Thursday, March 31, 2011

Out of action for a few days as I go to have these two cool percussion instruments implanted in my pelvis.

Back mid-next week, I imagine, see you then.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Eric Cordier/Seijiro Murayama - Nuit (Herbal International)

A very unusual and enjoyable collaboration and a good example of a fresh approach to field recordings as integrated with improvisation. At Murayama's request, Cordier conducted a number of recordings at various sites in Japan (and some in France) ranging from actual field, replete with frogs and birds, to urban environments, households, temples, etc. To this soundtrack, Murayama added percussion and vocal sounds although one of the fascinating and ingratiating things about the disc is that, more often than not, the listener is hard-pressed to distinguish any particularly percussive sounds from the environmental ones. One can make guesses although concentrating on that aspect quickly becomes meaningless and distracting. You're better off simply allowing yourself to drift off into this dreamlike construction with its enormous variety of sounds, gentle and harsh, serious and comic, almost always multi-layered and extremely enticing. Richard posted a fine review a couple months back with more detail and Cordier, in the comments section, offered more and linked to a related video involving "painting with fire" (whence the cover image of this disc) which is quite enjoyable and interesting to play, at volume, along with the CD (!).

Cordier also explains the brief electronic portion that disrupts things, not in a bad way, toward the latter half of the disc, a disconcerting intrusion that somehow works, jolting us just as we're beginning to settle in and accept this sound-world. Further, "Nuit" ends with a massive "drum solo", a rather magnificent one, a barrage of clattering cymbals, struck skin and rubbed surfaces, more sleet storm than anything else.

A fine recording--check it out.

Herbal International

Beequeen - time waits for no one (Herbal International)

A re-release of a 1994 disc on Staalplaat (and, I think, out for at least a couple of years on Herbal). Beequeen is Frans de Waard and Freek Kinkelaar; I gather they issued a number of recordings back around that time but they're new to me. Glancing over reviews, I see groups like Zoviet France referenced quite a bit, a group I heard some of at the time but didn't particularly intrigue me. There's an entire area, something I might think of as industrial drones with a decided rock substratum, that I tend to find momentarily attractive but which wears out its welcome rather rapidly. "Dark Eno", I sometimes call it. At its best ("v-time", "six notes on blank tape"), there's enough bubbling, agitating activity to sustain some interest, but even there, the rather sterile synth-like tones (which are more prominent elsewhere) inhibit any great enjoyment on my part. Clearly more a matter of my taste than any comment on the inherent nature or quality of the music, which seems ably performed. Just not my cuppa.

Herbal International

Sheriffs of Nothingness - A Summer's Night at the Crooked Forest (Sofa)

Admittedly, when I saw that this album was a collaboration of two Norwegian string players (Kari Rønnekleiv, violin and Ole Henrik Moe, viola, who have chosen an unfortunate nom de musique) I was kinda hoping for something like a modern variation on Scandinavian fiddle music, realizing I was likely stupidly conflating traditions from several countries/areas, but what do I know? Anyway, no such luck (or maybe they do and my ears simply don't pick it up). Instead, for the most part, the pair generate grainy, visceral but amorphous studies that often sound as though parts for two strings were excised from early 60s Penderecki. A fine enough source and one or two examples within an album would have been welcome, but here I found it a bit wearying. Long, raspy drones with complex but grey harmonics. When things get more active, as happens a time or two, some excitement is created but that's not a terribly interesting way to foment excitement, just ratcheting things up. I take it these were improvisations and assume the duo was intentionally concentrating on a fairly narrow area, but for me, not enough of beauty was excavated. I'd like very much to hear them in more composed surroundings or, dare I say, more folkish ones.


May Roosevelt - Haunted (no label)

Here's an outlier...May Roosevelt wields the theremin, but you'll find little to remind you of Clara Rockmore here. Though solo, Roosevelt augments the theremin with beats and, I think, other electronics (unless her instrument is capable of more variation than I've come to expect from such). The result sounds oddly closer to Diamanda Galas than anything else I can think of, sans vocals. The drums (or synthed drum sounds?) pound steadily in ritualistic fashion, Frippertronic-y chords well up behind and Roosevelt solos atop. Her theremin does posses a richer, deeper sound than most examples I've heard and and is deployed with an emotive, often mournful aspect that's interesting as far as it goes. The more rockish things get, generally the worse off it is, with the exception of "Chasm", with it's duple words and propulsive, Laurie Anderson-ish momentum--a very nice track. As with Beequeen above, though in a different sense, not particularly up my alley but could be of interest to some.

Roosevelt's myspace page

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Two more entirely deep and wonderful recordings from Michael Pisaro

Michael Pisaro - close constellations and a drum on the ground (Gravity Wave)

Scored for guitar and crotales (bowed) with sine tones and drum samples, performed by Barry Chabala and Greg Stuart (I take it Pisaro himself administers the sines and samples during assemblage of the disc?). It's in eight sections of five minutes each, alternating between guitar and crotales (with accompaniment), the number of held tones progressing 1-1-2-3-4-5-6-7. These notes form long melodic lines which is part of the crux of this work and the following one and marks a path that Pisaro seems to have embarked on the past couple of years, a more overtly intuitive and, one might even say, within the limits he's set, gestural sensibility. If that's the case (I'm not sure if he'd dispute it), it arises from years of more severe discipline and is enormously enhanced by that earlier, more astringent rigor.

In this case, the structure, simple enough in its large-scale form, is perhaps more felt than directly perceived, minimal as its additive nature is and stretched out over significant time periods. But I do think that feeling resonates and provides a kind of webbing for the shorter elements. Additionally, the placement of tones by each performer, in each section, varies somewhat, from occupying an entire duration, to only beginning at a certain point for a specified number of seconds within a duration, to choosing where inside a given duration to place one's portion of sound, so that within this structure, there's an amount of movement, of differentiation that, again, is less immediately apparent than felt. The increase of notes over the course of the piece also provides a necessary "hastening" of the lines though, again, as it spans relatively long lengths, one is not likely to notice this unless one is purposely looking. (These time brackets go from 240 seconds to 150, 120, 40 within 150, within 75, within 40, within sections of 40, 40, 35, 55, 30 and 60, and finally, unison crotales and sine tones of lengths 30, 30, 40, 45, 30, 20 and 40.)

How does it all sound then? Well, rather marvelous. The two basic sounds, e-bowed guitar and bowed crotales, are akin but differentiated enough, but not so dissimilar from the sine tones weaving in and out. It's the percussive samples, though, that provide the off-and-on "bed" for the ears, a kind of cushion in which to sink. These samples, however they were generated, give the appearance of muffled, blurred field recordings in fact, like fuzzy traffic or the rumbles of industrial facilities. But more interestingly, to me, is the fact that, by using a number of longish segments with discernible if faint variation within, as opposed to an even longer but more steady-state work, Pisaro forces you to really try to perceive the pieces in relation to the whole and to each other. By noticeably dividing the work, he manages to increase the perceived scale. You have to remember a good deal to get a feel of the more or less additive sequences that are in play, but it's a very complex thing as those structural aspects are "pointing" one way while other elements, like the dynamics, pitches, etc. point in opposite or perpendicular directions. It's very much like certain fundamentals of nature, if I may be so bold: a general thrust along one line, perhaps largely hidden, while all manner of contrary activity takes place "above", even as it's carried along by the substratum.

Really, there's a ton to gnaw on here and I feel I've only scratched the surface. This will doubtless repay many hours or re-listening. The damn thing just sounds so good, as well.

A great, great piece.

Michael Pisaro - asleep, street, pipes, tones (Gravity Wave)

Oh yeah, and then there's another one....

I heard this performed at Experimental Intermedia a bit over a year ago, loved it absolutely but, as with the prior work, there's only so much you can soak in on a single hearing. Yet another composition of vast depth, richness and stunning beauty.

Again, looking at the score helps (thanks to Barry for sending same my way!) as there's a certain visual component--I'm not sure it's intentional but I would wager a guess so--that really adds a dimension to the listening experience. In "close constellations...", it was additive in nature; here there's some of that as well, but it also involves mirror images and a kind of poetic balance. There are 19 sections, alternating ones of tape, sine and other sounds with ones of bass clarinet (Katie Porter) and guitar (Chabala), with some overlap, each lasting 3'20". Pisaro weaves several relatively simple elements in astoundingly gorgeous fashion. One is length and complexity of phrase, beginning with four identical, whole notes separated by empty bars in the first section by the bass clarinet, followed by four notes, a step lower but identical otherwise, by the e-bowed guitar; two parallel lines. In section II, the bass clarinet walks six series of two-note steps, the guitar accompanying between portions 4 & 5, and then in unison with 6, extending a measure beyond. Looking at the score, you begin to ascertain the visual elegance in play: pared down but almost playful and certainly aware of cadence and proportion.

In general, the relationships grow more complicated but a) not extremely so and b) not directly either, not only by addition. It's a properly slow progress; one has the impression that if the piece were over six hours long rather than just over one, it would indeed have become far more complex but that within that gradually growing complexity, there would always be an occasional ebbing back toward an amount of simplification, the whole pulsing and churning, but on a glacial scale.

And that absolutely lovely interplay of sequencing is only one of four or five (at least) balls being juggled. Pisaro plays off other aspects of dynamics, timbre, texture and, yes, melody. The longest of these may be only four notes but, in context, they hit with full force. It's been a fascinating development (though I'm only going by recordings and the live performances I've happened to attend so I may well be getting an incomplete picture), all the severe, beautiful restrictions he'd imposed on earlier work beginning to blossom into openly lush and even (relatively) voluptuous areas. The ultra-rich organ-y electronic tones that begin filtering into the piece some 15 minutes in, not to mention the all-out pipe-organ eruptions later on are wonderful, exhilarating and, admittedly, surprising to hear.

All of these, crucial as they are, are just facets of the work, however, and it's the entirety of the piece that, over many, many listens, is truly overwhelming. It manages to avoid being heard as episodic even as one's mind registers that all these scenes are transpiring. The structure somehow serves to cohere the sequences in a way I find virtually impossible to describe but can clearly comprehend--the mark of deeply true poetry. And in the end, that's this work--a profound, elusive piece of poetry, some of the richest music I've heard not only from Pisaro but anywhere, in a long, long time. Congratulations to all involved.

Gravity Wave

Distributed by erstdist

Friday, March 18, 2011

I know there are literally dozens of you--dozens, I say!--awaiting my write-ups of the two new Gravity Waves which bear yet more utterly beautiful music from Mr. Pisaro. Well, they're coming. It's been a busy week, then I had things like Record Club last night (great pieces by Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley and Clarence Ashley, among others) and this weekend is the annual crossword affair, beginning with a dinner tonight (including my good buddy Joshua Kosman--any of you have problems with his criticism in the SF Chronicle?--be happy to pass it along for you!) then a day and a half of tough, intense, balls-to-the-wall puzzling. Besides, as I indicated on FB, those Pisaro's are damned hard to really grasp. Real shape-shifters. But I'll get to it, likely by Monday or Tuesday.

Thanks for stopping by....

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

(Various) Michelangelo Antonioni (and/OAR)

A nice idea and an impressive cast assembled for this two-disc set. Music inspired by l'Avventura, La Notte, l'Eclisse and Deserto Rosso, arguably the strongest section of the director's oeuvre with musicians including Olivia Block, Roel Meelkop, Ben Owen, Lawrence English, Asher, Richard Garet, Gabriel Paiuk, Jason Kahn and many more, 24 tracks in all, some 136 minutes of sound.

I'm generalizing, but I do feel that the pieces coalesce around a similar sensibility, one that's fittingly appropriate to the Antonioni of this period: a certain bleakness, a sense of isolation, yet a fascination with textures that are often, in a post-industrial way, beautiful. In fact, I thought many of the pieces could serve as quite able soundtracks for that last, amazing shot in "l'Eclisse", tracking toward the streetlight, replacing the piano in the film. The sounds tend to involve held tones, in layers, sparse and dry, with the odd filigree spinning out like a steel shaving (there are exceptions, of course).

It's also a remarkably consistent collection. I really didn't find a single track out of 24 to lack some value. By the same token, only a couple struck me as extraordinary in any way, those being the pieces (all tracks are untitled) by Asher and EKG. Other fine contributions are heard from Olivia Block and Adam Sonderberg, Gabriel Paiuk and Jason Kahn. I'm not sure this is a criticism, but the uniformity of quality of the pieces and their Antonionian (!) air sometimes caused them, in my mind, to blend together a bit. I'm not sure that part of me might have preferred a single disc. That's a quibble, though.

Oddly enough, I also found myself thinking that you could do worse than this set insofar as introducing curious but naive friends to this area of music. The work is certainly sold and rich enough to hold the attention of the innocent, inquisitive listener.

Nice idea, good job.

Kraig Grady - Our Rainy Season/Nuilage (either/OAR)

A new name to me, Kraig Grady is apparently something of a fixture on the LA scene having absorbed Partch's influence via studies with one of his apostles, Dean Drummond. Oh, he's also a resident and perhaps chief honcho of the mysterious island-nation of Anaphoria, which land mass Google Earth has conspiratorially removed from its maps, but that's another story/

Well, actually, no, as the two pieces presented herein attempt to evoke the complex relationship Anaphorians have with their rainy season, The aptly titled, "Our Rainy Season" is a scored piece for reads (Jim Denley, bass flute, alto sax and wooden flute) and string bass (Mike Majkowski), multi-tracked, each musician improvising on "single notes with extreme pitch accuracy to within one tenth of a cent." It's long, a bit over 49 minutes, but works remarkably well within these parameters. Not only is that "single note" approached in a seemingly ever-changing variety of ways (each lasting several minutes so that there's no sense of haphazard rushing about) but, perhaps by virtue of that limit, there's a very strong structural sense felt throughout. I'm not sure that the single-note specification holds absolutely at all times but often enough, the range of timbres and attacks provides a really impressive amount of variety and easily holds one's interest. A very fine piece of its type.

"Nuilage" is for three metallophones (Grady, Erin Barnes and Jonathan Marmor). I think it's virtually impossible to play finely tuned metallophones of any ilk and not produce an attractive sound. It's also difficult to escape that gamelan sound, often an awkward, if enticing, trap for non-Indonesians. More of an issue here, for me, is a lack of that tensile strength of the previous work. Here, while the sounds are enjoyable enough (and some wonderful sonorities are achieved about 3/4 the way through), the piece meanders a bit, never concentrating its focus with the obsessiveness shown earlier. One feels the need for dancers or shadow puppets to complete the picture.

Still, a good effort and I'm glad to have finally made Mr. Grady's audio acquaintance.


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Some saxophony, then.

Bertrand Denzler - Tenor (Potlatch)

In my limited experience with Denzler's work, I get the impression that, somewhere along the line, he made a decision to, while acknowledging what we might call post-Butcher saxophonics, not forgo the essential sound of the instrument, insisting on finding newness in the Coltrane and Ben Webster lineage insofar as tone is concerned (while leaving jazz as such by the wayside). Indeed, given the title of the disc, it's hard not to think back to Joe McPhee's early release of the same name, when Hat was still in a Hut and similar explorations were made, albeit firmly alluding to the jazz and blues tradition.

The three tracks here, in textural terms, sort of run from more traditional to less. The first, "Filters", concentrates on held, deep tones, fluttering just a bit at the beginning, in small, microtonal shifts, gradually becoming more guttural as the piece progresses, growing louder. This ferocity and grit necessarily connotes ties to free jazz but Denzler seems confident that these can be both nodded to and bypassed. It's a tricky business, to be sure, but to these ears, he pulls it off rather well, the listener able for the most part to concentrate on the pure sound and less on its referents. "Signals" begins where the previous one left off but softens the attack, drifting into an area midway between a full tenor sound and breath tones. I'm reminded a little bit of early Roscoe Mitchell investigations; this isn't a negative point--I think Mitchell opened up areas that have yet to be fully explored and I'm glad to see Denzler, intentionally or otherwise, coming across a few. "Airtube" is just that, moving well into the area we've (unfortunately?) come to expect, all breath and key-pops. It's also, to these ears, the most successful piece in a structural sense, feeling less episodic and more architecturally sound, having a strong sense of individual components being integrated into a tensile framework.

available stateside via erstdist

Dickie Landry - Fifteen Saxophones (Unseen Worlds)

The fine folks at Unseen Worlds have resuscitated yet another valuable and unfairly unheralded recording from the 70s, Dickie Landry's solo outing originally issued in 1977 by Northern Light. To the extent he's known, not widely enough, it's likely from his tenure in the original Philip Glass Ensemble where he shared reed duties with Jon Gibson. The three tracks here, two on tenor, one on flute, feature multi-tracking and echo effects but there's no slickness to be found, no pyrotechnics for their own sake. You can hear the Glass influence, to be sure, (though sometimes I pick up more of Riley) but it's far more free-flowing than glass with a keening quality that looks back to the blues and often enough explodes into free jazz, especially on "Kitchen Solos". Oddly, one thing I found myself thinking of was that S.O.S. album on Ogun with Surman, Osborne and Skidmore, though without the folksiness. Long, consonant, overlapping lines mixed with rapid flourishes on the first cut, more wafting breeze on the flute piece, both lovely. Hearing him tear into things on the "Kitchen Solos", one agrees with a point made in Clifford Allen's fine liner notes: had he been a regular in the loft scene at this time, he'd have easily held his own with the best of the reed players therein and would doubtless retain a higher profile today.

Still, this is as good a place as any to catch up.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Stéphane Garin/Sylvestre Gobart - Gurs.Drancey.Gare de Bobigny.Auschwitz.Birkenau.Chelmno-Lulmhof.Majdaneck.Sobibor.Treblinka (Gruenrekorder)

It's an interesting idea, laden with resonance: deal with the fact that images from Nazi internment facilities, deportation centers and concentration camps have long since,for many, especially the young, become iconic, divorced from their deep, horrific meaning. Garin (phonography) and Gobart (photography) set about to document the current state of these locations via field recordings and photos of the unspectacular, the everyday even as that "normalcy" is imbued with what those sites, from France to Poland, have experienced.

Two discs, a dozen photos and a fine essay (in English, German and French), all presented with great care and subdued beauty. So it's not about the sounds as such, finely recorded though they are (or the wonderful, silvered photos). As they write:

"Through ordinary elements [... ], sound is what enables the audience to skip gradually towards a certain abstraction, providing a necessary distance for us to penetrate further into thought."

Even so, when one hears the gravelly, regular crunch of tourists boots as they "see the sights", it's difficult to not recall other kinds of boots. Water dripping in some interior space conjures up a dark foreboding of its own. Trucks, dogs, conversation--all take on an added patina. And when, at the beginning of the second disc, one hears an amateur orchestra working its way through "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", well...

A very strong document, then, not so much as a music/image release but for what the sounds and photos evoke in the consciousness of any thinking individual.

Slavek Kwi - Artificial Memory Trace (Gruenrekorder)

You know, when you inscribe a release with the admonition: "Perception. No cognition. Listen.", you better deliver. Instead, Kwi presents a lengthy (80 minute), meandering set involving electronics and field recordings that's woozy throughout, sometimes sounding like a not particularly rigorous Sun Ra episode, other times recalling some of Reich's experiments with taped sounds ("Different Trains", say), still other occasions just spinning his wheels. It unravels without a logic or reason for being that I could discern, just wave after wave of sounds spliced together more for surface effect than anything else. All tumult, little respect for space, kind of like a Georges Matthieu approach to soundscaping...Listening without cognition yields little; with cognition, still not so much.

Stefan Thut - an ort 1-9 (engraved glass)

The description rather says it all:

nine sound recordings
spread over a year
always at the same place and at the same time of day
eight minutes of each recording, uncut
to be aligned (almost) seamlessly: seventy-two minutes altogether

The site is very quiet for the most part, a soft background hum and birds (many) the most predominant elements. Airplanes, distant church bells, a dog, maybe a roadway--there's nothing "special" about the environment though, like any thoughtful listening one would do on one's own in such a place, there's a ton of things to hear. The question, as is usually the case, is: aside from the overarching structure of this piece, the revisiting of a site as described above, is there so much here that one couldn't, to some reasonable approximation, experience on one's own? Further, despite the excellence of the recording, I can't help but think my own ears would have picked up more or, to be more precise, would have concentrated on this or that aspect in a manner different from that "imposed" (if you will) on me by the recording. I'm not sure. It's an enjoyable listen, making me want to go out in my own backyard; maybe that's enough.

Paul Khimasia Morgan - empty frame (engraved glass)

Found myself thinking of the Costa Monteiro/Owen disc more than a bit while listening to this one. Three tracks, very pared down. The first, titled, "snowed in; more plaster", sounds like a piece of small machinery, possible a mechanical sander, going about its business. As with the Thut above, I was left wondering if I might be better served turning one such on myself and listening. The following cut, "the prospect of dim sum", is far more intriguing: a weft of mysterious hums and clicks that creeps organically across the intervening space between the speakers and my ears, never quite identifying itself but always offering tantalizing glimpses. Gentle rubbings, soft clangs, something rotating int he background--all in a fine balance, with air between. Similarly, the final track, "a brisk walk to aid contemplation" manages to retain an air of "unrevealing" even as, in this case, one suspects that some of the sources carry connotations that are less than what is normally considered contemplative (the "dental recordings" cited in the credits may well appear herein...). It doesn't quite sustain this strength throughout, waxing to a loud but relatively uninteresting hum toward the end. Still and all, a worthwhile effort, especially that dim sum cut, which is outstanding.

engraved glass

Richard Garet/Asher Thal-Nir - Melting Ground (contour editions)

I saw this video back in August of 2008 and wrote about it then--it's very welcome to have it back now and to be able to view it multiple times at leisure. To recap, Garet shot flickering b&w footage from a helicopter of the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska. It's an uninterrupted shot, some 40 minutes long. The camera's gaze replicates that of a calm but extremely interested observer, not blankly staring but occasionally panning to areas of extra interest, slowly, generally keeping the horizon line near the top of the frame, often outside it completely. One easily slips into the mindset of this observer, ceding control. The flicker is most pronounced in the lighter regions and, as there's enhanced contrast in place much of the time, that flicker becomes a major element (though it's not something I recall dwelling on when I first saw it, oddly). Asher's music is piano-sourced, the mics placed inside the body of the instrument, resulting in a resonant, richly-muffled sound, the music itself dreamy in a way that recalls Eno's "On Land" (a comparison I'm sure I've made before--but I think Asher's has, at the same time, a different character, one I like at least as much). There's a wonderful contrast between the music and the grainy rawness of the imagery. Those images themselves flit back and forth between the harsh, cold reality of rock, ice and snow and entirely abstract, pulsating patterns.

A very beautiful collaborative work, highly recommended.

Now, if they'd only release that Asher video shown that same evening 2 1/2 years ago...

Alfredo Costa Monteiro/Ben Owen - frêle à vide (contour editions)

A strong, tough recording from Costa Monteiro (walkman feedbacks, shortwave radio) and Owen (microphone, mixer, op amp, tone arm, sw/mw radio). Four tracks, sustained noise (though I don't read them as drones)--more or less from static or humming regions with an isolated feel. I'm not sure whether this was a long-range interaction or not (I suspect so) but the music carries a kind of detached sense which I think works very well. I've been reading a lot on Robert Ryman lately and found myself relating this music to his paintings insofar as allowing the material to simply speak on its own, with no interpretive intermediary. Similarly, the blankness and thereness of these sounds causes one to shift away from Costa Monteiro and Owen as such and to just experience the sounds instead of talking about them, contextualizing them, etc. Which I'd invite folks to do as it's very rewarding.

Good, raw work.

contour editions