Friday, February 15, 2019

Mark R. Taylor - Aftermaths (Another Timbre)

I might normally start off this review by noting that it's the first time I've encountered Taylor's music. This is, in fact, true but I'm guessing it's pretty much the case for everyone who hasn't personally encountered him as, to the extent one can rely on Discogs, this is his first recorded appearance in any guise, despite not being a newcomer (b. 1961). We have here a selection of 21 tracks--three "suites" of three, three and eight pieces and seven individual works, all performed by pianist Teodora Stepančić.

In the interview with Taylor on the label's website, he mentions the early influence of Howard Skempton and Hugh Shrapnel. I have to say that when I first heard 'For Alex Schady I', which opens the album, my only thought was, "Skempton!". Its slow, lovely, cautious chords, steadily played in the manner of a processional, strongly evoked certain piano works of the older composer. Now, this is no bad thing as far as I'm concerned, as I love Skempton's work. But it set the stage for the remainder of the program, which doesn't stray too far away from this model, mostly doing so with regard to variations in tempi from extremely slow (e.g., 'Lijn') to relatively spritely ('Aftermath Set Two'). As with other composers navigating this general area, I hear strong references to Satie's more "medieval" pieces, the Ogives and others, that sense of calmly walking inside an ancient church or other old structure, soft light entering, dust motes gently falling. It's, for me, a very attractive and alluring image and Taylor expands on it very ably, played with great touch and sensitivity by Stepančić. Each work is jewel-like, warm, somber but approachable and beguiling. If I have a quibble, it's that there's kind of too much of a good thing, too little variety in approach for so many pieces. Perhaps that's simply Taylor's comfort zone, though the interview hints at different tacks taken in the past. Perhaps Another Timbre will explore these in the future, providing a more rounded view of this composer. For now, this set is here to enjoy and it's eminently delectable.

Another Timbre

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Ferran Fages - Un lloc entre dos records (Another Timbre)

I've been listening to Fage's work pretty much since his first recordings (as part of Cremaster with Alfredo Costa Monteiro in 2002). His output ranges widely; I'm often surprised but have generally enjoyed the results. This piece, whose title translates to "a place between two memories", was conceived as part of a trilogy of works, one of which, 'Detuning series for guitar' was recently issued on Edition Wandelweiser. The third, 'What Might Occur' is based on re-readings of Feldman's 'Triadic Memories' and has not, to the best of my knowledge, been recorded. I had ambiguous feelings about the Wandelweiser, but will revisit it in light of this release and with reference to the fascinating interview with Fages on the Another Timbre site.

'Un lloc...' is a single piece, running almost 54 minutes. It begins with a plucked, six-note pattern on acoustic guitar, resonant and pensive, slightly reminiscent of a given stretch of Feldman piano music. Fages takes it through several subtle variations but after only a couple of minutes, the music begins to fragment and dissolve, reforming for a while, disintegrating again, reappearing in more isolated, fragmented form, splintered into high, muted pings now and then--all quite thoughtful, attractive and finely placed. Some twelve minutes in, all overt guitarisms evaporate and we're in a world of sine tones, soft, high-pitched, overlaid and quietly vibrant. This state of affairs lasts about twelve minutes more and is enchanting, otherworldly. For a bit over the final half of the work, Fages reverts to the guitar, at first overlapping with the sine tones, but occupying a somewhat less quasi-tonal area than was the case at the beginning. The notes, sometimes chords, sometimes single tones, are allowed to suspend and resonate, to float freely. One of the mental images I have, in fact, is of...things--dust motes, leaves, insects--floating in random fashion. Some passages again seem to refer to Feldman. The first time I listened, my sense was that this section went on too long, that it established what it wanted to do within the first few minutes and didn't elaborate enough on those findings to warrant the extra 20-25 minutes. Having listened several times more and having read Fages' thoughts on this release, I'm gradually mitigating that response; not entirely, perhaps, but little by little. I go back and forth. I hate to fall back on any kind of "mood" qualification, but can only honestly say that there are times when the music works fine, flows with its own logic and doesn't overstay its welcome and there are other times when I grow impatient. Maybe that's ok. In any event, I love hearing Fages' explorations, am heartened at the ideas he's tackling and look forward to following with him further down that odd path.

Another Timbre

Monday, February 11, 2019

Catherine Lamb/Johnny Chang - Viola Torros (Another Timbre)

When I first glanced at this 2-disc set, I thought, "Ah, excellent! A composer of whom I've never heard, Viola Torros." A second look told me this was the title of the recording, not a composer. Ok, fine, especially considering how much I've enjoyed the work of both Lamb and Chang (who, let it be noted, play violas). The interview with the pair on the Another Timbre website, however, indicated that there was indeed such a composer as Torros and that fragments of her work were the seeds for the two pieces on Disc One here. Intrigued, I googled Torros and found nothing but references to this album, even when discounting words like "timbre", "lamb" and "chang". So, I'm guessing this is something of a charade, a fiction serving as an idea generator, a very attractive idea (obviously, I could be wrong).

Whatever the case, the result is about 150 minutes of stunning, deep and intelligent music. It's possible I'm being overly influenced by the wonderful cover image, but I find myself hearing the two pieces on Disc One, 'V.T. Augmentations II' and 'V.T. Augmentations III', as related to alap, the slow, improvised introductory sections of North Indian ragas. In addition to the violas, Bryan Eubanks provides "resonances" and each includes a trio of voices: Antoine Beuger, Yannick Guedon and Deborah Walker in the first, Rebecca Lane, Annie Garlid and Margareth Kammerer in the second. In 'II', the viola lines are rich, entwining each other, deeply melodic in a microtonal manner and consistently present, though one will drop out briefly now and then. Often, one is playing a lengthy line, the other a thoughtful, perhaps slightly mournful melody around that stem. The voices become apparent around midway through, softly accompanying the violas, very much a tinge in the space at first, before the strings drop out entirely (?) for a short moment. When they resume, the music drifts further into microtonality, becomes hazier--a thick, complex haze that, towards the piece's final few minutes, solidifies into a deep meditative sound with echoes of early music--fantastic. 'III' has many things in common with 'II' but plenty of differences as well. The general tonality strikes me as more overtly Indian, for one thing and there are many brief stoppages along the way, during which one can hear ambient sounds, including birds. It's just ravishing. Again, the voices emerge a bit after the halfway point, and fulfill a similar role though this time they carry, to these ears, more of an "angelic" aspect, light and high. It concludes on a very moving, long-held, tremulous note...with birds.

This would be more than enough, but Disc Two offers up two additional works, one each by Chang and Lamb, both spectacular. Chang's 'Citaric Melodies III'  is performed by the Suidobashi Chamber Ensemble (Wakana Ikeda, flute; Yoko Ikeda, violin; Masahika Okura, clarinet; Taku Sugimoto, electric guitar; Aya Tanaka, bassoon; Chang, viola; Samuel Dunscombe, bass clarinet; Michiko Ogawa, clarinet). Its core is a six note sequence (later morphed into four), a wistful, melancholy one that vaguely reminds me of Anthony Braxton's 'HM 421 (RTS) 47 (Composition No. 36)' as heard on 'Trio and Duet' (Sackville, 1974). This melody is iterated over and over but in blurred fashion, the instruments approximating both pitch and point of entry (I'm sure there's more to it than that, but that's a start). It's always close but distinct enough to create a shifting aura around the ensemble. Additionally, a certain kind of drama emerges, especially when lower tones seep in. The variations are imaginative, extremely well considered and endlessly fascinating--a great work.

Lamb's 'Prima Interius VI (for v.t.) is played by Chang (viola), Andrea Neumann (secondary rainbow synthesizer), Lamb (viola) and Derek Shirley (cello). A secondary rainbow synthesizer, I discovered, is a device developed by Eubanks "that spectrally filters a live sound input of the outer atmosphere to the listening space within which the the performance piece is situated." I take it that this is responsible for imbuing atmosphere of the recording with such a solid, plastic sense of air and space, within which the strings unspool languid, low keens, bracing and heartfelt. It begins sparsely enough, the strings limning clear lines with slightly gritty timbre, pausing now and then to appreciate the initially low level of ambiance. Gradually, the exterior makes itself known, first via vehicle engines, footsteps and barely heard conversations. More elements are introduced: a wavy, organ-like layer, more intense engine and vocal (loudspeaker?) sounds, an echoey ringing; all the while, the strings continue, resolute, tinged with mourning, beautiful. There's an ebb and flow between sources, the swaying lines always embedded in the larger room, the exterior sounds always allowing room for the strings. Each of the works on the second disc establish a setting and parameters and engage with them for a healthy duration, maintaining a certain constancy but always able to conjure forth wave after wave of exciting and moving music. 

A wonderful way to conclude an extraordinary recording. Very highly recommended.

Another Timbre

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Joe Morris/Doyeon Kim - Macrocosm (Glacial Erratic)

A set of five improvisations with Morris on unamplified electric guitar and Kim on gayageum, a traditional Korean stringed instrument somewhat analogous to the Japanese koto or Chinese guzheng. Not to compare either Morris' style or to conflate Asian stringed instruments, but the almost inevitable point of reference one has coming in is the 'Viper' project of Derek Bailey and pipa player Min Xiao-Fen (Avant, 1998). There are certain broad similarities, but two essential differences: 1) Morris is far more willing than Bailey to bend toward the tendencies of his partner and 2) Kim seems to be (as near as I can tell from this recording which, at least per Discogs, is her only one thus far) somewhat less committed than Xiao-Fen to a traditionalist approach.

The pieces range from fairly active and intense, as in the opening 'Animate', to more contemplative and connected, however tenuously, to traditional forms of Korean music. 'Animate' probably comes closest to that Bailey/Xiao Fen feel, with hard-scrabbled, spidery, rapidly played lines. Morris' choice to go with the unamplified electric, here and elsewhere, serves him extremely well, its semi-hollow sound meshing quite  nicely with the gayageum. 'Expanse' indeed expands the palette via bowing, the pair generating fine, grainy, rasping waves, combined with dully booming tones from the instruments struck with bowstrings. Later in the piece, there's some lovely rolling, cascading action, watery and engaging, and it ends with some wonderful, slightly astringent strums--a fine track. The following work, 'Parsec Story', is more scattered and pointillistic, though again very active. I'd sometimes liked to have heard more space, more pauses to consider where to drop a note, but that's not typically Morris' way and, I take it, not Kim's either. Still, the decisions made are generally apt and not overly busy or cloying. In this third piece, they arrive at a surprising and welcome placid area that evokes an idyllic and general (Asian and otherwise) sense of "folk music", very tasty. The relatively brief and spiky 'Crystallinity' is the only track here where I detect more busy activity than considered thought; bristling but lacking some substance. 'Orchard', which concludes the album and is its longest cut at almost 20 minutes, uses duration to create a large, varied landscape, jam-packed with detail, yes, but also with enough "air" to suggest a breathing, vibrant space. Again, the interwoven plucked sounds, their compatible though differing tonalities, are a delight, as is the way they fall into delicate, quasi-rhythmic patterns, as enjoyable as they are unexpected. Fine work and I'm hoping to hear more from this duo.

Glacial Erratic/bandcamp

As of this posting, 'Macrocosm has yet to be posted there, but you can find copies at Catalytic Sound and Squidco

Jacques Demierre/Axel Dörner/Jonas Kocher - Cone of Confusion (Bruit)

A thoughtful, enjoyable set of improvisations from Demierre (piano), Dörner (trumpet) and Kocher (accordion). My limited prior exposure to Demierre's work led me to expect something different, not sure in what way, maybe somewhat more frenetic. Not the case, happily. To an extent, the music here fits in comfortably with the improvisational lineage established by Dörner and many others, especially in Europe, over the last 20+ years: pensive, tending toward quiet, interested in superficially conflicting, overlapping and interacting textures and, here especially, some allusions to AMM, not so much in the actual sound-world portrayed, but in terms of general approach. Each musician spends about as much time in extended technique territory--Demierre inside the piano, Dörner sputtering, gurgling and gasping, Kocher drawing any number of non-accordion-like sounds from his squeezebox--as they do generating standard sounds. The tone of the music ranges from the dark, brooding and vaguely uncomfortable 'There are small observable differences', in which brief, sharp points splinter out of the (excellent) murk to the gravelly scatterings, skitterings and deep accordionic breaths of 'Position of the head'. Also, as in a piece like 'The errors introduced by such an exchange are within the errors', there's a really solid and gripping balance of smooth flow and fragmentation, as well as a bracing dynamic range. The trio returns to a contemplative darkness on the final track, Dörner evoking, to these ears, a smidgen of Leo Smith. A strong outing overall, worth investigating.


Saturday, February 02, 2019

Rutger Zuydervelt - sileen II (Edition Wandelweiser)

'sileen II' is essentially a long (50-minute), fluctuating drone sourced from Gareth Davis' bass clarinet with sculpting and other modifications made by Zuydervelt. One of the first things I noticed is that while some aspects of the sound--its range, hollowness, etc.--are bass clarinet-y, other characteristics, like any sense of woodiness, seem to have disappeared, so I'm left with a more organ-like impression, albeit enveloped in thin, by no means overbearing wisps of electronics. The sounds appear in slow, slow pulsating waves, structures that seem simple initially but reveal many layers of depth when listened to closely (headphones recommended). Slight variations in pulse frequency, pitch and tone combinations are introduced over the piece's course. Near the beginning, the waves are fairly continuous; little by little they become more discreet, almost to the point of admitting the briefest of silences between events. There's a somewhat more pronounced than usual pitch shift around the 42-minute mark but things flow apace from there. It's hard to say too much else about it, only that what at first might sound impenetrable and self-similar offers much more upon concentrated listening--very satisfying.

John McCowen - Mundanas  I - V (Edition Wandelweiser)

Five pieces for clarinets of various types performed by McCowen and Madison Greenstone. It's hard not to think of the pre-eminent contemporary clarinet duo (in this neck of the woods, at least), The International Nothing (Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke) but while there are similarities here and there, McCowen's mini-ensemble is a unique voice. The first three works, concise at five to six minutes in duration, are for b-flat clarinets and  deal with tones close enough in pitch to cause pulsations as well as overlapping and intermeshing  fingering patterns. Each is a fine document, engagingly straddling the line between acoustic experiment and deeply felt music, in addition providing the listener with a wonderful experience of the clarinet as such. The demi-clarinets in play on the fourth track are, I take their description at face value, clarinets which have had about half of their bodies removed. They sound rather like ocarinas, albeit with a woody tinge. The resultant whoops and watery gurgles are sometimes birdlike, sometimes far more guttural. The final piece, the longest is for paired contrabass clarinets, obviously fertile ground for sonic richness. It's kind of a revisiting of the first track for lower range, two fluctuating lines traveling more or less in parallel but with many small but important divergencies along the way. It seems like there's some electronic processing involved, some very regular, sine-like flutters, though none is indicated on the disc sleeve--maybe amazing technique? Whatever the case, the work is absorbing, beautifully controlled and entirely enjoyable to hear. Looking forward to much more.

Erik Satie - Socrate (Edition Wandelweiser)

In recent years, Wandelweiser has done an extra-commendable job in expanding their musical world beyond the kind of sounds that, for a while, typified the label. This, in a way, might be the most extreme example yet. Had I heard that Wandelweiser was issuing a recording of Satie's music, I would automatically assume it was from the piano repertoire. Well, only partially so with 'Socrate' for soprano and piano (though there is a version for voice and orchestra). It's extra interesting to this listener as, although I've known Satie's piano works inside and out since the early 70s, I think I'd only heard 'Socrate' a handful of times, not for a long while, and had no distinct impression of it. Well, the rendition here from Olalla Alemán (soprano) and Guy Vandromme (piano) goes the distance in remedying that and does so superbly. The wiki page on 'Socrate' can tell you far more about it than I can and I'm reluctant to assess very much given my unfamiliarity with the material, much less with evaluating the singing in any meaningful way. I will say that I find fascinating to hear snippets of almost intact music from the piano works popping up here and there (played with great sensitivity by Vandromme) and that, on the whole, the music fits in snugly with his better known repertoire. I find it entirely enchanting, love Alemán's voice, love listening to the disc and hope that it finds an audience beyond the normal Wandelweiser clientele.