Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mites - nothing's gonna change (Alamut)

Mites is Grisha Shakhnes an "Nothing's Gonna Change" (dedicated to Derek Bailey, not that one could otherwise tell) is a set of three very rich, very dense tracks that border on noise (the genre) but have car more layers of detail and granularity and far less inherent aggressiveness than I've generally encountered in those climes. "nothing to say" begins quietly enough, but soon attains roar status, some 14 minutes of gravelly, guttural roughage, highly focused, making its way with the inexorability of a mudflow. The second track, "murky", appears to have been constructed largely of field recordings and features a wonderful, low rumble that burbles through hiss, crackles and watery sounding thuds and clunks. Again, the sonic space is fully occupied but the denseness doesn't cloy, the layers managing to maintain their individual character while weaving smoothly with each other. This cut in particular has a fine feeling of surge. The space opens up a bit in "change", a large interior area is suggested, along with automobiles and other less obvious knocks, voices, clanks. Again, there's a really nice forward momentum somehow achieved, almost a hurtling feel. Not sure about the Bailey reference, but "nothing's gonna change" far outshines most field recording-oriented work I've heard this year. Check it out.

available from erstdist

Arek Gulbenkoglu/Dale Gorfinkel - Vibraphone/Snare (Avant Whatever)

21 minutes (on a 5" disc) of in your face, coruscating whine 'n' clatter; strong medicine. I'm guessing the vibes in question are largely bowed or otherwise rubbed while the snare seems to be attacked in any number of ways. There is something of a form to the piece, the initial onslaught, wherein the screeching jostles with low clatter when both instruments aren't churning full bore, giving way to an area of clearer detail and less volume, though the character of the sound remains harsh throughout. I even pick up a hint of southeast Asian percussion here and there. As in the Mites disc, there's a fullness, one might almost say maximalism at work here, reticence jettisoned in favor pf plunging in the deep end and staying there. A healthy pendulum swing, no doubt, and this one scours the ears quite well.

avant whatever
(also available via erstdist)

Nick Hennies - Psalms (Roeba)

I could be wrong, but I get the impression that Alvin Lucier occupies a kind of sketchy position among the eai crowd, that a good proportion find him overly analytical, his music bearing too much of the whiff of the laboratory. I don't share this view, finding his work almost always fascinating on its own merits (often more than that) and providing a foretaste of certain branches of eai as well. On "Psalms", Hennies continues with his own Lucier obsession and I'm happy he has. The first three works, Psalms 1-3, are for vibes, snare drum and wood block respectively, share the same rapid, steady rhythm, evenly struck, allowing the decay of each stroke to echo, however slightly, to mix in the room. About midway through each piece, if I'm not mistaken, adds a very closely adjacent tone, creating a subtle shimmer (similar to Lucier's combination of sine waves with closely pitched percussion). Each is wonderful, obsession morphing into fascination. Hennies then performs an actual piece of Lucier's, "Silver Streetcar for the Orchestra", for solo triangle. It begins with the same tempo used in the previous pieces; here the variation is accomplished by the handling of the triangle, adjusting the position of the strike, damping the metal, varying the tempo, etc. The resultant swirling tintinnabulations are a joy to hear--perhaps the aural equivalent of cream-in-coffee eddies? He closes with a brief piece for vibes, again in the same general area.

A really enjoyable disc, especially for those of us who crave some, erm, Lucidity.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rebecca Joy Sharp & Simon Whetham - The Clearing (Gruenrekorder)

"Disarming" is a word that comes to mind, perhaps. A simple enough idea, elegantly manifested--record a harpist out in the environment, in this case bird-filled. The dangers are obvious and, I must say, my expectations were somewhat along Rhodri Davies lines as far as the likely music was concerned so that when I heard the decidedly melodic content and "standard" technique employed, I feared that the result would be overly cloying. I might say that it comes close to that sometimes but by and large, skirts that particular danger and ends up as a very enjoyable release. This is largely due to the reticence of Rebecca Joy Sharp (how many performer's surnames contain their chosen instrument?) as she, for the most part, leaves no greater a soundprint than the area birds (which make up the majority of the natural sounds). She plays delicate, tonal patterns--at times recalling Tilbury at his softest and most melodic, generally with a ruminative feel, advancing and receding in the flux. With one exception, her work seems to have been improvised, not imitating birdsong but attempting to blend in with it, just another bird. The exception is the fifth track where she plays a simple but lovely theme (her own, I expect, though I'm not sure), that reminded me a bit of the sort of thing Jarrett and Haden occasionally created in the mid 70s, as on the title track of "Death and the Flower". It's quite nakedly emotional, all the more enhanced when a strong rain shower breaks out toward the end. Some listeners, particularly hard core eai folk, might find it fey or faux naive but it won me over, softy geezer that I am.

A lovely recording.

Craig Vear - Aud Ralph Roas'le (Gruenrekorder)

A set of six field recordings, I guessing layered in from various locations though I've been wrong often enough about that before. They seem to be pure sounds, often aqueous in nature, with various manifestations of water churning against piers or boats or rocks or what-have-you. One often hears undercurrents of engines, low thrums that reverberate below the liquid, implying the earthen basin in which it lies. There's one violent track where, it appears, a massive storm erupts, overwhelming the recording equipment to a degree where distortion sets in. All of the pieces are crammed full, actually, somewhat agitative. In the end, though, they strike me as just thick, full field recordings. Not bad, but not commanding my attention or eliciting much fascination.

Petrolio - End of Vision (Gruenrekorder)

Petrolio is Luca Robba (drums, voice, laptop, samplings), Michele Spanghero (double bass, live electronics, field recordings) and Ugo Boscain (contrabass clarinet, piano), with Allen Scrigner appearing on the first two tracks, wielding "samplings". The music might be described as isolationist free improv in that a similar chill, bleak feel is in effect as was heard in more rockish contexts in the mid 90s (remember Scorn? Godflesh? God?). A subdued, slightly haunted mood is maintained pretty much throughout, the trio evincing and admirable restraint, but at the same time I found a certain dull sameness to much of the work and felt it lacked a spark or two and perhaps a few obstacles to surmount. Still, I'd be curious to hear more from them.

Strongly Imploded - Freefall (Gruenrekorder)

Yet another Italian trio, this time from Naples, with F. Gregoretti (drums), M. Gabola (reeds) and M. Argenziano (guitar, synth, electronics). After the claustrophobic feeling of Petrolio, the kind of scrabbling, old-timey (that is, reaching as far back as the 70s) approach heard herein feels open and, well, fun. Not that this sounds like a Bailey/Parker/Bennink trio--there's much more bottom, more oblique nods to metal and other rockish forms (perhaps even Last Exit)--but even at its darkest, there's a sense of the wide open. A severe grinding aspect is also often in play, the sounds seeming to be wrenched from the players' guts. If Caspar Brotzmann had a brother who hewed a bit more closely to his dad's ethos, he might be involved in a trio like this. Not my cuppa so much, but they do what they choose to do pretty well.

Personal pick of the bunch: The Clearing


Monday, October 25, 2010

Goh Lee Kwang - draw sound (Herbal International)

Gotta love a 3", 8 1/2 minute long disc with 98 tracks...or do you? Each cut is roughly equivalent, consisting of the sound of one or more coins being dropped onto what sounds like a smooth, wooden surface--their initial click and subsequent quavering rotations as they settle. It appears as though coins of differing weights and thicknesses are deployed as well as varying patterns of dropping. Humorously enough, track number 89 is performed by one Woody Sullender, though I'd be hard-pressed, admittedly, to differentiate his technique from Kwang's on the other 97. Still, there's something kind of fun about it--who hasn't had some degree of fascination with this very process, both visual and aural? You can even (I suppose) get into it to the degree that you begin to distinguish "good" tosses from ordinary ones. I found myself thinking that the last track indeed culminates with something of a bravura finish!

The disc is accompanied by a handsomely printed booklet containing 30 squiggly pencil drawings, presumably by Kwang. They're very loose and somewhat random within a general kind of form--not such a bad analog to the sound of the coins.

Fun recording.

Trio WPB3 - Poverb (Herbal International)

Despite AMM being a virtual wellspring for most of the music we hold dear, it's rare enough (and a good thing too, I guess) that a given recording really recalls that group. This one does, somewhat. I could almost imagine hearing the music contained here on a blindfold test and thinking it might be a Prevost/Gare/Tilbury recording from around the time of "The Nameless Uncarved Block". I'm not at all saying that Poverb is of the same quality, just that it imparts something of a similar feel, with a like appreciation for space, duration and large scale form. Like that era of AMM, where both Prevost and Gare weren't quite beyond an untoward jazzish burst, Heddy Boubaker (alto & bass saxophone) and Mathias Pontevia (horizontal drums [?]) also, once in a while, emit bleats and explosions that might better be withheld. As did Tilbury, pianist and object manipulator Nusch Werchowska often serves as mediator and conciliator, bringing the trio back into more considered realms. Overall, though, its a strong, cohesive performance, carving out the king of spatial block that few trios manage consistently.

Marc Baron - Une fois, chaque fois (Theme Park)

Richard posted an excellent, detailed review here that gets to the gist of this very intriguing recording. The sense of structure is indeed quite strong, a suite with certain recurring elements (the held saxophone tones) appearing almost like identical scratches in a set of otherwise obscurely related (if at all) slides. The identical pitches that end and begin each of the eight, 7-minute long tracks serve as bridges or, perhaps less than that, staples or hooks stringing the cuts together as, I suppose, the interior tones do as well, stitching within the frames. The field recordings--a woman calmly speaking in a Slavic tongue; steady state, dense white noise; odd scuffles; crowd noise; silence; automotive driving sounds, possibly in wet conditions; a baroque recording for flute and harpsichord; finally, some sparse, hard clicks (finger snaps?). Eight disparate sonic images then, perhaps "beds" in which to plant the same series of scant seeds, seeing how they mix, how they sound different given their "soil".

There's a fine calmness in play, almost a stateliness, the music moving at a slow, steady pace, allowing the listener ample opportunity to consider each plot.

I enjoyed it a great deal; something ineffable going on there, even something beautiful.

Herbal International

Theme Park

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Another brief note, because I mentioned it earlier.

Had great hopes for this after very much enjoying "Remainder", but was rather disappointed. Beautifully written, no doubt, especially in the sense that "historical" novels (which I guess this qualifies as, more or less, in that it documents a few decades about a century ago) often lack--the prose manages to feel both entirely apropos to the period while retaining a contemporary acuity and degree of awareness. In fact, the first third is excellent though, even early on, I had a misgiving or two. You get a fine sense of a family (and culture) on the tip of the technological boom of the era around 1900 in England and McCarthy, subtly, hints at the implications. The second third, during WWI, also works well, but my main misgiving surfaced clearly, namely that the central character, for all his exploits and advancement, was entirely vacant, a cipher as I mentioned before. There's not much to him at all (would that the author hadn't seen fit to kill off his sister--she had potential!). This may be intentional, I've no idea, but as a character, he pales beside the lead in "Remainder" who while also, in a way, quite without depth, was nonetheless fascinating in his neuroses which somehow managed to "fill" him and cause him to seem whole.

The final third really drifts off and has a strong feeling of being tacked on. There's something routine about them (exposing a seance hoax, the Egyptian tomb episodes) and nothing that gives the reader greater understanding of either "C" or the period. It's almost as if McCarthy is seeking to have it both ways--to write a modernist historical novel. A tricky business that, not successfully handled here, imho.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A brief hello from pleasant (if fairly boring) Albufeira, to strongly recommend Jonathan Lethem's "Chronic City". Perhaps one caveat--it really helps, I imagine, if you're a New Yorker. The novel just drips Manhattan, quite consciously (indeed, it's a theme). But I detected a good deal of the Pynchon of "Gravity's Rainbow" as well, a similarly acute and carefully limned paranoia in play. Not to give anything away but, as much of NYC as is there, it's not quite the NYC we know and Lethem manages a fine balancing act therein, always skirting the edge of the overly-absurd. His best work yet, imho.

A few years ago, he showed up at Record Club, but it was one such meeting I missed. Still kicking myself for that. Three tracks were played by each that night (not sure why). Lethem's choices were The Coasters (What Is the Secret of Your Success?), Marvin Gaye (Goin' Home) and Biz Markie (I Need a Haircut)

Began Tom McCarthy's "C", which starts quite well...

Friday, October 08, 2010

Off to Portugal for two weeks...may or may not post from there depending on connectivity.

See ya later...

Thursday, October 07, 2010

(wondering if we're primed for a Michael Pisaro backlash...)

Well, not from me at any rate. Despite the seeming flood of performances and recordings (more of the latter in the pipeline around here), I remain eager to hear more and have rarely, still, been disappointed.

Last night at Issue Project Room, three works were presented, three duo pieces involving Barry Chabala (electric and acoustic guitars, sine waves), Travis Just (clarinet, melodica), Tucker Dulin (trombone) and the intersection of 3rd Ave. and 3rd St.

The first set was occupied by a relatively early piece (1996 or so, I think), called "Appearance (2)" for clarinet and acoustic guitar. Before performing, the musicians had gone through some random-walk exercises to generate the main structural components of the work: the number of sections, the number of iterations of the material during those sections, the length of the silences between the sections and perhaps more. Those "sections" consisted of a soft, held tone (10 seconds) on the clarinet and four single guitar string strikes that occupied about the first five seconds of that tone. This was repeated however many times the newly created score called for and was followed by periods of silence that seemed to range from one to six or so minutes. The pitches changed for each section. That was it, running some 35 minutes. I rather enjoyed it, finding myself visualizing it as akin to lying on one's back in a large open field, gazing up at a cloudless, blue sky, every so often catching sight of a jet flying at 35,000 feet, sometimes off to the side, sometimes directly ahead, sometimes audible, sometimes not.

After the break, the pair returned with Just wielding a melodica (an all too rarely glimpsed instrument these days!). He had also hung a mic from the window overlooking 3rd St. For those unaware, Issue Project Room sits in an ex-warehouse on a corner that's not so frequently traveled at night. The music was made up of wonderful, drawn out "breaths" between the melodica and ebow'ed guitar, often in harmonies that (to me) evoked a hymn-like feeling, even with the slightest tinge of gospel. Lusher that I expected. The serendipitous exterior sounds, more often than not, were vehicular noise, tires on road, that had just about the same aural span as those produced by the musicians and, texturally, fit in perfectly. There were a siren and a couple of jets thrown in for good measure. The piece ("e la fora" was the title) was gorgeous, one of my favorite Pisaro manifestations yet, an utterly natural melding of instrumental music and found sound.

For the final work, "Ascending Series (6)", Tucker Dulin joined Chabala who, in turn, broke out the sine waves in addition to the guitar. Barry explained a bit of the score to me and, iirc, it involved numerous retunings on his part, attempting to match those of the sine waves which were largely in just intonation; the necessarily inexact match would, I take it, create interference patterns. Almost throughout, there was a throbbing bottom, electronically generated, often (for a Pisaro piece) somewhat loud, providing a steady weave. Chabala would layer in his guitar, sometimes subtle, others almost piercing, while Dulin periodically commented with low, smooth tones, several seconds in duration, fluctuating in pitch. I take it their entrances, pitches and lengths of stay were prescribed in a typically arcane Pisaresque manner. In any event, the sum effect of the work was of a large, complex, undulating creature, more soft and billowing than not but with sharp bits as well--perhaps an octopus. (!)

A fine evening--no sign of a backlash in these here parts. Can't wait to hear more of Michael's work.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Three recordings from Portuguese guitarist/electronicist Pedro Chambel, spanning the decade, that he was kind enough to pass along.

Pedro Chambel - Anamnesis (Creative Sources)

A set of four very beautiful, very spare pieces for guitar done in 2001 wherein a fine balance is achieved between recognizable guitar sounds and mists of hum and grit. Though differently sourced, I hear a good bit akin to what Toshi Nakamura and Sachiko M were doing around the same time. There's a bit of resonance in the room, making for a fine sense of concentrated isolation; one has the sense of a sharply lit area in a pool of darkness, dust motes aswirl in the air. Chambel is both patient and active, keeping the volume low, allowing for spatial ellipses. The last cut is an especially lovely series of cloud-like bursts, all haze and soot, a softly sputtering engine filling a field with ash. A very well conceived recording, a hidden gem in the Creative Sources catalog (# 4 in their lengthy series) that shouldn't have been overlooked.

Pedro Chambel - Bruit (Creative Sources)

As the title might portend, "Bruit", from 2005, is a more rough-hewn affair. The hums are louder, more forceful, the accompanying detritus strewn with more vigor. Again, there's an eerie parallel to certain contemporaneous things involving Nakamura, like the sun-spot track from "between"--not a direct comparison but something that came to mind while listening. Things are generally pitched mid-range and below with occasional guitar-ish sounds surfacing and, as on the sixth track, some low, ringing tones that verge on the spacey. But Chambel also evinces some really fine focus, peeling off layer after layer of a given sound-area, savoring what he discovers for a few moments, then digging further. I enjoyed the earlier one more, but "Bruit" is certainly worth a listen.

Pedro Chambel - Utpote (Fractal Sources)

I've no idea if the sequence in these three releases is in any way indicative of the path Chambel has taken over the decade but with only these as signposts, it would seems he's taken what he's learned in the interval and applied it to aspects of his approach from 2001. "Utpote" was recorded in June of this year, a single track of 38 minutes and an extremely focused one. The spine is a relatively high-pitched hum, more complex than appears at first blush, made up of some closely aligned waves, i think. Arrayed along its length--and the hum is maintained throughout the work's 38 minutes--are various scribblings, small eructations and tendril-like growths, often involving plucked guitar strings with minimal resonance. This imparts a kind of narrative feel to it, as though the hum is a single, almost featureless road down which one is traveling, encountering the odd, nearly nondescript event along the way. I found it quite fascinating, very unforced, very evocative.

All told, I'm quite pleased to have finally heard Chambel's music and very much would like to hear more.

[I only just read Richard's review of "Utpote" and I'm struck by the similarity of our appreciation... :-)]

Creative Sources

Fractal Sources