Saturday, March 17, 2018

Paul Khimasia Morgan - Peoplegrowold (Confront Collectors Series)

Morgan's listed on only "prepared acoustic guitar body & objects" on this short, lovely recording. One can only imagine the preparations and the nature of those objects as they seem to extend beyond the usual e-bows and contact mics. The thought of "guitar" might well not surface during a given listen. But that's somewhat beside the point as the four pieces on their own are delicate, intricate explorations, well-paced, sounds chosen with care and a fine ear.

One might say that the music meanders but in a modest, intelligent manner, seeking out small byways to investigate. On the first track, 'wtda', a guitar-string jangle morphs into a several-layered hum, very discreet, slowing deepening and splaying out, dissolving into a set of the hums alternating with what sounds like brief slices of same. There's a sense of the nocturnal, of noises in the dark, of ambling through a quiet but not entirely inactive town that percolates in a ghostly way while most are sleeping. Morgan provides just enough iteration of certain elements and occasional pulse to propel things along from sound to sound, barely enough to impart a sense of purpose, just the right amount. 'queensarc' opens with a tiny snatch of voice, perhaps from a radio, and is pricklier than it's predecessor, still offering hums but edgier, more quavery ones, offset with various pieces of static and crackling. There are short silences, like extended eye blinks, the gaze of the viewer shifting slightly each time. It's a more industrial area, tauter and more anxious. The title track starts in a crowded interior space for about a second then shifts to a buzzing drone gently reflecting glimmers of feedback. It wanders through that gritty haze, encountering the odd, muffled beat of a pop song here, traffic or a cough there; it's the most mysterious piece here, quite dreamy and effective. 'waterchimes' is perhaps the densest offering, with several layers and varieties of drone, sets of rustles and clicks and, yes, chime-like tones. As with all the music on this disc, it's less about the elements than how they're placed in context, how restrained is their usage and how surprising-yet-inevitable they appear. The gaze feels careful but distant, observing key aspects and allowing them to stand on their own.

A really fine recording, my favorite of what I've heard from Morgan thus far. Highly recommended.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Laura Steenberge - Harmonica Fables (Nueni)

It goes without saying that there's never enough harmonica in contemporary experimental music, so Steenberge's fine recording has a leg up from the get go. She attended Cal Arts and I'm guessing studied with Michael Pisaro (she appears on his recording, 'Tombstones') and perhaps James Tenney. Not that their influence is marked--it's not--but a vague glimmer of the kind of gentle individualism they teach is apparent on this very unique effort.

There are nine tracks, in three groupings. The first two, 'Ritual for Harmonica' and
'Chant - Harmonica', are the longest pieces at about 12 and 20 minutes respectively and, as their titles might indicate, are the ones with a ritualistic aura. On both, Steenberge hums/sings at the same time as she plays the harmonica, the latter often acting as a kind of drone or pedal point. 'Ritual for Harmonica' uses long tones, burled and complex in their layerings, the vibrato of the voice offset against the subtler vibrato of the harmonica chords. When pitched higher, she almost gets a Lucier-like effect of adjacent tone interference. But the overall cast is one of solitary reflection, thoughts unfurling in strings that are emitted in a quasi-regular manner but vary--intuitively, one feels--in any number of characteristics. (I pick up a glass-like sound as well, as though she's also blowing through, perhaps, a bottle). 'Chant - Harmonica', delves deeper, a series of rich, dark, undulating lines seemingly lasting as long as a breath, the low, buzzing harmonica chord bracing the simple "melody" atop, a sung line (anywhere from 3 to 15 notes) that indeed obliquely recalls the idea of "chant", though from what culture I'd find impossible to say. Her bio references a study if Byzantine chants, but I also find myself thinking along didjeridoo lines. The piece is extremely immersive as well as demanding, developing intensity and intricacy as it progresses--you really have to give yourself up and just wallow in it. Very beautiful.

The trio of pieces bearing the title, 'Sphere' (1, 2 & 3) are quite different, tending toward the high range of the instrument and involving swirling, airy patterns, sometimes reminding me of some of Guy Klucevsek's more abstract explorations (there's some accordion kinship here, I think). Mysterious and enticing, sparkles in an ice cloud. The final four compositions are more songlike in nature, though only vaguely so; maybe the titles nudge one in that direction. On 'The Lady of Shallot', the harmonica takes on a character that sometimes resembles a recorder before splaying out in shimmering, prismatic chords. Thinking of it, maybe it's the title of the following piece, 'Pan and Apollo' that got me thinking of pipes. Here, a rapid cycle of notes alternates between a medium-high, repeating swirl and a much higher, oddly distorting one, eventually overlapping and intermingling--oddly disorienting and quite effective. 'The King's Ears' has a bit of a fanfare quality as well as great sonic depth between both pitches and timbres. It shifts from the initial "announcement" aspect to a kind of chorale, a sung and sighed paean and, finally, to a kind of fast jig. 'Rip Van Winkle' closes thing out sleepily and dreamily, billows of gentle snores, in and out, in and out, yawning and stretching.

A wonderful and unusual recording.


Monday, March 05, 2018

Mazen Kerbaj/Andrew Lafkas/Mike Bullock - Funkhaus (Fine Noise & Light)

When Lafkas and Bullock get together, my ears immediately go into anticipative and very receptive mode and Kerbaj proves to be a welcome addition to the mix. The latter is listed for trumpet and objects; I don't know his work well enough to say what his approach to the horn tends to be but here, it seems to possess an oddly reedy sound (reed trumpet?) and blends in superbly with the two basses, enough that I'm often not sure which instrument is which--I could be totally wrong about the ascriptions, which is fine.

Lafkas and Bullock spend much time in the lower registers and probably more often arco than not, but their usual deep sensitivity and embrace of pure sonic richness is much in evidence. There's a lot of variation in the four improvisations; I mentally slot the music into a post-eai improv category--that is, free improv informed by but not necessarily subject to the reductionist ethos of times past. I hear references to Favors, Haden, McBee and others (perhaps just in my head), very loving incorporations of aspects of their sound into a different context and it works like a charm. Kerbaj weaves among these thickets, restrained with buzzes and taps, woodpecker-like at times, as in the third track. Very enjoyable, highly creative improv.

Sons of God - Table Talk (Fine Noise & Light)

To the best of my recollection, this is my first exposure to Sons of God (Leif Elggren and Kent Tankred) despite their having a discography that dates back to at least 1991. Here, they're joined by Mike Bullock (Modular synth and computer) in a live performance in Philadelphia from 2016. I gather that theatrics comprise a good portion of their presentation and the photos include a table with a small stack of newspapers that, going from the cover, played a significant role. That being said, I'm left with only the sounds which include, possibly, vocal reactions to the papers and the shuffling and tearing of same. These appear briefly, about midway through, and are embedded in the overall mass of humming electronics, augmented with obscure clicks and what might be sample of high-end arco bass playing. Watching some older videos of the pair, I take it for granted that there were theatrics going on here but, at the same time, the examples I've seen aren't up my alley anyway, so I may be just as well off. As is, the recording is an ok listen, though lacking the sense of involvement and communication of the above-reviewed one; apples and oranges, of course.

Fine Noise & Light