Saturday, July 30, 2011

Keith Rowe - Concentration of the Stare (bottrop-boy)

Spend any amount of time in the company of Keith Rowe and the names of certain painters will arise in conversation with some frequency. Caravaggio, Twombly and, among others, most definitely, Mark Rothko. Just as, long ago, he'd imagined what the guitars in Braque's cubist painting might actually sound like, so, I think, he did with Rothko, often referring to the way the "tinged" the space in which they were hung. For some time, in the early oughts, Rowe tried to place his music in a similar area, where it more tinged the aural scape rather than imposed itself on it ("Duos for Doris", with John Tilbury, might be one of the finer examples of this approach).

Needless to say, when he at last had the opportunity to actually perform in Rothko Chapel in Houston Texas in 2007, it was a weighty event for him. And, when in fact confronted with the fourteen extraordinary panels there, one gets the impression he felt the need to perhaps "balance" his sound with the artworks to a more forceful degree than he may have done in their absence. The 40 minute set, generally speaking, refers back two or three years to the rich, steady-state solo work from the first few years of the decade. More so than most recordings, a great deal is necessarily lost here--the pure physicality of Rowe in the midst of the Rothkos, communing with them, the immediate resonance an observer would doubtless register between sound and canvas; one simply must imagine the totality of the event. (I have to say that such imaginings aren't helped by the cover of this release, a flat, boring purple that has nothing to do with the rich violet-blacks of the paintings in the room.)

As is, it's a fine addition, the sound stream made of of rough, thorny elements spun together into strands that lessen the harshness--think burlap. As is always the case, it seems that there are four or five levels operating at any given moment and one's concentration easily hops from one to the other, never losing track of the whole. It builds to a mini-crescendo about 25 minutes in, then to a still more intense level five minutes later before subsiding back into the room. Those familiar with Rowe's work over the last 12 + years will recognize the territory covered, an expanse far more immediately accessible than, say, "The Room". Again, what's obviously missing is the presence of this room but it's not all that difficult to transport oneself there, making one's own connections between the clouds of electronics, filled with endless details and the infinitely deep spaces within the Rothkos.

Be a nice idea if the Chapel would install this as an occasional element perhaps....

A beautiful set and, of course, an obligatory get.


available from erstdist


I'll be heading off the Block Island for two weeks tomorrow so, unless I decide to post something from there, see you in mid-August.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ferran Fages - Pèl Nord (Bocian)

Robin Fox - More Impossible Futures (Bocian)

And still another pair of 7" vinyl releases from Bocian...

Fages eschews the uniquely gorgeous guitar sounds heard in recent albums and launches full bore into a piercing, whining squall conjured from "manipulated AM radios". "Pel" needles its way into ones ears before splaying out into subtly layered (but no less abrasive for that) slab of splintering harshness. It's monolithic in one sense but prismatic enough to invite, if one's ears can withstand it, deep consideration. "Nord" is rounder, more hollow but cuts a not dissimilar path, just a slightly more negotiable one. Unlike some qualms I've had with previous Bocian 7 inchers, the length (about 3-4 minutes each) works quite well here, cramming more than enough information into the short span, providing a large amount to chew on and tasty too. A fine addition to Fages' already impressive catalog.

Robin Fox spins his wax via synthesizers. On the title cut, he sets three or four differently lengthed and timbred patterns atop each other, each seesawing in varying tempi, each mutating as it goes, forming a quasi-regular iteration that leaves just enough space for an organic feel to manifest. "Drift Compression" ventures too far into loopy synth territory for my taste but it's all quite handsomely done. I'd have liked to hear the first piece evolve a bit more, curious to see where it would have gone.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

John Wall/Alex Rodgers - Work 2006-2011 (Entr'acte)

A fascinating release. A bit has been written on what a departure this is for Wall, but I'm not sure. I may have missed something along the way (I have five releases of his on Utterpsalm) but aside from the obvious prominence of Rodgers' voice, I hear it as a not too wayward extension of the previous works. Yes, it was constructed, laboriously one imagines though not so much as had been the case on earlier releases; built from improvisations but so had much of his music been before. It's pared down in terms of elements--just Wall and Rodgers--but much of his music had been as well, even if there were half a dozen contributors at a given moment; it tended to sound sparse and astringent.

Rodgers' texts are not at all improvised, though Wall seems to have taken liberties rearranging and editing them. From what I understand, the slight warping and other electronic effects imparted to his voice are of his own devising as well as having recorded into a cheap dictaphone, hence perhaps the up-closeness of his sound. Wall balances his own contributions equitably, Rodgers phasing in and out of a mix that's not all too unlike Wall's past work despite (one assumes) not be derived from the instrumental work of others and, as stated, having been improvised. It retains the silvery thinness heard before, a unique and beautiful sound-world; I've little doubt I would have recognized the music as Wall's in a blindfold test. I often visualize a think plate of copper or zinc, with various bumps, scratches and other "imperfections" arrayed across its softly gleaming surface. Rodgers, his words slurred, bitter and Beckettian adds just the right amount of soot...or suet. It really meshes perfectly, not foregrounded so much, more embedded.

While certainly episodic in construction (as can be seen here, the piece cleaves together seamlessly as a whole, a bleak cascade of shards and syllables, like little else you'll hear. An excellent recording.


(Erstdist should be getting them in shortly)

ErikM/Norbert Moslang - Stodgy (Mikroton)

I like the title. :-) And the music, if not stodgy, does carry a whiff of nostalgia, evoking those halcyon days of the early oughts when the rambunctious noise of cracked electronics with at least an implied rhythmic base could be exciting. In fact, these pieces stem from 2002-05 and do reasonably capture the spirit of Voice Crack, ErikM, Jerome Noetinger, etc. from around that time, the hurly-burly of a certain kind of sound that was at once rough but kind of...globular, the really harsh edges having been eroded away somewhat, perhaps midway between the truly severe and the area that would soon be explored by Gunter Muller and often released by For 4 Ears. It's aggressive, full, more or less non-stop, one of the motives being to establish a thick wall of sonics, a dripping mass of electronica propelled along by, as stated above, some sort of throb or pulse. I recall thinking that, at its best, this branch of music was a kind of guilty pleasure, a big gob of taffy to ameliorate the leaner (in a purely volumetric sense) offerings available elsewhere. I can still reach that frame of mind, though I grant that it's tougher these days; I think I've been largely sated by these particular flavors. Still and all, a representative and good sample of ErikM's and Moslang's work, doubtless to be highly enjoyed by their fans.

WPB3 - A Floating World (Mikroton)

I rather enjoyed the previous disc from WPB3 I'd heard, on Herbal International. It struck me that, at times, they approached an AMM-like sound world and accomplished this better than most. This effort, recorded in November 2008, doesn't quite get there for me. Nusch Werchowska (piano, objects), Mathias Pontevia (horizontal drums--I still don't know what differentiates them--, percussion) and Heddy Boubaker (alto and bass saxophones) seem to clearly intend to exist in that world--though perhaps they're sick of hearing it--but it's a tough row(e) to hoe. The use of space or, too often, the occupation of space, feels uneasy to me, as does the teetering into (forgive the overuse of the term) efi-y way of playing, the jazzy references (for example, the Cecil-ish piano at the beginning of the second cut. Indeed, this may be one of those bands where I'd rather the wholeheartedly went the avant-jazz route. Boubaker has a good tone, especially on bass sax, Pontevia seems to be a fine drummer out of the Lovens tradition--when they go all out in that direction, as they do later on in that same track, they're fine. It's that middle ground that's uncomfortable and hesitant. Perhaps I'm being too picky. Listened to in a more relaxed frame of mind, "A Floating World" is fine, cohesive and varied. It's just those damned glimmers of something more that gnaw at me....


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Patrick Farmer - Green rings around the eyes, this grass in vibrant motion. (nadukeenumono)

It's long been my belief that there are musicians who simply possess a high degree of musicality. Silly enough statement, I know. And even within that, of course, it's a musicality that happens to resonate with my ears, not necessarily yours, who bring to their work, however seemingly abstract, a logic or a poetic sense that matches, to some great extent, those found in my own synapses. I've always enjoyed Farmer's work, always found something of value, however obscure or slight were the elements that comprised it. I'd gotten used, in my limited exposure, to a reticent approach so this recording, a half-hour plus of rather violent pops and sputters interspersed with silences that seem to contain their own aggressiveness, while a significant departure from what I'd heard before, nonetheless has the same musicality (if you will) the same sense of rightness about it. Quantifying it is next to impossible and if I stand it, just for the sake of comparison, alongside of Rowe/Sachiko's 'contact', it's not to say it's at the same level--I don't think it is--but that it evinces a similar concern with the nexus of harsh sound and space, with not shying away from some tough problems of apparent discontinuity vs. the actual fluidity of the situation. To this listener, it works and works quite well; everything fits and, somehow, makes sense. A fine effort.


available from erstdist

Nicholas Szczepanik - Please Stop Loving Me (Streamline)

Coming from an utterly different direction but achieving a result that's just as excellent, is Szczepanik's intriguingly titled release. I've no idea as to the actual source(s) of the sounds, but the general result is a rich cream with an organ-y flavor, though one suspects there might be orchestral and choral elements, all combined and threshed via electronics. No matter, really. It's unavoidable to mention the Eno of "On Land" here (and even a taste of Brancan sonorities); there's a feel of some of the passages form that seminal work but much deeper and, if you will, more romantic. I use the term not only in deference to the disc's title but also in that I was reminded throughout of the work of Bernard Herrmann. While at one glance, it's drone-oriented and steady state, there's always numerous plies writhing beneath the surface and when they venture toward full audibility, they have something of that wrenching, almost melodramatic quality heard in Herrmann. This occurs most noticeably around 24 minutes (and it's stunningly gorgeous) in and you think, perhaps, the first portion was only a prelude, that there would be a shift, but not really. It just settles into an adjacent seethe. Unlike Farmer's, it's "easy" on the ears but there's just as much to explore, just as many surprises; you simply have to tilt your head differently. The lengthy diminuendo also has more going on "inside" it than might be apparent at first blush, more unsettling than you think. Very, very enjoyable.

I don't see it listed yet on the Streamline/Drag City page, but here's one place where you can learn more.

Adrian Dziewanski - Orbital Decay (Scrapyard Forest)

Not entirely dissimilar to Szczepanik's music, as it happens, Dziewanksi's work also resides in drone territory and one of its major strands is an organ-like hum, but there are both significant low pulses and, more prominently, a sparkling set of buzzes and trills atop, all forming a slow ebb and flow. It's fundamentally much more in the steady-state realm, though, essentially unchanging over its duration--the relationships between the sounds are altered, to be sure, but the basic character of the piece remains very much the same throughout, at least as far as I can hear. All well and good and it's a pleasant confluence of sounds but I wanted more--either a variation in structure that had more resonance or the integration of sonic elements with a somehow rougher character. OK, but needs more street.

scrapyard forest

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Anne Guthrie - Perhaps a Favorable Organic Moment (Copy for Your Records)

Quite a wonderful very different kind of recording. Guthrie's taken a field recording concept and extended it into unexpected and moving areas. Several people have written on this release already, and written well, often noting how the album is quasi-symmetrically structured which, indeed, is interesting. The first two pieces are variations on Bach's "Cello Suite No. 2, Prelude" which Guthrie performs on her standard instrument of choice, the French horn. As Richard noted, it sounds as though she's playing for her own enjoyment in her studio, the window open allowing the sounds of the street to be clearly heard. The performance itself is rough, as though she's only begun to negotiate the undoubtedly difficult transferal from cello to horn. But one gets the sense that her ears were perhaps as much attuned to those exterior sounds as her horn and that the idea for the subsequent piece percolated at that time. In any case, that's the narrative I get as listener as in track two, the environmental sounds become wooly and richly blurred (offset with some metallic clinking), the horn compressed and kneaded into a sound reminiscent of a Terry Riley electronically enhanced soprano (though better). It's a wonderful piece, made even more so by the connection to its forebear.

The middle cut, "Times Center, NYC 2010" for quite a good portion of it's 9 minutes plus seems to be just that, the harshly limned sounds of people in a large interior space (one can almost see the fluorescent lighting). But there's a soft ringing thrum that subtly emerges every so often, casting a warm glow on matters. That glow morphs into a more insistent, higher pitched thrum, begins to establish a more equal footing with the screeching children and that odd, indecipherable vocal din you hear in such spaces; ultimately it's all you hear. In some ways, the piece is a variation on ideas found in Pisaro's "Transparent City" compositions, and a very lovely one.

The last two reverse, in a way, the approach of the initial pair, the first being a diffusion of the second. We hear what sounds like a treated recording of traffic whizzing by, possibly overhead (I was very much reminded of a favorite concert, Sean Meehan, Greg Kelley and Zach Wallace, playing very quietly beneath the FDR Drive overpass at 38th St. as cars roared above). It's a ghostly enough sound and when Guthrie enters, softly keening the Scottish ballad, "Annie Laurie", that spectral feeling is redoubled, like a spirit on the wind. As the piece enters its final minutes, the automotive volume is pushed, the machines achieving a sound like enormous hornets, the plaintive voice still peeking through--wonderful work. Guthrie then closes with a simple, but utterly beautiful, rendition of the song, sounding as though singing inside a park tunnel, the sounds of the city in the near distance.

An exceptional recording, one of my favorites of this year.

Richard Kamerman - I stayed in the apartment for thirty-two days without leaving (Copy for Your Records)

Kamerman's release, on the same label, is slightly different. 20 minutes of severe noise in two discreet streams, one a general rough burbling, like an extremely active lava cauldron, the other a series of kind of accelerative sounds, with a revving quality, short bursts that appear like accents in the boiling flow; at the conclusion these seem more like chainsaws than anything else. It's pretty incessant, save for brief gaps of digital silence scattered throughout. There's a sense of amorphousness about it, ameliorated somewhat by those revs and silences, but overall possessing a massive, slab-like aspect that, I think, would lend itself more to a live experience, at substantial volume, wherein the listener could bathe (or burn). On disc, at necessarily limited volume, it's fine but I have the feeling I'm missing something, probably including the vibrations that would potentially disrupt my bodily functions were I in the same room.

Copy for Your Records (from which I filched the skewed images above)

also available from erstdist

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Pascal Battus - Simbol/l'Unique Trait d'Pinceau (Herbal International)

Pity the poor, abused cymbal! The immense range of sounds capable of being elicited from this amazing piece of metal via stroking, tapping and otherwise attacking it clearly continue to absorb the attention of many musicians. Sometimes this can result in deep, fascinating plies of noise, though often at the expense of other structural elements need to hold a give work together as a unit. It's a delicate balance.

Battus here offers two cds worth of cymbalic material, one suite of three parts ("Simbol") and one of five ("l'Unique Trait d'Pinceau"). The sounds on the former seem to be largely derived from the instrument being stroked in one manner or another but the salient point to these ears is the separation into striae of relatively pure pitches, very high to very low, the middle ground often occupied by coarser sounds. When everything gels, the results are rapturous as on the third section of "Simbol", titled, "Soil". I think having a strong low pitch is the key, anchoring the work deep in the ground, so to speak, enabling the higher, rougher pitches to be read as chaotic escaping gases (!), organic excreta unfurling out into the air. Really a wonderful track, one that manages to entirely avoid the sameness that many adventures in cymbaling encounter.

"l'Unique Trait d'Pinceau" dispenses with any vestige of drones, hurtling into a series of attacks wherein the overt nature of the cymbal is camouflaged within a mass of hisses, screeches, groans and flutters. [I'm informed by my esteemed colleague Dan Warburton that this second disc is likely not sourced from cymbal-sounds at all, a mistaken inference I drew from the liner notes, so disregard any cymbalic references herein] It's still a cymbal, of course, and one can, if so inclined, trace hesitant pathways back to that folded and flattened piece of metal but similar to how how might approach a post-Tetreault/Yoshihide recordless turntablist, better to just sit back and immerse oneself to the extent possible. Battus doesn't make this an easy venture either, the music both assaultive and irregular, an incessant stream of "difficult" noise, perhaps a bit non-reflective for me (he mentions in the notes that this section is more improvisational than the former, "often made at home in the heat of discovery") but generally holding interest. On the final cut, "Bouteille magnetique" (magnetic bottle), he produces a sound that seems for all the world to derive from guitar strings; how a bottle, magnetic or otherwise, in interaction with a cymbal created such tones is beyond me but the result is transfixing enough. Here's a kind of post-Bailey music that really works, perhaps in part due to its non-guitar nature? Lovely track, in any case and an album well worth your time.

herbal international

Sean Baxter - Metal/Flesh (Bocian)

Another solo percussion effort, out of Australia, here on Bocian's somewhat odd format of 7" vinyl, meaning we have about eight minutes of music. Sometimes this approach works, as with the recent Krakowiak release, sometimes it strikes me as excessively restrictive, which is the case here. Not that I'm sure I would have been entirely enamored of 20+ minutes of Baxter's drumming, but I do think it would have provided a fairer indication of his music. "Metal" has low-pitched drums probably covered with metallic objects, beaten irregularly but consistently, creating a fine melange of sound but feeling much like an excerpt, as though it should have been embedded in some larger conception. For fun, I also played it at 33rpm; the resultant pitch change was enticing. Wish I had a 16rpm option..."Flesh" is drums and cymbolics; again, it's perfectly fine if perhaps retro in a way, sounding like a portion of a good Andrew Cyrille solo. Can't complain about that as such, of course, but again would have liked to have heard this in a wider context. In sum, an enjoyable if frustrating release.


Craig Hilton/Tomas Phillips - le goût de néant (Absinth)

In which Hilton creates an improvisation on guzheng and, with Phillips, subjects it to manipulation via laptops. Beginning with the guzheng allows for a lush richness, a very attractive bed in which to mess around and, indeed, the pair don't stray very far from its essential tonality even as the nature of the sonics varies quite a bit. Sometimes other sounds seem to intrude--the beginning of track three seems to includes pachinko parlors and piano samples, but who knows? It teeters on the edge of excessive spaciness to these ears but pretty much manages to fall on the right side of things. The final track of four, for instance, has an airy, cavernous quality that could veer more toward the Eno-esque, but it retains a certain bitterness, later infused with taps and scrapes, that keeps it in a grainier, more complex area. That said, I wouldn't have minded things being pushed much further in that direction but, as is, the disc is solid enough and could be an enticing listen for a relative newcomer to this end of the spectrum.

absinth (though I don't see this release listed there yet)