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, Fran├žois 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."

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Jason Kahn/Asher - Planes (Mikroton)

Ok, ok, I admit it--I'm a total sucker for these kind of things. Give me some dense, drone-y electronics (here, despite not saying so on the sleeve, I think with added percussion--there's some of those finger-tapped Tibetan bells in play midway through) and layer in rich, well-chosen field recordings, augmented or not, and you've pretty much got me. The result may not be as transcendent an experience as achieved in more "dangerous" collaborations (see: Rowe & Sachiko) but such efforts, when well-conceived, seem to center in on some juicy area that I find as irresistible as a good piece of fudge. Healthier, probably. Kahn's generally dark hues play off Asher's often innocent and sunny recordings (children playing); it's not the most surprising juxtaposition but it works very well. Shimmering and begrimed at the same time, a fine combination.

Dafeldecker/Kurzmann/Tilbury/Wishart - s/t (Mikroton)

Orange, then green, now violet. Seven tracks recorded live in Vienna and Wels (sounds as though the first four are from one, the latter three from another), this is an enjoyable set though a somehow dissatisfying one. Rich in colors and textures, (Wishart credited on hurdy gurdy but, I assume, also playing violin, the clarinet and bowed bass of Kurzmann and Dafeldecker twining beautifully, Tilbury being Tilbury) the more or less drone-based improvisations are ultimately a little featureless, a bit too much like attractive slabs without much inner structure. Not sure what it is that gnaws at me here, maybe just a sense of too much noodling, albeit with variegated, often tasty pasta. There are a couple of points, oddly enough, especially in the first and last tracks, where I was reminded of early Anthony Davis pieces, specifically his "A Walk Through the Shadow" theme. Not bad, but a bit disappointing given the participants.


Available this side of the pond from erstdist

Anthony Guerra - s/t (a binary datum)

I have several questions. First, let me say this is an excellent recording. Do I know what I'm hearing? Not so much.

OK, it's a 10" lathe cut. I didn't know from lathe cut and still might require some explanation. Apparently, these discs are individually cut from PVC, not vinyl and, so it's been suggested, will erode at a far faster rate, enough that what one hears might vary significantly over time. Is this the case? Cool, if so. A guy in New Zealand by the name of Peter King seems to be the doyen of this area, perhaps responsible for this one. As to the sounds--most recently seen around these here parts as half of Green Blossoms, dispensing pretty, even sugary morsels of whimsical melody, Guerra here is all about icily remote noise. One side--the label doesn't distinguish--is relatively quiet, beginning with grainy, fluctuating tones and much static, as though recorded through wires that a dog's been at. It explodes and finds itself located in a different register, differently textured tones with an insistent, soft click. These eruptions become more frequent, though not too loud, before being abruptly sliced off just before the end of the piece, which concludes in a minute or so of near silence.

While I have no idea of which side is which, the other one sounds as though it just might be a continuation of the "first", picking up immediately in a rambunctious area, quasi-rhythmic static bursts sputtering over a low, turntable-like rumble. It pretty much stays there, a mini-firestorm over that bass threat--really tasty, wonderful stuff, great lack of self-consciousness.

It appears that the only way in which one might obtain one of these jewels (unless you're lucky enough to have one sent your way) is via barter at a binary datum

Go for it.

Daniel Jones/Barry Chabala - Undercurrents (Roeba)

I take it this was a long-distance collaboration (Barry can correct me) but whatever, it's a real good one, my favorite thing thus far from Mr. Chabala as an improviser (his take on Pisaro's "an unrhymed chord" is outstanding as well). He has a bent toward pure, ringing tones, often high-range--I know he's a fan of "Evening Star" and I think it comes through--so having someone like Jones in tandem is just the right tonic with his rougher scrapes and rumbles. Four cuts, each strong in a different way, leaning in the agitated calm direction. There's an especially beautiful sequence near the end of the second cut, "Empty", where those clear guitar tones play against a distorted field recording with voices and maybe radio captures. Each piece has a natural ebb and flow, an intriguing enough outcome if their genesis is as intuited above. Solid throughout, "Undercurrents" kept me attuned and riveted; strong release.

Lee Noyes/Barry Chabala - The Shade & the Squint (Roeba)

The last recording by this pair was a bit too tilted toward the efi side of things for my taste; this one's far more up my alley, much more expansive, much wider spaces carved out, particularly on the first of the two tracks. Once again Noyes, on percussion, (in New Zealand) and Chabala on guitar (in somewhat more exotic New Jersey) created their parts independently, "blind and layered", by which I take it without either's awareness of the other's output? However achieved, "Yin (The Shade)" is pretty much seamless, a rich, imaginative piece, varied in dronage both percussive and guitar-based and also evincing a wide range of clatter. The second cut, "Yang (The Squint)", incorporates far more silence--I take it this was a guiding parameter in the trans-world exchange?--and, with the plucked and struck approach largely taken on the respective instruments, falls more readily in the efi mode, quite effectively so, though I'll be damned if I don't pick up traces of "Moonchild"...

Both recordings are worth a hear.

Available wherever records are sold. Or, failing that, via squidco

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Jason Kahn/Ryu Hankil - Circle (Celadon)

It's a pleasure to welcome the first release from long-time discussion group participant (and all-around curmudgeon) Bill Ashline's Celadon label, and even more of one to report that it's damn good. An interesting pairing in that both musicians often employ overt rhythmic elements in their work, not the most common feature at this end of the playing field, but those rhythms are quite different. Kahn I think of as more "steady state', with vibrating surfaces that maintain a fairly regular texture (over any small span of time, though shifting on larger scales), kind of a color field approach to sound. Hankil, who makes wide use of clockworks, strikes me as somehow more ragged, more erose with his ticks and alarms. So, on the face of it, it portends a possibly delicious melding of attacks and, yes, we get a good dose of that over the course of the 93 or so minutes of this 2-disc set. But, more, there's a lot of delicacy, of barely occupied space and high, soft textures. Too, the rhythmic element is never consistent--it manifests then sputters out, catches on barely then sublimates into sparks or subsonics. When, as occurs about 15 minutes into the second disc, Kahn re-emerges with fingers on tempered metal and Hankil clatters about on grittier, more commercial material (at least, it sounds this way to me), the effect is surprising and wonderful. It's a long enough set that it's tough to get a fix on the whole structure and, perhaps, it overstays its welcome a tad but by and large it's a rigorous, intricate and absorbing performance.


Moniek Darge - Soundies (Kye)

When I received this disc, the name violinist/composer/vocalist Moniek Darge didn't ring a bell. But a little research revealed that I had indeed heard of her in conjunction with her partner Godfried-Willem Raes, founder of Belgium's Logos Foundation, whom I'd run across during AMM investigations. He and Darge apparently engaged in many a public performance, often in the nude, occasionally spurring arrest, etc. Still, I had no idea what to expect musically. Well, it's a varied lot, some of it quite good. Seven pieces, arranged chronologically from 1980 - 2001. "Sand", the earliest work is a fine extended steady-state work with marvelously irregular percussion delicately tumbling over a slightly wavering, organ-like tape. Really excellent study in agitated calm, my favorite piece on the recording. Intervening tracks are hit and miss, with some use of vocalizations and animal sounds a bit whimsical for my taste and the free improv aspects somewhat formless, though the chime-like tones and ambient noise in "Caete" are very lovely. Happily, the disc closes with another very strong piece, 2001's "Turning Wheel", a rich live soundscape (in situ, I think, not tape, though I'm not certain) with male and female voices (English and Japanese) and violin, somber and churning. Well worth a listen.

Available through erstdist (as is the Celadon disc) or from Graham Lambkin @

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I saw Peter Greenaway's "Rembrandt's j'accuse" at the Film Forum on Sunday, with Carol. A very interesting (if, perhaps, slightly over-fussy) film, one that does get you thinking about "visual illiteracy" and how much you don't see in paintings.

For those unaware, Greenaway contends that Rembrandt's so-called "Night Watch" contains clues to a contemporary murder conspiracy as well as "naming" those involved. I admit, my first instinct was to fear a Dan Brownian type of overwrought plot but, if he stretches things here and there, he also presents compelling evidence even if I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn of art historians who think he's gotten it entirely wrong.

But by placing the painting in a historical context, that of Dutch group portraits of civilian guards, and pointing out all the "rules" that were broken here, not all simply aesthetic innovations on the part of Rembrandt, Greenaway at least forces the viewer to ask, "Why this?" and to look more closely. Though more (melo)dramatic in its implications, I was reminded of TJ Clark's masterful "The Sight of Death" where he sat with two Poussin paintings for a month, studying them very, very deeply, unearthing relationships that, I daresay, would have bypassed us all had he not spent the time, the brainpower. Here, there are so many oddities, elements that seem inexplicable without reference to events outside the ostensible subject matter of the painting that you almost have to rethink it in some manner, whether or not you buy the murder conspiracy theory. Why the facially hidden figure holding the rifle? Why the hand of a certain individual steadying it for aim? Why are the two females there at all? Other points may or may not be valid, as the humorous contentions of homosexual blandishment via the placement of the spear and the adjacent shadow of the hand (though, in terms of sheer contentious ribaldry, that strikes me as eminently plausible):

Yes, the visuals get a bit annoying, the overlapping scrims, Greenaway himself appearing throughout in a little square mid-picture, etc. Though often, too, via digital manipulation, he's able to isolate elements to make the (his) interpretation all the more clear.

But, more importantly, it makes you want to examine other paintings more closely, imparting the suspicion that you may have been missing a lot all these years. He shows Velazquez' "Surrender at Breda" and, of course, "Las Meninas", both of which have been studied to death but maybe deserve even more insight. I'll be very interested if Greenaway turns his sights there or elsewhere in the future.

Well worth seeing for the art historically inclined...