Sunday, September 27, 2009

Six pieces I did in August. I somewhat humorously find myself in the position of certain musicians who release, almost, their every thought, a stance I really don't have so many problems with on the one hand. On the other, as I start painting (and drawing--those perhaps to come) more often there's necessarily a rise in the number of pieces that fail for one reason or another. If they're bad enough, they go straight to the trash but I keep others around because, to my eye, there are one or two good aspects to them. But for now, especially since I am happy with a small bunch from August, I'll just present those.

The above is a good example of a piece that was seriously drifting toward the trash--I was trying for a very fine, precise rendition and failing utterly, so I just tore into it. And, I think, it worked.

I'd previously done a set of four 4x4 inch paintings of a red t-shirt or details thereof. I always had it in my head to do three sets, red, indigo and gray, four each, all the same size. Here are the indigos:

Cutting square sheets out of a larger block inevitably leaves one with oddly proportioned rectangles of paper and I've been using them as is. When oriented vertically, you're almost automatically drawn to a kind of Japanese compositional area. I did a few, this is the one I thought worked decently:

As always, enormous thanks to Betsy for her help, inspiration and judgment.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sebastian Lexer - Dazwischen (Matchless)

I'm not as interested in the software integration used by Lexer on this solo recording, more in the music as such, but the electronics are indeed used well enough that it's tough to imagine the music without them and, in any case, the music is quite good indeed. Richard went more into depth than I'm able to here and if I'm not quite as blown away as he was, this is still one excellent disc. As he points out, most of the pieces feel more like compositions, breathing compositions, than improvisations, all the more impressive when manipulating and assessing the live interaction with the programming, but Lexer carves out his own sound as well. Gentler than Tudor, harsher than Feldman (though alluding to both), more liquid in feel than most post-serialists but still retaining no small amount of astringency, even piquancy. Maybe a tinge of Tilbury but not nearly enough to be a distraction. The cuts work well as a suite though if I had to choose a favorite, it would be "defining edges" with its multiple gentle arcs like flowering branches. Wonderful palette in that one and there's not a sub-par track on the disc. I can easily imagine this one revealing more and more on each listen and look forward to doing so. Get this.


Tim Olive - The Specialist (Emrecords)

The "area" in which Olive is operating here is, even if I can't quite define it succinctly, one that I'm not so partial to these days: clunky/noisy/scratchy. Not the clunky/noisy/scratchy of, say, Tandem Electrics (who I should thank for a fine set the other evening at Listen Space along with an excellent one on the part of Bonnie Jones and Tim Albro), but something a bit more assertive, more through-plowing, with less concern for space. Given that, I've been trying to listen to this from a different angle, the same way I wouldn't look at the Gilbert and George-ish disc cover and evaluate it like a Twombly. This yields some dividends. The claustrophobic press of the sounds begins to be appreciated on its own merits, the grinding gears, the wacky clangs and whoops, the oily feel, the strangely moist static. Listened this way, there's much to enjoy but I get a little disgruntled by the thirteen rather brief tracks, wanting to here the kernels elaborated upon (like track 12, a rich, Roweian drone). In sum, I'm a bit half and half on "The Specialist"; it's too gesturally active, if you will, for me to totally embrace, but intriguing on its own terms.

You can get it, among other places, from Squidco where there's another review.

Seijiro Murayama - Space and Place (ftarri)

It's funny, there's something here, on the third track, that I'm sure most if not all of us have done, that is, striking a hard surface with a smooth stick and varying the pressure along its length so that the tone changes. I remember first discovering this with paint brushes on a concrete windowsill. So when it emerges here, I have this odd combination of pleasant nostalgia and a little disappointment of the "hey, I've done that" variety. Curious about the quasi-Sun Ra allusions in the titles of the album and last track as well. Overall, it dwells more in the snare and cymbal-induced drone area and I generally enjoyed the pieces though I had a nagging sense of grasping their essence a good length of time before they concluded.

available stateside via erstdist

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Without a doubt, my most enjoyable, if belated, "discovery" of this year has been the music of Michael Pisaro. I'd heard snatches off and on for a while, if I'm not mistaken, including while listening to the Wandelweiser radio stream, but hadn't really listened until a few months back when Barry kindly sent me his Confront release of "an unrhymed chord" and soon thereafter I heard Pisaro's "hearing metal (I)" among four recent Wandelweiser discs. Michael saw the write-ups here and was kind enough to send me his entire Wandelweiser output, an additional six sets of material which I've been happily wallowing in for several weeks.

I find a real affinity between the way I approach "things" and how I hear that Pisaro does, which likely goes a long way in explaining why I enjoy the music so greatly. If I'm allowed to generalize, he comes at things with an extremely high level of concentration and seriousness, but that seriousness has something of an innocent, even childlike sense of wonder at the phenomena he's experiencing/creating that I find both appealing and inherently fascinating. That concentratedness necessitates lengthy works, by and large, but not once have I found a piece over-extended, even (especially) the 288 minutes of the combined Transparent City project. That's a remarkable accomplishment right there. Too, he has the wonderful habit of creating "rules" that can be thought of as "simple" in the sense that they're easily described and understood, yet they faithfully produce complex, endlessly rewarding results.

I bet the earliest piece, "mind is moving I" (1995), for acoustic guitar (with whistling), employs some system with regard to chord choice, length, decay, dynamics, etc. though I get the impression that the whistles are more intuitively placed (I could well be wrong!). The guitar sounds are emitted sparsely: isolated, quiet chords with odd harmonics, mostly left to hover on their own, sometimes in a short series, often allowed to evaporate, occasionally cut short, sometimes accompanied by a soft whistle. That's all. Yet for 72 minutes (a popular duration for Pisaro) I was held rapt; it felt more like a half hour had elapsed. Listening at home or, better, up here in Cape Cod, it was a perfect complement for the area birds, squirrels, bees, flies--it integrated with the surroundings beautifully. Not "peaceful" in any sappy, ambient sense but, oddly, in a very active manner despite the surface stasis of the music. Here, as on subsequent releases, I can't help but think that it's Pisaro's poetic sensibility--what to introduce when, with what qualities--that makes this music stand apart from quasi-similar efforts by others. Again, it's not a complicated "score" (maybe it is?) but its particulars, including the care and concentration with which it's performed here, cause it to levitate.

His "here (2)" for accordion (Edwin Alexander Buchholz) and flute (Normisa Pereira da Silva) appears on the excellent 2-disc set of accordion music that includes a wonderful rendition of Cage's "Cheap Imitation" as well as engaging pieces by Frey and Beuger. In a sense, it anticpates later works where a sine tone is buried amidst sounds of similar timbre in that the flute, especially in the piece's first half when the accordion is breathing out thick, dense chords, is virtually hidden from overt perception. As the music trends higher and sparser, attaining a kind of thin air aspect, the twinned tones, long sustained, are clearer, interlacing quite beautifully. At 20 minutes, it's relatively short for Pisaro, but perfectly timed here.

It's difficult to write, qualitively, about the "Transparent City" sequence, comprising two 2-disc sets, 24 pieces of 10 minutes each with two minute pauses between tracks, except to say that I love them, have been listening quite often and don't think I've come close to exhausting the material there. As mentioned above, the basic idea seems rather simple: take a 10-minute swatch of field recording (all samples here recorded in and around Los Angeles, in various types of locale) and threasd it through with sine tones that roughly approximate the general timbre of the recorded sounds. And that's what we hear. Why they work so fantastically (though, interestingly, I'll be damned if I can pick out any "favorites" from the bunch) is tough to say, except for two things. First, the recordings themselves are great, precise, depth-filled, almost as fascinating as sitting in those places with open ears oneself, no mean accomplishment. Second, as in "mind is moving I", the aesthetic judgment evinced by Pisaro in his deployment of the sine tones is unerring. I used the term "thread" above and, in fact, the strongest mental image I have while listening to "Transparent City" is the glimmer of a thin silver filament wending its way through rough, jumbled material, just barely glinting here and there, disappearing into the folds, re-emerging. The sine tones never dominate, never lie atop the recorded material; often they're either absent or unhearable. When relatively prominent, they take on something of a Lynchian aspect, imparting an otherwordly quality to the water, marketplace, roadway, etc. The field recordings were unedited; curious if some judgment was applied choosing which 10-minute segment to utilize. Why 24 pieces, using recordings from a four-year period? Dunno, except to say, miraculously, it doesn't seem like overkill! The pieces are different but of the same cast; there's a strong consistency here. I'd even welcome a third set.

Belying somewhat what I said above, the structure behind Pisaro's "harmony series" (here, #s 11-16 out of 34) is, if not complex, at least a bit arcane. As I (probably faultily) understand it, he begins with a poem and somehow manages to render it graphically ("as if one were making a stencil"). He then reduces the essential meaning of the poem or fragment thereof to a single characteristic which informs the rendition of the piece ("proliferation" is cited as an example, so that piece "might be read as a shift from a barely to a clearly audible, multi-faceted sound".) And I think there's more to it but I'll stop there. The result is nine pieces that are often spellbinding (some of the numbers have variations--the nine are presented almost symmetrically, both by title and approximate length: 16a, 11a, 12a, 13, 14, 15, 12d, 11c, 16b). Far too much to go into here, but highlights include 12a, a duo for oboe/English horn (Kathryn Pisaro) and sine tones (the composer), a 20-minute series of paired tones of long duration (with long silences) that is almost stately, the tones sliding with mild irregularity up to and away from one another, creating slightly irregular "beats". I might call it "meditative" but its mutations require too much attention. Two solo works are gorgeously played by Greg Stuart (percussion--a musician I very much want to hear in other environs), one recalling Jeph Jerman a bit. 14 might be my personal favorite, for violin, harmonium, piano and (I think) bowed guitar, the single piano notes in a slow tempo, like water droplets on a sheer, silk scrim, shifting gently in a breeze. Evoking the spirit of Feldman without ever imitating him. Great piece.

Neatly, this series concludes with the Wandelweiser release (2-disc) of "an unrhymed chord", the same piece through which I was really introduced to Pisaro's work via the fine version by Barry Chabala. Here it's rendered twice, the first a tremendous exploration by Stuart using 70 sounds, all "made by friction--either by bow, stick or hand". As much as I enjoy Barry's, this one is my current standard; maybe there's something about the chosen sounds, that frictive aspect, that really imparts a wonderful grain to the piece here. That plus the choices Stuart makes, of course. Whatever, it succeeds in manifesting as a palpable presence in the room, filling the space, endlessly absorbing. The second version might be the one work out of this entire bunch that didn't work for me on most levels. Aggressive and chancy idea, though: Joseph Kudirka, who realized the work, solicited contributions from several dozen musician acquaintances, asking that the "sounds were to be electronically generated in a non-performative fashion". Kudirka then assembled the sounds in the manner suggested by the score (the louder the sound, the shorter its duration/iteration), their entry more or less determined by the notations of the contributors. There's something of Rowe's "sight" about this but it lacks that work's "found" power and grace. For my ears, perhaps the already semi-randomized nature of the score requires more "touch" on the part of the person doing the realization. Here, everything is listenable enough, not bad by any means, but the specialness that adheres to so much of Pisaro's work isn't there for me.

Hey, pretty decent batting average nonetheless.

Many thanks to Michael for sending these discs my way, it's been a total pleasure coming to (begin to) know the music.

I believe most if not all of these are currentlyh available through erstdist

Curious listeners might also be advised to tune into Wandelweiser Radio which seems to be currently down but which I imagine will be back soon.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Every so often, browsing through my LPs, I come across a sequence that makes me wonder, "Is there any other collection that contains (say) these four LPs?" This is one such string.

David Garland's first album, if I'm not mistaken [I am, maybe, by two--see site below--not sure of the sequence of LP releases], from 1986, with Mark Abbott (who used to have an electronic music show on KCR that I wish I'd paid more attention to in the late 70s), Klucevsek, Marclay, Zorn and others though it's more often than not solo. The opener, "I Am With You" give a clue as to Garland's fine songwriting and singing capabilities, with some goofy electronified vocals that work surprisingly well, still. It's downtown NYC in '86, after all, so one can expect awful synthesized percussion and, yes, it's here; not really as awful as you might expect, actually. Overall, still sounds good in that unique, hyper-awkward way Garland has with a tune. Singing about i-beam girders, clocks, furniture, Planet X, keeping in touch:

I think I'll probably be
here for you when you need me.
Just give me the word. I'll come right away--
unless, I guess, I'm busy or something.

There's something about Garland I find inherently likable, I admit. I can imagine having grown up with him as a good friend, with similar obsessions. Wish he recorded more. Ah, lookee here, he has a site and apparently an upcoming album.

nota bene: when I saw Fredric Rzewski play at the new Carnegie recital hall a couple of years ago, Garland sat in front of me. He's very tall. It was mildly annoying.

I think I have Gaslini on one other record, a duo with Braxton (and a piece for the IIO, I guess), but I otherwise know next to nothing about him. This is a 1976 release on Pausa with no accompanying info; I imagine I picked it up (apparently in a cutoff bin) intrigued by Ponty being on the same disc as Lacy, Oxley, Rutherford etc. I wrote it up for AMG here and can't add much to that. Not really my cuppa, a little too much on the "classical" side of free jazz, maybe, Cecil without the soul.

I suppose it's possible, given this LP's seeming obscurity and its creator's involvement with a certain dinosaurean rock group, that this might well be the most monetarily valuable thing in my collection. Maybe not, just checked e-bay and they're showing two, one for $50, one for $130. Whatever, it's a pretty nice set, not at all what you'd expect from someone associated with the Floyd (he co-composed Atom Heart Mother). Interesting bio at AMG.

Fun music, though, piano miniatures mixing Satie with minimalism, sometimes with a childlike simplicity, other times descending in a chaotic storm (though Geesin's always in control--maybe not such a good thing). He attains something like a hyperactive player piano status--incredibly dense but somehow mechanical even as one is, embarrassingly, experiencing a bit of a thrill. In a funny way, imagine the best possible Keith Emerson solo piano album (I know, this is difficult) and you're most of the way there.

This one has been reissued as "Ghana: Ancient Ceremonies, Songs and Dance Music". My 1979 LP has the dubious generalization, "Africa" followed by "Ancient Ceremonies Dance Music & Songs of Ghana". Whatever, it's a spectacular bunch of disparate tracks, very much in keeping with other great, more widely proclaimed Nonesuch ventures. Instruments like the dzil , a xylophone-like thing with, I imagine, gourd resonators (likely filled with spider webs, imparting that fantastic buzz) are spellbinding to hear. Lot of percussion typical of West Africa, but also treasures like the gonje, which resembles a douss'ngouni but is bowed, here played by Adolphus Micah. Wonderful village choral work as well. The young girl singing "Marilli" is nothing short of incredible. Raw and beautiful.


Too late to listen to the next in the shelves, though Jon Gibson's "Two Solo Pieces" wouldn't likely make those five LPs any more likely to exist in a set elsewhere. Besides, as luck would have it, he immediately precedes my Glass section, a job I have mixed feelings about attempting (listening through, that is).

In any case, we'll be on Cape Cod from tomorrow to the 19th; might post from there, might not. See everyone soon.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

I like cold weather.

I've always been partial to it. I mean, give me 50◦ on a clear, crisp day or evening and I'm very happy. But given the choice between 90◦ and muggy or 10◦ and raw, I'll take the latter every time. It's gotten "worse" as I've aged, on both ends. Tolerating high heat and humidity becomes more and more of an ordeal while my apparent immunity to the effects of cold has also increased. My winter coat is a short, light jacket, like a windbreaker with a thin lining. I've never zipped it up. I can imagine doing so in an extreme situation but that hasn't happened yet (strong winds, below zero). I don't own a hat, or gloves (that's what pockets are for!) or earmuffs or a scarf. I don't really think twice about it, just go about my business wearing, or not wearing, however much clothing I feel comfortable with.

So, last evening, we're eating at a local bar/restaurant, one that has outdoor seating so that we can bring the puppy along. At the next table, there's a family of three, father, mother, daughter. I recognize the guy from the neighborhood, though I'd never met or spoken to him. As they're leaving he comes over and says, "Excuse me, but I gotta say hello. I was telling my wife that this is the guy who goes around walking his dog in freezing weather in a t-shirt or with his jacket wide open like it's spring." Nice guy, we exchange mildly humorous remarks about imperviousness to cold.

I tell him that, when taking Nanook out for her nighttime pee, which generally involved walking no more than 100 feet up the street, I'd routinely go out with my feet clad as they are around the house, that is, barefoot. I'd only put on footwear if there was snow on the ground. Very bracing when it's around 20◦! Sometimes, though, it will have begun to snow without me realizing it. I'll get to the front door with the dog and think, "Hell with it", and go out sans shoes anyway.

Yes, it's cold, but it's entirely worth it imagining what goes through the mind of the next person to walk down my street, encountering barefoot footprints in the new snow.