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.


uli said...

"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."

surprise us.

simon reynell said...

I haven't heard the Riedl disc yet, but I'm very interested by the well-put distinction you draw between 'classical' electronic music from that generation of the 50's and 60's and other, presumably more modern improv-ish uses of electronics:
"Much of it, despite the obvious breadth of sounds, timbres etc. sounded too 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"

I think I know exactly what you mean, but oddly often find myself drawn to this clinical experimentalism than alienated (though with lots of caveats and exceptions, as ever). Certainly I think I prefer the more classical/lab-like electroacoustic works of the 50's and 60's to early 'musique concrete' (Henry, Schafer etc), where the sounds of the street (or railway yard at least) are very much present and the whole acquires a much more human structure and scale. Does that work differently to you?

Good review anyway

Brian Olewnick said...

Hi Simon. Yes, I think it boils down to just a taste thing, maybe having something to do with what else we were growing up with at the time we first heard tape and concrete music. As far back as I can remember, when I'd hear things like Amirkhanian or Babbitt while in college, when the rest of my time was spent soaking up the AACM, I tended to find it too sterile, to "of the lab" compared to, say, the Art Ensemble. That sense lingers, no doubt unfairly.

That's painting with a broad brush, of course, and there are countless variations. I like a good bit of what I've heard from Koenig and Raaijmakers, for instance and think of Xenakis' electronic work in an entirely different league.

I think you come from a different background (an antipathy toward jazz, yes?) so it's doubtless different for you. I'm entirely willing to acknowledge that I'm likely missing a good bit when listening to someone like Riedl; don't know if that particular tic of mine will ever be remedied.

btw, should have the Another Timbre reviews up this weekend--been swamped here....