Thursday, August 31, 2006

There's a tendency, among musicians in taomud (have I used that term here? The Area Of Music Under Discussion), one I think is generally healthy, in fact, to release music with little if any indication as to instrumentation or other descriptors of how the sounds were created. The disc package will usually have some sign of who's responsible (not always!) but perhaps only that. This may be partially in reaction to the jazz habit of listing every last device utilized in the recording which suplies its own kind of anal fun on things like old Art Ensemble records. To the extent this pushes the primacy of the music itself to the foreground, I'm totally in favor of this stratagem. If, as is my wont, I may make an analogy to painting, it's rather like being concerned with what materials were used to construct a work--is that watercolor or gouache? Was linseed or sunflower oil mixed with the paint? Who really cares? I mean, it's of some interest on a certain level but what you're seeing--or hearing--is usually a level or two above that.

Now, when you receive discs for review purposes, sometimes there's accompanying notes that go further in explicating the music that the info provided on the disc sleeve itself. Fine, if it's put out there one way or another, it should be used. But if it's not, if the disc arrives without notes anywhere, I assume that's the desire of the artist and try to respect it accordingly. Sometimes, I may have conceptual questions--is this what you were shooting for?-- and may inquire of the musician. Often, even when I do, the musician would rather I sort that out for myself; all well and good. Sometimes, for one reason or another, I actually do get bothered by my inability to understand how a given sound is being generated and will ask; again, I occasionally get a response of, "I'd rather not go into that." Again, fine.

But more often than not, I'll simply go with my best guess and use the descriptions of what I think is the instrumentation as ancillary color for the real meat of the music, which is the music itself. Whether a sound has been generated by a computer or a bass saxophone is, while perhaps interesting, entirely secondary.

So, Rafael Toral's disc, "Space", came with something of a statement of intent--not quite a manifesto but a fairly clear exposition of what his current aesthetic goals are. However, there was no instrument listing. Now, I know from past experience, limited though it's been, with Toral's music that, while known primarily as a guitarist and electronicist, he'd also dabbled in a bit of trumpetry. At least, I think I know this. know, googling around, I can't find any specific reference. See that? In my head, I'd pegged Toral as a trumpet dabbler. So when, on the disc in question, trumpet-like sounds emerged, I automatically assumed the instrument was present, even if it had been electronically enhanced so as to significantly alter its sound. That's another thing--you can usually pick out something about a given instrument's phrasing, attack, etc. so as to recognize it even when blanketed by tons of altering processes. So I went and wrote a little about how much trumpet was played, how it referenced electric Miles as well as Bill Dixon. The Milesian connection was further enhanced by some obvious electric piano usage--except that it wasn't electric piano, it was manipulation of a sine wave generator by a glove with sensors. All this Rafael explained to me via e-mail after I'd sent him a copy of the review.

I appended the correction in the comments section at Bags. I imagine there are a number of readers who chuckled at the errors. Of course, given my druthers I'd rather have gotten it right the first time, but in the context of how the disc was presented, I don't think it amounts to much. The music succeeds or doesn't on its own merits, not on the listener's knowledge of the instrumentation, though if taken to a far enough extreme, that could enter into it, I guess. ie, were the whole thing derived from a software program and the push of a button.

Anyway, this possibility is part and parcel of much of the music sent my way, wrapped in mystery and intentionally so.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I see Naguib Mahfouz died at 94. A long life, at least. What a wonderful writer.

That Sei Miguel disc holds up real well on subsequent listens. Sounds a lot like what you'd exepct the next step after Bill Dixon's "Vade Mecum" albums to be, a similar sense of unfurling space, retaining a lot of jazz gestures but integrating them with abstract and electronic sounds and doing so without any (or, at least, much) sense of anachronism. For myself, this is a pretty impressive feat, as I generally find the introduction of jazz tropes into "eai" as grating or overly restrictive. But there's almost always a pendulum swing effect in any art form and perhaps we're beginning to see signs of a certain kind of revitalization of music which contains a jazz impulse, at least as one impulse out of many. I'm still a bit dubious, admittedly. This is the only music I've heard of Miguel's so I've no idea where or how this fits in with his historic arc but for the moment, it's some refreshing work.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Roth report: Majorly disappointing thus far. I made it through more than half of "My Life As a Man" before I gave up, tired of page after page of misanthropic whining. It's difficult not to read autobiographical qualities into Zuckerman (I assume, not having followed Rothiana, that this is a given) and you sit there saying, "Why are you telling me this? I don't care!" Tedious in the extreme.

I made it only about 20 pages into "Our Gang" before tossing in the towel. I suppose it's possible that, in the early 70s, this sort of paraody could've been considered provocative. Maybe. But it's just so juvenile--renaming political figures with childish noms de satire (Trick E. Dixon - har! Almost as funny as Ronald Ray-Gun or Al Bore! Why construct an intelligent argument when youe can just call someone a name?!) and, on top of that, setting up enormous softball tosses that he can send sailing out of the park, conveniently turning the Nixon character into a laughable buffoon, rather than a complex, intelligent and evil creature. Thanks but no thanks.

I began "The Great American Novel", therefore, with some amount of misgivings. Still in the Prologue and it's bearable (it's about baseball, after all, giving it a leg up) but we'll see.

In the meantime, I'm delving into Rush's "Mortals", a novel with far more promise....

Monday, August 28, 2006

I received two discs from Rafael Toral recently, his own solo album "Space" and "The Tone Gardens" by Portuguese trumpeter Sei Miguel (pictured here) on which he performs. Both appear to be consciously concerned with extending the current state of free improvisation past ruts they perceive and both, interestingly enough, look specifically toward jazz forms to do so, a quixotic notion perhaps. Toral states such goals explicitly in notes that accompany his disc; I'm making an assumption on Miguel's part, not being familiar with his prior work. Both recordings "succeed" on occasion--the Miguel more so than the Toral, to my ears--although as one would expect, it's a rough road, strewn with old baggage that's extremely difficult to steer around.

As its title implies, Toral's disc is a bit spacy. Though he's known more as a guitarist and electronicist, he plays a lot of trumpet (processed) here and if you're looking for a general point of reference, Miles' 70s work might be as close as you'd come, though sans the funk. He's basically playing jazz formulations even if they're atomized along the way. It's often uncomfortable, especially to listeners used to more "standard" eai, but on those several occasions when things gel, you can begin to get an idea of what Toral might be shooting for. It's more gestural than most post-AMM improv (which is an issue in an of itself--one path could lead in a Le Quan Ninh-type direction where flamboyance trumps musicality) but who know? maybe that's at least one thing the music needs.

More on the Sei Miguel disc later after more listens, but the impression I get is that his amblings down a parallel pathway are more natural to his own musicality, more unforced. When he arrives at the post-Milesian stew, it feels more "right".

Friday, August 25, 2006

I'm usually very good about providing write-ups for virtually every disc that makes its way to my desk. Lately, I've been deluged by them, however, and a number of items manage to combine being not very good with supplying me with almost nothing to write about. So I've decided to just give them a pass, something I feel a little guilty about.

Generally, if the recording is from a "name" individual, that is someone fairly well known within this tiny corner of the world, it's almost automatically of some interest to a reviewer, even if it sucks eggs. You can place it within some context, try to analyze why it fails, etc. But when something arrives out of the blue, as it were, from someone who, though they may be well known in their own neck o' the woods, is an unknow quality to you and when the music is....bland, there may not be too much to say short of a simple, episodic description of sounds. I received to discs from the Australian Room40 recently, a fine one from the duo of Greg Davis and Jeph Jerman, "Ku" (review posted at Bags today) and one from Lloyd Barrett, "Mise en Scene". I admit, the title put me off a bit, bearing something of an effete air, maybe. But the music, electronically oriented washes of generally tonal stuff, less beautifully melodic than Fennesz but in the same ballpark, albeit without a shred of grit, left me unmoved. Also left me with nothing but gauze to talk about, so I didn't.

A little more troubling were the three new releases from Gunter Muller's For 4 Ears label out of Switzerland. Now I like Gunter a lot, both musically and personally, but his label has a nagging tendency (not always, by any means) of releasing things that are OK, but ephemeral. Recordings that are pleasant enough but which you forget about almost as soon as they're over. These three (Masahiko Okura/Ami Yoshida/Muller - Tanker; Norbert Moslang/Muller - wild_suzuki; Moslang - burst_log) all more or less fall into that category. The first is fine in a way, just unremarkable. There's a point been reached for a while now in eai where a lot of people are readily capable of releasing "good" recordings, the way Campbell's makes "good" soup. Fine but not memorable. There's really nothing to say about it; it's not really much different than any dozen other releases over the last year. "wild_suzuki" (and yes, I'm getting a little tired of the inevitable underscore in titles from these folk!) is even blander, really baffling why it was chosen for release. I have to give the solo Moslang another listen, but my initial impression was the worst of the three.

Now, all these musicians have a bit of a name so on the one hand, I feel somewhat compelled to alert their vast (read: meager) fanbase as to the nonessentiality of these discs. On the other, what's to say other than they're not very good? Parsing them out would be extremely tedious but a three or four line review might be worthless. It's not like they're offering any real (rotten) meat to chew on. Arggh.....

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Received an interesting e-mail today from someone I know in the music biz. He has this idea. Essentially, he's proposing a project that would involve real-time music criticism (or, at least, descriptive writing). As I understand it, the writer would be "performing" at a computer, his/her words displayed on a large screen for the audience, typing away as the musician(s) performs.

Although something about the idea intrigues me, I'm not sure what of value is likely to eventuate from such a situation. Obviously two very different activities are taking place, creating music on the one hand and digesting, understanding (one hopes) and regurgitating one's comprehension in coherent form. The practical difficulties on the part of the writer seem insurmountable if what's desired is more than a blow-by-blow account of the music. I mean, in a typical (good) improvised performance, the "meaning" of the piece only becomes apparent (perhaps in the merest of glimmers) once it's over and the listener can see/hear how all the prior elements have cohered or not. And, obviously, it not only generally takes numerous listens to begin to form an understanding of a piece but it takes concentrated listens, something unlikely to occur if you're typing at the same time, much less under the unaccustomed pressure of doing so publically.

At least as a one-time event. I could almost see, were someone to choose to do so, a writer getting comfortable with the routine over the course of time. Touring, right. Can't for the life of me imagine doing that, though.

Curious to see the responses, if any, of the other writers invited. There were ten, including a few relatively "prominent" (in this neck of the woods) people.

[edit] Rereading the mail, I noticed that the suggestion is made that not only would one be critiquing the performance, but that the musician(s) involved would get some portion of your feedback in real time and decide whether to adjust or not their performance according to your wants. So it would be interactive with the musician. I can't imagine actually doing this. I was thinking who I'd choose to work with (this is an option) and, among NYC area musicians, my favorite might be Sean Meehan. How the hell would or could I comment on a Meehan performance as it's occurring? His music, generally, is of a piece. I'd have no idea what, if anything, to say, until after it's over. "Hey Sean, could you change the pitch of that dowel rubbing? How about dropping a few more grains of rice on your snare? Why not insert a Buddy Rich drumroll here?" I mean, really.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bored. At work. The software I use here that comprises 90% + of my job was recently upgraded. In doing so, the company involved screwed up some of the database. The guy at the company who did this and who's the only one knowledgeable enough to repair his blunder, is on vacation until tomorrow. So I don't have a helluva lot to do. Happily, the environment here allows (more or less) me to fiddle around somewhat. I can't quite play Weboggle but I can do things like this. It's tough to work on my growing backlog of reviews since it actually helps to listen to the music when doing so (!), something I can't pull off here either. And not wanting to trundle in bio documents makes working on that a no-go as well, though sometimes I'll test some ideas in Word here. Thank goodness for the Net, though--I have no idea how I survived days like this pre-Web. Took walks, chatted, surreptitiously read a book; dunno.

There's only so much discussion group browsing you can do though. Jazz Corner is fairly active, Bags less so, IHM, a bit. The JC List is OK, though way too much nonsense there. So I resort to this little outlet.

Gave a second listen to a really nice recording by Seth Nehil and John Grzinich last night, "Gyre" on the Cut label. I think (I have to investigate further) it largely consists of field recordings cobbled together in the studio, though the result often sound half-electronic. Good, rich stew of sounds. I've heard enough fine things in this general area, that part of me's beginning to wonder if it's fairly easy to assemble such a concoction given a decent ear and some well-chosen sources. Not that it matters in the end. But similar to how a certain mode and quality of eai (let's call it ersatz-Muller) seems to be attainable without very much difficulty if you layer enough elements atop one another, I sometimes get a sneaking suspicion of the same in the field recording (adapted or otherwise) sub-genre. Still, the best of it, like Tsunoda or Jerman, has that ineffable poetic quality that separates it from the routine even if it's virtually impossible to quantify to unconvinced ears.

I received a new naturestrip disc yesterday by two hitherto unknown to me musicians, Eugene Carchesio & Leighton Craig. Recorded in one of their backyards, it's a combination music/field recording session--really no more than what it presents: two guys playing music outside with all the ambient noise impinging. Kinda nice, relaxed stuff though, as listener, I found myself waffling back and forth between intent listening (not so rewarding) and hearing it as though it was coming from the yard next door, as part of the ambience (better). Curious to see how it holds up.

Also an odd-looking thing from Rastascan, a kind of Music Minus One for improvisers, called Music + One. 22 short solo improvs by 22 musicians, designed to be one component of a subsequent improvisation with more musicians. If that's clear. So I think (I didn't get around to playing it yesterday), the recording consists of 22 tracks with 2, 3 or 4 musicians where one of the "musicians" is a pre-recorded tape by someone else. Hmmm.....

Been meaning for a long time to read some Philip Roth (never really have except for "Portnoy's Complaint" as a snickering 14-year old, and even then just concentrating on the "good parts") so when Mom asked what I wanted for my birthday a couple weeks back, I said, "How about some Roth novels?" Received same yesterday: "My Life As a Man", "Our Gang", and "The Great American Novel". Began the former last night.

Monday, August 21, 2006

We had to go to a wedding reception Saturday night. I hate wedding receptions. In this case, the bride was the daughter of someone Linda works with closely so she was obligated and I dutifully tagged along. Even if some portion of the attendees are people you don't mind hanging around with (in this case, there were two or three co-workers of hers I knew who are fine but with whom any mutually interesting subjects for conversation evaporate in three or four minutes), the atmosphere in general and the music in particular are almost always loathsome if the whole shebang is done along "traditional" lines. I'm fairly confident that there's a law on the books, for example, requiring the band to play "Twist and Shout", "La Bamba" (the same song, really), "Hot, Hot, Hot", etc.

In this case, the families were Ukrainian with, apparently, rather strong ethnic ties to the culture and the band reflected this: a quintet of saxophone (the guy brought out a curved soprano for one piece and made frequent use of an electronic "reed"--I forget what it's called--that could sound like a trumpet, etc. when called for), accordion, guitar, bass guitar and drums. So the repertoire wasn't as awful as is usually the case, interspersed with a bunch of traditional Ukrainian tunes that wouldn't sound out of place on a Guy Klucevsek album.

But....eventually the crapola emerged. The initial onslaught was led by "Brown-Eyed Girl". Now, sitting here at the moment, though of course I recognize the song, I couldn't tell you who originally performed it. I'm rather proud of that fact. But I'll ask the guy behind me in the office. Hold on. Wow, Van Morrison. Huh, used to like him in HS. Anyway, regardless of what one thinks of the song (me, not much), it's just so weird to see the crowd, virtually en masse, rise up to the dance floor, "la-la-la-ing" for all they were worth, in throes of ectasy. I never fail to feel as though I've landed from some distant planet. There were a bunch of doctors present, people you know have a certain amount of education. Didn't matter. What is it that gets people into these states of group frenzy? What is it about "Brown-Eyed Girl" that triggers such uniform reactions? I suspect some correlation between "Brown-Eyed Girl" and brown-shirted boys...

Of course, the same response occurred later on with the inevitable (I turned to Linda and gave a rueful smirk) "Twist and Shout". The joy and release experienced by these people when given an opportunity to go, "ah, Ahh, AHHH, AAHAHAGAHGAHAGH!!!" and fling their arms in the air is so depressing to behold. The combination of comfortable nostalgia with the phony notion that they, in their youth, were part of some wonderful thing, doubly phony in that they likely weren't part of it and it wasn't wonderful anyway. Seriously creepy. But the uniformity, the group-think, is what really irks me. You're confident that they all (well, let's be generous--95% of them) go home and watch the same crappy TV, read (if they read) Grisham or King, buy Leroy Nieman prints, vote Republican or Democrat, etc.

Yes, it's effete and such. But it just creeps me out. The food was pretty good though, so that's something.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Have I mentioned how much excellent new music is emanating from Australia these days? I think so. One relatively young guy there is Joel Stern. I think I first got wind of his work through some collaborations with Anthony Guerra and the neatly named label, twothousandand. Stern works with electronics and field recordings for the most part, but also puts in some time on more traditional instruments. Recently, I received a couple of discs from the less neatly named musicyourmindwillloveyou label, an imprint I'd never heard of. In fact, why I was getting them, I had no idea as the return address on the package, iirc, read "mymwly". The discs, this one included, provided no info other than (I presumed) the band name/album title. It was beautifully designed, though, that Rorschach (sp?) - like image having been printed on a delicate, tissuey paper wrapped around thicker black stock. Better, the music was both fascinating and unique, a dreamy blend of the recognizably musical and the abstract, keeping the floor well-oiled enough that you are never quite sure of your footing. (there'll be a full review posted at Bags in the next few days). As it turns out, Sunhine Has Blown is a Stern-organized duo with Adam Park (plus guests) and represents yet another facet of his musical persona.

There's an overtly dopey tendency to think of Australia as one place so to say "Australian new music" severely over-simplifies the issue but, that borne in mind, there's still an amazing amount of quality work coming out of that nether continent. Distance, I assume, inhibits too much touring in Europe and the States, which is a shame. The handful of Aussies I've met from the scene (Guerra, Michael Graeves, Will Guthrie) have been outstandingly fine people as well as wonderful musicians. It's too bad if they get relatively short shrift due solely to geographic isolation. Give Oz some.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

There's a Downtown Jersey City list I frequent (, I think) more for keeping up with local activities than for discussion, though there are at least a few interesting folk thereabouts. Someone today started the inevitable "Top X-number Greatest Albums" thread. This person chose 5. Of course, it's a silly proposition to think about, still--thinking about it, actually taking the notion seriously, causes some amount of discomfort. What if, for some ungodly reason, you really had to make this choice, picking five albums to take to your desert island (or Ellis Island, in Jersey City's case)? I think if I were given 500, I might feel OK with my selections. Maybe. I'm sure that "Duos for Doris" (Rowe/Tilbury) would be one, though. After that, bets are off. Needless to say, the titles crowding the list are the usual rock suspects. *yawn*. Just to get people confused/aggravated, I posted Doris, along with Mingus Presents Mingus, Partch's Delusion of the Fury, AMM's The Crypt and Feldman's For Bunita Marcus as played by Tilbury. Could do worse, I guess.

Monday, August 14, 2006

So I spent a good portion of this past weekend, interspersed with shepherding niece's children around, listening to all those Fargones and there were several that stood out. Aside from the previously mentioned "Momeht Ybaxehnr" disc, the one illustrated here from a the quartet of Mattin (computer), Jean-Luc Guionnet and Bertrand Denzler (saxophones) and Taku Unami (computer-controlled toys), a live date engagingly titled, "-/:.", works very well. And Jeph Jerman's "Lithiary", sourced from shaker-tables filled with rocks, is superb. A real surprise, with some wonderful tracks, is Eric Alexandrakis' "Electro-Organic", a kind of rethinking of 80s techno-pop that comes across as a fine cross between Fennesz and the original Love of Life Orchestra. Even the pure noise stuff, related to the things I wrote about in my previous post, had far more nuance (and far less obnoxiousness) than I'd expected. Glad to have heard it all.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A couple of years ago, I received a package of discs from the Ground Fault and Auscultare labels out of California. They represented aspects of a scene I'd been vaguely aware of for a while, one which manifests around NYC each year at the No Fun Festival, held in the warehouse district of Red Hook, Brooklyn.

This particular musical seam can probably be traced back quite a ways, stemming from the more orgasmically noisy ends of both free jazz and out-rock, but I tend to give the credit or blame to Borbetomagus. The Borbs surfaced in the late 70s, if I'm not mistaken, two saxophonists (Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich) and a guitarist, Donald Miller. The latter was a regular hanger-out in the loft jazz scene and, in all honesty, a seriously annoying one. Something insufferably effete about his manners, as far as I was concerned although I should say when I've seen him in recent years, that tendency appears to have been weathered. In any case, your typical Borbs performance (I think I saw them once back then and heard them on KCR a number of times) was balls to the wall screaming and metallic distortion. It's as if they took Brotzmann's "Machine Gun" and "Metal Machine Music" as starting points and upped the ante from there. I wasn't fond of it then and I'm still not. Not because of the loudness, chaos, etc. but (at least I think in retrospect) for the absence of thought, something not the case with Brotzmann, Reed and others. At its core, there was an adolescent rock sensibility, a "look at me" kind of petulance and egotism that I found off-putting.

Well, the Borbs soldiered on over the decades, others misread the lessons of groups like AMM (anything goes! well, not really.....) and a bit of a movement developed that approached noise from this rock performance-like angle. The discs I received varied widely in quality to my ears, from the puerilely unlistenable to the intriguingly excellent (Joe Colley, for instance). But for every rich, interesting sound-world, there were several guys (these are largely males in their 20s as near as I could tell) making vomiting noises, flushing toilets, screaming imprecations, arbitrarily creating electronic niose that seemed designed to aggravate their parents more than anything else. I thought, "This is what I'd expect from a rebellious and precocious 13-year old". I wrote as much when I reviewed them at Bagatellen but this didn't deter the label from sending more stuff, again varying enormously in listenability.

A few months later, the No Fun Fest was occurring and I thought, to be fair, I should witness the music in its proper context so I trundled over to Red Hook for an evening. I saw Greg Kelley inside (I hadn't realized he was playing with one of the 7-8 bands on display that night) and he opined that I might have been a bit harsh in my judgment of some of these guys. "Could be", I said, "we'll see". The main room was pretty good-sized, maybe 75-feet square and there was a bank of bleachers at the rear so I plopped my relatively elderly butt there as masses of unwashed male youth began to flow in. It was pretty stinky. And crowded. The first act was a duo (I forget the name now--Para-something), playing homemade electronics and vocalizing. I quickly picked up on a de riguer aspect of this scene--all vocals must be done with microphone shoved inside of mouth as deeply as possible. Ok then. They pranced, played and sang, creating a rough, noisy racket which, as abstract as they might have liked to think they were being, never escaped rock-style posturing. At a certain point it appeared from my vantage that one of the gentleman was, in fact, vomiting on his mic, an assumption proven correct as an unmistakable odor wafted back my way. "Well", I thought, "I guess I have to give them credit for not merely evoking the sounds of egestion, but actually doing it." The next guy, solo, didn't vomit as nearly as I could tell, but similarly gesticulated and orgasmed through an utterly boring run of noise. Seriously, these fellows need to be locked in a room with AMM records for a long while.

The third performance was someone I'd reviewed unfavorably (I swear I'm forgetting his name at the moment) and who Greg had made special note of as to his musical worth. I respect Greg and enjoy his own music greatly, so I hoped for the best. I'd gotten out of my seat and wandered around between sets, venturing downstairs only to encounter a hairy, bare-chested (and, shockingly, really smelly) gent growling through the crowd, lending an even more pungent olfactory air to the environs. When I returned, there was standing room only, the crowd having mushroomed to several hundred, and I was backed against the rear wall. The show started, the solo performer at a keyboard of some sort. It turns out he's, I believe, a PETA activist and chose to accompany his set with video of many, many animals being killed, scientifically tortured, etc. I think the point, such as it was, was impressed in the mind of the stupidest person present in about four seconds, but the videos went on for 30-40 minutes, whatever the length of the set. The music itself was actually better than its predecessors, but....Midway through, Greg sidled up to me and shouted into my left ear, "You may have been right."

I chose to leave after that set, forgoing several others that, I came to understand, included the swinging of chairs among the crowd and other niceties. *sigh*, kids....

However, scene is so monolithic, even one that seems to have monolithicism (?) as one of its core values. A few weeks back, Ed Howard was kind enough to send me a box of about 15 discs on his Fargone label and the related Quodlibet imprint. Some of the same musicians are involved but, listening to it at home and from a safe distance odiferously speaking, you can begin to discern more variation in approach. There's also less apparent posturing and schoolboy obnoxiousness present. That isn't to say I'm loving a lot of it, but it's rather interesting to try and adopt a listening posture that's less confrontational to the music's surface aspect and somewhat more accepting of its mannerisms, allowing oneself as much as possible to sink into it on its own terms. You begin to identify items of value among the seeming thoughtlessness, at least in some of the work. I'm still wading through it and I doubt any of it will end up among music I return to again and again, but for the first time I'm seeing seeds of something that could, maybe, develop into a fairly strong branch of improv.

It's not really in the same ballpark as the music described above, but I'd make special mention of the Russian duo going by the novel moniker, Momeht Ybaxenhr, whose extremely limited edition disc (like, 30) "Five Moments of Silence for the Many Dead of Chechnya", consisting entirely of very restrained field recording deployment, is outstanding.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Back on 6/30, I waxed enthuasistic on reconnecting with High School friends, spurred on by my recent contact with one Debby P. (I imagine I shouldn't list by full name people who might not want to be so identified...dunno. Maybe I'll go back and edit). As near as I could tell, she seemed very happy at being thought of and contacted and I, after sending back a little recap of the intervening 30 or so years, looked forward very much to hearing from her in more detail.

But, so far, nada. It's just hard to figure, one of the vagaries in e-communication. It could be something similar that happened with Rich K. where, as near as I can figure, he may have felt as though, given our subsequent "career paths", there wouldn't be much to discuss. I disagree, of course, but if that's the case, I respect his judgment. Of course, there could be any number of reasons, including ill-health, family issues, who knows what? But it's just a little bizarre, sitting around waiting, not knowing if it's appropriate to send another mail, not nudging but just inquiring if everything's OK, if she'd prefer not to engage. Carol says, "Oh just wait, she'll respond." so that's what I'm doing....

I did meet with Matt (and his lovely wife Lisa) last month, spending a fine few hours walking around and reminiscing. Good guy; hope to see him again.

Been thinking about memory gaps a lot this weekend, areas (people) who dropped out of one's consciousness for one reason or another. Precipitated by talking with Carol Friday evening, trying to figure out why, though I was quite enamored of her in 5th grade, I couldn't for the life of me place her in 6th and through most of HS until about junior year. We shared the same homeroom, for instance, and though I recall a number of other classmates (who I can't imagine I liked nearly as much), I just can't visualize Carol there. Very frustrating in and of itself and, of course, calls into question what one remembers generally, how much one's lost.

Friday, August 04, 2006

I posted a review of sorts of 'between', the latest release by Keith Rowe and Toshi Nakamura, at bags yesterday. Very difficult work to write about as there's always more than the music to talk about whenever Rowe is involved but explicating it without sounding exceedingly vague or impossibly abstract is tough. How is their work crucially different from your garden-variety eai pair? Well, it is, but parsing it out ain't easy.

I assume he wasn't the first to do so, but Dali used to write about tiny but hugely important steps taken by painters, little adjustments that made all the difference in the world. Raphael taking the model of Perugino's Virgin Mary's and given the heads just the slightest tilt, for instance, but that tilt opening up the floodgates to vastly deeper human-ness in painting. Vermeer expanding on Pieter de Hooch's interiors--the subtle placement of objects, the more luminous treatment of lighting--in one sense the two's work is very similar but the small-ish steps taken by Vermeer catapult his work into an entirely different realm in other, more important, senses.

So if you have two fellas working with ticks and drones (to overly narrow it down)--how is what they're producing different than two other guys producing "similarly" abstract noise? Why is a smear by de Kooning more beautiful than one by Joe Art Student? Well, context, of course and as part of that, awareness of one's suroundings, placement of this instead of that, here instead of there. It's a poetic construct, basically, one that the observer either perceives and appreciates or not. I wish it didn't come down to this degree of subjectivity and part of me still thinks that, conceivably, it doesn't have to (though I've been unable to delve deeply enough to explicate it in words, if it's possible at all) but that's the best I can do. There's some satisfaction derived from the appreciation of other listeners whose taste and judgment I respect seeming to come around, more or less, to similar thoughts as I have. But who knows?

It's interesting how resistant certain listeners remain to this mode of criticism, though. There's still a mind/body dualism out there that doesn't want to deal in abstractions, even when abstractions are explicitly one of the creators' concerns. I think many listeners simply don't want to have to think about too much, just to listen. Which is too bad.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

So, I take the three aforementioned books on my France trip. I'm about halfway through the Updike. Unlike "Rabbit, Run", it's impressing me more as what I'd expected from a (talented) writer in his late 20s. The observational parts are as brilliant as I've come to expect but the Greek fantasy episodes are weak and come off as an entirely unnecessary flouting of the author's erudition. In any case, I'm dipping into while waiting at CDG for Linda (long story re: connecting flights not worth going into), depositing it into the little basket atop my (free!) luggage cart when I go walking around. Linda arrives, has her own cart, we consolidate baggage onto hers and walk blithely away, leaving poor Updike in the basket, nevermore to be seen. Damn. Worse, ambling over to the nearest bookstore to my office (a surprisingly well-stocked Border's), they didn't have it. So no determination on "The Centaur" yet.

The Russell, as expected, was fine. Pretty amazing how current many of his concerns remain. Its spine now on prominent display in my bookcase, awaiting the shocked discovery by one of my in-laws....

But the real discovery was Norman Rush's "Mating". What a wonderful novel! Not that I keep so up to date on all things literary, but I'm a little baffled as to how this work, published in 1991, flew so entirely below my radar. It's certainly good enough--and seems to have been deemed so from most quarters--that I'd've expected it to be routinely mentioned in the years since. Dunno! In any case, it's a very fine story with a couple (and more) of seriously fascinating characters. Perhaps there was some discomfort re: a male writer painting such an honest, self-searching portrait of a female character, but that character is one of the finest and most beautifully drawn I've come across in ages. Great book.

So, I picked up his third, and most recent, book, "Mortals" yesterday.

Also acquired a collection of linguistic essays, "Language Myths", edited by Laurie Bauer & Peter Trudgill as well as Paul Feyerabend's "Conquest of Abundance".

Oh, and reading "To Kill a Mockingbird: at home, which I'd never gotten around to....
Back from a pleasant week in France. Linda and I first trained to Nantes to stay chez Rowe in Vallet for a couple of evenings. Met by keith and, a nice surprise, Will Guthrie at the station. Will (an Australian living in Nantes the last few years) has been producing some of the best music I've encountered recently (check out his "Spear" and his wonderful duo with Ferran Fages, "cinabri" on Absurd. I'm highly anticipating his upcoming release on Richard Pinnell's new imprint, "Cathnor" as well); great to finally meet him. Rowe's converted cellier (? I think I have the term correct) in the midst of a Muscadet vineyard, is a beautiful place, he and his wife Stephanie the most gracious of hosts.

Then back to Paris for five days, doing the standard museum hops, multi-kilometres of trudging (legs still a bit sore), ingesting of local foodstuffs, withering away in the heat. Very appreciative of the beach chairs along the Seine esplanade; great place to snooze, read, ogle the locals, etc. Such accommodations would probably last less than an hour around NYC....

Back to face about nine discs received during my absence:

3 CDRs from Asher Thal-Nir (very nice on first listen)
2 from the Australian label Room40 (Greg Davis/Jeph Jerman & Lloyd Bennett)
3 from For4Ears (Muller/Yoshida/Okura, Muller/Moslang and Moslang solo)
1 from OgreOgress, "For Feldman", a DVD audio disc.

*sigh* never ends!