Sunday, May 27, 2018



Ghost Ensemble - We Who Walk Again (Indexical)

This is the debut recording (LP) of the New York-based chamber group founded in 2012. The ensemble, more or less headed by accordionist Ben Richter, oboist Sky Macklay and keyboardist Andrew C. Smith, has seven or so core members plus others in its ambit. For this recording the line-up includes, in addition to Richter and Macklay, Alice Jones (flute), Chris Nappi (percussion), Lucia Helen Stavros (harp), Hannah Levinson (viola), Maria Hadge (cello), James Ilgenfritz (bass), Rebekah Griffin Green (bass), Damon Loren Baker (percussion) and, on two piece, Carl Bettendorf (conductor). They perform Macklay's '60 Degree Mirrors', Pauline Oliveros' 'Angels and Demons' and Richter's 'Wind People'.

The Macklay piece, inspired by kaleidoscope patterns, oscillates between brief, rhythmically oriented kernels and somewhat stretched-out sequences, the tones in the latter engagingly sour, especially the multiphonics and microtones from the oboe. There's a certain wry playfulness to it--at times it reminded me of a calliope--and an interesting mix of modern techniques within a structure that retains an amount of classicalness. It might fit comfortably into a Bang On a Can program, but it's better than that. Olivero's 'Angels & Demons' is a text score, asking the ensemble to evoke "collective guardian spirits' (angels) and "individual spirits of creative genius" (demons). At a concert venue, I'd likely begin twitching uncomfortably in my seat upon reading this, but the members of Ghost Ensemble pull it off without any undue new-age-ishness. Low, growling bass attacks help ground the long, floating lines above; soil and mist. Very fine ensemble playing--excellent listening to one another.

The Richter work occupies Side B. A cloudy, mysterious and dark opening, low rumbles and moans with the odd sharp glint through the shadows. It throbs, pulsates, moves inch by inch, Beckettian in its slow spread. Some wonderful tonalities are generated in the shifting lines of varying lengths, the interplay of those deep tones with the soft plucking of the harp and an occasional hesitant but steady, dull beat of a drum. Matters begin to coalesce toward the end, dense lines forming, surging off into the hazy dark, perhaps offering just a bit more direction than was apparent at the start; not a light at the end of a tunnel, but maybe the faintest of glimmers. A very strong piece, my favorite on this recoding.

Very good work all around, certainly a group to keep an eye on.

Indexical


Wednesday, May 23, 2018



Philip Samartzis/Daniela d'Arielli - A Futurist's Cookbook (Galaverna)

I'd always greatly enjoyed Samartzis' music since first hearing him, if I recall correctly, on the duo recording with Sachiko M, 'Artefact', released in 2002. But I was only able to meet him and hear his work live (that is, on tape) several years ago in Paris at IRCAM. My experiences with the French academic electro-acoustic world wasn't so great--the programs and synthesized sounds tended to resemble a musical version of Photoshop as far as I was concerned, projecting a kind of sheen over almost all compositions that I found unappetizing. At the event in question, however, two pieces stood out: those of Giuseppe Ielasi  and Samartzis, which featured sounds that were very alive, very sharp and full of grain.



This recording is very much in that lineage. It was recorded during a residency in Abruzzi, Italy, Samartzis accompanied to various locations by d'Arielli, who contributes 24 photographs that arrive with the download, in addition to an essay by Samartzis on Futurism, Marinetti and the dynamism of the sounds heard in the countryside and urban settings. Seven tracks, the title of each indicating either a place or condition (each prefaced and occasionally interrupted by a female voice, presumably d'Arielli's, offering a one-word description on Italian). As with the work I heard at IRCAM, which involved sounds recorded on a ship near Antarctica, Samartzis seems to allow the sounds to speak for themselves: cowbells, wheat fields in the wind, threshing machines, grain processing, insects, water dripping, pasta being formed and cut, planes in the night, etc. (most of these documented in the photos). But I'm reasonably sure that all this hyper-verisimilitude was arrived at via ultra-subtle and careful manipulation of his initial recordings. That they appear so enveloping and of the place, unladen with any over-obvious irony or or other artifice is fine testimony to Samartzis' vision and abilities. How an Italian meal arrives at the table Excellent, discreetly imaginative and engaging work.


Galaverna



Monday, May 21, 2018



Cristián Alvear/Santiago Astaburuaga - capas de un tapiz (Marginal Frequency)

Two fascinating and compelling compositions performed by the Chilean duo of Alvear (guitar, transducers, small amplifiers, recordings) and Astaburuaga (bass, transducers, small amplifiers, recordings. The label site notes that the pair use "physical objects and in situ cues through photography and video to realize complex scores".  I've no certain idea how this eventuates, but the results are excellent.

Rolando Hernandez' 'topializ' begins with a sequence of simple, if slightly harsh, guitar chords, regularly spaced, imparting a misleading sense of clarity. After a minute, a counter-pattern, possibly from a prepared bass, emerges--again a regular rhythm, quicker than the first and composed of gnarlier material. The piece is episodic, though the sections function within a roughly similar dynamic and textural range, offering a kind of continuity. The second area is grainier, with electronic scrapes and whines splayed over a calmly repeating tone that evokes sonar, perhaps, or even a busy signal. Regular pulses of one sort or another underlie much of the piece, steadfastly wending their way through various forms of detritus. Though the work is much "noisier" than what I normally associate with Alvear, there's a kind of serenity that pervades. An extremely bracing piece.

"sin título #21", by Nicolas Carrasco also proceeds by discreet episodes, though each section is quite brief and, initially, separated by short silences. Soon, however, a thick braid of metallics takes over, perhaps generated by guitar and bass manipulations and enhancements, that churns and writhes, surging in a dense and complex wave--absorbing. About halfway through, the music reduces to a hum and a wooden click, almost metronomic. A piece of metal, perhaps a heavy key, is dropped on the floor, and will be again. Isolated guitar chords and faint squeaks, then a cessation of the knocking. Those guitar strums become the dominant element, steering a slow and steady course among gradually increasing rumbles, hisses and dull metals. The metronome returns, to close matters with some degree of balefulness and inevitability.

I've listened to these pieces ten or twelve times--each experience has revealed different structures and relationships. Wonderfully complicated, extremely enjoyable. Check it out.

Marginal Frequency



Sunday, May 20, 2018



Asher Tuil - Multiplicities
Asher Tuil - Reduplications

As near as I can tell, Asher's been releasing music more or less exclusively on-line since around 2014. The above two are the first I've heard of his music since 2009, so I'm guessing approaches heard herein have evolved over that period but I was somewhat surprised at the nature of what's here. There's much more structure in play, though it's a clear and even simple sort, none of the smoky, ghostly atmosphere of work like that heard in 'Miniatures', 'Graceful Degradation' and the like. 'Multiplicities' consists of almost an hour of small, electronic melodic patterns, each only several seconds long, repeated in sets of, I don't know, 10 to 30 times each. The patterns are relatively similar, containing two or three layers of smooth, synth-like tones, generally offset with a sandier or more staticky one (or two), very reminiscent of aspects of 90s glitch-prov. It's neither flowing nor fragmented, straddling both notions. I find it reasonably interesting to listen to intently, more so to have on as ambient music.

'Reduplications' also involves repetition, though over a much slower scale. Eight tracks ranging from 16 - 19 minutes, to the casual listener the music might sound very much in line with classic Eno of the 'On Land' or 'Apollo' period: resonant, slowly undulating and intertwining drones leavened with the odd, echoey bass droplet or electric piano bell-tone, all over a scratchy field that varies in intensity. Again, it's a little odd to listen to closely and individually as the pieces, despite some textural difference, at such a length begin to blend together. But as subtle accompaniment to one's environs, the mix of sandy washes and mellow tonality works very well.

You can listen for yourself to this and other recent work from Asher at his bandcamp site:

here

Wednesday, May 16, 2018



Grisha Shakhnes - The Distance Between a Word and a Deed (Disappearing Records)

Sounds recorded in Stockholm and transfigured by Shakhnes. True to form, the resultant sounds on the first of two tracks on this cassette are rough, rumbling, dark and gravelly, surging along line a mudslide bearing multitudes of rocks, trees, metallic items. Or like standing in a near-abandoned area at night, watching an enormous, mysterious, loud machine slowly--very slowly--make its way down the street, disappearing around a corner. The second is more open, though just as eerie, the sounds occurring in a larger space perhaps, less concentrated but, as a consequence, more clearly heard. A threatening quaver or two and banging/clinking metals take up most of the area. Various groans, squeaks, horns and buzzes seep in before spiraling away into night.

That's on the cassette. If you order the download, you get for more tracks, over an hour, "Stockholm Variations #'s 2, 2.5, 3 and 4". They're in similar territory, with a few different tacks taken (especially the last, a ratcheting, cyclic sequence) and are just as enjoyable.






Grisha Shakhnes - ARCS (Marginal Frequency)

Somewhat less grainy than the above release, inhabiting an adjacent but slightly cleaner world, still dark, still uncertain but a place where the metal-to-metal sounds are drier, the surrounding accompaniment crisper. Shakhnes' music often has an undercurrent of rotation, of tight iterations of layer upon layer of sequences. I think I've written before that I'm reminded of Jason Lescalleet's experiments with crumples loops strung between several old tape players. It's industrial, all turbines and generators, evoking the sensation of wandering through (and leaning against) vast machines operating on auto, at night, the factory deserted. Some vaguely animal-like sounds emerge on the second track, "at least as alive as the vulgar', the whole thing like a half-received radio transmission, staticking in and out of clarity. Wooly, uncomfortable and absorbing, beginning to end.




Monday, May 14, 2018

some all too brief reviews of things that have recently arrived. Apologies to the musicians for the brevity but time's been scarce.


Pascal Battus/Bertrand Gauguet/Eric La Casa - Chantier 4 (Swarming)

When I was in Paris 2013 - 2015, the second apartment in which I stayed was on Rue Adolphe Mille, which more or less ran along the western border of the Parc de la Villette in the 19th Arrondissement. On the opposite side of the park, the new Philharmonie de Paris, designed by Jean Nouvel, was nearing its long-delayed completion. Eric La Casa, a master of in situ field recording/performance, lived just up the street as well and, in 2013, ventured into the site with percussionist and objectiste Pascal Battus and alto saxophonist Bertrand Gauguet. Their sounds largely blend into those produced by the environment, which include the general, wooly urban hum, the percussive noises of construction work and the voices of the workers themselves among many others. You can pick out likely contributions from Battus (though I'm sure some I think are his, aren't and vice versa) and the occasional reed flutter or thin keening of the sax, but all is pretty much of a piece. The recordings, as always captured superbly by La Casa, were then reworked, remodeled and collaged by Battus and Gauguet. The result is a soundscape at one hyper-real and phantasmagoric, rich, deeply plied, and absorbing, densely filled with sounds both recognizable and obscure, entrenched in the city yet isolated from it. Excellent work, among the best I've heard from all three of the musicians.

Swarming


Matthew Świeżyński - The One Who Modifies Time and Light (Invisible Birds)

Two tracks, each over a half hour in length, "meditations" on Satyajit Ray's wonderful Apu Trilogy, occupying that zone between drones and field recordings, summoning images of nocturnal harbors and shadowed sylvan pathways. A subtle bell tone underlies the beginning of 'The Bird Represents Phases of Work' over which layers of voices and sounds I hear as dockside percolate. These are replaces by distant, hazy horns, perhaps made from those of yaks or other large cattle, fierce winds, low, rocky rumbles. 'Reduction, the Transmission of Light' starts with multiple ringing tones over what seems like urban sounds fading in and out, sitars from adjoining buildings. It's a bit more steady-state than the prior track, remaining in the same area while adding many varied textures, closing with a return of the horns from the first cut. The album is entirely immersive, easy to get pleasurably lost in. Good work.

Invisible Birds</>


Adrian Dziewanski - The Trail Loops Back (The Alcohol Seed/Invisible Birds)

Two pieces based on field recordings in Vancouver and Hawaii with added guitar loops and effects. In "A Common Dust", bird calls, spring peepers and an odd crackling sound that morphs into something like footsteps are heard over a thick, throbbing, fairly tonal drone, the elements mixing taffy-like, receding and emerging. When the drone half-disappears then goes away entirely, there's the wonderful sensation of the ambient sounds being released to float aboveground. The drones return with an added ringing and hints of low strings; the piece ends. 'Root Tendrils' is darker, as befits its subject, though the basic elements are similar to the first piece--insectile or amphibious trills, obscure metallic knocks, steps through dry grass, all over a swirling, creamy drone. Depending how one listens, the track arguably goes on longer than it merits but, on, the other hand, there's no real problem wallowing in it and coming out refreshed. Good, healthy dronage.

The Alcohol Seed

Invisible Birds


Thursday, May 10, 2018




John Cage - Two2  (Another Timbre)

Of Cage's so-called "Number Pieces", works composed late in his life, 'Two2' (1989) seems to be one of the least frequently recorded. It was written for the piano duo Double Edge (Edmund Niemann and Nurit Tilles) though it appears that the premiere was performed in May 1990 by Rob Haskins and Louis Goldstein; it's available to be heard on YouTube. That performance lasts just over an hour and twenty-five minutes and the two others I can locate, by Josef Christof/Stefan Schleiermacher (released on MDG in 2000, as part of the 'Complete Piano Music', volume 5) and a live video by Beata Pincetic and Christos Sakellaridis last just over 46 and 36 minutes respectively. 

On the johncage.org website, the piece is described as follows:

This is one of Cage’s few “number” pieces that does not utilize time-brackets. Being inspired by  a remark of Sofia Gubaidulina, i.e. "There is an inner clock," Cage created a composition consisting of 36 lines of music, each containing 5 measures. Within each line, 31 events occur: 5+7+5+7+7, as in Japanese Renga poetry. The pianists play a measure in their own tempo, but the next measure may only be played when both have completed the previous.

Philip Thomas, in an interview published on the Another Timbre site and partially reproduced in the sleeve of this release, mentions having heard the piece both in live performance and on recording, remarking, "...it just didn't draw me in in the way that most of Cage's number pieces do. To my ears there were too many notes, too much material in the piece such that I quickly lost interest." But reading the score himself and calculating what he thought was an appropriate amount of time to spend on each measure, he arrived at a potential duration of around two and a half hours. The current recording clocks in at just short of two hours and eight minutes. Thomas remarks, "There are no instructions about duration, so any and all durations are possible and valid, but I think that taking it at the pace we do at least brings a different perspective to it, and reveals other things about the piece that I'd not heard before".



Having listened to the three other versions, online, I have to say that, as generally enjoyable as those are to my ears, Thomas' intuition is exactly correct. The sense of pace is almost viscous without any connotations of stickiness or anything syrupy. If you can imagine very slowly flowing water, that's close. Maybe cold lava. Notes suspend in the air for a few moments, then softly fall and disappear. My impression is that there's more in the mid- and mid-low range of the piano than elsewhere, a real roundness in the tonality, a thickness. The sequences have something of a darkly Romantic character, as though extracted from a larger work, slowed way down, carefully examined and considered. As in Feldman, there's somehow a sense of forward progression though never the slightest indication of a goal. For what it's worth, I never get the impression of two pianists, just one strong, coursing river of music. It's 128 minutes of pure, thought-compelling, perception-enhancing, down to earth bliss. Can't ask for more. 

A major achievement.



Monday, May 07, 2018



Christian Wolff/Antoine Beuger - Where Are We Going Today (Erstwhile)

I've little doubt that were one to come upon this music knowing absolutely nothing about the two participants, the affection, respect, understanding and love shared between them would be overwhelmingly clear. In fact, though they met in 1991, they've only physically encountered each other a handful of times over the years, generally when one or the other was invited to an event in Europe or North America by the other. And indeed, this recording was created by each composer individually, two months apart: Beuger in Haan, Germany and Wolff on his farm in Royalton, Vermont, US. Beuger, over a period of about a month, spent 10 or 15 minutes each day thinking about Wolff, compiling a list of words and phrases he either associated with the other composer or which, somehow, embodied his feelings towards him and his music. He then put together a 70-minute recording of himself speaking some of these words, situated like islands in a vast pool, interspersed with soft whistling (one immediately recalls his superb collection, 'Keine Fernen Mehr') and the discreet replaying, never really foregrounded, of the Wandelweiser recording of Wolff's 'Stones' from 1996. Beuger sent the result to Wolff, who compiled five 10-15 minutes sessions, thinking of his collaborator (there's a wonderful moment, some 50 minutes in, when you hear the older composer, almost as though startled from a dream, say, "Antoine!"), performing on piano, objects, charango (an Andean guitar) and flute. Melodica, though not listed, is also clearly heard.  I'm not sure whether or not Wolff constructed his music so as to specifically fit in with Beuger's, but I suspect not. More likely, it seems to me (I could be wrong), he "simply" attempted to arrive at a similar emotional and fraternal territory, trusting serendipity to align things. The two recordings were mixed by Taku Unami.

The resultant music is spare but gentle; not even so much gentle as relaxed and confident enough in each others' personalities that small eruptions, generally from Wolff's piano, can occur without provoking unease. Which isn't to say that it flows, though it does, but more simply occurs. One recalls the Rowe/MIMEO project, 'sight', wherein the listen constructs many of the patterns insofar as they're perceived. Beuger's voice, calm, emerges throughout, widely spaced, beginning with, "Say, where are we going? Where?" (though, intriguingly, the discs title excludes the interrogatory) which ably frames one aspect of Wolff's work: the unforeseen or in fact unknown destination of a given piece. Wolff's melodica seems to respond, easily adopting a voice-like character for this listener. "After. Afterwards. After words", Beuger says, Wolff replying with a low piano chuckle. It's all so intimate, almost uncomfortably so (like the aforementioned 'Keine Fernan Mehr'; one feels as though eavesdropping on a quiet, private conversation, the pair perhaps lying in a field, watching the sky, talking freely, softly, only when necessary. "We have to go now", Beuger says a couple of times near the end. "As if their dialogue had never ended." One gets the sense it hasn't, yet, and that's such a good thing.

An extraordinary recording, so personal, so different, so wonderful.

Erstwhile