Monday, December 28, 2009

Josef Anton Riedl - Klangregionen 1951-2007 (Edition RZ)

First, an admission: I've always had a certain amount of trouble with, generally speaking, electro-acoustic composers who came of age in the 50s and 60s and operated out of a certain kind of European classical sensibility. Not all and not always (for example, Xenakis escapes this purgatory entirely) and not even consistently among a given individual. Something about the typical magnetic tape sound maybe, its steeliness or just its recognizability would gnaw at me. Much of it, despite the obvious breadth of sounds, timbres etc. sounded to much "of a piece" to me, the gestural aspect carrying too much of the lab, not enough of the street. I had a nagging sense of a string of effects; if the structural aspect of it did in fact involve toroidal planes and solenoidal vector analysis, it failed to capture my interest. This is quite likely my shortcoming.

Much of Riedl's work, as presented in this lavish 2-disc set, fall into that category for me. Seeming outlying works like the delightful opener, "Paper Music", aside, we're in the land of those hollow, metallic tones, blippy electronics, harsh interjections of percussive sounds--nothing at all objectionable in and of itself and by no means unlistenable, but somehow remote enough from the world to leave me a bit cold. Some of it may just be a casualty of time, sounds that have acquired a science-fiction-y sheen in the intervening decades where once they were striking. btw, I've no idea how available this was in the 60s but I'll be damned if Zappa didn't steal liberally from Riedl; parts of this appear virtually intact in works like "200 Motels". But when he pulls back a bit, as in "Studie 62 II", which closes out the first disc, the results can be subtle and rather beautiful, not so distant from good, contemporary eai.

Most of the pieces here are fairly short, though the second disc is dominated by the 51-minute "Ideir notna fesoj", unique aside from its length. It's largely made up of voice tapes, sometimes processed in a way that often causes them to sound backward even when they're not (they often are, in fact), often over a ground of what sounds like ambient sound. The voices soon settle into "normal" speech, discussing avant-garde music it seems (Riedl talking?), interspersed with taped and natural sounds--maybe a recurrence of the paper music from the beginning of the disc--and some lovely percussion toward the end. It's an oddly moving, sprawling work that I found myself quite enjoying.

So, a mixed bag for me overall. Much of it carries the patina that irks me, but several of the pieces work, for me, despite that. I'd hazard a guess that for listeners who are more into this area of music than I, it's a treasure trove.

Patrick Kosk - Mondweiβ (Edition RZ)

Kosk occupies somewhat the same territory (though I'm sure aficionados of the genre will complain that they're nowhere near each other) but I find his work, as represented here, more approachable. I can't say "more concerned with sound" since Riedl clearly is too, but more concerned with the kind of sound, or sound relationships, that I find interesting. There's more patience, for one thing, a greater willingness to linger in one area and investigate it, less of an intent to dazzle. The pieces unfurl naturally and expansively, filling the space like water or gas, often evoking a sense of mystery. The choice of sounds as well feels far less strident than in many of the Riedl constructions. Each piece here limns out a unique area and fills it gracefully with a wide range of tonalities and textures, electronic in source but sounding at least half "natural". Hard to describe in better detail; I enjoyed it a bunch.

(Various) - Tesla (Edition RZ)

This is a DVD containing some three+ hours of material, four audio performances and three video extracts from same. The first is a set called "talking machine" by Steve Roden and Martin Riches, largely a series of soft percussive sequences with the occasional harsh, semi-regimented buzzing. Interesting but a bit scattered and unfocused over 37 minutes. Next, Nik Hummer and Gammon provide a woozier, more ambient piece, sometimes reminiscent of Daniel Lentz' electric keyboard-propelled work of the late 80s. Frank Bretschneider's "subharchord-kippschingung" is a more restrained electronic work, fluttering, soft tones entwined with hard, glitch-y clicks, though eventually it settles into a repetitive pattern that can't maintain interest for it's 41-minute duration. Finally, we have "Benzo vx Subharchord" (info on said machinehere), Benzo being apparently the alter-ego of Richardas Norvila. He mixes varying electronic attacks--drones, roughage, icy splinters, much more--with (German) speech, a long (68-minute) tract of moderate interest (me not knowing German perhaps makes a difference). Any of these may well have been enhanced by one's presence at the event though the three video excerpts don't show all that much occurring visually. In sum, not a must-hear or see.

Edition RZ

Jürg Frey/Antoine Beuger - duos (Edition Wandelweiser)

Two sets of pieces written for the duo Contour (Stephen Altoff-trumpet, Lee Forrest Ferguson-percussion), a potentially unwieldy combination. Frey's "22 sächelchen" (small things) is rather just that, 22 miniatures lasting 32 1/2 minutes that vary from quiet reductionism to outright fanfares. I guess some of the latter sort are a bit...shocking, at least in a Wandelweiser context. But there are also oblique references to jazz (the mute in #11), processional music (the tympani in #13) and much else. For me, however, that resulted in something of a grab bag effect, a series of disconnected bagatelles, some attractive (#17, a lovely quasi-scale, and the closing section), some bland (all finely played, I should say), some annoyingly blaring, that added up to a cabinet drawer of odds and ends.

Beuger takes his time and the results bear him out. Five sections in his "dedicated duos" (the dedicatee being the mathematician Julius Dedekind, an associate of Cantor), and they don't stray all that far from one another--quiet, considered, the instruments often creating parallel lines of sound, not so different from what label-mate Michael Pisaro does with sine tone and acoustic instruments. Indeed, I was often reminded of some of the quieter moments from Greg Kelley over the past years. Very pure, very calm, each tone or duo of tones shimmering in its own space, receding, allowing the next to surface. Lovely work, worth it on its own.


Both Edition RZ and Wandelweiser releases available stateside from erstdist


btw, I still have about 15 discs sitting here awaiting proper evaluation so no 10 favorites or anything likely to appear for a week or two....control your grief.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Choi Joonyong/Park Seungjun - Driller (balloon & needle)

Primitive sound, a phrase used in Park Daham's liner notes. In a way, I guess. Though that applies more to the nature of the sounds themselves here than how they're arrayed, which seems anything but primitive. The pair uses speaker cones, subjecting them to abuse and over-decibalage, resulting in a quality well beyond graininess and into visible bumpiness. I imagine quite visible, were you to watch the cones themselves, the sounds produced ranging from the drills of the disc's title to unmuffled motorcycle engines, idling turbines, egg beaters, etc. I find myself going back and forth between listening to the results as noise and trying to integrate them into some kind of "musical" conception. I'm not at all sure attempting the latter makes sense, but there are several occasions when things gel into something cohesive and strong in a "traditional" manner. As a found object, I think it would work superbly. I.e., were one walking through some industrial site and heard exactly these sounds, pausing to listen. As a performance CD, I have mixed feelings though at the end of the day, after six or so listens, the positive prevails.

Joe Foster/Hong Chulki/Takahiro Kawaguchi/Ryu Hankil - vacillation oscillation (balloon & needle)

Firstly, excellent CD sleeve design in play here--two L-shaped pockets that overlap one another around the disc. Two tracks, one relatively short (@ 13 minutes) one over 40. Quiet, often fluttery, only rarely edging into territory adjacent to "Driller". It's been interesting to hear the infiltration of rhythm in the form of clocks and other counting-type machines in some portion of new Korean and Japanese improvisation. Here, there's often some kind of beating or ticking element in play though I guess calling them "rhythms" is stretching the point, though the second cut ends with a humorous kind of gentle, three-beat horsey clip-clop. They don't propel things forward; if anything, one has the sense of hovering, like a hummingbird or dragonfly. It's a fine session, though, the quartet managing that tough feat of being fairly busy and active but entirely avoiding a sense of the cluttered or cloying. A nice sense of the space of the room. Fine recording, held my attention every step of the way. Get it.

balloon & needle

also available from erstdist

Friday, December 25, 2009

Richard Garet - Four Malleable (and/OAR)

Four pieces, each about 1/2 hour long, from 2004-2009. Garet is an expert in the art of the "grainy drone", taking sound sources that may be natural or industrial, usually with some amount of variegated texture, some particulate aspect, extending and layering them into sheets of sound many plies thick, the material always capable of being listened to on several levels, the re-listener likely to pick up aspects he missed the first few go-rounds. They often shift, as does the first track here, "Nocturne", from relatively consonant and soft to more abrasive and granular, though rarely if ever very harsh. The tracks are presented in reverse chronological order and, though I enjoyed them all to some degree, I really liked the older two the best; not sure what that says! Those earlier ones have a bit more grit and grime in the works, providing more of a textural variation between the sine hums and the detritus. The last track, "Imaginative Elements", also contains a kind of sparseness that's something of a tonic in relation to the earlier (later) ones. All would be nice to hear within a video environment, btw, which is how I've experienced his work on occasion.

But on the whole, the four works are fine and excellent samples of both Garet's music and this neck of the sonic woods generally. Recommended!


AMP2 + Tim Hodgkinson - Hums (Bowindo)

AMP2 is a Palermo-based collective organized by Domenico Sciajno and, for this recording, comprising a core unit of Dario Sanfilippo (laptop, electronics), Marco Pianges (laptop), Antonino Secchia (percussion), Gandolfo Pagano (prepared guitar), Sciajno (laptop, electronics), plus guest Tim Hodgkinson (lapsteel guitar, electronics, clarinet). Seven pieces that seesaw between works that have more of a concrète character (like the opener, "Intelligent sofa") and those of a more purely improvisatory aspect. To me, the former are more successful, achieving a strong balance between implied structure and a looseness that allows for a multitude of possible directions at any moment. The second track, "Mr. Mamontov", is even better, a seriously rich and dense cauldron of electronics and percussion that wells up and overflows the pot, bubbling atop the stereo--really strong. A couple others are more routinely improv-y (Hodgkinson's clarinet not fitting in as well), good enough but without the brawn and sense of expansive space of the aforementioned.

Always good to hear the goings on in Sicily, though. A solid recording, worth hearing.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Theo Burt - Colour Projections (Entr'acte)

What a unique, wonderful release! How to describe? Well, it's not a music disc per se though sound is decidedly involved along with visual elements. It's playable only on your computer, not in a CD player. You see a small screen with, initially, a gray background (later blues and a blood red), upon which simple but very elegant and attractive geometric shapes appear, these shapes slowly threading their way through the space, often with lines intersecting as seen in the figure above. The movement of these shapes and the intersection of their line segments trigger a variety of sine waves or sharper toothed kinds of electronic sounds, usually in clear and direct response to what's occurring on screen. For instance, as the two line above meet near the border of the square, they form a tiny triangle that expands as they continue to travel. Just when the small, blue interior triangular shape appears, we hear a very high sine pitch that lowers as the triangle grows. This is the general rule here: sounds appear or change as lines meet and the shapes that inflate or contract cause similar raising or lowering of pitch.

It's not quite that simple though as a glance at this capture illustrates:

In this episode, you have circles of differing size (and consequent sound qualities) ping-ponging (slowly) back and forth at varying rates; I tend to view it three-dimensionally as moons orbiting a planet at different diameters and speeds. So there's a certain regularity in play, but any repetition of cycles is at too long a period to recall, so the effect is oddly random. It's also somewhat surprising, since there are all sorts of possible congruences and you're never quite sure what sound will emerge after a given "collision". Burt plays with your expectations, the kind of pattern associations you automatically make, subverting them often enough to prevent one from thinking you have it all understood. There are several other, much more complex patterns that grace the screen during this work's 32 minutes, including a particularly beautiful set of two rectangles floating and rotating in the space at different speeds and inclinations, barely kissing each other once and emitting only the tiniest of sounds. The anticipation as they near each other is excruciating.

It's tough to really give a decent idea of what goes on here in words and, doubtless, there are many who will be bored silly, but I find it strange and beautiful and can experience it again and again. Burt's work will be shown at Diapason on Saturdays this coming March. In the meantime, treat yourself to this.

Michael Schumacher - Weave (Entr'acte)

[Entr'acte "covers" don't give you much, hence the pic of Schumacher above... :-)]\

A selection of works largely electronic in nature but with contributions from Jane Rigler (flute) and Michael Moser (cello). The disc also includes two video collaborations between Schumacher and Nisi Jacobs, which, unfortunately, were unplayable on my PC. (I may be doing something wrong but Windows Media Player gave me an "unplayable" message)

I often use the term "loopy" to describe a kind of synth approach that generally rubs me the wrong way and, to an extent, that's the case here. Some of it, like the track "Malaise" reminded me strongly of Patrick Gleeson's work circa Hancock's "Sextant"; I vacillated between thinking of that as a good or bad thing, but overall, nah, I'd rather hear the original. When he reins things in a bit, as on the lovely "Part Music", the results are enchanting while still retaining enough glitchiness to provide a welcome itch. Finally, on "Erosion", Schumacher manages to up the loopy energy to an insane enough degree (and add synthesized percussion) that the stew begins to bubble 'n' boil. Pretty rockin', actually, good stuff. Worth it for these 18 minutes alone, the intensity and giddiness strongly maintained over its length.

Lee Gamble - Join Extensions (Entr'acte)

A new name to me, Gamble does computerized music out of the concrete tradition. Most of the music here is dense, tightly packed, even claustrophobic in character. For my taste, I get too much the sensation of a sequence of sound effects--often very elaborate ones, but still--and little that exerts force on me as a slab of music. There's also a slight sheen of the overly synthesized as well; for all the apparent rough edges, I sense little real grit. I've been listening a bit to the recent Edition RZ disc of Kosk and Riedl so I might be unavoidably but unfairly comparing Gamble's work to theirs but, whatever issues I have with the music of those older figures, there's almost always a structural integrity I can discern that I find tough to pick up with Gamble. I may well be missing something but I'm hearing too much flash, not enough sinew.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Greg Davis - Primes (autumn)

Greg was kind enough to send me several of his recent discs. I'd been largely unaware of his investigations into just intonation and only moderately conscious of his more purely drone-related work, so was a little surprised as to the nature of the releases but there's some enjoyable stuff here.

I think I first saw Greg perform with Jeph Jerman, rustling leaves, sticks and the like on the floor of Tonic but here its all sine wave generators and synths. The fives pieces on "Primes" can safely be categorized as drones and, on first blush, they sound like, well, attractive sine drones. But they're constructed using layers of waves in varying pitch ratios and amplitudes so that, when actually listened to, there are all manner of beats, dissonances, odd timbres and other complications. Very immersive, very stimulating--good work.

Greg Davis - Midpoint (autumn)

Two live solo performances, the first from 2006 (violin, vocals, bells, computer) the second from 2009 (various keyboards, vocals computers). The older track has Riley-esque overtones at the beginning, a seriously rich drone with (as in the "Primes") a whole lot going on. When the vocals (processed?) enter, it gets a bit too into Harmonic Choir territory for my taste. The more recent one isn't that different, though with less throat-singing and more twittery effects over a base that references tambura. There's a bit of a Jon Hassell feel in play (some nice pitch-shifting) and that exerts a certain pull on this listener and the closing minutes get into a "Shri Camel" kind of feel, but overall, I find it a hair too gauzy and overtly "spiritual".

Greg Davis - Mutually Arising (Kranky)

From the track titles, "Cosmic Mudra" and "Hall of Pure Bliss", my expectations were somewhat lowered...;-) but Davis manages to find some really nice middle ground between the spacey haze of "Midpoint" and the more rigorous tunings of "Primes" (I'm guessing he'd maintain there is no dichotomy). The first track is one consistent drone matrix, organ-like in character, shimmering and meaty. (I'm also guessing "meaty" might not be a preferred adjective here...) The second cools things down, blisses out as it were and perhaps overdoes the mellowness.

The appeal of all three of these will vary quite a lot depending on one's taste for, for lack of a better term, meditative music. If I get somewhat impatient with that form, generally, I should stress that what Greg does here, he does excellently, with commitment and imagination.

(Various) - The Harmonic Series (Important Records)

A set curated by Duane Pitre with eight pieces involving just intonation, ranging from excellent Highlights include a lovely cello piece by Ellen Fullman (played by Theresa Wong), steeped in overtones and poignancy; I think one of the same Davis pieces from "Prime" or at least from the same basket (tough to tell); Pauline Oliveros' justly tuned accordion, a gorgeous excerpt from "The Beauty of Sorrow" (I've not been fond at all of what work of hers I've heard in recent years, though I love much of her music from the 60s--this piece is from 1987); an intriguing, severe cello piece by Charles Curtis.

On the other hand, Michael Harrison's "Tone Cloud II" epitomizes everything that drives me up the wall about Young's "The Well-Tuned Piano": beautiful sound at the expense of miserable, George Winston-y music. And several others are perfectly pleasant if ultimately uninvolving.

A mixed bag but worthwhile to hear some of what's occurring in this neck of the woods.

autumn records
important records

Six, count 'em, six! new releases from Cor Fuhler's maliciously spelt Conundrom label. Let's listen in, natch, catalog # order:

Cor Fuhler/Jim O'Rourke - F.O'R

A set from days of yore (May, 2000) at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. Cor's on various instruments, including piano and keyolin while O'Rourke pays organ, synth and PC. Three tracks, the first finding Cor, near the onset, doing string stylings in a vaguely East European or maybe Arabic mode (although sometimes sounding eerily like Leroy Jenkins) over a rumpled bed of organ, gurgles and bangs. It shifts to a quiet, disturbed steady-state, Fuhler now inside the piano, O'Rourke quietly, roughly, droning; very nice. The second, longest cut meanders a bit but weaves into some really lovely areas, especially a quiet segment that begins midway with organ-like chords and tinny, chittering clatter and lasts the duration. The final is a real beaut though, Cor on keyolin in musing, almost mournful character, O'Rourke contributing soft swells--it's like everything you've wanted Gavin Bryars to write over the last 25 years.

Misha Mengelberg/Cor Fuhler/Michiel Scheen - Mill

A harmonium/church organ/Hammond organ trio from November of 1997. Admittedly, I have problems with church organs. Not harmoniums or Hammonds, but here the church organ "feel" permeates and, combined with (I'm guessing) Mengelberg's goofy playfulness, nothing quite grabs me. The three kind of lurch about, alwsys active, often a bit noodlesome, never quite settling in on something bearing meat. My least favorite of this batch.

on the other hand....

Cor Fuhler - Mp

This is one of the finer things I've heard in a while. Solo piano from this past July, in Montpelier, 21 minutes (a 3" disc) of entrancing beauty. A wonderful skein of electronically enhanced keyboard that hints at things from gamelan to Tilbury and manages to space out while retaining grain and structure. It's a really luscious mix of attacks from e-bow like drones to seemingly mechanical induced rapid string strikes to gong-like sounds to standard keyboards, sometimes simultaneously. More importantly, a tonal character is consistent and always present, though torqued, scattered and dissolved. A wonderful release, one of my favorite things I've heard from Fuhler.

Cor Fuhler - Puzzle

This and the following discs contain archival material ranging back 20 and more years. Included here: 1) a fine duet with percussionist Steve Heather from 2005, all sandy drones, clatter, audience participation--wonderful sense of the performing space. 2) a multi-tracked performance on gamelan instruments from 1992 that's just gorgeous, managing to retain a remarkably accurate Balinese spirit while twisting the whole askew just slightly. 3) a harmonium work from '93, pulsing and a bit mournful, not bad. 4) an arrangement of Satie's "Cinema" with a quintet, slightly rockish in aspect, from 1995. Kind of robust and rollicking. 5)Four standards and one original from 1987, piano/bass/drums (J-H Berg, Marten van Duynhoven)including the inspired choice of Abdullah Ibrahim's Ubu Suku.

Cor Fuhler - Puzzle 2

The other grab bag, equally disparate, maybe with a more avant classical tinge than the previous one, with varying ensembles. It's generally drier that the other Puzzle, though not without humor. I enjoyed the opening "Kibbekoe" quite a bit as well as a solo violin piece based on Norwegian Hardanger fiddle playing. Overall though, not quite as rewarding as the previous collection.

Cor Fuhler - PPP5

Finally, we have this quintet date from 2005 at the Bimhuis with Fuhler (keyolin, organ), Alex Waterman (cello), Steve Heather (percussion), Jan Rokyta (cymbalon) and Michael Moore (clarinet, bass clarinet). Varies between a kind of chamber jazz, very enjoyable though perhaps too pretty for some (I liked it fine) and more abstract fare, sometimes a bit gritty. Very lovely closing trio with keyolin, cello and cymbalon. Fans of Moore's work will certainly find it worthwhile.


So, one real jewel, the solo minidisc and several worthwhile listens, the duo with O'Rourke being perhaps an unexpected pleasure. Very nice to have the archival material as well to flesh out Fuhler's work to these ears.

Available from Cor wherever you happen to seem him or from erstdist

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Before the show last night, Michael Pisaro showed me part of the score of the evening's piece on his laptop. The electronic parts of the work--sine tones, samples and field recordings, were all set to trigger at certain times over its 65-minute length. On the screen I observed, there were about 20 rows, each row representing, I assume, a given sound-source, with bars at various points along the horizontal (time) axis. The visual effect was very lovely, reminding me of some of the scores for Eno's 'Music for Airports' in their implied gentle cadence, their sort of orderly floating.

I found myself thinking of those bars as sound lozenges, wafting across the listening space (Experimental Intermedia), sometimes with seeming regularity though I imagine even then the sounded portion might have emerged at slightly varying intervals, all with a wonderful sense of pacing. The piece ("asleep, street, pipes, tones" ) was for electric guitar (Pisaro), bass clarinet (Katie Porter) and electronics. Describing it will doubtless be futile but, among other things, its 65 minutes seemed to elapse in half the time; Pisaro had announced its length beforehand and I was surprised when it ended, not thinking the requisite time had passed. Generally, it was very quiet with discreet passages of sound emerging with the rhythm of calm breathing. Many of the field recordings were, if I understood correctly, sourced from the inside of pipes.

I'm kinda realizing the futility of attempting to describe this right about now...the sounds were held for relatively long duration, were fairly quiet for the most part, were sometimes isolated, sometimes in tandem, sometimes repeated with additive elements gaining prominence on each iteration. Many of the combinations were achingly lovely, certain delicate pitch-pairs of guitar/bass clarinet or bass clarinet/organ-sample or guitar/sine, etc. New elements arose every so often, providing an interesting forward push--the aforementioned organs (sampled in distorted fashion from a Wandelweiser release--I forget the name), what sounded like a corroded sample from a mass, automobile sounds (blending with car noise and occasional shouts from outside on Centre St.) piano (or piano-like) chords. Perhaps most surprising, toward the end, was a hint of a melody, Pisaro plucking a sequence of pure notes, a lazy, descending series like a feather dropping, as beautiful as it was unexpected.

But the listing of details obscures the effect of the whole which was one of sustained concentration and appreciation of sounds, their mingling with other sounds (and pausing to allow ample time for this appreciation), the artful pacing and the choices made of adjacent tones and beyond adjacency to the limits of one's memory.

A gorgeous piece (even if this mishmash of verbiage doesn't at all convey it); hope to hear it on disc one day.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Some thoughts on Olivia Block's performance at Experimental Intermedia last evening. As veteran readers are aware, I love most all of Block's music that I've heard so if I say that the three pieces presented all had problematic aspects for me, it's at least partially based on very high expectations.

First up was a set of three works for solo violin (Erika Dicker). These were the least successful pieces of the night, imho, and a little baffling in the sense of wondering as to their reason for being. They very much struck me as exercises in a kind of avant string playing that I associate with mid to late 60s work by composers like Penderecki. Indeed, more than once I was reminded of his Capriccio for Violin and Orchestra (1967) where, as near as I could discern, similar techniques were employed. It's not that those techniques were or are without interest--each of the three sections had intriguing, occasionally beautiful aspects--just that I couldn't hear a larger reason behind the pieces aside from demonstrating this or that approach. On the first, the violinist allowed the bow to float from just above the bridge to below it, generating a harsh screech as it passed or lingered on the bridge itself. Within that (echoed in the following composition by the clarinets), she played triplet patterns that, for these ears, have the unfortunate quality of evoking a kind of minimalist treading of water that I found myself wanting to bat away. The next used, if I'm not mistaken, col legno technique while the last scrabbled furiously and two-handedly at the neck interspersed with broad, bowed swipes across the strings. As I said, I could pick out certain elements of each that were of interest, but on the whole, it sounded too much of the practice room, with accents and phrasing that too strongly evoked standard post-serial flourishes.

Next up was a lengthy composition (about an hour?) for violin, percussion (Michael Evans), three clarinets doubling bass clarinet (Alejandro Acierto, Alice Lee & Josh Sinton) and electronics. This was much more "in the ballpark" re: Olivia's recorded work, especially with the hard-edged percussive sounds, the electronics and field recordings and the massed, low reeds. My main issue was, given its length, its unwieldiness as a cohesive piece. Her best work has a kind of subtle narrative quality to it, a kind of arc or spine (not an obvious one) that reveals itself as it occurs, causing the listener to think, "Yes, even though I didn't anticipate it, this clearly stems from that and sounds beautiful alongside it." This piece struck me as more episodic although there were certainly recurring motifs and, arguably, a climax or two. I just wanted some tightening. Those cavils aside, there was many a gorgeous moment to be heard. The percussionist made ample use of strung together cymbals and hubcaps, producing a wonderful clatter, a couple of times receding to the depths of the storage areas to the left of the stage space, echoing the bangs from the heating pipes in the loft, later humorously attempting to corral them atop his horizontal bass drum. One of those climactic moments occurred when the trio of bass clarinets suddenly broke into a kind of chorale section, a rich, deep series of chords embedded in rumbling electronics and the aforementioned percussion. As a general rule, I found her music more rewarding the denser and, frankly, louder it was last night. That might be an artifact of the space; on disc, her quiet sounds are clearly etched and often quite moving. Here, they may have been a bit lost in the space. But when everything was in play, I heard the lush, rocky depths I've come to love in her music. I hope this is recorded, as I'd love to be able to give it a bunch of good listens.

After a break, the final piece was presented, a collaboration with the video artists Sandra Leah Gibson and Luis Recoder. This trio was responsible for one of my big favorite releases of the past decade, the untitled DVD on SoS Editions from 2007 so I was pretty excited to see a live performance. Both visually and musically, the DVD was very circumscribed, very concentrated in one general area (though unearthing all sorts of variations within that area), one of its great strengths. Last night's video, while clearly related to that previous work, was much more wide-ranging. Some of the more beautiful moments echoed the kind of out-of-focus, view-through-a-rainy-windshield, globular aspects of the earlier work, but large segments otherwise portrayed flickering light patterns (incidentally echoed in lovely fashion on the ceiling of the loft as headlights passed by on Centre St., three floors below), overlapping semi-circular wedges and distended rectangles of light, seeming images of forests passed from a train (though dreamlike, never quite sure of their identity) and "damaged" film stock. It was a great deal to take in and part of me missed the singular focus encountered earlier though if I let myself go with the images, it was quite a ride. Olivia's music melded very well, in fact was often absorbed into the images, the two streams felt as one, which is a high compliment for music/video collaborations. Something I'd like very much to see/hear again. This was their first time doing a live performance together, very impressive how well it cohered.

So, I have my caveats, but there was more than enough strong, resonating work at hand. Tonight, Michael Pisaro is presenting a new work for guitar, bass clarinet, sine waves and field recordings. Can't wait.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christian Wolfarth - Acoustic Solo Percussion, vol. 2 (hidden bell)

The second 7" vinyl release from Wolfarth, two new (if brief) explorations. Given their presumed acoustic-ness, it's fun to figure out exactly how he's generating sounds here. On "Elastic Stream", one assumes bowed or otherwise rubbed surfaces, both drum-head and metal, but the number of plies involved is impressive--it's very difficult to try to mentally parse them. One low, hornlike drone in particular is pure and steady enough to be baffling as are what i hear as faint steel drum tintinnabulations. It's five minute span (and abrupt end) are a bit frustrating as there's plenty to hear, but as a raw slab of sound, it's quite fine. Side B, Viril Vortex, is quite different and, I find, more fascinating. Guessing, it sounds to be "simply" Wolfarth's hands and fingers on drumlike surfaces, percussive but soft-padded. It begins with disjointed patter that eventually coalesces, very non-systematically, into irregular waves and eddies, as though being sloshed around in a large bowl, back to spareness, flooding again. I even pick up echoes of West African village drumming, that same "loose rigor". Really well constructed piece, basic elements, fine sound.

Wolfarth's site

Tell - tonal-nagual (Rossbin)

Tell is Wolfarth with Joke Lenz [erm, Lanz] (turntables, electronics), a new name to me and one that google seems to largely ignore despite his site. In any case, he brings to the table, at least based on this recording, something of the manner of Martin Tetreault, i.e. hyperactive and noisy. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. The titles of the tracks ("Virus Infection B-23", "Replicant Dance", etc.) point toward a dystopic SF kind of vision and even when Lanz reins it in a bit there are some corny sounds like echoing voices reminiscent of Hendrix' "1983" that offset the welcome lack of clutter. Repetitive elements come and go, reinforcing a vague industrial aura (not to the music's advantage, imho) and Wolfarth inserts any number of interesting colors, adding depth to the scene but overall, not nearly enough.


If you have a turntable, go for the 7".

Friday, December 11, 2009

So I'd been noticing these lists popping up in the last couple of weeks--top ten movies of the decade. Hadn't really thought about it in those terms but, what the hell, here are my favorite films released between 2000 and now, more than ten. By no stretch is this exhaustive, merely my favorites out of what I've happened to see.

My single favorite:

Habla con Ella (Talk to Her) - Almodovar

The five I enjoyed almost as much:

Cache - Haneke
Il y a Longtemps Que Je t'Aime - Philippe Claudel
Mulholland Dr. - Lynch
Saraband - Bergman
Werkmeister Harmonies - Tarr

Others I liked a great deal:

The Aristocrats - Paul Provenza
The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan - Phil Grabsky
The Diving Bell and The Butterfly - Schnabel
Fa Yeung Nin Wa (In the Mood for Love) - Wong Kar Wei
Inland Empire - Lynch
Kill Bill, vols. 1 & 2 - Tarantino
Lost in Translation - Coppola
Un Secret - Claude Miller
Sexy Beast - Jonathan Glazer
Spirited Away - Miyazaki
Ying Xiong (Hero) - Yimou Zhang

honorable mentions:

Sin City - Rodriguez.
Funny Games (the US remake) - Haneke

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Ryu Hankil - Becoming Typewriter (Taumaturgia)

Ryu Hankil's first solo offering doesn't, as near as I can tell, involve actual typewriters, rather his "normal" array of clockworks, here integrated with vibrating speakers and piezo pick-up. Whatever, the result is very much a fun ride, rumbling, burping, thick. Two main tracks separated by a brief, virtually silent one (I imagine just the "ominous hotel room"). What's impressive is just the consistency, the sticking with a certain area and uncovering richness therein. Not a new tack, to be sure, but one not followed often enough. I wasn't bored for a moment. It's less overtly mechanical than previous work of Hankil's I've heard and, while those had a great deal of charm, I enjoy this slightly new direction all the more. Good stuff.

You can hear for yourself at taumaturgia

Tetuzi Akiyama/Erik Carlsson/Toshimaru Nakamura/Henrik Olsson - In Search or Wild Tulips (Bombax bombax)

Take the music from "Semi-Impressionism", abstract it out a bit, add two percussionists with a tendency toward the bowed and ringing, and you have this bonbon of a release. If anything, perhaps it errs on the sweet side of things, but it's certainly a warm bath, something neophytes to the genre could quite possibly pick up on. The closing minutes of the second track are almost radio-friendly! (well, not quite...). The label (wryly or otherwise) seems to be all about happiness and this disc is rather infused with it. Very nice, though, just this side of cloying.

Eric Carlsson - Let's Fall In Love! (Bombax bombax)

There's an old Kollektief album from '78 wherein pianist Leo Cuypers sings a delightful version of "Let's Fall in Love!". That's not the case here. Bowed and struck metal on the first track, a rather imposing, even grandiose piece, very much a kind of triumphal percussive march; one can almost envisage garlands being tossed to throngs of devotees. This is followed by a scrabbling piece, okay but indistinguishable from many others; my impression derived from here and the previous release is that Carlsson's forte is in ringing metal....which he does in spades on the closing track, striking a glockenspiel or similar object without mercy, keeping to its upper reaches. Not bad.

Skog och dal - Skogar, berg och daler (Bombax bombax)

Consisting of Carlsson (percussion), Anders Dahl (electronics, pump organ, pitch pipe), Magnus Granberg (piano, saxophone, guitar, glasses), Henrik Olsson (bowls, cymbals, glasses, microphones, amplifier, walkie-talkie), Leo Svensson (cello) and Petter Wastberg (electronics, objects, guitar). Another solid effort, two tracks of about 20 minutes each. If I'm not entirely enthusiastic about it (as, to some extent, with the two other releases from this label), it's just that I have a nagging sense of ease about the music, similar (to over-generalize) to the way many for4ears discs have sounded in recent years. The flow is a bit too readily channeled, perhaps. It's a quibble--this is enjoyable work, but I get the impression these fellows can toss this off without thinking too much about it and would like to hear some tougher approaches. Or go whole hog toward the melodic.

Bombax bombax

Available in the US from erstdist

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Tetuzi Akiyama/Toshimaru Nakamura - Semi-Impressionism (Spekk)

A gorgeous recording. Three cuts created on several days in May, 2008, in Sweden, we find Akiyama in full tonal bloom, even more so than he was several years ago on the fine "relator" while Toshi is in the rougher, more angular mode he's been inhabiting in recent years. It's an exquisite balance, filling in each other's gaps with precision and delicacy. The first track seems to have been assembled out of material from three dates so, in that instance, we're not dealing fully with a live improvisation but the transitions are inaudible to these ears so that it, in particular, stands as a wonderfully beguiling construction, free-flowing and subtly conversational. Nakamura gets even harsher on the second cut, pulling at the delicate fabric, not quiet tearing it; very exciting. The third and longest has a more patchwork aspect, the whole not quite working together but still containing some beautiful moments, Akiyama perhaps playing more melodically than elsewhere on the disc, Toshi more violently. A keeper.


Loty Negarti - Reequiem for the Revolution (Free Software Series)

A nom de musique for Basque musician Aitor Izagirre. Having recently read "Noise and Capitalism", I'm somewhat tempted to approach a release from adjacent quarters differently....but with this one there's not much for me to get a handle on aside from its surface aspect which I don't find very compelling. The first of two tracks is very electronic-music sounding in the sense of things I grew up with, i.e., shortwave radio, feedback-y tones, analog synth-y loopiness, etc. mixed in, to be sure, with ultrahigh sines, crackles and grime. The second fares better, several plies of burred static in varying degrees of wooliness, though nothing you haven't heard before. I know, "innovation" shouldn't be a criterion and it's not, really, it's just that there's an unavoidable sense of sameness about it, something that's not the case with the next item on the same label.

Philip Julian - Low Activity Computer Solo (Free Software Series)

Now, this is more like it. "Firstness" doesn't matter, of course, but I know when Rowe finally added a computer to his arsenal, presumably after having been dissatisfied with the results he was getting from various software, he began using a contact mic to pick up its internal workings. Julian does something similar here, using a "telephone induction coil plugged directly into the computer", picking up activity that was built into the machine. Saliently, he writes that "credit for this piece should go to the machine's designers in New York and the people on the assembly line in the IBM factory in China where the computer was built". I find that it makes the piece all the more rewarding keeping that in mind, even if I might grant Julian a bit more credit for having the sense to unearth these absorbing sounds, making a tone of choices, etc.; a 50/50 balance seems about right. The sounds are fascinating in their own right and the sequencing, dynamics and textural shifts are assured. Hard not to think of "the ghost in the machine" at points...Beautiful recording, definitely one to hear.

And you can do so for free (or, better, buy and support the cause) at free software series

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mathieu Ruhlmann - Tsukubai (Unfathomless)

It's often a fascinating, if thorny, problem grappling with a new field recording release, one that doesn't immediately knock my socks off, that is. Very difficult, for me, to quantify whatever my ultimate feeling is about it, why I do or don't particularly enjoy it. "I didn't like the way the water sounded here" or "The wind and clicking sounds were great there." Seems silly. Maybe how transportive it is overall, if indeed that's the originator's intent, which it well might not be. How thoughtful or disruptive to thoughtfulness. Tough generally, more so when the example at hand, over the course of its 35 or so minutes, fluctuates enough between what I hear as routine and wonderfully immersive; shouldn't it fluctuate? Doesn't that more accurately represent a "normal" serious listening experience when as well-intentioned as one might be, the mind inevitably wanders?

Some of the thoughts occasioned on listening to Ruhlmann's "Tsukubai" recorded in the Nitobe Memorial Park in Vancouver, largely (totally?) underneath the surface of water. The water sources are clear from the very beginning and, as such, not quickly absorbing, though there's a hazy background hum that is. The presence of that hum expands for a while, alters into a thinner pattern, disappears. Throughout, there's an ebb and flow of elements (though water is never far away), very calm as would seem appropriate, but with inherently varying levels of interest for this listener. As implied above, though, I'm not sure this is a problem in this context. If it's an accurate representation of the place (given much editing, two years worth of recording etc.), I'd expect my interest to flag here, be piqued there. At the end of the day--or the disc--there's a sense of quiet satisfaction even if the details concerning its genesis have already been clouded over.

My copy arrived with a remix disc, titled "Funayurei" which is a 50-copy pressing and I think already sold out. The same material with more or less Enoesque treatments applied, leavening out the sounds in an attractive, though edge-softening manner. One thing I can say (doubtless with many counterexamples) is that I prefer my field recordings to possess a certain amount of grain, a wide range of textures akin to what one actually experiences when opening one's ears. "Funayurei" is fine for what it is, has a nice inhale/exhale aspect to it, just not enough grit.


(I couldn't locate a cover image for it, but found the same title attached to this wonderful print:)

[oh, and here's that missing image--thanks, Daniel]:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chris Kelsey - Not Cool { in, "The Opposite of Paul Desmond"} (Tzazz Krytyk)

If I remember correctly, Chris and I had a run-in or two on Bagatellen years back, part of the jazz/eai wars of the period. He's an enjoyably cantankerous writer, though, so I was pleasantly surprised when he sent along this release, a recent quartet date with himself on soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, Chris Dimeglio on trumpet, François Grillot on bass and Jay Rosen on drums performing six Kelsey pieces. The titles of some of the tunes might provide an inkling that his orneriness remains front and center: "If Jazz is Dead (Can I Have Its Stuff?", "Sameness is Way Better than Differentness!", "The Past Is a Frightening Prospect". The music, however, is straight-ahead, hard-driving modern jazz though, to my ears, it owes a lot to late 60s Ornette and his colleagues (as well as giving a nod or two to Lacy). The first cut, "Femulate the State" has a lot of the feel of records like "Crisis", a very similar interweaving of parts as well as a certain affinity to Redman's phrasing in Kelsey's tenor work and a whole bunch of Haden in Grillot's bass. It, as most other tracks here, is an extremely solid, accomplished piece, bristling with free jazz energy. Is it my cuppa these days? No. Is it far more rewarding, exacting and imaginative than your standard Viz Fest performance? Absolutely. Good, tough-minded work, recommended for die-hard jazzers like Kelsey (;-))

Kelsey's blog, where you can order

Jean-Luc Guionnet - Gezurrezko joera (Arteleku)

From what I can gather (thanks, Jacques!) the Basque title translates roughly to "Non-Organic Bias". My initial attempt rendered something on the order of "On the Wrong Path", which I kind of like better. What apparently transpired here is that Guionnet went to the church in Bera expecting to encounter a standard church organ, instead finding himself confronted with a small electric one; it's basic sound reminds me very much of those used in the original recording of Reich's "Four Organs". Perhaps all to the good as he constructs a fine, fractured recital, often balancing on the electric interstice between sound and the noise that results barely connecting contacts. It's a serious, even meditative performance with something of a brooding nature, very strong. Guionnet makes references to "standard" church organ playing (enhanced by the room's acoustics which allow for a long decay) but consistently undercuts them, steering them down lanes that lead to noise and disruption; but the historic tinge lingers. Good stuff, perhaps my favorite of those releases of his I've heard.

arteleku (I imagine there are easier places to find this)

The Guionnet disc arrived with a copy of the book, "Noise and Capitalism" which I'm about 3/4 through. Will probably write something later. Interesting essays by Eddie Prevost and Bruce Russell so far.

Graham Lambkin - Softly Softly Copy Copy (Kye)

I've listened to this an awful lot over the past couple of weeks, enjoying it immensely yet finding it unusually difficult to write about. I think it has to do with the disjunction between the relatively common and identifiable elements Lambkin sets into play and the subtle nature of their relatedness, an ineffable sense of rightness about the structure. One hears water sounds, bells, strings (Samara Lubelski on violin), guitar plucks (Austin Argentieri), wind, none of them all that attention-riveting in and of themselves. But the groupings, the layering and the sequencing are fantastic, endlessly surprising and sometimes quite moving. Two tracks, each about 20 minutes long. The bulk of the first plays the bells against water and wind recordings, the latter seeming to incorporate a good bit of microphone abuse (or perhaps it's just rough-edge contact mic work). It's extremely immersive, though; the listener aurally plunges through the jagged space, banging from this crag to that, glimpsing a clearing here and there, then back into the smoke and rock. There's a pause about twelve minutes in as if an aperture has been reached, after which one emerges into a somewhat more electronic area, large and hollow, less congested. Vinyl static, birds and rushing water appear. Howler monkeys? We may be in a zoo, or dreaming we're in one. Wonderful work.

Coming into this release, a natural question was whether Lambkin, following his brilliant "Salmon Run" would continue to make use of extracts from obscure classical recordings. Part of me was hoping he wouldn't, that "Salmon Run" would stand apart as unique item. Listening through "Softly Softly Copy Copy" for the first time, I was pleased that this seemed to be the case...until the last five minutes of the second track. But, I have to say, I'm very glad he chose to revisit that area as the results are gorgeous. The piece begins with similar material as was heard in the first: some violin, birds water, deep clatter. It's airier, though, and more rough and tumble in assemblage, less a drop through the abyss, more splayed out in horizontal space. There's more of what sounds like distorted vocalizing, grunts and moans not so dissimilar from Ashley's dream-speak. The howler monkeys and bells reappear; we seem to be back where we were at the end of the last track and it's every bit as absorbing. But then, at about the 15 minute mark, Lambkin shifts to a gentle sequence of backwards tapes over hushed dronage and random clicks and whistles. A harsh second or two of noise ushers in that sole classical ladling, several low, throbbing notes on the piano (I've no idea as to the source)--this is shockingly beautiful enough, but he layers in what seems to be a female voice or, more precisely, the intake of her breath prior to speaking and the "sh" sound of her first word. Both the piano and the voice are looped, providing a irresistibly lush cushion that segues into a soft, harmonium-like section, then quiet water, ending the piece. Very, very beautiful.

One of the best things I've heard this year, do yourselves a favor.

available from erstdist

Saturday, November 14, 2009

My sole Globe Unity LP, issued on Po Torch in 1977 and a rather good one. Side one, "Jahrmarkt" was recorded in '75 and has a stellar cast that includes Evan Parker, Brotzmann, Braxton and the mighty trombone trio of Christmann, Rutherford and Mangelsdorff. It's a bit murky and clunky but, by and large, a decent semi-structured free-for-all. Still, the rewards are to be found on Side B, "Local Fair", a massive, Ivesian public performance conceived by Brotzmann featuring, in addition to GUO, a local brass and reed band (Wuppermusikanten), a Greek jazz quartet an accordion entourage whose squeezeboxes number a couple dozen. The recording is ambient, including area noise, the groups coming and going, merging and separating, free jazz, polkas, "Down by the Riverside". Excellent.

A very fascinating DG LP, I guess issued around '69 (I picked it up much later at a record fair, iirc) featuring Vinko Globokar performing a piece of his own (Discours II pour cinq trombones) as well as Berio's "Sequenza V", and works by Stockhausen and Carlos Roque Alsina (the latter otherwise unknown to me). I'd forgotten the Berio was here, having only relatively recently really gotten to listen to the entire set, spurred by Domenico Sciano's excellent recombinative release from last year. Impressive piece, as is the Stockhausen ("Solo fur Melodie-Instrument mit Ruckkopplung" (1966-67), an early (?) example of the musician being recorded, the music played back into the room after some delay, the musician commenting on it, etc. Here, much of the "commentary" comes from five people playing tape recordings of a section from "Hymnen". Very rich piece. Lot of meat in this recording, worth going back into often.

Along with Material and the Love of Life Orchestra, the Palominos (originally head by Anton Fier and Laswell, soon run pretty much by Fier) were one of the groups that forced me to re-evaluate my opinions on the viability of rock-oriented music in the early 80s, which I'd all but abandoned. I remember running across this in the jazz outlet of J&R, back when it was a small place on Nassau St., around '83. I knew most of the names, having heard Frith & Tacuma of course, but also having encountered Zorn, Laswell and Lindsay (in DNA) here and there. Most humorously, for me, was the presence on one track of Roger Trilling (credited with "Records"), who I knew a bit at Vassar in the early 70s (if you've self-googled, Hi Roger!). How could I resist? I forget if I'd already owned Zorn's "Locus Solus" at this point (right around the same time) but even so, this sounded entirely new and exciting to me. Still does! Trying to think of what else sounded like this; can't really come up with anything. That heavy, "tribal" kind of rhythm, maybe Martin Bisi or early Sharp, but this packs such a surge. Laswell and Tacuma are fantastic here, huge sound. Really holds up superbly.

Ok, I understand my credentials as arbiter of all things rock might come into question in some quarters, but damned if this isn't a great, relatively straight ahead rock album. Every track is utterly solid, fine melodies, strong, strong playing. Some, like "The Animal Speaks", featuring John Lydon, are as powerful a rock song as I know, so much better than anything in the quasi-same ballpark of which I'm aware. Even Michael Stipe sounds great! The slightly softer pieces on Side 2 (with fine Jack Bruce on "Silver Bullet") point the way to the next album but are far, far superior. Excellent sound, too.

Talk about falling off a cliff. Most of the same personnel, gears shifted almost entirely to MOR status, everything laced with saccharine. Objectively, I guess it's no worse than any dozen other things of its kind released around '87 but comparatively, this is a major step backward; I only retain it for historical purposes! :-) This was the last LP of theirs I bought. I think it was two or three years before their next, which came out on disc. I kept up with them though I thought their output was spotty. Fier navigated through a few different areas, including drone-y Laswelliana though their last (?) one, "Dead Inside" (1996) a collaboration with poet Nicole Blackman, has several very strong tracks, "Victim", a first person narrative of a kidnapping and murder, is one of the most chilling pieces I've ever heard.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A couple years back, I went to see Rick Brown and Mark Howell out in Brooklyn at Goodbye Blue Monday and reported on it here, a very fun evening. Last night, Rick (that's him on the right; some readers may know his work in the post-punk band V-Effect and the later group Fish and Roses, among others) did a set at Issue Project. He's a wonderful, gentle performer, very comfortable in his own idiosyncratic way of singing and playing, an in-your-living-room, homemade kind of approach.

He did four pieces, beginning with an all-time favorite of mine, Partch's "The Letter". Rick has this wooden box, maple I think, kind of chest drawer-sized, that he straps around his shoulder and plays, this time, with soft mallets. It's quite resonant, great sound. His rendition was lovingly intoned, the sole accompaniment the beats on the box, very moving. He next performed a really fantastic little work that bordered on eai, using only static, a small 45rpm turntable and a cassette recorder (I think--my view was blocked), juggling the three spare elements at fairly low volume, each one clearly heard, keeping the music sparse and obscure, including shards of what sounded like a jazz-soul track. Great piece. The sole off-note was the following song, a political piece that was lyrically a bit clunky, though the use of an alto trombone with bari-sax mouthpiece, funneled through a computer program that regurgitated bits and pieces of it was interesting. He ended with a long, richly droning and thumping work (again including homemade percussion involving wooden boards and sheets of metal) that segued in and out of what turned out to be (upon researching the lyrics--I didn't know it otherwise) a cover of the Dream Academy's "It'll Never Happen Again" [I'm informed by Rick that it's actually a Tim Hardin song, apparently itself covered by Dream Academy], softly crooned in a Wyatt-esque voice, ghostly and effective.

Rick's planning more solo ventures upcoming--do check him out.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A rare opportunity to dip back into some vinyl.

As luck and the alphabet would have it, directly preceding my rather un-looked-forward to reinvestigation of my Glass on wax [not a fair assessment, as it turned out], there sits Jon Gibson's "Two Solo Pieces", issued in 1977 by Chatham Square (my only vinyl from that label--kicking myself for not ordering the early Glass things from NMDS when I could have). Two side-long works: "Cycles" (1973) for pipe organ and "Untitled" (1974) for solo flute, both performed by Gibson. It's interesting how fresh something like "Cycles" sounds today; essentially a dense organ chord with a huge number of interior fluctuations, all of them somewhat clouded due to their sheer mass, it's the kind of thing that, if attempted today, I think would inevitably sound half-hearted and mannered. But in 1973, the ideas were new enough that their energy and sense of discovery were readily audible. Really excellent piece, holding up a bit better than many of Glass' things from the same period. The (alto) flute composition is also very beautiful, only "minimalist" in the sense that its long melodic line is repeated and elaborated on but it bears virtually no relationship to Glass (or Riley or Reich) with whom Gibson was playing. It sounds, if anything, more like something Rzewski might have written around that time--in an especially inspired moment. A little bit of his piece, "Song and Dance" comes to mind.

I'm not sure as to its current availability. It's been issued on disc by both New Tone and Dunya records. Great recording, though, try to hear it. [just checked--I did, in fact, write this up for All Music and mentioned that, at the time Robi Droli had issued it with three additional pieces]

I'd heard Riley's "A Rainbow in Curved Air" in July of '72, on WBRU (Brown University) while working for the summer on Block Island, buying it soon upon my return along with "In C". But I think that was my only exposure to minimalism for a couple of years, immersed as I was in jazz. I wasn't, in fact, aware of minimalism as a genre and wrongly thought of the Riley works as being sui generis. I'd caught a piece of Reich's performed at the New England Conservatory in '74 and quickly picked up the DG 3LP set, "Drumming". Glass' music was occasionally played on KCR and, as mentioned above, I drooled a bit over Chatham Square items in the NMDS catalog (shortage of funds!--though I bought them on disc later on) but didn't actually have a recording in-house until my brother Drew (at my urging, iirc) bought "North Star" which appeared around 1975 on, what, Virgin?

"Einstein" premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in November, 1976, just after I'd moved to NYC. I knew of the event and wanted to go but lack of finances made that an impossibility (I eventually saw its second NYC staging at BAM in 1984). The first recording came out in '79 on Tomato (a very interesting label at the time) which is what I have here.

It's a commonplace to observe that "Einstein" is a tipping point in Glass' career and I subscribe to that view. There are certainly moments of beauty subsequently but (to my knowledge) nothing with the thrilling rigor of the pre-Einstein work or the unbridled energy, still strongly informed by work like "Music in Changing Parts" of the maximalist explosion that was "Einstein". It might not be a precise balance, the down slope already impinged upon, but this work, especially when seen in the theater, is still enthralling, hugely imaginative and extremely moving. One wonderful feature, naturally unavailable on any recording, is that when the house opens, the piece has already begun, Lucinda Childs (on whom I had a huge crush) and Sheryl L. Sutton seated on opposite sides of the stage, reciting the extraordinarily touching libretto of Christopher Knowles.

A word on that. Knowles was born in 1959 and was (is still, I assume) autistic. Robert Wilson on Knowles:

In early 1973 a man named George Klauber, who had been one of my professors at Pratt Institute, gave me an audio tape he thought might interest me. At the time I was beginning work on a theatre piece called The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin. . . . I was fascinated. The tape was entitled 'Emily Likes the TV.' On it a young man's voice spoke continuously creating repetitions and variations on phrases about Emily watching the TV. I began to realize that the words flowed to a patterned rhythm whose logic was self-supporting. It was a piece coded much like music. Like a cantata or fugue it worked with conjugations of thoughts repeated in variations; these governed by classical constructions and a pervasive sense of humor. The effect was at once inspiring and charming. I was impressed and called George to ask who had made the tape. . . . It was arranged that Chris could come and live with me. We became collaborators and friends. He co-authored a show called A Letter for Queen Victoria and performed it throughout Europe and New York. In subsequent years we continued to work together. Chris would co-author pieces and his texts would appear in works such as the opera Einstein on the Beach… I am forever fascinated by the decisions Chris is able to make while maintaining control over a continuous and elegant line. He has a unique ability to create a language that's immediately discernible. Yet once he has invented his verbal or visual language, he destroys the code to begin anew. His art holds the excitement of molecular reaction. His product is constantly genuine and always a reflection of his own imagination, humor and good will.

The words by Knowles in "Einstein" appear to have been "downloaded" from AM radio, almost without editing but also, often, structured in a way that's childlike and naive, heartrendingly so. A line like, "Will it get some wind for the sailboat", the first line of text here, I find simply wrenching. "And it could get for it is". Later, he regurgitates programming schedules from WABC, information coming into his brain and leaving his pen, unfiltered, ineffably sad. I think it's crucial to the success of "Einstein" that, on this scale, the rigorous, often (intentionally) overbearing minimalism is offset by this profoundly human character. More, it's triangulated with text from Samuel M. Johnson who writes in an arch, 18th century manner without cracking the tiniest smile. (If anyone knows more about Johnson, please fill me in--not much info out there I could find). Childs' own section, "I was in this prematurely air-conditioned supermarket...", is also oddly fascinating. These unlikely elements swirl together fantastically, caroming off one another, never giving the listener steady footing.

Live, of course, there are myriad astounding, incredibly drawn out visual episodes from the locomotive to the rising bed; it was almost hilarious how long Wilson and Glass would take to complete a "small" action. On record, you get a bit of a sense of that, but the ensemble is so percolating that no one with more than a passing interest in minimalism would be bored. Well sequenced, with scantly populated valleys followed by bubbling stews of activity, punctuated by singular dramatic moments, my personal favorite being Childs' sudden declaration, "Bern, 1905". "Knee Play 4", with some lovely melodies and spirited playing by violinist Paul Zukofsky, is another favorite sequence. Live, the concluding Spaceship scene was utterly spectacular and it's pretty damn exciting on disc (that bass synth line remains mighty cool).

Although the asceticism of his early work is extremely attractive to me, all things considered (beyond Glass, to be sure), "Einstein" remains my favorite work in his canon. Not that I've followed him much since, oh, the late 80s. I enjoyed "Satyagraha" well enough (the concluding "octave" aria is extraordinary), "Ahknaten", less so. Of the things I have on vinyl, his "Dance Nos. 1 and 3", also on Tomato (1980), is very good. The soundtracks for "The Photographer" and "Koyaanisqatsi" are ok (the film dates horribly, imho, save for that astonishing final image of the exploded spacecraft tumbling through the azure) and the set of "Songs from Liquid Days" odd enough to still generate a wee bit of interest. Otherwise, I'm more or less ignorant of his output for over 20 years now, catching it in the odd film or TV show (or commercial!) once in a while; hard to think that I'm missing much. Happy to have "Einstein".

Two lovers sat on a park bench, with their bodies touching each other, holding hands in the moonlight.

There was silence between them. So profound was their love for each other, they needed no words to express it. And so they sat in silence, on a park bench, with their bodies touching, holding hands in the moonlight.

Finally she spoke. "Do you love me, John?" she asked. "You know I love you, darling," he replied. "I love you more than tongue can tell. You are the light of my life, my sun, moon and stars. You are my everything. Without you I have no reason for being."

Again there was silence as the two lovers sat on a park bench, their bodies touching, holding hands in the moonlight. Once more she spoke. "How much do you love me, John?" she asked. He answered: "How much do I love you? Count the stars in the sky. Measure the waters of the oceans with a teaspoon. Number the grains of sand on the sea shore. Impossible, you say."