, I have my share of problems with free-improvising vocalists. No matter how "good" they are at their craft--and Blonk is certainly very good--there's something of a wall I find difficult to surmount, some excess of emotiveness perhaps. Though when channeled into more traditional forms, for example, Phil Minton singing "The Cutty Wren", I can find such vocals exhilarating. Generally though, I prefer my singers in the territory inhabited by the Ami Yoshidas (haven't heard anything from her in ages) and Christian Kestens of the scene, to take just two musicians. My experiences with Blonk, both live and on recording, have been similarly problematic so I approached this disc with a fair amount of trepidation.

Well, quite a surprise then. Perhaps I've simply missed this aspect of Blonk's musical endeavors (quite possible), but we have here "eight meditations on Just Intonation" (the subtitle of the disc) with nary a vocal in sight--at least, I don't think so. The first track, "Ataraxia" is made up of floating, sinuous tones that remind me a little of the later portions of Lucier's "I Am Sitting in a Room". I I was told that the source of the sounds was a voice, I wouldn't be entirely surprised though I can't say I detect speech cadences or anything of the sort, things that are usually tough to "hide". It's very beautiful, however, as is the ensuing cut, "Agape", which opens into more percussive territory, though with very much a sustained bell-tone aura. This is again extended in "Aspera" (you may detect a pattern here) where the tones become more individuated and lean decidedly toward the southeast Asian; really lovely. The lengthy "Adwaita" fluctuates, perhaps a bit uneasily from koto-like to pure electronics to shamisen tones and others, each pretty interesting though not congealing into a whole to these ears. I should pause to mention that despite the subtitle and sonic references to plucked strings, there's really nothing Partchian in effect about this; it exists in its own, discreet, justly intoned world. Three shorter pieces, not too dissimilar form some of the first ones, follow, leading to another longer work, "Anabasis", which concludes the disc. It's possibly my favorite and also the most complex, with layers of electronically generated beats in different tempi but often quite fast, intersecting over a slow, dreamy base, augmented by dry wind sounds. Though the beats are clearly of non-human origin, they retain an odd warmth, sometimes like clouds of chittering insects. A fine, absorbing, ticklish piece and an unexpectedly (to me) enjoyable album, both approachable and fascinating in tone and rhythm.


Ian Vine - forty objects/forty-five objects (no label)

Two dense drone pieces. As I understand it, there are forty and forty-five parts respectively, all electric guitar played by Vine, each part subtly different with a unique note sequence, all overlaid, the resultant variances providing much of the "meat" of the works. The music is very much for aficionados of the drone as the relentless, humming presence of these beasts will try the patience of listeners seeking more activity or free space. However, I had no problem immersing myself, paying close attention to as much variation within as I was able, trying to register and correlate the huge number of strands that pulsate along. The two works are similar enough, the first bearing a somewhat sandier texture, even conjuring up a mirage-y sensation, given the shimmering. Not much else to say except, plunge in and hear for yourself.

Vine's bandcamp site

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Justin Meyers/Jason Lescalleet - The White Page (Glistening Examples)

Somehow, I hesitate to call this drone music. The hum that extends throughout the first half-hour plus is hollow and pulsing, true, but it for the first few minutes, sounds as though it could falter at any moment, that its power source might be on the verge of collapse. You hear dull clanks, as if the centripetal force whatever's rotating periodically sends it off-center, its flanges colliding with the containment shell. In a while, though, it settles down into a slowly swirling, complex dance of creamy tones, super-enticing. It descends lower and lower, generating wonderful muffled, indistinct throbs, resurfaces in a slightly different guise, bearing somewhat sour quavers and then drops out entirely, leaving a higher, more distant, ringing tone in its wake, perhaps bowed bells, and roughly bowed at that, with accompanying grinding and banging sounds--excellent. Ok, ok, it's drone music, beautifully controlled and varied, fine overall arc. I think, apart from a piece on the "Trophy Tapes" compilation also on Glistening Examples, this is the first I've heard Meyers--based on this, I'd love to hear more. Proceeds form the sale of this music go toward supporting the White Page art gallery in Minneapolis, so what are you waiting for?

Rutger Zuydervelt - Sneeuwstorm (Glistening Examples)

The first eight or nine minutes of this fine release also dwell in dronish territory. Zuydervelt (also known as Machinefabriek elsewhere) lists two saxophones among his arsenal which otherwise includes electric guitar, field recordings and other objects of an electronic nature and they're crucial to the success of this venture, imparting a warmth and, dare I say, humanity to the steady stream of (fantastic) detritus. Some low, crumbly sounds begin the piece and soon the reeds enter--long, soft, darkly timbred notes, throbbing somewhat. That first section is essentially a crescendo, multiple elements stirred into the mix, grimy and oily but with those saxophones providing hints of something beyond with some high, oboe-like, plaintive tones--it's a great, massively unfurling prelude. Just when you think it's going to carry on like this for the duration, it staggers, the horns popping and fluttering in space, the floor having dropped from beneath them. A great, disorienting change. The music grinds on, splaying out into a huge variety of buzzes, hums, rattles and who knows what else, those horns (I think? hard to tell sometimes) placating the horde a bit, drawing things gradually down for a while before welling upward once again in a static-strewn beehive of sound. Gentle horns over a deep, organ-like bed and ending with a lone sax wending its way through a marshy field of static or, I suppose, a snowstorm, lost. Excellent recording through and through, check it out.

Angst Hase Pfeffer Nase - Bidden (Glistening Examples)

I may not be the best person to evaluate this one I've never, to the best of my recollection, heard Angst Hase Pfeffer Nase (otherwise known as Chris Cooper) and much of the work, at least as represented here, lies sufficiently in a certain bracket of noise music that's not my cuppa. But not all of it. This is a compilation--seven tracks, all but the last previously issued, ranging in recording date from 1996 to 2009. In fact, the first four are from 1996-1999 which the final three arise from 2007-2009 and, again if this is representative, I greatly prefer his more recent output. The earlier tracks are the kind of kitchen sink improv that, for me, fail to cross the line from haphazard (uninteresting) to random (interesting). There's a forcedness, a bit of look-at-me dexterity in jostling disparate elements (tapes seem prominent, digitalized and processed) and achieving a collage-like effect that doesn't strike home for me. It's music I hear as only a sidestep away from people like Raaijmakers but, for me, a crucial one. Clearly, there's a whole cadre of listeners who will disagree but so it goes. But then, with "Reveille and Commiseration" form 2007 (remixed in 2014) things shift considerably, beginning with the wryly and warpedly jaunty tune that opens the track and on to the layered saxophonics and mewling spread over various blippage. Now, I'm not entirely crazy about this piece, but it's an intriguing step. Following the brief but intriguing trough and tumble of "Cpl Rhomboid Tantalizing" (2008), with its shortwave and splatter, we arrive at the concluding track, "Feldweg" (2009) which exists apart, in a very different and, to these ears, more fascinating sound world. Not just that the tones are more rounded and softer--though they are--, but more for the lack of claustrophobic activity, the considered expansiveness. Small noises sounding in a large, watery space, active and slightly propulsive, but unforced. Yes, the wave sounds that infiltrate might be a bit over the top and perhaps its more the juxtaposition of this track versus most of the others, but I found 20 or so minutes of enjoyment here. I get the sense that long-term fans of Cooper's might think entirely the opposite.

Glistening Examples

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tetuzi Akiyama/Jason Kahn/Toshimaru Nakamura = Between Two (meenna)

As Kahn writes in his brief notes to this disc, he's played with Akiyama and Nakamura in various combinations since 1997, though this is only their second release as a trio. More significantly, Kahn chose to "confine" himself to drum kit here and Akiyama is playing un-enhanced acoustic guitar, making for a far more delicate, gentler sound world than one might have expected. It begins with some aggression--Nakamura generating a rough rumble on his nimb, Kahn answering with some rattling drum work but very soon, Akiyama's guitar, serene and soft but bearing a healthy amount of quiet agitation, enters and tempers matters a great deal, setting the stage for much of what follows. There's a kind of sizzle running through much of the performance, via both kahn's cymbals and Nakamura's electronics, the latter varying more than one might expect, constantly shifting through dozens of sound-worlds, sparse to clogged, metallic to feathery; several times I broke out into a smile at his contributions,, at their raucous boldness. In some ways, it's closer to an efi kind of situation, but a particularly good one, perhaps bringing back lessons learned from more reductionist, eai forms. throughout, Akiyama's playing is the leavening factor. He's been known, of course, to play everything from the most delicate free improv to the skronkiest possible boogie. Here, it's lyrical delicacy in abundance, sweetening whatever is tossed his way by his companions, only venturing into some relatively harsh--though soft--bowing in the last few minutes of the final cut. Very impressive how rarely things go astray or begin to lose focus; it happens once or twice, but it's only a few moments before the trio lifts back on track, proceeds down the next corridor. A really enjoyable effort and enjoyable in ways I wasn't expecting coming in. These fellows have put out a large number of releases, true, but listeners should remember this one and check it out.


Louie Rice - Puxe (Porta)

Good old greasy, juicy, dark noise abounds on this cassette (heard here via download). Rice (of VA AA LR renown) sets several murky, quasi-rhythmic forces in motion, all slow, like a horde of awakening giant beetles, clicking, thrumming and grinding. A fine, slightly scary mix of sounds as it oozes along Side A for a good while, seeping into corners. Halfway through, it shifts to a lighter pulse littered with staticky pops that runs to the side's conclusion; remote, subtly disturbing and impressive. Side B begins quietly, gradually working its way up to a churning throb, sizzling on the edges with a lugubrious, dead-slow melodic line buried within. With five minutes to do, this disappears down a drain, replaced by a relatively jaunty sequence of static bursts which in turn segment into various hums and scattered mini-explosions, still keeping a (diverse) rhythmic feel, the sounds becoming progressively more active and threatening until all energy is lost and matters simply peter out.

A very enjoyable adventure, creatively imagined and executed.


Brian Pickles - Fort Isolation (no label)

A large and quite varied selection of tracks by Pickles, culled from the past 15 years. Generally electronic in nature with plenty of field recordings and a lurking background vestige of avant-rock, the pieces are, perhaps necessarily, of variable consistency but the choicer ones are very tasty. Surprises abound as when a bass clarinet surfaces in "humid" or the titular keyboard in "upright", much less Mr. Pickles senior. The compilation is so wide-ranging as to be a bit unwieldy as a unit but many of the individual tracks are quite rewarding when dipped into on their own. "rough one", for instance, with its soft, high reeds (?) over indistinct hisses and slowly rotating growls, erupting into a organ-y bellows is very strong. Some nice pickings here and you can sample for yourself via the bandcamp site below.

Pickles @ bandcamp

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hannes Buder - Changes II (Umlaut)

The PR flyer that came with this release, written by Hannes Lingens (with whom Buder recorded a fine album, "[ro]" last ear, also on Umlaut), cites the solo guitar recordings of John Fahey, Fred Frith, Derek Bailey and Loren Connors--serious stuff. One can certainly hear references to these players though, happily, Buder carves his own approach and it's quite an enjoyable one.

As with, arguably, those gentleman, beneath the (in Buder's case) occasional avant trappings, there lurks a much more traditional player, one with a fine sense of melody and deep harmonies, all a very good thing. Ten tracks here, six original, four from the German folk tradition, Buder playing pump organ and wooden flute in addition to archtop guitar (which I'm informed is a "steel-stringed acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar). The very beginning ("changes II (for eugen drewermann)") is very much in Bailey territory but Buder quickly moves to more Frith-like tonality, with some lovely, deep, resonant strumming (very much his essential sound), with hazy pump organ beneath, traveling form abstraction to serene calm. The traditionals are quite winning, starting with "ich hab de nacht geträumet", bowed guitar sections framing a delightful, romantic reading of the song and "heidenröstein", an even prettier song, its thoughtful, pastoral theme adorned by a smattering of high plinks and low plunks. Two of the tracks, "ocean #1" and "ocean #2" are for pump organ alone, very strong, broad, steady-state works, richly layered and surging. Occasionally, as in "improvisation #4", Buder comes perilously close to a kind of Frithian pyrotechnics but pretty much manages to skirt the temptation and wheel things back into a more considered pathway. When the disc closes with the folk song, "es flog ein kleins waldvögelein", alternating between the straight and the Baileyesque, I was by and large won over, though I'd still like to hear Buder concentrate on some of the sounds created in the quieter, more contemplative passages here. Well worth checking out, especially for fans of the above named guitarists.


Michel Doneda/Lê Quan Ninh - Aplomb (Vand'œuvre)

I saw this duo at the Église St. Merri here in Paris right around the time of this recording. It was a disappointing event, many missed opportunities for more considered playing amidst one flurry after another of what I heard as incessant activity in place of necessary sounds. Both musicians (Doneda here on soprano and sopranino saxophones, Ninh on his horizontal bass drum with objects) are obviously extremely adept at what they do but both also tend toward a hyperactive state that forces the listener, for every beautiful pool discovered, to wade through a great deal of underbrush. But that's too simple, surely, and the searching can be heard in its own right. It's just...well, a subjective difference, I suppose, between "searching" and "thrashing about". They aren't always loud, far from it. It's just that the choices made seem staid, obvious, even--I hesitate to say it--clichéd. It's not all so bleak; they rein things in nicely on "Halo d'Apparences", with Ninh employing softly struck bowls or chimes, Doneda keeping to a fine, narrow spectrum, the pair allowing the surrounding space to filter into and between their sounds. It reminds me of a similar portion during their concert where both left the performing area, playing very quietly, slowly walked to an apse in the rear where they were unseen to the audience. It would have been a perfect way to end a set, but...they returned. Happens here too. Not to my taste then, but at St. Merri, the crowd loved their performance and I've no doubt that fans of Doneda's and Ninh's previous work will find much to enjoy here.

Vand'œuvreat Centre Malraux

Michael Vincent Waller - The South Shore (XI)

Waller is a strange bird. A young composer, born in 1985, who studied with La Monte Young, Bunita Marcus and Petr Kotik, though I think it's fair to say that if you heard almost any of his pieces unaware, those aren't three influences you'd be likely to cite. Indeed, aural evidence of Waller existing at all in this century, apart from perhaps some passing references to a kind of soft, calm minimalism, are hard to come by. Although the music doesn't really sound remotely similar, I found myself thinking of the British composers Dave Smith and John White, particularly the latter's miniature piano sonatas, music that seems to exist oddly outside its time. Had I been presented with a given piece herein as a kind of blindfold test (and had I not previously heard several of Waller's compositions), I don't know what I'd have guessed. Barber? Vaughn Williams? Hard to say. Twenty-one pieces on this two-disc, 137-minute set, some with several movements, presented by twenty-five or so musicians in various configurations; cellist Christine Kim is prominently featured. There's also one work performed by the Dedalus Ensemble and a couple with clarinetist Katie Porter. The pieces tend toward the brief (many around four to five minutes), the longest lasting a bit over ten, virtually all in a medium-low dynamic range and ballad-like tempo, nothing very quiet or loud, very slow or fast.

Perhaps that's an issue: the relative sameness over the duration, not only in the above matters but also in mood. The initial work, "Anthems", for cello (Kim) and piano (Yael Manor) sets the tone--a lovely, brooding line on cello, darkly Romantic, with tender, accommodating adornment from the piano. Like all of the music here, it's finely conducted, lovingly played; as a stand-alone piece, it's fine. That can be said about most of the music here--sometimes it dips into areas a bit too sugary and precious for my taste but, just as often it reaches out into slightly more bitter territory, which comes as a welcome change of pace. But overall, we have a series of well-written, charming compositions for small groupings or solos that meld together (in my mind) a bit too much, reworking similar ideas (albeit in, as "Blue" Gene Tyranny points out in his liner notes, a multitude of modes). "Per La Madre e La Nonna", for string trio (Kim, with Pauline Kim-Harris, violin and Daniel Panner, viola) stands out for its extra lyricism and some dancelike sequences and "Organum" (Carson Cooman on organ), with discreet nods to Terry Riley circa "Shri Camel", is a refreshing tonic, sporting a natural, raga-like narrative. "Ritratto" is beautifully played by Dedalus and contains some nice bits of cloudiness amidst a minimalist swirl as well as unexpected passages for electric guitar. "Y for Henry Flynt" (solo cello), is a favorite here. Though it sounds nothing like Flynt's music, the sorrowful, slightly sour melodic lines provide needed astringency--a strong work. The two compositions that close this set, "Arbitrage Deux" (solo clarinet, Porter) and "Arbitrage" (bass clarinet and gong percussion--Devin Maxwell) also number among my favorites, bearing a subtler melancholic tinge in the former and Crumbian kind of mystery in the latter.

While I'm not as taken, generally, as I am with other composers who reside in (quasi) traditional modes (say, Skempton), Waller's music is clean, well-crafted and polished to an attractive degree. Too polished for some palates, I'm sure, but just right for listeners seeking warm comfort.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Bertrand Denzler - ONCEIM (Confront)

Horns - Horns 1.2 (Confront)

Two single works written by saxophonist Denzler. The first is from a live, June 2014 performance in Paris at Église St. Merri by ONCEIM (l’Orchestre de Nouvelles Créations, Expérimentations et Improvisation Musicales), a large ensemble that includes Frédéric Blondy (piano), Deborah Walker (cello), Cyprien Busolini (viola)--both of Ensemble Dedalus--Xaver Charles (clarinet), Antonin Gerbal (percussion), among many others.

"morph", the piece played by ONCEIM, is one large, wooly mass. It doesn't float, it sits there and seethes. The sensation one gets is of a single, unvarying entity but, like most such creatures, it's comprised of multiple strands. Long held notes, generally low in pitch and fairly loud are the rule, instruments entering and exiting the pulsating sound-organism, perhaps just slightly varying their tone. A spine of low percussion (soft mallets) and throbbing feedback underlie the skein of strings and horns atop. Work like Feldman's "For Samuel Beckett" are a likely reference point, but Denzler's piece is darker, even cynical, honing in on some unseen node, gouging out the space like some huge, sonic drill. It proceeds unabated until it's finished, vanishing suddenly, leaving an empty hole. Impressive work.

"horns 1.2" is performed by Pierre-Antoine Badaroux (alto saxophone), Denzler (tenor saxophone), Fidel Fourneyron (trombone) and Louis Laurain (trumpet). Not knowing otherwise, I might guess that the music here is essentially these instruments' parts from "morph", isolated. As in the large ensemble piece, long, rich lines are held with relatively minor fluctuations in pitch. Perhaps due to the nature of the elements in this particular configuration, one is reminded a tiny bit of Baroque and Renaissance horn music, but the general world conjured forth is kind of streamlined version of "morph", less wooly and billowy and every bit as attractive. I missed seeing this group last week but, coincidentally discussing it last evening with Jacques Oger, was informed that, for that affair, the four musicians were given a small interval from which to choose their notes, confining them to a handful, which they played more or less as in this recording. So that approach was perhaps in effect here and, for all I know, might be the basis for "morph" as well. Whatever the case, the result is extremely enjoyable music to get lost in, to contemplate both the individual strands and the overall effect, simultaneously or flickering back and forth. Beautifully played, simply conceived and, as with "morph", a welcome addition to Denzler's discography. I might quibble, given that the combined duration of these discs is a bit over an hour, that they should have both been on a single disc, but...still well worth it.


Bertrand Denzler/Antonin Gerbal - Heretofore (Umlaut)

"Heretofore" finds Denzler in duo with Parisian drummer Gerbal, a 34-minute live set from May, 2014, and in a very different space. It's an oddly lackluster performance, freely improvised and tending toward the spare but ungainly and awkwardly shifting ground, enough that one has the sense of the pair never finding sure footing. Some of it, I think, is due to Gerbal's reluctance to really dig in, preferring to adopt a more scattered, pointillist approach that, to these ears, doesn't quite gel with Denzler. I take it this was intentional (Gerbal is an excellent drummer) and maybe the hesitancy was a sought for point, but I found it overly dry. Denzler, via breath tones and low, guttural cries, seems to be seeking to insert his sound into the minute gaps of the percussion and sometimes, if one listens to it that way, it can begin to work. But overall, I'm left with simply the impression of a desultory show, something that certainly happens often enough everywhere, not a problem, but leaves me wondering why it was committed to disc. Maybe a step in a process I'm not comprehending.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jürg Frey - Jürg Frey (Musiques Suisses)

This release came out in 2014 but I only recently heard of it and, perhaps due to its apparently limited distribution, I suspect that's the case for many. And that's a shame because it's so, so great.

The nine pieces are performed by varying configurations of the Mondrian Ensemble (Daniela Müller, violin; Petra Ackermann, viola; Karolina Öhman, cello; Tamriko Kordzaia, piano) and the Konus Quartett (Fabio Oehrli and Jonas Tschanz, alto saxophone; Christian Kobi, tenor saxophone; Stefan Rolli, alto and baritone saxophones). The first and last compositions are longer works, bracketing a six-part suite of sorts, "Extended Circular Music Nos. 1-7" (2011-2014) (#4 is nowhere to be seen).

"Memoire, horizon" (2013/2014) is for saxophone quartet and lasts about 30 minutes. It begins with long, floating notes, the quartet acting like an extended chord, the pulses quavering both in the individual sound of the reeds as well as in the massed effect. As is so often the case in his works, the tonalities Frey chooses are not so unusual--in fact, they're usually very warm and familiar--but their placement, dynamic, depth and more are so precisely and perfectly done as to render the music consistently new and surprising. It's very strange. There are also at least two other sounds in effect, both of which enhance this performance to a huge degree. One is a low, faint rumble that sounds to me like some element in the room, perhaps a large, stretched canvas on the wall, is vibrating in reaction to the sounds (absurd, I realize, but that's the impression I have). The other is a high, rustling sound, I think coming from the air pressure on the reeds themselves. As is heard later on in the clearly audible sounds of the piano pedals, these contribute greatly to the realness of the space, things that are normally edited out but happily, through design or chance, left in the mix here. The entire space becomes so much more alive and bristling. Those long notes very slowly peel off from each other, settling into a dreamy kind of chorale, maybe even with a nod toward Renaissance voicings. The baritone assumes a melancholic lead, the higher horns acting as a chorus behind, very moving. The horns coalesce into discreet, three-second, cloudy chords with a short silence between, almost processional, eventually arriving at a two-chord, calm back and forth...there's so much going on here, the transitions so hard to pin down but both feeling so right and, as said, often so moving. A wonderful, absorbing and thought-provoking work, possibly my favorite saxophone quartet ever.

The seven pieces that comprise "Extended Circular Music" have a rough symmetry to them, the first and sixth (nos. 1 & 7) by the Mondrian Ensemble and Konus Quartett respectively, the second and fifth (nos. 2 & 3) for piano and piano/viola and the third and fourth (nos. 5 & 6) for saxophone trios. The music is slow, contemplative, tinged with longing and simply gorgeous. The first, for piano quartet, begins with sets of four steady chords, undulating in something like a dirge but not so dark. Frey often establishes what you think is going to be a pattern throughout, and a very beguiling one, only to alter it subtly, extending a chord or silence now and then, just enough to keep things in the real, mutable world. Again, one hears the room, including, I think, the intakes of breath on the part of the performers--I love that. The second, for solo piano (the pedals heard) continues in the vein of the first, but takes alternate pathways, becoming even more somber but with such luminous chords shining along the dark trail. The slowness, like an extreme reluctance to set down one's foot, is entrancing. The pair of saxophone pieces (the first for three altos, the second for two altos and baritone) again harken to older music; I still hear a kind of Renaissance horn feeling, though I could be entirely wrong. Strong four-note melodies are stated in the first only to dissolve into a swirl of tones, re-emerge, evanesce once more while the second features slower pulses, varying in duration, richly shaded in tonality, with a breathing, sighing aspect, plangent. No. 3 stands out somewhat from the rest, an almost wistful, dancelike piano figure, the pedals acting as soft percussion, that turns extremely dark and mournful, the viola grainily emphasizing this umbral current. One might be tempted to hear allusions to Satie or Skempton, though I'm guessing that's coincidental. In passing, I'll say that more than once I thought of this music as being similar to what I imagine Gavin Bryars might have achieved had he not taken that tragic ECM-induced turn in the 80s; there's a sad grandeur here that Bryars touched on now and then. The final portion of the suite, for saxophone quartet, is a bit more diffuse, extended over 10 minutes (the other pieces are between three and five) and allowed to ruminate more widely, to expand occasionally into "sourer" tonal ranges, to meander, if you will. The composition is both excellent in itself and serves as an at least partial contrast to its companions, perhaps pointing a way further along in this series (I know a No. 8 is to appear on a forthcoming Another Timbre release).

"Architektur der Empfindungen" (2011/2012), for piano quartet, concludes the disc. Architecture of sensations. It's probably the most challenging piece here in terms of flow (varied) and consonance (in and out). There's a good 20-minute documentary on Frey available on YouTube in which he speaks a bit about his compositional approach which generally involves fragments, small kernels of ideas that may or may not find their way into a work, appearing at various points within. I had somewhat the impression of Feldman's classic analogy with Turkish carpets, taking them a weave at a time, placing a given sound with regard mostly to its immediate neighbors yet somehow generating a structural whole. Maybe Frey takes this and, instead of applying it to individual notes, uses it on ensemble passages. In any case, the logic of "Architektur der Empfindungen" is elusive yet very attractive, very mysterious (like sensations). There are points of semi-minimalist, propulsive motions, more of drawn-out, slightly astringent string lines punctuated by bright, high piano notes (and a wooly background hum!) but also, in keeping with the character of the disc as a whole, that probing elegiac quality, balancing deep appreciation of the beauty of things with knowledge of their inevitable disintegration.

A great, great recording, desert island calibre.

Musiques Suisses

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lucio Capece - Epoché (Hideous Replica)

Capece continues to unveil one exciting, probing work after another.

There's not much information provided and, despite the cover image, no balloons are listed though perhaps some are employed to dislocate one or more of "analog synthesisers, oscillators, ring modulator, equalisers in feedback, hand fan, sine waves, electronic drum". Regardless and leaving aside my perennial quibble about necessarily missing a portion of the corporeality of Capece's music when listening on disc, the two sections of "Epoché" are fantastic, ear-bending experiences.

Part 1 begins with a roar, like the center of a storm. Glimmers of sine waves poke through the darkness, are swallowed in the intensifying winds. Several minutes in, things subside to a vibrant, shimmering hum that becomes more complex the deeper you listen, splaying out into liquid pulses. (My current speaker set-up is head-high while seated, at opposite ends of my work table, allowing me, when desired, to lean forward and place my ears right between them, something I did often while listening to "Epoché" deriving much sensory pleasure, especially in parts like this). The pulses carom around one's cranium for a good while until the clear tones sputter out, hissing as flames are quenched and matters become increasingly chaotic and ear-scouringly abrasive even though a fairly low volume level is assumed for a good bit. Harsh whistles, long, sandy scrapes, intense sines, rough buzzes--all mix and shift, something always burrowing through but also routinely changing character, reaming one's earhole until the track's sudden cessation.

Part 2 begins more soothingly, with a rich, full sine-y drone, the wavering within its own substance supplemented by that conjured forth from the movement of the listener's head. There's a just-discrenable rattle in there too; hard to say if it's on the disc or part of the room you're in. A dark, throbbing buzz infiltrates, accompanied by, maybe, the same rattle, amplified, both finally eliminating the initial drone, establishing their own sinuous, somewhat sinister space. Again, things spiral into wider realms, though always retaining strong centrifugal force and forward propulsion. Beeping signals traverse the seethe; one has the clear impression of warning lights, reflected off the dull, rotating mass. It all collapses into a lovely pure tone, lasting only ten or so seconds.

A very impressive work and a fine addition to Capece's singularly strong canon.

Hideous Replica

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Frédéric Nogray - Merua (Unfathomless)

I remain somewhat at a loss as to what I can say about field recordings like this one. Recorded in Honduras, one experiences the lush, bird-filled sounds of jungle or near-jungle life, occasionally intruded upon by man-made activity like a rumbling boat motor. There's a richness and density in play that I imagine is the result of post-recording construction on the part of Nogray, though I'm by no means certain of that. As is all too often the case, I can easily understand engaging in a deep listening situation were I in this place, within the extended space of the environment but have less patience for it listening over a stereo system. There may well be more going on structurally than I'm able to parse but I tend to read this "naturalistically", if you will and more, get somewhat put off by the, to Western, urban ears, exotic nature of the sounds. Nogray writes of encounters with local shamans (buyeis) and their mystical traditions which, admittedly, puts me off a bit as well, so I'm doubtless not the ideal recipient of this work. This past fall, I caught a lovely, very sensitive performance by Nogray on tuned glass bowls and have heard other excellent music from him but this side of his work doesn't do as much for me. For pure field fans, though, there's much to enjoy, everything, from birds to mosquitos, is recorded with extreme sharpness and detail. Maybe I just desire more ambiguity.

Yiorgis Sakellariou - Klaipėda (Unfathomless)

Why does Sakellariou's offering, recorded in and around the Lithuanian title city, have more resonance for me? Partly, perhaps, the abundance of relative quiet and inactivity as opposed to the overwhelming density of the jungle fauna, possibly due in part to the higher percentage of human artifacts, the mid-distant grind of machinery and the counterpoint it provides to birds, water and wind. It's bleak but not without beauty, like a brown/gray landscape containing glints of silver and blue. There's a far clearer sense of the constructor's hand here as well, including abrupt cuts and (I think) layering of disparate elements, both of which, in this case, I find appropriate and gripping. The sense of Tarr-like poetry is strong here, the abstract washes of sound, the blurred rumbles, the cold harshness--very strong, very evocative. I've said before that my aesthetic reaction to many works in the field recording area can be poetic, difficult to quantify, more so even than with "standard" music and it's the case here as well. Something rings true, valid and worth contemplating. I'd previously heard Sakellariou, under the nom Mecha/Orga, in collaboration with Roel Meelkop, Julien Ottavi and on his own "41:38" and enjoyed them greatly. With this fine work, I'll be on the lookout for more.

Ubeboet - haereo (Mystery Sea)

Ubeboet (Miguel A. Tolosa), though he also uses field recordings as a primary source, strikes me as occupying a slightly different zone, one that is perceived as more "musical" in the sense that many ofthe sounds he chooses to use have implicitly tonal elements, buried though they may be. The deep hums, for instance, that line the seams of "Umbrae" could be thought of as bass pedal points from a massive organ. The worlds he creates often seem to owe as much to the Fennesz tradition as purely field recordings. The result is a full, very rounded sound world, the edges sanded off a bit too much for my taste, negating the rawness of Sakellariou's disc (not that Ubeboet had the same goals in mind, of course, just that I prefer one more than another). That said, the work flows smoothly, ripples across its surface attractively and, like both of the preceding, is beautifully recorded and solidly constructed, perhaps with a bit more of a latent science fiction undertone, the muffled clangs summoning images of moribund machines, far into the future.


Mystery Sea

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Michael Pisaro/Cristián Alvear - Melody, Silence (for solo guitar) (Potlatch)

A stunning recording though what to say, how to describe beyond the piece's basic structure...difficult. Pisaro writes, "There are up to 12 fragments (or pieces) which can be played in any order and which allow for various transformations, cuts, extensions and silences. Each guitarist makes their own version." So clearly, the credit for the work's success is pretty evenly distributed and, of course, I'd love to hear other versions. But from what I've heard previously from Alvear, my guess is that his realization (on acoustic guitar, by the way) will be one of the strongest.

The twelve sections seem to fall into one of three types: quiet, melodic, "traditional" playing, drones and silences. As I chart it, the sequence here is M-D-D-M-S-M-S-D-S-M-D-M, with each section lasting between three and five minutes. The melodic sequences vary slightly from each other though all are quiet. They also have a certain rhythm, though very slow. The "melodies" range from slightly sour near the beginning to a very tonal, almost processional feel in the final episode--each one is crystalline and beautiful on its own, clearly and profoundly played by Alvear. The drones, achieved I assume via ebow or similar device, are also fascinating, varying both inherently (though super-subtly) and in one's listening environment when shifting one's head. The three silences last about three, two and four minutes and, as ever in fine realizations of Pisaro's music, are superbly placed, pools of contemplation.

Everything is laid bare, even stripped, the disrobing revealing a pure, taut and sensual skeleton. Like some object, maybe an old pine cone, simple and complex, examined from three angles, each opening a different history of the cone though each, of necessity, connected to and part of the other. Very hard to describe except to say we're fortunate to have yet another fantastic example of Pisaro's conception, exceptionally realized by Alvear. An absolute must for anyone interested in this area of music, truly beautiful.


also available from Erst Dist

Cristián Alvear Montecino - quatre pièces pour guitare & ondes sinusoïdales (Rhizome.s)

Alvear (on this release using his full name) makes it two for two with this entirely absorbing and excellent modern repertoire recording of four works.

I don't think I'd ever heard Alvin Lucier's "on the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon, for guitar and pure wave oscillator" (2000) but it's a gem in line with many of his other works for acoustic instrument(s) and oscillators. Here, the guitarist plays single, purely ringing notes which interact with the sine wave, forming the familiar wavering ghost tones. A video I found of the piece performed by Jacob Sudol shows the guitarist adjusting his tuning as he plays; I think Alvear does the same, although it's very subtle if so. Even though the general aspect of the piece conforms to many others by Lucier, it's nonetheless entrancing, clearly played and luminous.

Ryoko Akama's "line.ar.me, for guitar and sine waves" (2014) lies in adjacent territory, and is almost exactly the same duration as the Lucier, but carries its own distinct aura. Unlike Lucier, Alvear is not asked to parallel the sine waves. Instead, there' more of a "normal" duet sensibility, the guitar sounding low, dulcet tones, spare commentary, the sines flowing through, intercepting the notes, bathing them, continuing on. Very contemplative and serene, with the slightest melancholy tinge--lovely.

The title, "premières et dernières pensées (avant de s'endormir)", a 2014 composition by Bruno Duplant, reminded me a bit of Satie's "Avant-dernières Pensées"; wonder if that was in mind? The guitar here is closer, just a bit, to melody. The notes don't cascade by any means, they're still hanging in air, but now sometimes in small clusters and one can imagine, if heard speeded up, that they might form a recognizable melodic pattern. A hum lies beneath, possibly ebow generated, a kind of pedal point. I'm guessing, from seeing other scores by Duplant, that the note choice is largely up to Montecino but whoever's responsible, those choices are great, a little romantic, a little sad, very clearheaded. Silences punctuate the work, giving space for consideration. I might have liked to have heard this piece cut back by a third or so, from its 16 minutes to the 12 of the previous two, but that's a minor quibble.

The big revelation for this listener is the final work, "pieza de escucha III" (2013) by Santiago Astaburuaga,a Chilean composer whom I'd not previously heard. Though the piece has a similarly restrained volume level and slow pacing akin to the above works, there's no thoroughgoing electronics (they're quite present, but appear episodically, in various guises) and also a much wider sonic palette from the guitar, including rustling and percussive effects, the latter particularly wonderful and resonant appearing about halfway through. But far more than the individual elements, there's something special about the choices and sequencing that sets this one apart, some "way of hearing" that resonates very strongly with me. Even better, you can watch a video of Montecino performing the piece here

A great release, along with the Potlatch above, both required listening.


Monday, March 09, 2015

George Maciunas (Apartment House) - M (Leidėjas)

It requires a certain amount of boldness to release an audio recording of several pieces by Maciunas, given their at least partial theatric nature; you're inevitably losing something in the bargain. But the Apartment House ensemble, under the direction of cellist Anton Lukoszevieze, manages to pull things off quite ably, enjoyably and mischievously.

Apartment House is Philip Thomas (piano, voice, objects), Nancy Ruffer (flute, voice, objects), Andrew Sparling (clarinet, voice, objects), Gordon Mackey (violin, voice, objects), Angharad Davies (violin, voice, objects), Bridget Carey (viola, voice, objects) and Lukoszevieze (cello, voice, objects). They perform eight works, seven of them fairly short and focussed, closing with a half-hour realization of "Music for Everyman".

In a sense, the first seven pieces, all written in 1962, progress roughly from the ridiculous to the (popular) sublime, though Maciunas undoubtably conflated the two notions. "In Memoriam to Adriano Olivetti (version for ensemble)" (a member of the typewriter family but better known for initiating progressive workers rights platforms in Italy) consists of instrumental passages of a simple but "musical" nature--bowed string chords, for instance--interspersed with clatter from struck objects and vocal intonations, largely of the word, "no" along with flatulent buzzes (which will return later), burps, whistles and more, a welter of sound but managing to be heard as spatially separate, occupying discrete places in space. In this way, Apartment House, on this track and others, compensates for the lack of visual stimuli about as well as possible. "Solo for Rich Man", performed by Lukoszevieze, is marvelous, the performer shuffling bills and coins in his hands before dropping the latter to the floor, ripping the paper money, etc. Here's the score:

It works extraordinarily well both as a sonic document and, more, in the listener's mind's eye, visualizing the event and, of course, contemplating it. "Piece for 3 Mouths (homage to Toshi Ichiyanagi)", performed here by Thomas, Ruffer and Sparling, is probably the hardest one to "get past", considering the range of extreme, cartoonish and, one might say, adolescent sounds involved. Fart noises, loud, soft and wet, mastications, labial flutterings of various sorts, whistles, kisses, clucks, strangulated gargles, you name it. Perhaps more than the other works included here, you need to consider its time (1962) and the rather more provocative effect it would have had then than now. Which is an argument, of course, as to how deep and strong the piece is, at heart and, for me, it's the one cut here that has suffered in the intervening years. "Solo for Balloon (for Jean Pierre Wilhelm)" could have met with a similar fate, I imagine, but as rendered here by Lukoszevieze, the sighs, wheezes and, yes, flatulent sounds cohere quite well into a rubbery universe. Again, the score, though simple, is somehow fascinating:

Even having heard some of the underlying string playing in the Olivetti piece, the version for string quartet is surprising and surprisingly beautiful. I can't locate an image of the score big enough for me to read but we hear the quartet bowing very intense chords, some with microtones, others with rough burrs, sometimes with one member pizzicato, a tense back and forth sawing, partially drone-ish but always broken apart or disrupted one way or the other. An exhausting, pretty spectacular work. "Homage to Philip Corner, version for clarinet, cello and piano", as with the first Olivetti piece, contrasts quiet, pensive playing (very lovely) with rude noises (again, sphincterish) though the latter are more accents here, as though saying, "Sorry, you're not allowed something this pretty quite so easily; it comes at a price." Strong work. A somewhat similar idea lies behind "Solo for Violin (for Sylvano Bussotti)", here performed by Mackey. A lucid, resonant melodic line (the score says, "play any sentimental tune") is periodically and severely interrupted by banging, blowing, spitting, metal-dropping or other sounds, often for quite a while. I admit that I ached to watch this, but the track is great on its own.

"Music for Everyman" (1961) is much more of a challenge in the sense of both its duration and the relative lack of single or dual focus as heard in the prior compositions. I wasn't able to locate a score but I understand it's a grid system, much like those used by Cage and various Wandelweiser-associated composers, wherein the musicians perform given actions somewhere within a specified time frame, allowing some magnitude of "freedom" balanced by a relatively light control system. As with the first ensemble piece, there's a very welcome feeling of space here, an entirely non-cloying sensibility which would have been disastrous. As is, given the extremely varied nature of the sounds (musical or almost so, shouts, rattles, whistles--an enormous closetful of noises delved into with childlike glee--, my tendency is to sit back and just immerse myself, not seek anything in particular, act as though I happen to be dwelling in some public place where this clamor is occurring. It works perfectly well then, in this case I'm guessing much more so than it would if encountered at a "concert", my attention focussed on a stage. There, I imagine I'd be more impatient. Even here, part of me would have liked to have heard the intrusion of exterior sound but really, it's pretty fine as recorded. The ideas may have sprung to life more than 50 years ago but on the whole, they still resonate and then some.

A wonderful, challenging and even revelatory release. It includes excellent essays by Lukoszevieze and Žilvias Andriušis. By all means, search this one out.

Music Lithuania

e-mail them at: info@mic.lt

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Very late to the party, I'm afraid, and I believe both items are currently out of stock but just in case....

Matthew Revert - Not You (Kye)

Ten engagingly low-fi selections on this LP, narrated by Revert over acoustic guitar that ranges from post-Bailey to Fahey-friendly, voice and guitar navigating through a mesh of various noise, some apparently electronics-induced others sounding more like a bit of mic jostling. I think even if it hadn't appeared on his label, I'd have thought of Lambkin as a reference point though Revert is a bit more intense in a way, relaxed but not as much as Lambkin (or as much as he seems to be). These tracks play out almost like poetry readings (often involving repetition), Revert's voice sometimes right on the mic, blurring comprehension, or filmic cut-ups of same, amidst shredded and stained stock. For all the apparent casualness, I was struck by the recorded nature of the sound, particularly as filtered through the microphone, something unlikely to be heard sitting in the same room. For those who know Revert's very fine visual design work, there are also clear affinities between the "found" aspect of many of his book and album covers and the music here, the willingness to grab things within reach (but also to have cool things within that reach). The ten tracks, each between about three and five minutes, can pretty much be heard as a continuous flow, the main musical change being the guitar--there's a good amount of self-similarity in play here. But flow it does, in an engagingly bumpy way, tumbling slowly along, picking up the odd bit of detritus on the way. Good work, the first I've heard from Revert in this field; very curious to hear what follows.

Food Court - s/t (Kye)

Nice detail from Dürer's "The Sea Monster" gracing the cover...

Food Court is an Australian trio, James Rushford, Joe Talia and Francis Plagne. I'm not sure what they play or how the album is constructed but one hears recorders, guitars, percussion and other instruments (more musicians are listed as contributing). They take as their source a rondeau by the 14th century French composer, Solage (sometimes Soulage) called, "Fumeux fume par fumée". The original is a lovely, very strange sounding vocal piece (at least on the recording I listened to on YouTube), with many unexpected harmonic elements that cause it to sound unusually modern. Here, in the first of two side-long, live performances, the trio and friends dissect the work a bit, carving it into fragments lasting 20-30, those portions played, as near as I can tell, in a purposefully "amateur" fashion, not quite á la The Portsmouth Sinfonia but akin, as though several better musicians (or, at least, more familiar with the instruments they're playing) were working with more obscure repertoire. Though I should say that, after listening to the original, it might well be the case that Food Court is taking those odd harmonies and extending them, rendering off-pitchedness a goal. At the end of the piece, they do settle into a reading that's pretty traditionally solid...almost. :-) Much fun, and really lovely to listen to. Side B is far more abstract, a set of eerie, high, long tones within whispers and the odd percussive tap or clink, throughout which a male voice repeats variations of "yeah, so (or "sell", I can't quite tell)", sort of like a binary sequence. The Solage eventually appears, more or less, in the form of a cloudy calliope kind of sound, wheezing and billowing delightfully for a few minutes, soon replaced by lightly intoned/moaned vocals. I enjoy Side A more but this has it merits as well, an intriguingly ascetic take on the original.

If you can find 'em, both recording well worth hearing.


Friday, March 06, 2015

Two new releases from Insub, part of their ongoing series of downloadable material accompanied by physical cases and inserts.

Cyril Bondi/Tom Gouband - Hi no Tori (Insub)

A very fine, infinitely subtle percussion duo with Bondi on floor tom, loudspeaker and small objects and Gouband wielding stones and other percussion.

Very difficult to do justice to the music in words--the pair present a single, 42-minute piece, improvised, with a multitude of rhythmic elements and tactile approaches but while the rhythms are almost always present, "rhythm" isn't the first thing one hears. And while the range of attacks is immense, there's no annoying grab bag feeling of trying this, then that, so common in this area. The music is entirely successful as a whole; it's only when the listener chooses to attend to the individual elements that they are foregrounded. Those elements include objects rolled in metal pans, soft alarm bell-like sounds, hollow taps galore, dry rustles and knocks, deep (but quiet) rubbed thrums, countless others. A given element tends to employ repetition, sometimes quick, perhaps more often slow, leading to that implied rhythmic feel. There are pauses between sections, the pair turning to other options, but they somehow feel quite natural, a connected chapter rather than simply another item on the checklist. The music maintains a sober, steady presence throughout, an overall common feeling with tons of varying detail beneath--that old Feldman reference to Turkish carpets came into my head more than once. The recent Diatribes recording with Bondi and D'Incise (who mastered this session) is one of my early favorites of 2015--this is another.

Insub Meta Orchestra - Archive #3 (Insub)

An ambitious project involving some 29 musicians for this recording, mostly Swiss and only several of whom I've heard prior (D'Incise, Cyril Bondi, Sébastien Branche, Rodolphe Loubatière, Christoph Schiller and Bertrand Gauguet, perhaps others). As D'Incise and Bondi make clear in their conversation, which is enclosed with the packet, one of the obvious problems with such a large ensemble is overplaying, a potential snag the group avoids entirely. Each of the four pieces has clear parameters and none of these involve overt individual contributions. "4GS", the shortest piece, is also the most varied with low, rubbery rumbles and scratches played against thin, high, keening sounds, very visceral and solid. This is followed by two 15-minute works (no composing credit is shared here but from the discussion, I'm getting it was a largely cooperative effort): "SLC", a kind of respiratory piece, the orchestra emerging for breath periodically, taking in some air in the form of rustles, low rubbing and other subtle, abstract noises, then lapsing into silence, repeated throughout, growing slightly more insistent toward the end, while "UNC is a study in soft, overlapping long tones, almost drones, gradually plunging in amplitude--both are lovely. "MNC" is, oddly, the most challenging work here, almost 50 minutes of one thing, though a complex thing. I'm reminded a bit of Feldman's "For Samuel Beckett" in the sense of its monolithic aspect, a blurred mass, kind of like a ball of string, impossible to dissect but very present, seething and shifting. Hard to say exactly how the sounds are being produced--the effect is staticky but I imagine it's from rubbing objects with soft items00but no matter. I find it very engrossing and immersive to listen to and can imagine doing so in a live situation but many will doubtless find it a tough, almost featureless go, like staring at a white noise TV screen for 50 minutes. I love that they stick to it for such a length, attempting, and arguably succeeding in creating an alternate frame of reference by dint of perseverance. Well worth hearing.


Thursday, March 05, 2015

Free Nelson Mandoomjazz - Awakening of a Capital (Rare Noise)

OK, I don't get the name either, except that this trio calls what they do "doom jazz", ostensibly combining aspects of doom metal and jazz. What Mandela has to do with it, search me; it's not like I hear kwela influences. But get past that and there's some interesting stuff here, more on the jazz side of things.

The group consists of Rebecca Sneddon on saxophone (alto, pretty much, I think), Colin Stewart on bass and Paul Archibald on drums. The first reference I found myself making was to mid 70s post-Ayler groups like those of Charles Tyler or, to an extent, later, groove-driven ensembles like Ed Wilkinson's 8 Bold Souls. Though on the first cut, the finely titled, "Sunn Ra)))", the sax squall and growling, ominous bass had "Painkiller" written all over it. But then, once the piece's bass line kicked in, it settled into what would be the general mood for much of the album's music: a slowly loping substructure, very sinuous and juicy, the saxophone playing in unison at first then embellishing above. I can see the relationship between those bass patterns, especially when hyper-drenched in fuzz, which occurs fairly often, and early metal like Sabbath (perhaps later as well-I'm simply not very conversant in the genre) but they could just as easily have been derived from, say, Soft Machine. It's an engaging mix, though, with Archibald's drums solid and not rock-boring and Sneddon's very capable reed work; to differentiate form the Painkiller reference, she's probably a stronger player than Zorn. There is the odd quickening of tempo accompanied by sharp, on-the-nose playing, but most of the music, true to its source, wallows in the slow, muddy waters, and wallows well. Those low, bass melodies are routinely engaging ("The Pillars of Dagon", notably), each of the eight pieces carving out a darkly groove-filled niche. Would I liked to have heard a wider variety of approach? Sure, the attacks pall a bit after a while but who knows how a freer, more expansive mode would work? It might not at all, but I'd have liked to have heard the attempt. The Lovecraft-inspired "Erich Zann" shifts gears somewhat, generating a quasi-string section backing (sampling? not sure how) and including some fine, abstract string scratching as counterweight; I'd be curious to hear more along this path.

Like the See Through Trio I wrote about a couple of days ago (though rather different in outcome), this isn't in my normal ambit but I found the music pretty absorbing and exceedingly well-realized and can highly recommend it to more jazz-inclined readers.

Rare Noise

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Frédéric Nogray/Yannick Dauby - panotii auricularis (Univers International)

Three works that take songbirds recorded in Taiwan, France and Honduras and integrate, loop and otherwise warp them via filters and synthesizers.

The title piece reminds me a bit of early Riley (who, admittedly, I've been listening to a lot lately), which is a good thing, the songs and chirps quite recognizable, arrayed over both beatlike pulses and recurrent whistles, among other things, attaining a fine mix of natural and enhanced sounds. It's in two sections, the second coming across as sparer, intriguingly so, the sounds more individualized and isolated from one another, forming a tenuous carpet of blurps and fragmented birdcalls. "aurora pendulum elasticata" lies more in a drone territory (actually, it sounds like beats were sped up enough to become almost indistinguishable), the rapid surge fluctuating subtly amidst the avian displays, disrupted by a harsh squawk now and then. It splays out from there, the electronics varying in intensity, sometimes being absorbed by the sounds from the tree, elsewhere predominating, very satisfying with more breadth than heard earlier, an even richer balance achieved--a lovely, unusual work. "panotii garrulax forticeps" reintroduces a beat--a slow, sticky one--and features sounds, presumably synthesized, that resemble plucked, koto-like instruments as well as struck bamboo, the birds singing freely above. It's quirky, giddy and very enjoyable, as is the entire disc--very out of the ordinary. Faced with the prospect of a release devoted to bird song and synthesized sounds, my tendency would likely be to demur, but this album won me over--good work.

Philippe Petitgenêt/François Martig - P.A.S. (Univers International)

A 3" disc containing two tracks sourced from harbor sounds recorded on the Rhine in and around Strasbourg.

The first carries both fluttering and throbbing drones as well as a deep, buried two-note sequence and pulse beneath footsteps, radio voices and other, vaguer local sounds; it's more about the electronics (or processed sound) than field recordings, though and is very moody and attractive, somewhere in a Fennesz zone but an exceptionally good one. Very cinematic, could even see this as working with a Béla Tarr sequence, a fine piece. The second track foregrounds the harbor sounds a bit more but still provides strong buttressing with drones fuzzy and thin. No real pulse, however, making for a looser, more amorphous and unforced work, bearing a wide sonic palette but managing to cohere well enough, the dock-groaning sounds midway through being especially captivating. It closes with birds, serendipitously tying it back in with the preceding disc.

A strong effort, quite rich.

Univers International

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Birgit Ulher/Leonel Kaplan - Stereo Trumpet (Relative Pitch)

As the title implies a trumpet duo, with Ulher adding radio, speaker and objects, the stereo image reinforced by three of the four track titles which have palindromic aspects.

Within eai over the past twenty years, it's fair to say that brass instruments, generally speaking, have fared better than their reedier cousins. I've always thought it has something to do with how they're easier to depersonalize, to remove the "human cry" that's such a deeply etched part of reeds, particularly the saxophone. I don't mean "depersonalize" in a negative way, of course, more as a means to remove as much ego or gestural identity as possible, something that seems to fit more readily in what became (again, generalizing), the eai aesthetic.

Part of me desires to hear something of a pendulum swing back toward pure tones, at least on occasion. Axel Dörner will dip in once in a while and, on the Wandelweiser front, everyone from Malfatti to Craig Shepard to Robin Hayward and more will routinely play "normally" as far as tone generation goes, anyway. But, as clearly evinced by this recording, there's also still ample room for discovery and (perhaps more importantly) just well-conceived, good music among the breathier, more percussive and abstract reaches of the brass family. The opener, "Otto sees Anna", has a fine dialogic quality, breath tones from one (Kaplan, I believe), percussive rattles in response from the other, intense and earnest, opinions offered seriously but not stridently. There are extended periods of pebbly granularity, the pair creating complex textures that, when overlaid, become very dense and fascinating plus periods of active quiet, the burbling subsiding but always there, always restive. The language is no longer new and I admit, this is a piece (running over 16 minutes) where I might have liked to have been pleasantly surprised by some tonal content, but it's very well-structured, the pace maintained with ease, the warmth of the conversation evident--no complaints at all, really, a fine work. "I Did. Did I" is a concise exposition of whispers and oddly liquid sounds while "Late Metal" meanders more, agitated playing lapsing into silence, popping up at a different location entirely--bumpy, unpredictable and tough, featuring some quite harsh metal scraping at the end. The title track strikes me as the most fully realized piece here, somehow having a greater sense of depth and scope and possessing a very organic feel, of something growing and evolving. There are hums amidst the growls, sharp breath intakes and a rotational sense that works wonderfully.

A fine, imaginative release, even if they never get around to recontextualizing those old attacks... :-)

Relative Pitch\

See Through Trio - Parallel Lights (Woods and Waters)

Said trio being Tania Gill on piano, Pete Johnston on double bass and Karen Ng on alto saxophone.

A Toronto-based jazz trio with all nine compositions penned by Johnston, who has worked with Anthony Braxton among others and who cites Ornette, Carla Bley and British psychedelic folk as influences. They Bley is detectable more than the others, I think, especially her earlier, pre-EOTH work, with a little Giuffre thrown in and something of early, loping Sun Ra songs. The playing is very concise, really excellent all-around (Ng stands out for me), centered around post-boppy melodic lines, often begun and continued in unison, tending toward the bouncy. It's less about soloing than group playing, which is refreshing, each piece having something of a jewel-like quality to it, finely polished. This is, I guess necessarily, at the expense of some more ragged creativity and openness (which I desired on occasion), but what Johnston and crew set out to achieve, they do so quite well. The tracks flow, the lines often shifting unexpectedly and often entering non-obvious areas and, as said, the playing is uniformly excellent. Johnston has a warm, deep tone that recalls Holland, Gill a very rich, slightly pointillist style, its spikiness supported by a strong, underlying lyrical sensibility (would like to hear what she does on her own) and Ng is just stellar throughout, really strong and assured, always inventive; again I think of Giuffre, but rougher-edged, fuller or maybe a better version of Garbarek in his youth. As with Gill, I'm curious about her own work. Quibbling, the pieces have a bit of self-sameness to them and I would have liked to hear more variety therein, certainly some sparer approaches ("Guided by Wires" and the concluding "Inside Chance" almost get there) with more room for free improvisation though perhaps, at least this time out, that's not what the group was up to.

As is, as enjoyable a contemporary jazz trio album as you're likely to find, committed, original and very well realized.

Dip in for yourself at their Bandcamp site