Sunday, November 18, 2018



Philip Corner - Extreemizms (Unseen Worlds)

A fine selections of works from Corner stemming from the extremes of his career--four from 1958, five from 2015-2016--performed by Silvia Tarozzi (violin) and Deborah Walker (cello), with appearances by Corner (piano) on two pieces and Rhodri Davies (harp) on one.

There are three little amuses bouches from 2016 scattered throughout, grouped under the term, "wHoly Trinitye", tasty little numbers with creamy violin overtones and a rich cello base, ending with a zing. The title cut, from 2015, lives up to its name, spending the first 11 or so of its 14 1/2 minutes in a delicate, drone-like pattern, both instruments beginning mid to high and gradually separating, the violin going higher, the cello lower. After eleven or so minutes of this quiet, very lovely music, the world explodes into a raging arco attack, replete with yells and shouts, that closes out the last few minutes in a frenzy, the players gasping for breath (audibly) afterwards. This is followed by three fascinating pieces from 1958, the Two-part Monologues Nos. 1-3. Their proto-minimalism alone would be interesting enough, but their combination of steady-state underpinnings by the cello and almost Romantic, strong, piercing violin in the first, the pruned Satie-esque piano minimalism and dual string interpolations of the second and the quavering lines alternating from wavy to extreme graininess of the third--all excellent. 'FINALE' (1958), again with piano, is a delicate balance of soft violin sighs, gentle single notes from the piano and deep continuo from the cello, while a longer wHoly Trinitye ('for a "free-togethering"'), including harp, meshes together many of the approaches we've been hearing, offsetting longer high and low tones with abrupt flurries from the harp and possessing a generally more jagged character, closing with wonderfully urgent playing from all three.

An engrossing recording, expertly performed, from a fascinating composer.

Unseen Worlds




David Vélez - The things that objects can tell us about ourselves (Flaming Pines)

Vélez draws on his work teaching Foley sound production (the adding of sound effects to film in post-production) to construct a dense, rich world with various objects of metallic and other natures. The single track, almost 50 minutes, begins in woolly atmospherics only to be abruptly shattered by a huge bang, as if an enormous, heavy but fragile object has been dropped from height into the room, exploding on impact. From there, we traverse a number of "episodes", all pretty densely packed (though the dynamic range is wide, there's little in the way of silence here), all conveying a wealth of sonic information. Often, there are pulses or other subtle iterative elements that provide some forward thrust--a steady, echoing pounding here, a thin, bell-like tone, as from a distant train-crossing signal, there. The traditions are entirely natural sounding, like walking from room to room, always with a sense of the same "air", just varying activity taking place. While, active, it's never busy, conveying a sense intent and urgency but with an almost non-human aspect--very enjoyable. Items are dropped, blown into, rolled, stepped on--everything works, all em
bedded within a convincing world, one that occasionally allows the outside to seep in. Good work.

Flaming Pines



Jessica L. Wilkinson/Simon Charles - Marionette: A Biography of Miss Marion Davies (self-released)

I kinda knew something unusual was up after taking a gander at the title of this work and Matthew Revert's cover. And it is. Jessica L. Wilkinson wrote a kind of poetic biography of Davies (William Randolph Hearst's mistress and a generally tragic figure in 2012. She reads from that text here and has her words accompanied and transformed by Simon Charles' electronics and editing. The editing often involves clipping the speech at the beginning or end or individual words, which is a little unsettling. [As is not uncommonly the case, I've been informed that I was mistaken as to the source of these "editings". Simon Charles pointed out that the effects were in fact generated by the rather extraordinary vocal capabilities of Jenny Barnes. As for the the instrumental portions, Charles elaborated: "all of the sounds heard on the disc were produced by the instrumental quartet (except for Jessica’s voice, obviously). These were actually recorded in several stages; the trio of percussion-viola-piano/harmonium performing together, and the vocal parts recorded separately. In both stages materials were recorded digitally and onto tape, which was then further manipulated and collaged.
It’s important to mention this, as one of the concepts driving the overall construction of the work was the idea of a stratification of materials, which applies not only to the techniques mentioned, but also the sonic ‘profile’ of each instrumental role, as well as the fragmented telling of Davies’ story (which itself seems to exist only as fragments and broken narratives). There is a compositional strategy to the work that seeks extrapolate the text across various strata, which then sit in relation to each other to produce various kinds of tension.] Williams does "acoustic" versions of this herself at times and also imitates the stuttering iterations that Charles achieves in the studio. It's an odd effect, not really overused but appearing regularly throughout amidst passages of "straight" text. There are also occasional contributions by a quartet of Jenny Barnes (voice), Andrew Butler (piano, harmonium), Phoebe Green (viola, viola d'amore) and Michael McNab (percussion). I can't say this kind  of approach is particularly my cuppa and don't have any special interest in Davies' story, but the enterprise is solidly done and well-sustained over its course. Listeners who, for example, enjoy Alessandro Bossetti's investigations into voice and text may well like this one. 

Shame File Music

Thursday, November 15, 2018


The Dogmatics - Chop Off the Tops (self-released)

An LP release with four entrancing pieces, all improvisations, from the duo of Kai Fagaschinski (clarinet) and Chris Abrahams (piano), recorded in 2013.  It opens with the contemplative (deep breath), 'It Never Yielded Results Which They Had Failed to Discover by Other Means', Abrahams casting slow, tonal arpeggios, accented by occasional deep, soft, single notes, Fagaschinski blowing airily, softly atop and through, with the odd subtly sour overtone creeping in. 'I Am Now Wearing Surgical Gloves' (the titles are nothing if not entertaining) is darker, hollower, the piano tones suspended and uncertain, the clarinet quavering and searching, though both remain quiet--a sense of feeling one's way in the dark. The third track, 'Nobody Knew Their Reasons' is darker still, with heavy strikes at the body of the piano and balloon-like squeals and sputter from Fagaschinski. Finally, the lengthiest cut, 'Death Is Now Your Friend', which is also the most extreme musically. Abrahams restlessly probes the piano strings, banging into adjacent points unconcernedly before retreating to the keyboard, constructing a gorgeous series of hanging notes, mid-range--Feldmanesque, yes, but with a unique sense of wonder. Fagaschinski, meanwhile, has been rasping, then subtly gurgling, just tingeing the atmosphere. About midway through, he begins yelping plaintively, very high-pitched and with a painful aspect. Disquieting and impressive, as is the whole album

Dogmatics/bandcamp



Julian Abraham 'Togar' - Acoustic Analog Digitally Composed (Hasana Editions)

An intriguing offering from the Indonesian Hasana Editions label. On Side One, Abraham uses acoustic percussion to fashion rhythms that clearly owe a debt to traditional music from the area, but the sounds are more concise and clipped, seeming almost to have been carved out from their source and reconfigured. There's an odd sense of being somewhere between an exotic typewriter and Cage's early works for prepared piano (the Dances, specifically). Sometimes simpler, sometimes quite complex, always intricate and enjoyable. On Side Two, he more or less attempts to duplicate the music electronically, using magnetic solenoids. There's perhaps more of a roundedness, a sonically "cleaner" effect, but it's pretty close and every bit as engaging.



Nursalim Yadi Anugerah - Selected Pieces from HNNUNG (Hasana Editions)

These are selections from a "chamber opera" by Anugerah based on tales from Kayaan culture, a people from Borneo. There's a mix of both approach and instrumentation (including voices) between Western and Southeast Asian traditions. I found it to be an odd mixture. At times recalling Western art music of the 50s, sometimes (in a kind of odd, reverse inference) Harry Partch coming to mind, as well as embedded traditional musics featured in a way that reminded me of the filipino composer, Jose Maceda. That said, the music stands on its own quite well--some tracks, like the slow 'Ha' Liling Mataando' are quite beautiful--and I'm sure I'm missing a vital component insofar as not seeing the stagecraft. Interesting work, well wroth checking out.

Hasana Editions

Tuesday, November 13, 2018



Stefan Thut  - about (elsewhere)

A piece realized and recorded live in Huddersfield by a sextet consisting of Ryoko Akama (electronics), Stephen Chase (guitar), Eleanor Cully (piano), Patrick Farmer (metal percussion), lo wie (tingsha--small Tibetan cymbals) and Thut (cello).

In his notes printed on the inner sleeve, Thut writes, "while being together they enjoyed leaving time and space for each other". I haven't seen the score, but I'm guessing there may have been text instructions to that effect, or at least including that kind of consideration as a means of operating. The sounds throughout the work, which lasts almost an hour, tend toward the soft and percussive, beginning with a clear, crystalline bell strike (the tingsha, perhaps) and continuing with single plucks of the cello and guitar, strikings of piano keys (fairly high in the register) and discreet electronics. More often than not, they don't overlap each other, leaving plenty of space, although the silences, while common, don't last much more than 10-15 seconds. One of the intriguing things about the music is how relatively evenly spread the sounds are--thin but always within range, as though small items had wafted down from some height but managed to arrange themselves with only the barest of overlaying, something landing in all areas but leaving much ground uncovered. Some delicate clatter emerges, now and then a woman's quiet voice, here and there, a man's.  The basic character is maintained throughout, "steady-state" in a sense, very much like observing a natural phenomenon--leaves falling comes to mind. Oddly meditative.

There's not too much more to say. 'about' is entrancing, lovingly performed. I've listened to it a number of times and will be drawn back again--a perceptive, human work.

elsewhere


Monday, November 12, 2018



Clara de Asís - Without (elsewhere)

Prior to this release, I'd known de Asís as a guitarist but here she's in the role of composer. Violinist Erik Carlson and percussionist Greg Stuart offer a reading of her 'Without', a piece that strikes me as more complex and, to me, more difficult than I would have guessed at first blush.

'Without' is made up of a number of sections which, I think one could say, generally move from grainier and more abrasive to less so, though not in an obvious path and by no means always. It leaps right in with the violin offering high, needle-like harmonics with what sounds like numerous objects being roughly rubbed and tossed on a bass drum. Four minutes in, this abruptly shifts to a low vibraphone pulse; there's some other, obscure activity, probably ancillary sounds made by Stuart. Carlson enters, again pitched high but somewhat cleaner, a kind of Tony Conrad line weaving through the vibraphone cloud. This is followed by solo violin, a single note, held for about eight seconds, repeated by itself until joined by a clear, high bell, the pair heard in an irregular series with a decent amount of silence. I have the impression of an object with two main aspects being viewed from various angles, in differing light conditions. There's relatedness but a certain amount of apartness. This, for me, creates something of a challenge in hearing the piece as a whole, but it's a very enjoyable challenge, surely more an issue for these ears than anything amiss on the part of de Asís. Some 32 minutes in, there's an especially lovely sequence with vibes and lower, though still sandpapery, violin that serves as a kind of oasis after a demanding journey. This merges into isolated, low plucks on the violin, soon accompanied by clear wood block strikes, a pattern similar to that of the violin/bell sequence heard earlier. The blocks accompany a sustained violin tone very similar to that which began the work, closing it out.

Rigorous, spare, only occasionally luxuriant, 'Without' is a fine, demanding recording.

elsewhere

Saturday, November 10, 2018



Jürg Frey - 120 Pieces of Sound (elsewhere)

One of those recordings, an exceedingly thoughtful and beautiful one, where describing the elements isn't difficult but getting across the effect on the listener seems next to impossible.

There are two works presented here, structural cousins of each other, perhaps. The first, '60 Pieces of Sound' (2009), is performed by the ensemble Ordinary Affects (Laura Cetilla, cello; Morgan Evans-Weiler, violin; J.P.A. Falzone, keyboard; Luke Martin, electric guitar) joined by the composer on clarinet. I was fortunate enough to hear this group play this very piece in Boston about a year ago; I believe this recording was done just a few days afterward. There are indeed sixty sound elements: thirty tones played by the ensemble, each lasting about twenty seconds and thirty stretches of silence, each lasting about ten seconds, played alternately. That's it. But there's so much more. I gather, from having watched the fine, short documentary you can see about Frey (Part 1, Part 2) that the harmonies chosen were arrived at intuitively, in other words, what would sound appropriate after the one just played (and the silence). But the choices seem so right, so necessary. They inhabit a relatively narrow spectrum, but Frey discovers such a bounty of tones, relationships, subtle dynamic shifts, etc., that I simply sit in wonder. The unisons are tight but not overly so, like the ragged edge of good watercolor paper; the silences are full, often ending with indrawn breaths. I find myself constructing brief little shards of narrative between any two sound segments: a darker turn here, some hope there, a complication arising, etc. but any such turn very, very subtle. A truly living music.
For 'L'âme est sans retinu II' (1997-2000), Frey once again uses periods of sound and silence, though their durations (over the course of forty minutes) vary. The sounds are field recordings made by Frey (as well as, per the credits, some bass clarinet, though I admit to having difficulty picking it up for certain; there are points where I think I hear it, if it's pitched fairly high), the silences are complete. There's an overall fine woolliness to the sounds. Sometimes, it seems as though the source is exterior, sometimes inside, here with a super-deep, rumbling bass spine, there with wispier elements, now and then with ghostly vestiges of what might be human voices. As with the previous work, the sounds occupt a territory that's roughly consistent--one gets the sense they could be excerpts from a single evening's work (they do connote nighttime to this listener), the recordist quietly ambling from location to location. Again, the shifts are discreet: a mild lessening or increase of dynamics, a slightly different timbre, slight in envelope but infinitely large in detail. Perhaps it's from the title ('The soul is without restraint') but there is, in fact, a sense of exposure, of opening oneself up to the world, pausing to consider what's been heard/seen (the silence), opening up again. So human.

A wonderful recording, yet another in the seemingly (happily!) unending stream of such from Frey.

elsewhere

Friday, November 09, 2018



Sarah Hennies/Greg Stuart - Rundle (Notice Recordings)

This is a very nice surprise. Most of the music I've heard from Hennies in recent years (doubtless missing much) has been comprised of stripped down, careful explorations of very subtle sonic phenomena and rhythms, sometimes akin to some of Alvin Lucier's work. And apart from Stuart's collaboration with Joe Panzner (Dystonia Duos, ErstAEU, 2013), I'm almost entirely familiar with him via his work on the pieces of Michael Pisaro and other related composers. On this cassette, I think everything is improvised (though perhaps with some "signposts"?), the results much rougher and freer than I would have expected. On Side 1, 'Tunnel', they do a fine job alternating between free portions, with quiet rustling on various small percussion, and quasi-structured portions with piano and vibraphone, lovely swathes of slow pulse augmented with rapid flurries. These approaches are also as in a lovely section about 13 minutes in with sustained, ethereal piano and delicate scrabbling that almost sounds like dry leaves or twigs rubbed on a hard surface. 'Basin' is rougher still, with less in the way of footholds, irregular clangs of metal (perhaps thrown or dropped) amidst skitters, pops, rubbings and more. Like 'Tunnel', the track is expertly paced, with the slightest inclusion of brief, regular taps on wood blocks providing the most gossamer of structures within the fine clatter for most of its duration. A cloudy vibes figure ushers in the final section, providing a bed for abstract, lightly metallic and wooden activity, intricate and abstract. Excellent work.



Matt Hannafin/John Cage - Four Realizations for Solo Percussion (Notice Recordings)

Matt Hannafin has put together an extremely engaging and, dare I say, accessible collection of actualizations of Cage pieces. While I've heard each of the works in a number of different contexts/instrumentations, I don't know them well enough (much less the scores) to offer any comparisons, so will only treat them as...found objects. 'c¢omposed Improvisation for One-Sided Drums With or Without Jangles' finds Hannafin beginning by making loose, airy but percussive sounds (he seems to have included the jangly bits), moving on to deeper tones but everything relaxed and allowed to breathe in the room, tumbling gently, with a very natural, irregular cadence. 'Variations III' is approached with tuned wood blocks and toms (I think), Hannafin again developing very unforced quasi-rhythms--reminds me of a calmer Xenakis sometimes--, the strikes rolling and falling with the unassumedness of raindrops. Oddly, there are certain pulses and sonorities that recall parts of the great 'Dialogue of the Drums' by Andrew Cyrille and Milford Graves. The aural space is once again finely navigated in 'Variations II', with much ringing metal, breaths, jangles, heavy drum smites and more, all with a wonderful sense of air between the sounds. 'One4', a late number piece by Cage, closes things out, with resonant bowed metal spiraling out into the silence-- succinct, no more than necessary, just perfect. Really one of the finer recordings of Cage percussion works I've heard in quite a while.

Notice Recordings





Saturday, November 03, 2018





Morton Feldman - For John Cage (all that dust)

Matthew Shlomowitz - Avant Muzak  (all that dust)

Séverine Ballon - Inconnaissance (all that dust)

all that dust is a new label, run by Newton Armstrong, Juliet Fraser and Mark Knoop, dedicated to contemporary music. Its initial run consists of the above-listed CDs plus two releases available as FLAC downloads: Milton Babbitt's 'Philomel' and Luigi Nono's 'La Fabbrica Illuminata'.

The Feldman is the only work I was previously familiar with, having heard the Ter Haar/Snijders version on hat ART and the Zukofsky/Schroeder recording on CP². Additionally, I've both heard the  Sabat/Clarke duo recording and seen them perform it live. Suffice it to say, it's a big favorite of mine. I haven't done any direct comparison--I don't know how one would begin to do that with a 75-minute piece like this, anyway--but my general impression is that this recoding fits in just fine, is as accomplished as any I've heard. Orazbayeva (violin)  and Knoop (piano) are considerate and sensitive, investing their playing with just the right tinge of (necessary, in my view) emotional content, beautifully evoking the plaintive, even melancholy aspect I get from late Feldman. There are moments, for example around the 43-minute mark, where they take things at a brisker clip than I think I recall from other performances but, surprisingly, given my general preference for languidness, I find this works perfectly with no sense of fussiness or forced propulsion. It's an excellent reading, a fine recording and highly recommended.

I'd never heard Matthew Shlomowitz' work before but I admit that the title, 'Avant Muzak' put me off a bit. It sounded like the kind approach popular in NYC in the 80s, a certain snarkiness that seemed cool for a while but, in retrospect, is somewhat embarrassing. The three pieces, each with four or five parts, are performed by the Norwegian ensemble, asamisimasa (Ellen Ugelvik, keyboard; Kristine Tjøgersen, clarinet; Tanja Orning, cello; Håkon Stene, percussion; Anders Førisdal, guitar), who did fine work on Lawrence Crane's 'Sound of Horse' (Hubro, 2016). The first track, 'International Transport Chimes Reggae' is something of a mash-up of the two referenced sources, with additional Japanese recorded text, accompanied by a whimsical clarinet/guitar-led theme, with the kind of quirkiness one might have heard from Fred Frith circa 1985; ok, but slight. 'Jazz in the Park' intersperses found dialog with a nightclub-jazzy slow crawl. Here, as elsewhere, there's a sense of some kind of synthetic envelope around the sound, nods to the drum machine, sampler-obsessed music of 30-35 years ago, as well as an uncomfortable evocation of Scott Johnson; perhaps its time has come around again, but this listener isn't quite ready for the reappearance of those stiff rhythms and globular tones. There's often some nice intricacy in the writing, as in 'Muzak in the Shopping Mall', here summoning the spirit of Daniel Lentz, but--do we care? On it goes, almost always leading your hapless reviewer to recall other music--Fenn O'Berg's reworking of movie themes, Zorn circa 'The Big Gundown', etc. Well handled, yes; sonically colorful, very much so. But it feels empty. Shlomowitz' intentionality is clear enough, I just don't find it a very worthwhile target. 

'Inconnaissance' presents eight solo cello works by Séverine Ballon. They range from around six to twelve minutes and seem to straddle composition and improvisation. To these ears, it sounds like a general idea was in place for each, within which Ballon freely elaborates, though I could be wrong. In any event, the results are striking, evincing a deep concern with dark, bowed textures, rich overtones and layer upon layer of grain. Ballon demonstrates harshness, an extremely strong and riveting attack and a balanced, complex sense of form, allowing herself ventures both into frenzied storms and soft, if agitated, pools of quiet. Pulse is often implied, on rare occasions overtly stated, generally, as in 'cloches fendues 2', well mixed with interests in pitch and scales. 'Tunnel' contains fantastic, sandy growls, moans rising from beneath, slowly swirling into the depths; very impressive. Each piece has its own character, each maintains interest (at the very least) throughout, each explores the cello in a serious and fascinating manner. What more could you want?

I admit to not being the biggest fan of Milton Babbitt, but label co-owner Juliet Fraser does a very fine job with his 'Philomel' (1964) for voice and tape, her soprano liquid and bright, trickling in very lively fashion through the delicate web of iridescent, burbling electronics which also includes vocal permutations. I have no real point of comparison, but I can only imagine that Fraser's reading more than holds its own with others. Luigi Nono's 'La Fabbrica Illuminata' was written in the same year as the Babbitt and is also for voice and tape, but that's where the similarity ends. The voice (here, Loré Lixenberg) wafts in and out of a bleak, warlike series of sounds, harsh and grating--winds howling through bombed-out cities, angry mobs, downed wires sizzling. She appears, is subsumed by the tumult, resurfaces minutes later, worse for wear but persevering. Gripping, harrowing, stirringly performed, a fine piece.