Thursday, November 30, 2006

Kenny Weir (an Aussie, naturally) posted this at JazzCorner recently. I've seen similar images in the past but not for a while. Interesting how disorienting it is, no? You see things one way your whole life and they acquire a "rightness" on which you (or, at least, I) hang certain attributes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of the situation. Like the way Africa "hangs" pendulously, like a hunk of melting camembert. Or Australia, like a sack of grain propped on a log. You assign gravitational qualities to land masses as though "down" means anything in this context. Look at the US. I mean, it's entirely natural to, in the West at least, have a nice, delineated border, a firm pinion from which the rest of the country hangs, its irregular tatters along the southern border entirely explicable. Here's another image that abstracts things helpfully:

Though this strikes me as less troubling, even without national borders (not sure what that arc thing is) it seems a bit alop. Africa looks perilously poised there, about to tumble into the Atlantic not to mention South America all but snapping off; no way that little isthmus can bear so much weight!

I guess the less deeply familiar you are with a geographical area, the less you're bothered by it. For example, to me Japan looks positively natural!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I'm consistently amazed at the ability of the brain (well, my brain, but I assume the characteristic applies widely) to remember music and lyrics it hasn't encountered in decades. I mean, I forget all sorts of things routinely, but all someone has to do is mention a given pop song from 1967 and, bam, there it is, at my mental beck and call at an astonishing level of detail. A year or two ago, there was some discussion of the Incredible String Band on JazzCorner. Their "Changing Horses" album was a big favorite of mine in high school and I have fond memories of seeing them at Vassar around 1971. However, this record, along with the vast majority of my rock holdings, was sacrificed in the Great Rock Purge of 1975 when I traded 'em all in, purifying my collection to almost all jazz components. Even in retrospect, I bet about 80% of them are better off gone though, in the intervening years I did have to replenish things like Beefheart, Hendrix and such. I remember a couple of times looking over "Changing Horses" in the disc bins, wondering how I'd hear it today.

In any case, when the subject was brought up on JC, I immediately flashed on the opening track, "Big Ted", a song I'd not heard once, I feel safe in saying, for over 30 years. But there it was, complete and whole, music and--at least for the most part--lyrics. Where was this lodging all those decades, so uncorrupted? This morning, while walking Nanook, "Big Ted" surfaced unbidden once again. I was whistling the tune, singing the song in my head. Let me see how close I've gotten the lyrics; this is without checking:

Well Big Ted's dead, he was a great old pig
He'd eat most anything never wore a wig
Now he's gone like snow on the water
Don't cry

He was getting old, so the farmer said
Sold him to the butcher just to make a little bread
Now he's gone like snow on the water

Ted may be a moo cow next time around
Giving sweet milk to the people in the twon
He'll be whatever he will choose
On air or sea or ground

Sows are busy with piglets fine
I'd put them in the forest now if they were mine
'Cause I know they like acorns
And I don't like bacon

( a bunch of diddly-diddlies and sham-sham shanoos....)

Big Ted's on and gone.
OK, now to check on-line. Here's what comes up:

Big Ted's dead , he was a great old pig
He'd eat most anything, never wore a wig
Now he's gone like snow on the water, good bye

He was getting old so the farmer said
"Sold him to the butcher just to make a little bread"
Now he's gone like snow on the water, don't cry

Ted may be a moo cow next time around
Giving sweet milk to the people in the town
He'll be whatever he will choose on air or sea or ground

The sows are busy with the piglets fine
I'd put them in the forest now if they were mine
cause I know they like acorns and I don't like bacon

Boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy
Squidly, squidly, squidly, squidly, squidly, squidly, squidly
Boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy, boochy
Sham sham sharoo, oh sham sham sharoo

Big Ted's sold and gone


Not too shabby. I still like "on" better than "sold" in that last line, though.

However, they also include these other stanzas which only ring a vague bell with me:

He came into the kitchen while we were away
He took all the rice and he forgot to pay
He´s gone like snow on the water, good bye

He never cared to do the boogaloo dance
All he ever thought about was food and romance
And he's gone like snow on the water, good bye

Interesting that this set of lyrics would vanish while the others are almost perfectly intact.

Memory is strange.


Mattin/Tim Barnes - Achbal Al Atlas
Mike Shiflet - Ichinomiya 5.3.6
Asher Thalnir - Landscapes elsewhere
Alessandro Bosetti - Il Fiore della Bocca (a rather disturbing recording using the voices of mentally deficient patients as principal sound source)
Alison Knowles/Taketo Shimada - fluxsweet

Monday, November 27, 2006

Went to the Met yesterday with my friend Carol and saw two exhibitions that, when visited consecutively, make for some interesting comparisons. The first was a show containing German portraits from the 20s, the second, titled "Americans in Paris", focussed on late 19th century US expatriate work.

I've never been very enthusiastic about the former whose ranks include Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, etc. This despite the fact that my most important painting teacher, Alton Pickens, came very much out of that tradition. My main issue probably has to do with my aversion to caricature, of being told how one should react to an image or person rather than allowing the viewer (or listener or reader) to work it out for himself. If the subject of a painting is, in the artist's mind, evil, shallow, vile, etc., I'd prefer that those qualites emerge from a careful viewing of his personage, not from warped eyes, horns sprouting from head, coins being rubbed between fingers and so on. It's like in a crappy, normal movie where the casting of the "bad guy" involves finding an actor with shifty eyes, a 5 o'clock shadow, whatever, essentially screaming at you, "This guy is bad!". One feels pushed. (I'm reminded of the wonderful John Cage line when, while fidgeting through a performance of "The Messiah", was asked by his concert companion Peggy Guggenheim (iirc) if he didn't like being moved. "I don't mind being moved," he replied, "I just don't like to be pushed.") Whatever technical or aesthetic prowess appears--and many of the works here are quite impressive to look out on those grounds--that sense of being sledgehammered tends to be rife. There are exceptions, to be sure. Christian Schad, one of whose works appears above, is far more subtle even, a la Velazquez, investing his "freakish" subjects with a quiet, sad dignity. I found Schad's work as represented in this show, generally very interesting and understated, disturbing even if you're not sure why. I also thought this self-portrait by Karl Hubbuch was striking and disquieting. As an aside, it was intriguing to see how long a shadow had been cast by Durer, intimations of whom could be seen throughout the exhibition.

The "Americans in Paris" show, on the other hand, while populated by a far higher percentage of bland works (American Impressionists, in particular, have never greatly impressed me) contains several portraits that exactly get to what I prize wherein the viewer has to exercise his brain and read into the figures and their environment. I've always had a weakness for John Singer Sargent whose bravura technqiue may sometimes get in the way of his acute observational powers (his watercolors! Unbelievable stuff). While at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston ('74-'75) I spent many an hour in front of this baby. On one level, of course, it's a kind of society group portrait. The girls are clearly privileged and comfortable. But the picture on the whole, with its dark, looming background, its oversized vases, etc. implies an uncertain future and, in my view, casts doubt on exactly how comfortable this family really is in other than material terms. The vast distances between the subjects. Plus, admittedly, it's just gorgeously painted, with "Las Meninas" clearly in mind.

There was another portrait, I think by Charles Curran (though I can't locate a reproduction) where the sitter's eyes, obscured behind fogged spectacles, cause one to puzzle over his character, looking for other clues in the accompanying objects, his stance, the position of his hands, etc. You can't be quite sure about it. A given Dix might be a better painting in a number of respects (a lack of academic quality among them), but a Sargent or Curran provides far more latitude to the viewer to make his/her own judgments and interpretations, without being pushed. The parallels, from such an odd choice of areas, to contemporary eai, are interesting......

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Had another thoroughly enjoyable Record Club last evening. Guests were the painter David Humphrey and his wife, painter Jennifer Coates. David played a track from Fred Frith's "Gravity" and then a pretty fascinating one by the Brooklyn-based thrash/rap/jazz band Candiria, Jennifer a wild piece by the 60s British psych/folk group Comus. One of the interesting things about hearing the music in this context is how good something can sound which I would never, ever have gone a half-inch out of my way to hear. Something like the First Edition's "Ruby" which Nayland played last night. Scary. Derick came up with a marvelous piece by Ian Murray from an old Tellus cassette. Kind of an early Plunderphonics piece from around 1970, Murray edited together the opening 10 seconds from all the Number One pop hits of that year, back to back, then hired a drummer to "play along" with the tape without having heard it. Pretty hilarious. My selections were, 1) "Qua Cau Gio Bay", from Vol. 1 of Music from Vietnam, the fantastic three-disc set issued in '94 by the horribly named Celestial Harmonies label. It features Trieu Tien Vuong on the sao mot lo, a bamboo flute capable of a gorgeous, keening tone. The piece is a folk song, one that was covered by, of all people, Henry Kaiser as part of a medley with a blues and a Grateful Dead piece ("Cold Rain and Snow", I think) on one of his cover albums, an incredibly beautiful song and 2) "The Ballad of Wounded Cities" from Blitzstein's "Airborne Symphony" about which I've raved earlier.

On the way there, I made a stop at Shakespeare's and picked up:

Updike - Rabbit Redux
Murakami - After the Quake
Palahniuk - Haunted

I read the first contained story in the latter, "Guts" after getting home last night whilst parked on the toilet. Not a good place to read that particular story. Hard to believe that some variation on the escapade described therein failed to make it into "The Aristocrats".

With a little more time to waste, stopped in DMG and bought a new Feldman release on New World. Three pieces, all earlier recordings. "The Viola in My Life" with an ensemble that includes David Tudor, Feldman conducting, "False Relationships and the Extended Ending" with Paul Jacobs and Yuji Takahashi on pianos, Feldman again conducting and "Why Patterns?" with Eberhard Blum, Jan Williams and Feldman his own bad self on piano. That last made it a necessary buy as I don't believe I have any other recordings with Feldman playing his own work Beautiful stuff. The ending of "Why Patterns?" kills me every time.

I also bought, with many reservations, the new Earle Brown disc on Tzadik. Those reservations revolved around the personnel which, looking at the back cover where they're grouped together, included Zorn stalwarts like Ikue Mori, Sylvie Courvoisier, Mark Feldman etc, and musicians I've never cared for like Larry Polansky. On the other hand, Steven Drury was there as well as Christian Wolff and Brown himself. Happily, Manny had an open copy, so I could ascertain that the performances (of "Folio" and "Four Systems") were in varying combinations with most of my uncared for personnel confined to single tracks. It's on now. Sounds pretty OK.

Oh, and the Lescalleet review referenced yesterday is up here

Saturday, November 25, 2006

I'll probably post my write-up of Jason Lescalleet's astonishingly powerful "The Pilgrim" at Bags tomorrow, but anyone interested, don't wait. A great, great recording, immensely sad and moving (it's an homage to his father, who died from cancer last year).

Listening at the moment to Howard Skempton's "Well, Well, Cornelius" (Tilbury at the piano), much of the music also summoning up a certain, very moving kind of melancholy.

Recent Arrivals:

Mark Wastell - Amoungst English Men (absinth) - very different tack than usual for Mark, having something of a ritualistic air. For piano, tam tam and tubular bell.

Filament - Dark Room filled with Light - DVD of a video film by Yasunori Ikunishi, Yasunori Kakegawa and Tetsuya Nagato with two distinct soundtracks by Yoshihide and Sachiko M. Very interesting on first blush. See Robert Kilpatrick's fine review here

And three frlom the Greek label antifrost (thanks, Dimitris!)

AS II - Monotheism
Textu rizer - 7
Francisco Lopez/Ilios - Hysechasterion

Having much fun with the Rashomon collection....

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Maybe it will become something of a trend--maybe it is already and I've only recently encountered it--but two recent releases combining music and interactive video have made their way into my paws. These don't, just to be clear, consist of videos accompanied by music. In each case there's a direct connection between the musician and what appears on the video, both performers improvising, the images changing in real-time depending on what gets played and relayed.

"Gdansk Queen", created by Toshimaru Nakamura and Billy Roisz (known, in duo, as AVVA) was released a couple months back on Erstwhile. Toshi's one of my favorite musicians extant, half of what for my money is the finest release of 2006, also on Erstwhile, 'between', with Keith Rowe. I'd seen Billy Roisz' work a couple of times previously, both in live contexts, once at Tonic, once at the Austrian Cultural Center. In each instance, I found it only mildly interesting. Let me backtrack.

I'm not an expert on avant video by any means, but I've seen my share of it since the early 70s. My tendency, especially if the work is more toward the abstract, is toward pieces of visual, formal depth. I have something of an aversion to flatness in the visual arts and certain branches of abstract video play to that hand. Images that I think I can grasp the essence of in a short time quickly begin to bore me when they hang around. It's not as simple as that, to be sure, but there are certain elements that tend to reappear in many videos...hard to describe as a class, except they're often "crisp-edged" and thin appearing. Vague, I understand. In any case, that had been my impression of Roisz' work previously and, while it's mitigated to an extent on the AVVA release, that's still an aspect I have trouble with. Another is the direct, one-to-one correspondence of the sounds created by Toshi to the changing of the video images. Toshi's contributions are really pared down here, his no-input mixing board sounding more unprocessed than normal, generating more the type of sound you'd expect from such devices "out of the box". In and of itself, that takes some getting used to and I'm not quite there yet on much of it. A noise emerges or modulates and the video alters in some manner. Roisz, presumably, is also at the same time introducing variations into what can change, how it will change, etc. I find, a little paradoxically perhaps, that when really concentrating on it, I have a difficult time maintaining interest. When I played it on the monitor I have adjacent to my PC at home, when it became one of several activities in the room, I found it much more engaging. I don't know why exactly, and wouldn't at all be averse to the notion that I'm simply not getting what there is to be gotten. On the other hand, there are several moments when things do indeed click for me and, suddenly, the piece attains a degree of profundity, though I'd be hard pressed to delineate why it worked here and not there. Maybe it'll sink in in a few years.

I posted a review earlier today of theMichael Renkel/Sonia Bender DVD, "7ft._KONKA" at Bags, here so I won't go into too much detail. Suffice it to say that Bender's video renderings are far more to my taste, generally speaking, using imagistic, dreamlike themes that are at once beautiful and disturbing, layering them in a manner that evokes Rauschenberg prints from the 60s (always a big favorite of mine). I had a suspicion that Renkel was splitting the signal from his guitar into several, only one of which was influencing the video at a given moment. Purely based on what I was seeing/hearing, this seemed to be the case as you can sometimes discern a relationship between a sound and a visual change, but it's often buried beneath other waves of sound having no apparent effect on the video. I mailed him and asked him about it, but he says there's just a one-to-one correspondence. Dunno, I remain a little unconvinced of that--maybe a lack of good communication betwixt German and English--but if so, the effect is certainly different than with the AVVA DVD, much more organic and hypnotic.

As I said in the review, I have a feeling that certain moments of the AVVA are deeper than anything on "7ft._KONKA" (and, no, I've no idea what the title refers to. The Konka is a river, I think a tributary of the Dnieper, but what 7ft. would have to do with that, I dunno). There are points where everything coheres and the work becomes fundamentally mysterious. But on the whole, the Renkel/Bender work provided more pleasure. Not that pleasure need be the sine qua non, but....

So, I expect we'll see more in this vein. I imagine someone's already tried the reverse approach: have aspects of the video image generate sounds, the sound performer modulating them on the fly. Hopefully it won' t become a de rigueur thing, though, where everyone feels they have to do such a collaboration. Should only occur, like anything else, when it's necessary to concretize an idea.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

One odd thing right off the bat: I guess when this album, "Blues Forever" was issued on disc they reoriented the cover painting because mine, on the original vinyl, floats horizontally. I suppose it makes sense in that the face drawn in gold does stand that way. I always figured there was something to his sideways-ness, but maybe they simply screwed up the image first time through.

Anyway, next in line for Abrams' continuing work with mid-size bands, this 11-piece date from 1981. And, as mentioned previously, it pretty much sticks true to the unfortunate model of one killer, relatively straightahead track and a passel of less interesting, more academic ones. Oh, there's the brief (2 minutes) "Du King", a kind of rave-up you'd hear from the World Sax Quartet, but it's more bluster than substance. The band has lost something personnel-wise, with utility infielders like Eugene Ghee, Jimmy Vass and Michael Logan sitting in. It also features the newcomer Jean-Paul Bourelly who, difficult as it may be to believe these days, once showed a great deal of promise. "Duet for One World", closing out Side One, plods along more mercilessly than almost anything I can imagine. (Just about alone among people who listen to this stuff, I'm no big fan of Sam Rivers' "Crystals", but if you enjoy that, I suppose you might like this one too).

Ah, but then the title track. Gooey, dirty, slimy, wonderful slow blues. Bourelly playing the way he should've for much longer, a richly voiced horn back-up, nicedeep bass. Craig Harris with a fine muted solo, the riffs varying beautifully, Muhal at his bluesiest; man, when he gets cooking, he's unstoppable. The tempo picks up midway through, Baikida Carroll strutting finely, the hugely undervalued Wallace McMillan with a strong baritone statement, the pace slowing down to an ooze, taken out with a bang. Wonderful stuff.

But then it continues....the chant in the following number, "Cluster for Many Worlds", is simply painful to experience. The words were inscribed on the back of the record with Amina; they read pretty awfully there--they sound much worse when actually spoken. The final cut, "Quartet to Quartet", for the musicians sans rhythm section at the start, is the kind of romantic/academic piece that Hemphill could pull off. Abrams gives it a go, but it goes into serious meandertude after a couple of minutes and never really gets back on track until it eventually breaks into a tight little rampage in a neo-bop vein. Still, more mess than meat.

Sometime in the late 80s, I made a compilation tape of all the amazing single tracks from Muhal's albums of that decade. That was a nice tape.

Abrams did the painting for his first album, "Levels and Degrees of Light" (which, unaccountably, I don't have) and with this release, began to use his works routinely for covers. I go back and forth on them, myself. This one is rather nice but sometimes the fauxness of the Africanisms gets to me, much like my reservations on the Art Ensemble's use of "tribal" paint.


HZL (Jesse Kudler/Tim Albro ) - Ayes
Taylor Deupree/Kenneth Kirschner/Tomas Korber/Steinbruchel/Aaron Ximm - May 6, 2001
Nina Katchadourian previously appeared on these pages with a pair of caterpillars affixed to her upper lip. Today, there's a front page (of the Arts Section) article on her latest project, Office Semaphores, in the New York Times. Another lovely, haunting idea from this absurdly fertile mind. Here's the piece:

Watch That Space: The Oracle of the 17th Floor

Published: November 21, 2006

The creators of the maritime semaphore system apparently did not have New York office workers in mind when they formulated the staccato messages used by ships and ports for basic communication. But as it turns out, the language is quite supple when it comes to conveying the universal urban condition.

Top, at Liberty and William Streets in Lower Manhattan, Martin Griffin, left, and Jerry Morgero check out Nina Katchadourian’s artwork, a semaphore on a lawyer’s office window sill. Center, a key to the code lets viewers interpret the changing messages. Bottom, the viewing platform, at 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza.

There are signals for the angry: “Keep clear of me.” There are signals for the frustrated: “I have received faulty instructions.” And of course there are signals for the weary and the Friday-afternoon defeated: “I am dragging anchor”; “I require a tug”; “I am ending maneuvers early.”

Several years ago the artist Nina Katchadourian found herself staring up at the sky full of office windows in Times Square and thinking about the faceless occupants behind them. “You think, ‘My God, all those anonymous people up there, living and working,’ ” she said. “There’s this sense of so much detachment between interior and exterior.”

With the cooperation of one of those anonymous people and the help of the Public Art Fund, Ms. Katchadourian is now trying to build a bridge — or at least, as she says, stretch a tenuous thread — between those two worlds.

Last week, on a windy plaza at the corner of Liberty and William Streets in Lower Manhattan, workers installed a heavy-duty tourist-type telescope. Its lens is fixed on a 17th-floor office window two blocks to the east, and at least once a day for the next two months the corporate lawyer who sits near that window will choose three objects from his office — for instance, a potted plant, a picture of his young son and a calculator — and arrange them on the sill. Anyone who wanders by the telescope can peer into it and see the objects, a kind of occupational variant on the famous lanterns in the Old North Church.

Then, using a pictorial key mounted on the telescope, the observer can translate the lawyer’s messages and, perhaps, divine something about personality or his soul. Or at least whether the deli forgot to put mustard on his pastrami sandwich again.

On Thursday morning, the first day of the project, a calculator, a clock and a glass jar filled with brightly colored markers could be seen on the sill, arranged left to right, announcing that the lawyer was “proceeding without incident.”

But at about a quarter past noon a woman with small-framed eyeglasses and a half-smile — maybe a coworker or assistant — could be seen at the window assembling a new message. (Apparently even conceptual art can be delegated.) She removed the clock and the jar and replaced them with a container full of heavy-duty paper clips and a potted plant. The calculator was shuffled to the far right.

The new message was either existentially portentous or maybe just an indication that the lawyer needed a nap. “I am adrift,” it said, gnostically.

As big-city voyeurism goes, the project might not be exactly titillating. But Ms. Katchadourian, 38, said she sees it as a modern form of portraiture, especially suited to such a large and impersonal city. The project, which she had tried to bring off several times before, also unites her obsession with things nautical (she collects shipwreck literature) and her love of languages, codes and signs. In one earlier piece, she replaced the regular sounds of several car alarms with snatches of birdsong. In another, she inserted a microphone into a concession-stand popcorn machine and then used a computer to analyze the sounds of the pops, converting them into Morse code to reveal what the popcorn was “saying.”

Rochelle Steiner, the director of the Public Art Fund, saw the popcorn project several years ago and said it stuck in her mind. “I thought it was just such a wacky yet rigorous piece dealing with communication and language,” she said.

The logistics of the semaphore project were considerably more complex. First, a site for the telescope had to be found, with good sight lines and a chance of a decent crowd. Then someone in a nearby office had to be enlisted to serve as the unseen oracle of the postmodern predicament.

Ms. Katchadourian said she felt that it was imperative to the meaning of the work that the participant remain anonymous, just another life being lived high above the city. The lawyer immediately got the idea, she said, and was more than happy to contribute his knickknacks while keeping his identity a secret. Together they chose the objects to be displayed and then she devised a code for the objects to correspond to a dozen basic semaphore messages, which are usually conveyed with colored flags.

On the first day of the project, only a few observers wandered tentatively over to check it out, seemingly confused about why a tourist telescope was pointed in the direction of nothing particularly touristy. But Bill Fatouras, a project manager for Chase Manhattan Bank, who had walked outside to enjoy a cigarillo, squinted into the telescope and said he would return to make a daily smoke-break check on his nameless neighbor.

“That way if he’s having a bad day and I’m having a bad day, maybe we can get some empathy going, you know what I mean?” he said.

Martin Griffin and Jerry Morgero, underwriters for a commercial insurance company, said they might keep tabs too, but admitted that they didn’t quite know what to think of the project as an artwork.

Mr. Morgero shrugged: “I guess it just goes to show what I don’t know about art.”

Mr. Griffin shrugged too, but then brightened.

“It’s a big, glorified mood ring,” he said. “If that’s what it is, I like it.”

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Back in my Environ days, Amina Claudine Myers was a frequent presence both in our loft and others. A charming woman, she cut a unique figure on the scene. She was (still is, I suppose) a bit short with a somewhat stunted posture (I suspect something odd with the spine), tended toward floor length African-print sarong-type attire and was probably the first person I ever saw, around '77, to style her hair in lengthy tight braids with all sorts of shells, metal and other trinkets wrapped therein. She was also one of several musicians who overtly had never lost the connection between blues and sould bands and the avant garde, having come up, if I'm not mistaken, as an organist for many a smoky bar band as well as for gospel choirs. If she was in a group, you could always count on at least some of the music being deeply grounded in the tradition. And she was always a peasure to deal with.

For several years prior to this '81 recording, duos had become very popular. While part of the reason was musical (conversationl free improvisation at its most minimal an uncamouflaged) there were strong economic imperatives as well. Duo piano albums were pretty unusual, though. Not sure if there was a precedent for this, at least among US free jazz musicians (someone can correct me if I'm wrong). With Myers alongside, Abrams' increasing tendency toward dry formalism was nicely muted and the result is a solid, enjoyable recording. Nothing too spectacular or earthshaking, but solid with an abundance of blues-soaked playing and even boogie in the finely titled, "Down the Street from the Gene Ammons Public School". The lone free, Taylor-ish track doesn't fare very well --much storming about, little left to ponder--but it leads into the highlight of the session, Myers' beguiling "Dance from the East", an extremely catchy, motoric composition that whizzes along with cheerful abandon. Listening to it now, I'm reminded, of all things, of Ron Geesin's solo piano pieces from albums like 'Patruns'. "Duet" closes with a lovely, balladic tribute to Abrams' wife, Peggy.


Finished Kishi's "The Crimson Labyrinth". It's a light read in most respects but I have to say it kept me fairly rapt throughout. I'm thinking of the author now as Murakami's younger, still comic book-reading, games-obsessed brother. Curious to see how he progresses and mildly interested in reading his previous works, though I'm not sure if anything else has been translated into English--don't think so....though I see three films have been made from his books in Japan.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Well, with a turntable back in the house, I can return to occasionally carrying on with the little project I began some months back, Browsing Through My Record Collection. When last we met, I'd gotten to Muhal's "Mama and Daddy" but wasn't sure my recollections were up to snuff. So I played it today and, I'm afraid they were. "Afraid" in the sense that, with this album (Black Saint 0041, recorded June, 1980) Abrams settled into a kind of rut that would persist at least until I grew weary of checking out his every release. This rut consisted of, generally with one exception, constructing an album made up of exceedingly dry, quasi-academic works, albeit with a definitely jazz-based ensemble. That one exception, inevitably the saving grace of the session, was a heavy, often beautful, blues-based piece. The frustration factor was large. I mean., look at this line-up: Abrams, George Lewis, Wallace McMillan, Vincent Chauncey, Bob Stewart, Leroy Jenkins, Brian Smith, Andrew Cyrille, Thurmna Barker. All-Stars at every position. Yet he forces them through three pieces that are just tired excercises in melding avant playing with the sort of "classical" approach that was popular in Third Stream circles in the late 50s and early 60s and arrives as arid and brittle as week-old Wonder Bread here. When we finally reach the title cut, it's with a mix of joy and anger, the latter to the effect of, "Why aren't you filling the album with stuff this beautiful?!" *sigh* Gorgeously languid, strolling juicily along and capped by a superb Abrams solo. Almost worth it for this piece alone. Back in the late 80s, I made a cassette of the single pieces from this and subsequent Muhal albums that were worthwhile. Damn good. It's always struck me as bizarre that Abrams seems to have felt it necessary to prove himself in such a tedious area, as though the world needed more sterile, academic pseudo-avant classical music.

Oh yeah, the cover. I can't say I was ever all that big on the dressing in African costumes, the face-painting and all, but some people can pull it off better than others. And it helps when it's in some kind of context, even if it's just a performing stage. A photo that looks like it was taken in some mall-based picture studio just looks silly, reading as though someone had just rifled through the props basket. The one on the back cover, fortunately unavailable, is even worse.
Finally, after over a year without any turntable at all and after several where the chances of it functioning on a given day had dwindled below the 50% mark, I picked one up. I've never been an audiophile and I'm still not. I tend to look for mid-range items from companies with a good track record, sometimes scanning a few reviews. I picked out this Audio-Technica AT-PL120. It wasn't difficult to set up and it works, so I'm happy.

The immediate spur for this purchase was the arrival, a couple weeks back, of Jason Lescalleet's amazing release, "The Pilgrim", about which I'm sure I'll have much to say later. The bulk of it is on disc, but also included is a vinyl recording that I was very anxious to hear. It's an extremely moving piece of work and a very brave one as well.

The second thing I put on was the Philip Samartzis/Rasmus Lunding album, "Touch Parking". I managed to eke out one listen to that on the old turntable. This was a Nikko with a tone arm that ran perpendicular to the center of the record, gliding along in its slot. The problem was that it was increasingly refusing to drop once it reached the record's rim. The only way I could listen to "Touch Parking" at all was by stacking it atop six or seven other records so the needle could catch. Not very efficient. Philip was kind enough to send me a disc burn of the recording shortly thereafter but it was still nice to hear it as originally intended.

Both releases, by the way, feature elaborate photo-engraving on the vinyl. I think I posted one side of the Samartzis disc before. Here's the other. I have no idea how common this is among contemporary vinyl releases. I assume it is so, but I'm out of the loop on these things. I still remember how awesome we thought it was when that live Jethro Tull album from about 1971 appeared on translucent purple vinyl!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Over the last few years, I've been reading an awful lot of Japanese fiction, generally of the "serious" variety (Abe, Endo, Kawabata, Oe, etc.). Murakami, whom I often love, was probably the most popular of these authors though, of course, he's quite serious in his own way. Last week, on a whim, I picked up Yusuke Kishi's "The Crimson Labyrinth". As is often the case, I was initially intrigued by the cover with its high magnification of what appears to be some kitschy illustration, a nice abstraction of a banal image. Scanning the exterior blurbs, I saw that Kishi was being championed as a "rising new star of horror" and that the plot of this one had to do with some characters plopped down into a "real" computer strategy D&D adventure. It seemed silly enough but it had nonetheless pricked my curiosity, so I picked it up.

I'm only about halfway through so I'll suspend ultimate judgment but I've been happily surprised to find that it's at least somewhat more than its superficial aspects. Indeed, I'm picking up a great deal of Murakami here from the main protagonist (40-ish, drifting, confused about women) to the very matter-of-fact style of writing that hides all sorts of agitation beneath its surface. The plot is indeed on the fantastic side, though I'm not sure it's something Murakami wouldn't have considered, at least around the time of Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. A group of strangers awaken in a remote, desert-like environment where it quickly becomes apparent that they are "players" in a real-life strategy games, receiving information via handheld gaming devices similar to PSP2's . It's silly in one respect (if not several), or course, but serves to lay out a pretty fascinating (again in an understated Murakami-like fashion) array of human interactions. We'll see how it ends.

Kishi has apparently written a couple of things previously, "The Black House" and "Isola"; curious if anyone's read them. More, I'm interested in learning about other popular Japanese authors who may, in one way or another, be thought of as heirs to Murakami. Lemme know!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bagatellen's been hit by a blizzard of spam. I imagine it's something to do with the move to the new server but, damn. Hopefully Al and/or Derek can straighten thing sout soon. Please bear with us/them.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Last night, I posted a review at Bags of Henry Kuntz' solo album, "Wayang Saxophony Shadow Saxophone" which elicited a response from my buddy Dan Warburton that raised two issues of some interest.

One, more generally, has to do with audio CDs that stem from multimedia origins. In my experience, this is more commonly encountered in discs containing the sound portion of site installations (for instance, several of the Melbourne-based artists like Philip Samartzis or Michael Graeves). Sitting at home, dropping the disc into an audio player, the listener is necessarily cut out from much of the situation for which the sounds were designed. Listened to one way, you're often conscious of this lack, thinking, "If only I was able to hear this in its proper context, it would undoubtably have been more successful." I tend to say, "Well, use your imagination!" It ain't all that hard, especially if you've been given a degree of description of the intended environment in the liner notes or other explanatory text, to hear the music/sounds with at least some approximation of their proper context. Kuntz' music was meant to be heard accompanying some form of Balinese puppetry. You might say, "Well, he should have released a DVD". Yes, that would have been ideal but I'll assume for the moment that, given his likely financial situation, that wasn't an option. So, as listener, you have to do a bit more work. Heard "only" as music, the saxophonics (largely breath tones) didn't particularly captivate me. But I found that when I ran a mental movie of shadow puppetry (I've seen enough of it to be able to recreate the imagery without much problem), while listening, it worked 100% better. For me, it still wouldn't fall into what I'd consider "great" music, but it serves its purpose admirably and that's enough for me (arguably, as is usually the case with film soundtracks, it shouldn't be attention-gettingly good). I can understand someone not wanting to deal with only a piece of the package. Fair enough, but if that's in fact what you're presented with, I don't think it's too much to ask for a bit of compensatory work on the part of the listener.

Dan also voiced the commonly held (and not entirely unreasonable) opinion that there's nothing left to do vis a vis solo saxophone recordings. This has been bruited about for a number of years now and, de facto, there are an awful lot of boring solo sax discs floating around. Why the aversion to sax as opposed to other instruments? Well, imho, it has to do with the audible baggage that's part and parcel of saxophonics but which can be masked in other instruments. Brass, for example, seems to be more easily abstracted. You can listen to Greg Kelley playing by himself without necessarily picking up allusions to Miles or Bowie whilst saxophonists have a very hard time avoiding jazz connotations. It can be done, certainly, and is (Stephane Rives, for instance) but it's apparently far more difficult. There's also the "human cry" quality inherent in reeds, something generally eschewed within eai (good or bad? Neither, imho, but more to do with what's necessary in a given period; it was good to dispense with for a while--maybe it'll come back refreshed, viz. Kai Fagaschinski's gorgeous clarinet) that's difficult to cast off. In any case, there's the general idea that a given instrument is exhausted and that's something I have a problem with. That view narrows things down too far toward the instrument and away from the musician. It's tantamount to saying, "Everything's been done with the color red. You can't use it anymore in painting." There may, in reality, be a dearth of interesting solo saxophone recordings but I'd only view that for what it is, a lack at this time, and be wary of making a generalized prediction. Musicians have this habit of coming along and destroying one's preconceptions, happily. The next ten solo saxophone records that cross my CD player may indeed be dross but I'll still give the 11th a listen.


Christian Weber - 3 Suits and a Violin (nice sounding new release on hatology with Moser, Siewert, Koch & Wolfarth)

Christian Weber - Osaka (solo)

Inger Zach - In (also fine-sounding on first blush, a solo outing on kning)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Writing about people you know

I'm talking about musicians here or people you know otherwise involved in the music. And I'm talking about eai. My personal guess as to how many serious fans this music has, worldwide, hovers around 5,000. Totally a guess, of course, but I doubt it's very far off however one would define the term. Erstwhile, pretty clearly the pre-eminent label in the area, rarely sells more than 1,000 copies of a given disc. Partly this is due to distribution issues, partly--and increasingly--due to the simple fact that the music is downloaded rather than purchased. But live events, in NYC, ones that feature relatively prominent names, might draw 100-150 if you're lucky. Even if the artist has something of a cachet in the pop world--Fennesz, for instance--maybe 200 people show up for a performance in one of the biggest, most "art" conscious cities in the world. So I feel fairly safe in saying that there are about 5,000 around who have a rough idea of what, say, Keith Rowe's been up to in the last five years and care a little bit.

These days, if one so desires, one quickly gets to know a large proportion of both musicians, label owners and fans in the area. It's hard not to. Unless you're a social hermit, you interact with others on discussion groups, attend concerts and say hello to people there. Give yourself a year or two and, without trying hard at all, chances are you've come to know a large number of folk in the biz, some of whom you likely consider "friends". Many of them create or foster the production of music! How about that? And since the percentage of people who write about music among the non-musician fans of this genre is pretty high (sometimes it seems that this is the case more often than not), you're often called upon to write about stuff created or distributed by people you know or consider friends. Horrors!

The appearance of impropriety rears its misshapen head and you occasionally find yourself called out for venturing a positive opinion of someone you're otherwise acquainted with, accused of log-rolling (if you yourself have something to gain from a similarly appreciative response) or shilling, or what-have-you. Of course, this is a very real possibility, at least if you've no shred of integrity. But what's a poor eai writer to do? Restrict himself to comment on only those releases with which he has absolutely no personal connection? If you're writing about some spawn of a vast conglomerate, that could be quite easy. In this tiny neck o' the woods though, well, some releases would simply never be written about at all! We're an incestuous bunch, that condition forced upon us by our meager population. When you're members of a tiny, isolated village, sometimes ya gotta marry your cousin.

Now, as suggested by some (I'll namecheck Adam Hill here as one who has argued these matters very well and passionately in the past--if he sees this, I hope he'll comment), you could preface each review with a caveat stating one's relationship with certain individuals involved in the given project. One: that's pretty clunky. I've done it on occasion when the relationships went beyond the normal bounds. My write-up of "Duos for Doris", for instance, contained one such. But Two, at least on my part, I never make any secret about who I know, who I like personally etc. Again, I daresay most who read my stuff at all know me reasonably well from discussions going back to the boards and almost 10 years ago as well as more recent lengthy participation at JazzCorner, Bagatellen, I Hate Music, etc. If you know Rowe's music at all, chances are you know I'm writing a bio of him (and may even finish it one day). So, if I review a disc Keith's involved in, I trust the reader has this information already in mind and can judge my opinions accordingly.

Then there's the simple practical test: If I consistently love the work of someone who 90% of other fans consider to be abjectly mediocre, there might be good reason for suspecting I'm listening through rose-tinted ears. That's not been my experience, however.

That said....I can't deny that my perceptions of someone's music is often biased to one degree or another by either what I think of them personally or, if I don't actually know them, by what impression their (perceived) personality has made on me. It can work both ways. If I know and enjoy a person and, especially, if I have prior experience with his/her work, I find that I'll try "extra-hard" to glean some deeper understanding--in a positive sense--of a given performance. I'm not sure this is "wrong"; I have a working opinion of the person and I'm trying to "fit in" this performance in front of me. I think we all do something of the sort. But does this mean cutting extra, possibly undeserved slack for some? Yeah, could be. Does it preclude a negative review? Of course not. Hell, part and parcel of this area of music is that failure happens. On the other hand, if an individual takes the stage and exhibits persona aspects that entirely rub me the wrong way, let's say wearing leather pants and cowboy boots and a cross around his neck, are those attributes going to be something I'll have to work hard to get past? Well, yes, I suppose so. If a disc arrives bearing portentous track titles by a single (faux) named "artist", sure, my hackles have been raised. Still, I do everything I can to give a fair listen and a fair response. I think I achieve this more often than not; others may disagree.

This subject crossed my mind several times today after spending a lovely few hours yesterday afternoon talking with Annette Krebs at dba (btw, a great bar on 1st Ave between 2nd & 3rd Sts--check it out). I've enjoyed Annette's music for several years now and had previously met her at Musique Action in Nancy in May, 2002. I'll go so far as to make the presumption that we're now "friends". I'm looking forward to hearing more music from her over the next several decades. Should I not write about it? Should I preface future reviews with "Annette and I had several hot ciders on a rainy Sunday in NYC a while ago."? It seems silly. She was actually very appreciative that when I wrote up her most recent disc for Bags earlier this year, I was indeed critical of several of the tracks (I think I used the term "hermetic"; not a plus for me) and that, too often, people say that everything was great, everything wonderful, that it's refreshing to get honest opinions. Well, of course. Giving your honest opinion is what you do with friends anyway, isn't it?

As always, I welcome dissenting thoughts.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Whatever happened to Caspar Brotzmann? I'm playing some of his discs at home today (I think I have most of his legit output) and finding, as I have before, that his music holds up far better than I would've thought. Better than much of his dad's stuff, in fact. Raw, brutal, utterly unpolished. Really some of the most exciting power trio stuff I've heard in the last couple of decades, Germany's answer to Fusitsusha.

Not much found on-line, not even many photos. AMG shows nothing since 2000's "Mute Massaker" which I recall (and said as much in my review there) was overly noodlesome and relatively lacking in ferocity. Anyone know the story?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Bagatellen's back up. Woo-hoo! I've transferred all the reviews from the last week or so over there so I can get back to important stuff like ganglion cysts.

Richard Harland Smith made an eloquent plea to the producers of Law & Order over at movie morlocks that they exercise some self-restraint and NOT use the Adrienne Shelly case as the basis for an upcoming show. My cynical side advises me not to bet the house on that one but we'll see.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

More than a little disconcerting this morning to see Adrienne Shelly's face splashed across the front page of every NYC tabloid now that her case has been deemed a murder. I mean, prior to this she was known by, what, maybe 5% of the population? But when a pretty, strawberry blonde actress gets killed, it's a paper-seller. Yechh. I guess, when forced to choose, a senseless, stupid murder is preferable to an unfathomable suicide, especially for the family who might otherwise have been wracking their brains for years, wondering why. Still, so sad...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Annette Krebs played a strong, lovely set last night. The space was the back room at Monkeytown, a restaurant abut a half block in from Kent Ave. on N3rd St in Williamsburg. Had dinner beforehand with my brother Drew; pretty decent stuff, kinda high-end Italo-Mexican if there is such a thing. Didn't realize at the time that we could've eaten in the performance space proper, though I don't cotton to that idea very much with, in general, eai. Too much concentration required if it's any good. The performing space was a cube about 20ft square with low slung couches along all four walls and enormous video screens on each. Comfy and cool.

Bryan Eubanks was first up and played a 27-minute (timed, apparently) drone, arising from circuitry. Though fairly dense, with 5-6 discernable strands coming into and out of focus, one got pretty much the entire picture after five or so minutes; it needn't have lasted longer. I was thinking though that, had I encountered the "same" sound in an, er, more natural setting (say leaning against the engine housing of a large ship) I may have happily sat for much longer, enjoying the "music". Something about the intentionality of an art performance, this time, soured things.

Annette's set was beautifully structured and lasted exactly as long as it needed to (less than 20 minutes, I'm pretty sure). Varying the sources from radios (serendipitously catching snatches of the Colt/Patriot game!) to delicately plucked, koto-like guitar strings, to amplified rubbed objects, it was the kind of performance that just makes sense, simply coheres, without one being able to express exactly why. Poetic choice-making, for one thing, I suspect. Projected around her was the 1927 Duchamp film, "Anemic Cinema" (and, d'oh! I just now realized, whilst typing, that this is an anagram!) which consists of optical illusions of spiraling created by overlapping, twirling concentric circles. Lovely stuff.

I'll say up front that anyone referring to themselves, in public, as "corridors" is on shaky ground as far as garnering any respect from me. They guy doing so last night (I forget his given name) spun out cotton candy wafts of ersatz-Eno for an ungodly length of time. I swear, every time a new sonic element was introduced, I inwardly (hopefully not audibly) groaned in the realization that this ensured at least 5-10 more minutes of intense boredom. I did discover something interesting, however: there are occasions when the sound I can pick up, travelling between jawbone and eardrum, of myself chewing gum can actually be far more fascinating than the music occurring in the room in which I happen to be sitting.

Sawako, a young Japanese lady, closed out the evening with a perfectly enjoyablemixture of field recordings and electronics--light but tasty. Accompanying her was an amazing film by Ralph Steiner, "Surf and Seaweed" (1930) which, when not serving as a backdrop for a Williamsburg art performance, contains music by Marc Blitzstein (how about that?). It consisted entirely of shots of water near shore, waves lapping and receding; very "basic" stuff in a sense, but gorgeously shot and lingered over. I see that it's available as a small part of a 7-disc DVD set called "Unseen Cinema - Early American Avant Garde Film 1894-1941" that came out last year. Santa? You listening?

Speaking of DVDs, I received a new release on the intriguing and rewarding, if bafflingly named, OgreOgress label this afternoon. They've been putting out first performances of numerous late Cage pieces and this one, "Two3/Inlets/Two4" is in that same tradition. 158 minutes long! 121 of which are taken up by "Two3", 10 pieces for, in this case, solo sho. The sho is a Japanese mouth organ often used in gagaku performance. 121 minutes of solo sho, relatively sparsely arranged at that, is a lot for most Westerners, I imagine, to absorb--including me. "Inlets" is a delightful intermission of sorts, performed on conch shells, both blown and tipped back and forth while filled with water. "Two4" is quite similar, unsurprisingly, to "Two3" except presented here for sho and violin (the always excellent Christina Fong). The simple addition of a second voice does wonders for this gaijin's ears.
Two from Azul Discografica

The first two recordings on the fine-looking new lable, azul discografica, have surfaced. Can't locate better reproductions at this time than the ones below, but it'll at least give you an idea. Both discs are available through erstdist.

Loy Fankbonner - el pabellon

azul discografica

It’s an approach as obvious as it is underutilized: record and process sounds in one’s immediate environment, weaving a fabric from known, everyday sources into something no one’s ever heard. Loy Fankbonner, co-founder of the new label azul discografica (the cover aesthetic of which reminds me a lot of the original BYG Actuel series), does just that on its first release, “el pabellon”.

Recorded over a period of three months from March to May, 2006, using only the sounds that crept through his Washington Heights (upper Manhattan) window as raw material, Fankbonner (credited with microphony, samples, processing and mix) crafts eight solid slabs of sound that are both varied and, by and large, successful. In the first track, “atardecer”, a recognizable general urban rumble gradually gets admixed with sharper, more piercing tones before evanescing into a delicate blend of hiss and watery drops, small bells and mutated car horns alongside, before a threatening crescendo at the very end. It’s a gorgeously evocative work, one of the strongest here, summoning mental images halfway between gritty reality and dreams. Other pieces, like the ensuing “jornada”, are more chunky and discontinuous. Taking Fankbonner at his word about the sole sound source, some of the harmonica-like tones are mysterious as to their origin. I hear a little bit of Braxton in those notes; I can almost imagine him playing clarinet with, in this case, clanking metal behind him. There are several shorter vignettes scattered through the discs, snapshots of moments enhanced or not so much by Fankbonner, each quietly effective.

On “vecindario”, he injects a series of off-kilter beats, sampled from who-knows-where, that throw a wrench into the flow, obstructing the “natural” sounds of the city until one learns to accommodate them, something more easily done when various loud throbs and sirens emerge, placing the beats into a wider context, though I still found the track disquieting. The longish “noche de primavera” extends this sense of unease through a range of eerie, high-pitched whines and remote “choral” moans while the title track closes out the disc by returning to that dark, lovely rumble heard on “atardecer”, not noticeably messed with, fading out as though the window is being slowly closed.

“el pabellon” is a solid first effort, well worth checking out.


Songbook vol.4

azul discografica

Ah, OK, what can we make of this? I'm apparently one of the few earthly denizens who enjoyed Mattin's first volume in the "Songbook" series on Hibari, a raucous, snarled set of improvised rock songs sounding (if this is possible) like a less studied version of DNA. I've missed the interim entries, vols. 2 & 3, though I somehow doubt there's any discernable "career arc" happening. This is a live set, a very recent one (July 5,2006), recorded in Tokyo by a rather all-star quintet: Mattin (vocals, guitar), Taku Unami (bass, piano), the excellent Anthony Guerra (guitar) and, from down the hall in the toilet, Jean-Luc Guionnet (sax) and Tomoya Izumi (shouting).

It's a brief disc, the six "songs" presented in a single 22-minute track. Supremely lo-fi and unbalanced, Mattin maybe singing into his computer mic (I say, "singing" but of course other words would serve better: growling, shrieking, sobbing, howling, gurgling, etc.), Guerra alternating between harsh clusters and relatively delicate plucking. Unami's bass playing, given his prediliction for computer-animated toys, is surprisingly funky. Cracks me up when, after a given eructative song, Mattin demurely says to the audience, "Thank you very much, thank you." In addition to DNA, the clear precedent for this approach seems to be Zorn's "Locus Solus" project from the early 80s. For my money, this works better, here largely due to Guerra's playing which, as usual, I find very compelling. That said, "Songbook vol 4" is at best going to be an acquired taste for most listeners. Dealing with Mattin's personality, as out front as it is here, ain't no easy thing. The final track, "Apologies", finds him bawling his head off. If he's faking it, it's a disturbingly convincing fraud. I don't know. That's also the section in which one can discern Guionnet and Izumi contributing from, apparently, a toilet far off mic.

It'd be tough to out and out recommend this one, but I'm kinda glad to have it.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Three more reviews initially headed for Bags (I see this morning that server-affiliated site I Hate Music also seems to be down). These all arrived via the kind consideration of Nicolas Malevitis of absurd records. Thanks, Nicolas!

Didac P. Lagarriga
The Reversed Supermarket Trolley Flies Towards the Rainbow
LA 01

And then something comes along like “The Reversed Supermarket Trolley Flies Towards the Rainbow”. Swathed in a delightful pop-up kind of sleeve complete with a shopping cart-traversed rainbow—which I unfortunately am unable to reproduce above but which can be viewed here--this disc is nothing less (or nothing more) than a live recording from a 2 year-old’s birthday party. The affair for little Amaryllis was held in a century-and-a-half old house in the small northern Greek village of Iasmos in November of 2005 with music provided by Didac P. Lagarriga, a Barcelonan native. His array of instruments—laptop, balaphon, mbira, berimbau, piano, cello, guitar, bass, melodica and more—weave amongst the sounds of the party. There’s no screaming of tiny children (happily) though their voices filter through from time to time. More often, the hubbub is at a slight remove, perhaps from the next bower, occasionally drifting over to investigate what the strange Spanish musician is up to and contributing the odd growl, chortle or recitation of ABCs. Tunes come and go, generally with the sort of rhythmic character you get when playing kalimbas and balaphons. In between, the music floats off almost without purpose, accommodating the distant crying of a child here, providing obbligato for a spirited, perhaps tipsy mommy there.

It’s an entirely whimsical undertaking which, while it doesn’t present itself as anything more than it is, manages to create a fanciful, Fellini-esque aura. Part field recording, part performance, this trolley contains something quite wonderful and comes as a breath of innocent, brisk air into a scene that can get a wee bit hermetic.

Lalia has no website but ErstDist should also have copies. Otherwise, anyone interested may
inquire directly at

Leif Elggren
45 Minutes from underneath the beds

Utan titel

I guess the first thing I noticed when I slid this disc into the player was that it was 70 minutes long. A mumbling voice appears, speaking in English but sounding rather like a recovering stroke victim, going on about inflow and outflow from kitchens and bathrooms, sounding as though read from an instruction manual. I was previously unfamiliar with Elggren and, charitably, thought that perhaps this is the manner in which he speaks. Later tracks on this disc show this not to be the case, casting this initial sequence in a rather creepy light. It’s clearly a very personal statement, gone into in some depth in the accompanying liner notes involving the worlds he constructed lying beneath various beds, drawing scenes on the supporting frames there, etc. In that sense the main work here, which does indeed last 45 minutes, is likely successful as an evocation of this history. Whether or not the unconnected listener will find it of interest is another matter. I went back and forth, feeling uncomfortable and put off at some points, drawn in at others. The music proceeds in segued episodes, many of them having an electro-percussive aspect. There’s an extended loud, feedback-y drone near the start that does little for me but the chaotic section following, made up of what sounds like overlaid percussion recordings, is quite winning. Overall, I enjoyed more than I was bored by.

Of the remaining six tracks, two are in the 10 minute range, the others very brief. The first of the former is my favorite cut on the disc, a rich welter of low throbs and clatter, the least hermetic work here, one that at least hints at an outside world; the second will delight No Fun folk (I liked it too). A couple of the shorter ones are talk pieces, delivered without the stroke effect but still not terribly illuminating.

Howlin' Ghost Proletarians
The Singer

Conceived as an homage to Johnny Cash, the interior sleeve of “The Singer” contains a passage (in French) from Cormac McCarthy’s “Outer Dark” and the general tone of the disc is, indeed, somewhere on the nether side of Cash at his most anguished even if it never quite achieves McCarthy-ian depths of bleakness. The music of Loren Connors might be the most appropriate point of comparison.

Fabrice Eglin (guitars, slide guitar, amp) and Michel Henritzi (guitars, slide guitar, amp, harmonica) fashion nine blues-drenched songs, chain-draggingly slow and rough, seemingly designed as evocations of the blood soaked, unrelentingly harsh Western vistas encountered in McCarthy’s novels. Guitar lines regularly morph into feedback howls while laboriously pushing their way through clouds of dust and mounds of carrion. While the pieces are generally effective, they’re also similarly so with not so much to differentiate over the course of the disc, though the quieter works (such as the two “Outer Dark” songs) do camp out in an even sparser, dustier terrain. This kind of “monotony” may well be intentional, serving as a metaphor for a day after day trek over brutal land and, if approached with that idea in mind, the album works quite successfully. If listened to in hope of more elaborate variations, one might be disappointed, but as a whole, ‘The Singer” functions well as a grim, forlorn, not unsentimental slab of hurt.



Adrienne Shelly (1966-2006)

I was shocked this morning to read in a story in the New York Times that Shelly had been found dead in her office. No cause of death announced.

I met her a couple of times in the early 90s when she worked with my friend Richard Harland Smith in several of his plays and sketches. She seemed to be a wonderful person. And I always greatly enjoyed her filmwork, especially in Hal Hartley's "Trust" and "The Unbelievable Truth".

Too sad.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bagatellen has been suffering from server-related problems for almost two weeks now, the upshot being an impossibility to load anything, including reviews. It's being worked on by Bags stalwarts Al Jones and Derek Taylor but in the meantime, I thought I might as well post my growing backlog of write-ups here, at least for the time being. I'll likely re-post them at Bags once the site is back up and running, hopefully soon.

So, two releases on the fine Australian label, Room40, are first up:

Richard Chartier - Current



“Current” is of a piece, a 20-minute steady emergence from chirping quietude into a slightly louder and progressively richer sound world. It’s not very different from any number of recordings that listeners in these parts will have heard before, but…well, it is. Structurally, its additive nature will be familiar as the initial crickety nightscape is layered with a discreet organ-like tone, a persistent (though not insistent) three beats of wood and, later, what seem to be embellishments of clarinet origin. The music splays out gently toward its conclusion in a kind of soft, silty delta. Then it’s over before you realize it.

I’m not sure there’s much more to say except that, if you appreciate the choices Chartier makes here, as I do, you’ll find “Current” to be a thoughtful, even ingratiating bubble of ideas.

Janek Schaefer - In the Last Hour



Even before I researched the background of this disc, my first impression was of a clear literary quality in both the music and its packaging. The sleeve interior depicts a landscape painting, its creator unidentified but the representation is Bierstadt-ian in Romantic grandeur, an ancient single-master facing a cliff-lined watery canyon. The four track titles, “In the Last Hour”, “Between the Two”, “Half Submerged by Each” and “The Ruined City”, also exuded a novelistic air. So I wasn’t very surprised to discover that their source was indeed a literary one, stemming from Iain Banks’ novel, “The Bridge”. The Schaefer piece was initially presented at the November 2005 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, in the Town Hall there, wherein the audience lied down in the center of the large space, in near darkness, surrounded by speakers, the handsome, gilded ceiling of the hall occasionally illuminated by flashes of light. (more detail can be found here)

Stripped of its proper environment and consolidated onto a CD, the work still retains a good bit of power. A couple of the pieces make substantial use of the hall’s organ, including languid, respirations on the first track, eventually accompanied by far-off bird cries, possible gunshots and, at the very end, the sort of jostling sounds you might here below deck in an old trawler. After the brief, misty “Between the Two”, things come to something of a boil, a bass clarinet line (sounding a bit out of early Reich), darts among the birds before the water sounds hinted at earlier flood the area. A range of dull bell tones and hissing washes appear, a mournful clarinet motif alongside, all evoking a passage through mysterious, dangerous climes. The sensation of uncertainly drifting upriver is quite haunting and effective here. The final track summons up an old (?), romantic orchestral track, vinyl pops galore, flickering out into a succession of noise slabs, before the organ returns, its lengthy tonal chords evoking a fog-enshrouded sea. The organ becomes positively majestic toward the end of the piece—cliffs looming up from the clouds lit by a single ray of light?--(You sink into this kind of thought process with this music….) though the avian life and lapping water have the final say.

It’s an interesting, often stunning and unusual set of music, another one I’m betting will allow various readings on subsequent listens. Worth a shot.


By most lights, I have many odd items in my recording collection. But among the people I hang out with on-line and in the contemporary music scene, of course, most of these things aren't odd at all. Indeed, they're largely things we'd expect to find in each others holdings. Still, there are a few pieces of music that I hold dear which, were they heard at all by my confreres, would likely be looked at askance. Extremely askance.

One of them is Marc Blitzstein's "Airborne Symphony". I picked this up probably back around 1975 on a Columbia LP reissue of the original recording done, I believe, in 1946 with Bernstein conducting the New York City Symphony and with Orson Welles as narrator. The release I bought had an amazing cover, a photo that you'd likely call "socialist realist" in style except that it's resolutely American in tone; "capitalist realist", maybe--a heroic head shot of a bronzed young pilot framed against an imposing propellor. I'm mightily pissed that I can't locate an image of said cover on the Net. If anyone succeeds in doing so, please let me know. [ooh! ooh! Found one! Dark, but better than nothing:

The piece was a wartime Air Force commission to celebrate the history of flight, something that, in more hacky hands, could have become a pretty risable object. Blitzstein, however, was an interesting character. Though having had a long and involved history with the American Left, he was of a generation that still retained a great fascination with all that capitalism had produced and, I imagine, saw no contradiction in melding the two forces. Of course, given that the commission came from a military body, the leftist aspects had to be camouflaged discreetly so Blitzstein fashioned a kind of cautionary tale, reveling in the history and glories of flight but casting a baleful eye toward its potential (unavoidable?) use as a force for evil and destruction.

The music is a wonderful melange of styles, heavily spiced with the American vernacular of the 40s both in musical style and text. There are, unsurprisingly, martial references but also jazzlike sections, US folksong aspects, sentimental balladry, etc. Welles teeters right on the edge of excessive bombast, snarling out some lines so viciously he overwhelms the mid-40s microphones but, as in the extraordinarily poignant and sorrowful "Ballad of the Wounded Cities", is also bone-chillingly somber. The piece tracks flight from Icarus to Leonardian balloon fantasies to the Wright Brothers. Through WWI and, in its last half, to its use in contemporary warfare against fascism. Some of the sections are pretty hilarious, like the "Ballad of Hurry Up", detailing the frustrations of ground crews when their missions are readied and aborted, multiple times. How often does one hear "Snafu", "Fubar" and "Tarfu"(had to look up the latter) in a "serious" classical work? One of the most purely gorgeous songs is "Night Music: Ballad of the Bombardier", in which a "19-year old bombardier" writes a letter to his sweetheart on the evening before he leaves on a bombing mission. Sung in a pure tenor, it's the sort of thing that many would find overwhelmingly schmaltzy and utterly unlistenable but, to my ears, it's rendered so humanly and convincingly that it's devastating in emotional impact.

The Symphony ends in an appropriately chaotic welter of massed aircraft, on the tipping point between use as an instrument of peace or of war now that Hitler's been taken care of. Welles, in the midst of a triumphant celebration, bellows out cries of, "Warning! Warning!!".

An absolutely amazing piece of music, imho. I'd gotten a later rendition (also with Bernstein) on disc a couple of years ago which, while OK, lacks the passion of the Welles version. I just found that on another disc and have it on order. Looking forward to hearing it once again in all its conflicted glory.
A note for NYC area music listeners. Berlin-based guitarist and electronicist Annette Krebs will be making what I believe to be her first ever NYC appearance on Sunday at a place called Monkeytown in Williamsburg. She'll be one of four solo instrumentalists, details:

Sunday November 5th, 8pm $6
@ Monkeytown
58 N 3rd St
(btw. Kent & Wythe)
Williamsburg, Brooklyn 11211

Sawako - field recordings/electronics
Bryan Eubanks - electronics
Annette Krebs (Berlin) - guitar
Corridors - guitars

Annette's done some wonderful work over the last few years. There's an especially fine recording on fringes, pictured above, which sports one of my all-time favorite cover paintings (by Krebs).